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Raising Hell & Eating Plants
why I'm still vegan after 20 years
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “Why’d you go vegan?”, I wouldn’t ever have to worry about money. People want dynamic stories about a pet dying, personal illness, or some sort of trauma that caused this big shift but I don’t have one. 20 years ago, before Instagram, Impossible Meat, and Obama as president, I went vegan. For the last 10 of those years, I've worked full-time as a vegan cookbook author and recipe developer in my small corner of the internet. Despite those two facts, I constantly forget that my way of living is uncommon. Logically, it shouldn’t be. Plants are the basis for almost every world cuisine. Animal products are the extra step; everyone, everywhere cooks and eats plants. It shouldn’t be so unusual to do the least. I’ve lived my whole adult-life as a vegan so it’s how I’ve learned to navigate the world and the only way I know how to cook. It’s who I am and you could tell as soon as I learned to talk.
I was a precocious kid who loved animals and the natural world. I could anthropomorphize anything: a hairbrush, a flower, even a hillside. Animals were the easiest. I was certain I had a deep, preternatural understanding of their inner lives. The wants, needs, and fears of everything from the rollie-pollies on the sidewalk to my cat Cinnamon filled my imagination. When other kids put salt on snails, I recoiled and terminated friendships. I couldn’t handle the cruelty because I imagined complicated lives for everything. Every animal and bug was just as scared, silly, hungry, happy, or lonely as I was.
Children’s programming of the 80’s and 90’s didn’t help. The protagonist of so many of the films I grew up watching and books I read were animals. Charlotte’s Web, An American Tale, Secrets of NIMH, and so many others encouraged me to imagine myself as these animals and I couldn’t turn it off when it came to the meat. I had no stomach for cognitive dissonance, even as a kid. My parent’s both worked hard to get food on our table so they had little patience for my principled stands at dinner. We fought for years about eating meat and my plate went cold countless times as I refused the beef I was served. When I discovered vegetarianism, my resolve only got stronger. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this shit was weird. It was a relief, but I still lived in a meat-centered world. My mom found no joy in cooking so she definitely wasn’t making two dinners after work because her oldest daughter was going through a phase. My dad was in total agreement. It was an understandable position. This phase really has some staying power though.
In 2003 I left home to go to college and went vegan at the same time. It felt like I was finally in control of my life and my choices despite not having that many resources. I didn’t know another vegan and had never even seen a vegan restaurant. I was just figuring it out as I went. Veganism deepened my love of food because instead of obsessing over calories, I was choosing what I ate with a positive intention: reducing harm to animals and the planet. Every meal was an adventure. I didn’t really party like most kids in their 20s; I was too busy at home trying to make pumpkin waffles, vegetable dumplings, and whatever else I was craving. I was obsessed. Cooking was something I did out of necessity back then. My tattered copy of Moosewood was filled with penciled out ingredients as I tried to make everything vegan. I didn’t have a lot of money but I did have plenty of time to learn how to make everything I wanted to eat.
People thought I was odd. It was a very uncommon choice, particularly back then. But I was adamant that it was the only logical choice in a corrupt system and I didn’t mind the sideways glances. My “fuck ‘em” streak was always strong. The more I learned about our food system and how agricultural animals are treated by the factory farms that produce 99% of the animal products in this country like meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy, the more committed I became. People don’t like to think about that shit so they get mad when it comes up. They feel attacked. I’ve been told countless times that veganism is an extremely privileged position to take as though I’m the only person in the world who makes choices about what they eat. Accepting the dominant cultural narrative of what to eat is still a choice, still a privilege, even if you don’t acknowledge it. Everyone can change and I’ve made it my life’s work to help people who want to do less harm take that leap.
My veganism is a protest. I don’t want to be part of a system that requires so much unnecessary suffering. Most people don’t, they just need a little encouragement. Humans, animals, and the planet are all hurt by our current way of life. There’s no debate about that. We know we need to change. We cannot eliminate world-wide animal agriculture but we can reduce the demand for it. That’s why I’m so committed to teaching people how to make better choices. Veganism doesn’t need to be full of elitist people with plenty of disposable income eating lab-grown food. Mindful, compassionate eating belongs to all of us and I’ll do my part in making it as easy and accessible as possible.
This world should reflect the best of us and I believe we can make that happen. It’s a radical act of optimism but one we all need right now. We can make the choice to be kinder, more respectful of the world, it’s resources, and all the other living things we coexist with. It’s not that hard. Start with dinner. What you miss out on is nothing compared to the ease you feel knowing that you’re doing your part to build the world we all deserve. Have a little courage. The path to a better future is long but it’s real. We can keep each other company along the way. I’ll bring the snacks.
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How long have you been vegan or vegetarian? Let me know your story in the comments! Tap that ❤️ if you love stories like these.