Telling people you're vegan is harder than telling them you've given up drinking or that you're an atheist. They stare at you, for a moment, dumbfounded, then manage something like: 'You mean you're never going to eat meat again?' or 'What about protein?'.
Then once you've got past the bullshit protein myth, they concede that they too feel terrible about animal cruelty and declare that they only buy 'humane' meat, 'free-range' eggs and 'organic' milk. 'Humane' meat? Now there's an oxymoron. What's humane about giving animals a little extra space to grow before zapping them with an electric bolt and slaughtering them half conscious?
But who am I to talk, animal cruelty wasn't the reason I embarked on a voyage to veganism. My intentions were far more selfish, something along the lines of pride and immortality. You see, when my daughter was eleven, she watched a documentary by Steve-O. Yes, the human guinea-pig from the Jackass franchise who regularly ingested enough crack to take down a herd of elephant. Well, Steve-O went clean and made a movie called, What Came Before. A short documentary about animals from Iowa, which put the Daughter off eating meat for life. I didn't watch the video (until writing this blog post), but like any well-intentioned parent, decided to blindly support my daughter, and make her proud that dad was cutting out meat too.
I started my journey to a meat-free diet in Toronto. I wasn't hard, the vegans had plastered pictures of piglets and puppies on the subway with a slogan that read: One you love, the other you eat, enough to put you off meat. At least on the morning and evening commute.
Friends suggested I watch a documentary called, Forks Over Knives, which promoted a whole food, plant-based diet. The narrators proclaimed that the human race was obese and diseased and that eating meat would send us to an early grave. Although somewhat suspicious of their 'facts', I was encouraged and continued to cut back the amount of meat I was consuming.
But going vegan was a whole new level of weirdness. Pasty tree hugging, hippy like vegetarians were manageable, but vegans were another breed altogether – some kind of fanatical aliens from another planet, dressed in human skin suits. Besides, what the fuck was I going to eat? And where was I going to find my protein? There was only so much green stuff any normal person could endure! So, I decided to become a pescatarian, favouring mercury poisoning over diabetes.
However, the pictures of piglets had triggered a frequency illusion and there was vegan shit popping up everywhere. I was seriously beginning to question my carnism and even moved to Italy to get away from the little piglets. But it was no use, no sooner had I arrived than my favourite coffee bar was sold to a vegan couple. Chris and Eve stripped the bar of anything to do with meat or alcohol, renamed it The Loving Hut Vegan Cafe and started serving strictly vegan food, remarkably good food.
Unlike most people who come to Italy and plough through bowls of pasta, boards of salami and buckets of gelato, I began discovering the pleasures of vegan cuisine. I soon developed a craving for Eve's cooking, even turning my nose up at tuna piadina, and opting instead for Buddha bowls and chocolate tofu tart. Eve shared her recipes, and Chris told me about two crazy Irish twins, The Happy Pear, whose recipes I could find online, and before long I was cooking vegan lasagne and raw carrot cake. Turned out, Chris and Eve hadn't come to Italy by chance, despite being an economic basket case, Italy is ranked the healthiest country on Earth, and many Italians were already embracing a vegan diet.
Within a couple of weeks, I was feeling healthier and had more energy than I'd had in a long time. When told Chris how good I was feeling, he said: Obviously you feel good, you aren't eating rotting flesh anymore. Rotting flesh? Yes, the spell of carnism, conjured up by politicians and big business, has had us blindly clogging our intestines with carrion our whole lives, causing diabetes, cancer and who knows what other wretched conditions. So, when Ramadan came along and the Daughter wanted to fast, we cooked up something called #Veganadan, and we stepped over the threshold to become that which we had always feared, Vegans.
During Veganadan I read books like Meat Is For Pussies and watched films like Cowspiracy and What the Health, and I learned how deep the depravity ran. Fuck, let me off the planet! I thought. Animals are being 'farmed' in conditions worse than concentration camps –– force-fed, pumped with drugs, tortured, abused and finally murdered. What kind of monstrous, primitive species would do this to another species?
Consuming animal products (meat, eggs, cheese, dairy, etc), wasn't only making me sick, it was making me complicit in the most inhumane acts against animals, and the destruction of the planet. I kept seeing stats like:
- Just one hamburger wastes more water than two months of showering;
- It takes 18 times as much land to feed a meat-eater than it does to feed a vegan;
- Meat does more damage to the atmosphere than all transportation combined;
- If we stopped farming animals and used the food to feed human beings, we'd solve world hunger.
Veganadan was the end of the beginning for me. I might not be able to make a huge difference, but I can do something. I'm proud to call myself a vegan and follow a lifestyle that makes our world a better place for all species.