On Saturday, I celebrated my 2nd anniversary as a vegan. My veganniversary, if you will. The thing I’ve enjoyed most about being vegan is how I feel about my relationship to the world around me. I know I’m supposed to cite my lower blood pressure numbers and link to my reduced carbon footprint analysis, but those things are technical, and I’m an emotional being. I just feel more in balance. And, though I’ve endured more bacon jokes than I’d like to recount, I have enjoyed thumbing my nose at one of America’s largest, least ethical industries: Food.
But that’s not why I wrote this post. I wrote this post because, almost daily, I get asked why I’m vegan. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people with a well-formed response standing by, but it’s taken me two years to develop a clear understanding of why I chose the vegan lifestyle. Here’s my best go.
I’m unashamed to admit that my first interest in veganism appealed to my vanity, because the results reach far deeper than ego.
Two formative experiences inspired me to give veganism a try. The first was an encounter with two performer friends in Las Vegas. After a short discussion, I was shocked to find out they were 15 years older than I had guessed. I mean, this couple looks GOOD. I asked how they managed to look so young. Their answer? A vegan diet.
Flash forward a few months. I had the opportunity to meet Jona Weinhofen, vegan activist and rock star guitarist (formerly of Bring Me The Horizon, now of I Killed The Prom Queen.) I brought up how tough it is to eat healthy on the road, and he replied that he completely understood—because he’s vegan. My eyes about popped out of my head. A tattooed head-to-toe, non-smoking, non-drinking VEGAN rock star? What!?! Having just come off the road myself, I was flabbergasted. I had found it difficult enough to find ANYTHING healthy to eat, even when I cooked most of what we ate in our bus’s meager kitchenette. Jona’s claim showed up as a challenge, a gauntlet being thrown down. If he could do it while touring with a hardcore band, then how could I sit in the cradle of the suburban vegan movement and not answer the call?
I LOVE ANIMALS
I’ve always had pets: rabbits, cats, dogs, lizards, hamsters. One day, not long after my conversation with Jona, I looked down at my dog, a tirelessly optimistic Black Lab named Zeppelin, and thought, “Why do I love and protect you, but wear the skins of cows and eat chickens?” It occurred to me that I was arbitrarily assigning value to the lives of other beings based on my own convenience. For the first time, it struck me as completely bizarre. It was one of those experiences you can’t quite describe afterward—like finally seeing the hidden 3D image in one of those infuriating Magic Eye pictures after staring at it hanging in the hallway for years.
Which animals we think of as pets and which we consider food is a cultural construct. Many civilizations throughout history have eaten horse meat, as well as cat and dog meat, but in the United States, that’s taboo. And here’s a ridiculous thought: “Dolphin-safe tuna.” Why are dolphins more important than tuna? Is it because they’re more intelligent? By that rationale, should we start eating humans who score low on the SAT? I’m using hyperbole here, but you see how quickly the logic breaks down.
I CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
In my meat-eating days, I had the carbon footprint of roughly one and a half Americans. I thought this was largely due to how far I drive each day and how often I fly. Turns out my commute made up a much smaller portion than I thought.
Going vegan is the most effective step you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. The livestock industry is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire transport sector (which produces 13.5%), including aviation. (More here.) In addition, it takes 11 times more fossil fuel to produce one calorie of animal protein than it does to produce one calorie of plant protein. As the world population grows, we need to be more efficient with all our resources: not just fuel, but food. Plant-based diets are far more sustainable than diets including meat.
I LIKE REBELLION
There are half a dozen other great reasons to become vegan, not the least of which is your own health. And, come to think of it, vanity isn’t even a good reason at all. So let’s toss reason aside for a moment.
When was the last time you did something revolutionary? Something completely against the grain of mainstream society? Something totally unreasonable that had a huge impact on your life and the lives of those around you? Something that, if enough people joined you, could literally change the course of ecological development on the planet?
What if you did that every day?
I MUST CONFESS
Am I Perfect? No. I traveled to a remote town in East Germany on a business trip, and opted to eat something with dairy rather than subsist on pickled vegetables and bread. I ate cheese in France. Sometimes, at a restaurant, I’ll get as close as I can to a vegan dish, but if the chef is not 100% certain that one ingredient or another might not contain a small portion of dairy products, I go for it. The point has been made—the conversation has been had, and that restaurant is more likely to offer vegan options.
STUFF TO WATCH
If you are interested in learning more about veganism and its benefits, I recommend these three films:
This documentary focuses on the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and touches briefly on the problems with factory farming and mass-produced food. It’s an easy watch and not extremely challenging.
Another great documentary, Food, Inc. focuses on the way food is produced in the United States. It’s not graphic or shocking to watch, but some of the facts you’ll learn about how food is made will disturb you.
This award-winning documentary, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, exposes the way animals are actually treated in the food, fashion, and pet industries. This is a powerful, moving film, and it is very challenging to watch. Of the three, it has had the most profound impact on me.