While I’ve never been one for overly ambitious resolutions at the start of a new year, I did find myself making one major life change on New Year’s Day seven years ago. Having been vegetarian for a few years, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I kicked off our first official day as vegans. Every January, as we begin to embark on the adventures a new year might have in store for us, we are reminded to celebrate our “Veganniversary” – the monumental day when we made one of the most rewarding and fulfilling decisions of our lives.
A few days ago, we were picking up Potbelly sandwiches for a quick on-the-go dinner (Mediterranean Veggie on regular bread with no cheese, ICYWW), and our sandwich artist, noticing our omission of cheese, posed a question. “Are you vegan?” she asked, to which we cheerfully replied, “Yes!” She kindly replied, “Good for you! I’m vegetarian. I don’t know if I could do vegan. Can I ask what made you do it?”
My husband and I exchanged a look as if to imply, Who wants to answer? And the truth is, this sort of question usually catches me off guard because it’s kind of like…well, how much time do you have? Because I could actually talk for hours about the events and experiences that led me to this decision.
Instead I mumbled a very unprepared-sounding response. “For a lot of reasons, I guess. All the reasons!” Which is true, but not altogether productive. I went on to say we love animals, I did an internship at Farm Sanctuary that helped me connect more to the cause, and ended with something quick about how it’s ethically important to us. While not an overall terrible response, the conversation left me thinking. How can I be celebrating my 7-year Veganniversary and still not have a good, concise, automatic response to the question, “Why are you vegan?”
The tricky part is that I never really had that “a-ha moment” that some vegans credit for their ethical shift. For me, it was more like a Jenga game, where each wooden block held a so-called truth or accepted reality that I believed growing up. As I grew older, knowledge and investigation and exposure to new discoveries began to literally poke holes in my sturdy, comfortable foundation of beliefs. It was gradually less and less stable. I questioned everything, until what I had accepted as an ethical reality in my head no longer agreed with the truth in my heart, and every wooden block came toppling down. And when it fell, it fell hard.
So when I am forced to field the question about exactly why I am vegan, a million reasons come to mind and my brain becomes flustered and overwhelmed while I sort through that pile of blocks. I want to give a thoughtful response that people can relate to, and maybe even one that pulls out a few Jenga blocks from their own ethical foundation. Basically, I’ve found that my response boils down to two t-shirts I own. The first one says: Vegan for Everything, and in the middle it lists these reasons with a small, corresponding icon:
and our planet.
This sums it up, but doesn’t exactly elaborate. I could choose to rattle this list off, but will that alone impact change? I mean, each of these played a major role in dismantling my own Jenga set, but that took years. So if I were to rank these reasons, the animals would be first. And, conveniently, my other shirt simply says:
I love animals too much to eat them.
I think this is more personal and has a better chance of resonating with someone, mainly because most people self-identify as “animal lovers”, yet still choose to eat animals. However, this response doesn’t fully cover my choice to avoid eating animal secretions, like dairy, eggs, and honey. And, it doesn’t account for the non-food related reasons that veganism makes so much sense to me, like opposing animal testing, protecting the environment, and participating in the general practice of non-violence.
All of these things considered, I’ve decided that my new, good, concise, automatic, but also malleable, ever-changing, situationally adaptable response to the harder-than-it-seems question, “Why are you vegan?” will be some variation of the following:
It all started because I love animals, and couldn’t stand the thought of eating them anymore. Then I learned about how violent the dairy and egg industries are, and that didn’t sit well with me either. Since then, I’ve realized that veganism has a bunch of bonus benefits – not just better for the animals, but better for my health and better for the planet. Now I kind of live by the mantra “do the least harm” each day. And I’ve grown to believe veganism is an ethical responsibility.
Sidenote: The link defining rennet from the photo above is still live and well. Unfortunately, the baby calfs whose fourth stomach rennet is obtained from…are not.
If you are feeling inspired to make a change this January, I encourage you to check out a cool site called Veganuary for more resources (especially the WHY link, which expands upon the topics discussed throughout this post). Because education is power.