In 2002, I stopped eating sentient beings. Seeing as I wasn’t in the habit of eating sentient human animals, that basically meant that it was the sentient non-human animals who became safe from my gnashers.
I believe that animals are not here for the indulgence of humans, just like women are not here for the indulgence of men, and coloured people are not here for the indulgence of white people, to paraphrase Alice Walker. If my absolute survival depended on killing, then I’m pretty sure I could make myself do that. If I can survive without killing or harming other beings, though, then that’s me. Humans are not obligate carnivores, and as long as I live in a place where I have enough to eat, I don’t even have to be an omnivore.
In 2004, I also made a commitment to not consume or use the by-products taken from those non-human animals. I became a vegan, and I loved it! And pissed off a lot of people.
However, I never regretted my decision for a moment, even though being a vegan in a non-vegan world was harder than anything I’d done before. But I just felt so damn good in body, mind, and heart, that I never seriously contemplated giving it away. The only regret I had was that the rest of the world wasn’t vegan, too, because it was a freakin’ lonely place.
I handled my new-found veganism pretty badly. Role models were thin on the ground, and friends even fewer. Especially those whom I felt had to ‘enlighten’ about the unmitigated awfulness of the lives and eventual deaths of animals farmed as a food business. I seriously thought that those who hadn’t yet learned of this would want to know it. After all, most people aren’t wilfully cruel. Surely they would be horrified, and be grateful that I had helped them see the light? What an innocent I was! It turned out that the only thing they were horrified about, was me talking to them about it. No way did they want that burden of knowledge – it was all mine, thank you very much.
Knowing a handful of other vegans was a tiny safe haven in a world that disapproved of me, sometimes vehemently. For the most part, though, I was navigating this new unmapped territory on my own. Family being family, they didn’t spare my feelings when expressing their opinions about my veganism. Luckily, I was at an age where I was no longer living with my parents, so it didn’t affect them much. My father just told me that I had always been a bit queer about food, and my mother eventually became a vegetarian. Since then, some of my siblings have become vegetarian and vegan, too.
Work colleagues, who knew me pre-vegan, thought that someone had replaced the real me with an alien. Subsequent work colleagues didn’t know what to do with me, so mostly didn’t do anything with me. I was very little help in guiding them about this, because I hardly knew what to do with me either in a non-vegan world.
Friends thinned out. Not always their fault, I admit. I am eternally grateful to those who stuck with me while I went through those years of messily finding my way, even though they aren’t vegan, and may never be. I wasn’t a great socialiser at the best of times – apart from the usual youthful stuff – and after I became ‘too hard’ I went to even fewer social events. Those I did attend, were frequently fraught.
During that time, I came to know internal chaos and heart-ache very well. It sucked big time being in what was often a punishing place for living my beliefs about the ethical treatment of animals. Being off-mainstream is never a comfortable place to be – sometimes it’s an excruciating place to be – and takes courage. But I did eventually find internal equilibrium, and the strength and tenacity to stand my ground in the way that fits with me.
While vegans are still a minority group, there are more and more people in the world becoming vegan, and I hardly ever get a blank look anymore when I say I am a vegan. Nah, I don’t find it necessary to advertise my ethical and moral beliefs to all whom I meet, but because it involves food, and we humans do love to eat, it inevitably comes out. Being a vegan in a non-vegan world is still not an easy place to occupy – but damn it feels good to be one.
***Definition of veganism: Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.