I recognized long ago that there are problems involved in eating meat. Over the years, I shifted more towards a plant-based diet and tried to pay attention to sourcing and avoiding factory-farmed products. But, I continued to eat meat, eggs, and dairy products even as I recognized that it was not consistent with my values. All the while I believed that I was moving towards a more ethical way of living. Still I ate meat.
And, then there is the environmental factor. During the People’s Climate March in New York, I saw someone with a sign that read “Meat Eaters are Phony Environmentalists”. That stung. I knew it was true. Although I drive a hybrid car, have solar panels on my roof, and contribute to environmental causes, I knew that the most significant change that I could make to reduce my personal carbon footprint was to adopt a vegan diet. Still I ate meat.
There are many conversations with vegans and vegetarians that have stuck in my mind. Despite the opinion of them held by some, I found them to be open and accessible. I explained my reservations and my struggles. I told them of my efforts to shift to a plant-based diet and how I tried to make more of my meals animal product free. They encouraged me. They told me that eating less was good. They did not shame me. But, I knew they were right. And, still I ate meat.
Sometimes, a person just needs the right influence at the right time to make a meaningful change. And, sometimes it is a confluence of multiple influences. For me, the impact was a book – Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy. This wasn’t the first time that I had read books of this type. But, Joy’s discussion of the justification for Carnism impacted me. Specifically, according to Joy, meat-eaters generally justify their diet with the belief that eating meat is “normal, natural, and necessary.” I had used these same justifications myself during the times that I bothered to think about the origins of my food. In the book she sets out to rebut those justifications.
The reason that this argument influenced me so much, though, was because of my observations from another book that I was reading at the same time – Jill Lepore’s These Truths: A History of the United States. This book, by the way, is phenomenal, and I highly recommend it. It is, however, very long, and I have been reading it very slowly. I happened to be reading about the build-up to the Civil War at the time that I was reading Joy’s book. And, I recognized that these justifications for my diet were exactly the same justifications advanced by those who sought to preserve the institution of slavery.
That shook me up. After making that connection, I knew that I could not continue as before. But, this wasn’t my first attempt at a Vegan diet. I took a stab at it about eight years ago, and that lasted for only about two months. That time, I went cold turkey. This time, I decided to make a gradual transition.
First food to be eliminated was beef, pork, lamb, and other red meat. I also started to cut back on all other animal products, including eggs and dairy, while I started introducing new foods to crowd out what was being reduced. After several weeks, poultry was eliminated. A month later, I stopped eating eggs. And, as of April 7, I have been fully vegan (although I may still eat honey -I’m not entirely convinced about the argument against that). The entire transition took about two months.
Writing this blog article is about all that I plan to do right now to advocate for a kinder and more sustainable diet. I generally avoiding discussing my reasons for this change. I have no wish to judge the decisions of others – it took me many years to make this decision, so I have no moral authority to fault others.
I’m grateful to the many vegans and vegetarians that I know who have accepted me despite my former dietary habits. Whether they realize it or not, they were a significant influence on me. I plan to reach out to some of them and let them know. Maybe some day someone will tell me that I was an influence on them. That will be a very good day for me.