Reflection on a Clear Conscience (Week 16)

It’s been four months since my choice to embrace the plant-based lifestyle, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve spent some time reflecting. Why am I vegan? What does it mean? What does it mean to me? How do outsiders perceive my lifestyle choice? Do they understand? How can I help them understand? As I am settling in to my vegan comfort zone, these are all things on my mind.

If you’ve been following my journey from long-time vegetarian to vegan, then you know the final push to become vegan was due to my gallbladder issues. Basically, my body made the decision for me, and I chose to listen to it. But, veganism was an edge I had been teetering on for many years. In the four months since making the change to my plant-based lifestyle, my reason for continuing has, as with all things in life, shifted.

Let’s start from the beginning.

For me, it was simply inevitable that I would be a vegetarian when, as a little animal-loving, tree-hugging, wide-eyed youngster, I learned for the first time that the “chicken” I was eating for dinner was not just a clever name for the food. It was in fact the same cute little bird I’d seen clucking about on happy little farms. Even then as a little girl, I loved all animals, and couldn’t comprehend how they ended up on our dinner plates, or why we were eating them.

I went vegetarian at twelve years old.

Fast-forward to today.

A quick reminder of what it means to me to be vegan.

  • I choose to not eat meat.
  • I choose to not eat eggs.
  • I choose to not eat honey.
  • I choose to not eat dairy. That includes milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, whipped cream, ice cream, buttermilk, anything dairy based.
  • I choose to not  eat “hidden” animal products. That includes gelatin, whey, casein, carmine, rennet, isinglass, ghee, lanolin, vitamin D from an unspecified source, fish oil, anything animal based.
  • I choose to not eat any animal, animal product, or animal by-product.

A quick list of items that are not reasons I’m vegan.

  • I’m vegan, but not to lose weight. This is not a diet.
    I’ve gotten a number of comments lately, from people who should know better, that this is a temporary fad diet to lose weight. That is very disheartening. Yes, living a plant-based lifestyle will naturally help my body regulate itself to its healthy natural weight. But, that is not my motivation behind giving up all animal products. This is not a diet. I am not restricting calories. I am not going hungry. I’m eating lots and lots of healthy food, and my fair share of treats and indulgences, and enjoying every bite!
  • I’m vegan, but not temporarily. This is not a phase.
    This is a change I should’ve made years ago. I know in my heart that I will thoroughly embrace veganism for the rest of my life.

My motivation behind my plant-based lifestyle has evolved and grown.

Mostly, I’m vegan for the animals.

But I’m also vegan for the planet, and for my health.

* * *

I’m vegan for the animals.

We all pick our battles, our soap boxes to stand on. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves: animals. This quote sums up my feelings:

The question is not, “Can they reason?”,
nor, “Can they talk?”,
but rather, “Can they suffer?”
—Jeremy Bentham

Perhaps if every farm were the beautiful picturesque landscape we envision in our heads, I would just be vegetarian. Chickens running in their herds, scratching juicy grubs out of the ground. Baby cows running and playing on a green grassy hillside, soaking up the sunshine. Goats playing “king of the hill” on their mound. Big fat pigs rolling in the cool mud. A gentle breeze blowing through. Clean, large, open barns with fresh hay await them for their afternoon nap. Those farms do exist, but they are few and far between.

Sadly, the truth is, most farms are quite the opposite.

We all know the evils of the factory farming meat industry. Filthy living conditions. Animals “living” their whole lives inside a tiny indoor stall. They can’t turn around. Some can’t stand. Fed antibiotics. Fed grains or meat that are not part of their natural diet. Beaks cut. Teeth cut. No anesthetic.  Never see the light of day. Never see the blue of the sky. Never know the simple joy of grazing in a field, or scratching in the dirt. Never treated like a living, breathing, loving being with emotions and feelings. Instead, treated like property. Product. Trash. Then murdered, processed, packaged, and shipped to stores on styrofoam trays.

What noise does a piglet make when its teeth are cut off with pliers without anesthetic?

Same as you.

But the factory farming dairy industry…

The dairy industry is different, right?

Many of us may not realize how closely the dairy industry is actually tied to the meat industry.

Take a dairy cow for example. The life of a dairy cow is sad, indeed. Let’s imagine a sweet baby cow named Gloria. Born to a dairy cow mother, Gloria was taken away very shortly after birth, in order for her mother’s milk to be drank by humans instead of nurturing her growing baby body. When she comes of age, Gloria is forcibly impregnated. She waits. She gives birth. Just like her mother before her, Gloria’s baby will be taken away very shortly after birth. If her child is a boy, he will likely be sent to a veal farm, where he will be restrained from standing to keep his muscles tender, until he is murdered at a few months old. If her child is a girl, she will lead the same life as her mother, continuing the cycle. Gloria will be forcibly impregnated again and again, in order to keep her milk flowing. When she can no longer produce enough milk, she too will be murdered.

Milk… Cow’s milk. Goat’s milk.

Milk… intended to nourish their growing babies.

Eggs… Chicken eggs. Duck eggs.

Eggs… intended to grow into baby birds.

Instead, milk and eggs end up on our grocery store shelves, and hidden in the ingredient lists of products like soups, sauces, breadcrumbs, crackers, noodles, milk chocolate, lattes, cheese, waffles, ice cream, health bars, cereals, breads, donuts, cookies, pizza crusts, deli mustards, chip dips, heck, even Gardenburgers! This list just barely scratches the surface.

The small letters ‘contains milk’ buried in the long list of ingredients on the side of the generic brand box of breadcrumbs almost certainly guarantees milk from a factory farm. Some animal, somewhere, spent years in a living hell to produce the milk for those breadcrumbs.

Why do breadcrumbs contain milk anyways?

Why the heck do Gardenburgers contain milk and eggs??

In today’s world, it’s just not enough to simply not eat meat.

* * *

Side Note: Why not support quality dairy companies?

For a number of years, I proudly touted that I only supported dairy from companies that I knew and trusted. I did countless hours of research on dairy companies, in regards to their treatment of their animals, their limited herd size, the length of time the baby cows get to spend with their mothers in the beginning of their lives, the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, the amount of time animals get to roam free outside. Of all the dairy companies around, I narrowed it down to three companies I chose to support. If they didn’t make it, I didn’t eat it.

However, I was forgetting two things.

First, I wasn’t thinking about allllllllll the other things that included dairy or eggs, hidden in their ingredient list. That list of grocery store items above? I was still buying those. Where do those companies get their milk and eggs? I guarantee you, not from the dairy companies I chose to support.

Second, I wasn’t thinking about when I went out to eat. Again, where do those restaurants get their milk and eggs? I guarantee you, not from the dairy companies I chose to support.

I was turning a blind eye. I was tricking myself.

In today’s world, animal products are everywhere.

So I decided, it’s all or nothing.

Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power!

* * *

Side-Side Note: Be very wary of product labeling. Our grocery stores just love to help customers feel like they’re doing the right thing with their clever labeling. Without going in to too much detail (this could be a whole blog post in itself!) here’s a quick question for you.

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Cage Free” chicken eggs?

If you’re like me, you picture some sweet little Rhode Island Reds or Barred Rock hens, pecking around in the grass, maybe getting into trouble scratching up some freshly planted flowers, looking for their next tasty morsel.

Actually, a dozen eggs can be labeled “Cage Free”, when the chickens are not actually free at all. It’s true. “Cage Free” simply means the same thousands of chickens are stuffed into a filthy barn with no windows… just… not in cages.

* * *

I’m also vegan for the planet. 

I will never claim to be an expert on global issues, but I do consider myself a smart and well-read person. To me, it just makes sense that a plant-based lifestyle would be much better for our planet and sustainability.

By simply going vegan one day a week for one year, you can save:

  • 84,000 gallons of water
  • 245 pounds of grain
  • 7,700 square feet of rain forest
  • some of the over 10 billion animals killed annually
  • 15.5 gallons of gasoline
  • 87 square feet of topsoil from erosion
  • Reduce 400 pounds of animal manure

Did you know…?

It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of beef.

It takes 3000 gallons of water to produce 4 ounces of beef.

With so much food and water shortages on this planet, couldn’t those resources go to better uses?

Did you know…?

“In 2006, the UN calculated that the combined climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat were about 18% of the global total – more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together… The figure was revised upward in 2009 by two World Bank scientists to more than 51%”

This is just the tip of the iceberg; this topic could be (and is) the whole subject of entire novels. I highly recommend further reading and research on the subject to really understand all the impacts.

* * *

I’m also vegan for my health. 

There are so many amazing health benefits of cutting out all animal products.

In today’s world, we separate the connection between the foods we eat and the way we feel. When in fact, they are one and the same!

Did you know…?

Eating a well-balanced nutritious plant-based diet can help you gently manage your weight, eat more nutritious wholesome foods, eat a wider variety of foods, give you more energy, help you grow healthier hair, nails, and skin, boost immunities, keep your heart healthier, lower your blood sugar, and even reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.

I like this paragraph from Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, in his well-written foreword to The Kind Diet.

How can changing what you eat solve so many problems? Think of it like changing the fuel you put in your car. If your car is not accelerating well, it stalls a lot, the ride is rough, and the exhaust looks terrible, you might take a look through your owner’s manual. And suddenly, you discover that your car actually does not take the diesel fuel you’ve been using; it takes unleaded. You switch to the right fuel, and suddenly, everything starts to get better. The acceleration improves, the ride evens out, and the exhaust clears up. Your body is the same way. The wrong food slows you down. They interfere with your digestion, your blood circulation, your energy, and every other aspect of your body. With the right fuel, your whole body works better.

I can personally say, for a fact, I have never felt better in my life! I have never been in better shape. I have never eaten more nutritiously. I have never been trimmer or more muscular. I have never enjoyed cooking and eating and savoring every bite more than I do now.

But, these are all things you would have to take my word for.

What can I personally show you that has actual numbers behind it?

Cholesterol. A vegan diet contains zero cholesterol.

You may remember this from one of my previous posts:

Here are some official scientific results directly related to my new vegan lifestyle. In six short months, my cholesterol has gone from ‘High Risk, At Risk, and Borderline’ to ‘Ideal, Optimal, and Desirable’. My doctor was amazed. I about fell out of my chair!

photo-1

Again, this topic could be (and is) the whole subject of entire novels. And again, I highly recommend further reading and research on the subject to really understand all the amazing health benefits.

* * *

If you take anything away from reading this, please remember this one point:

If you can thoroughly nourish your body with nutritious plant-based food…
If you can thoroughly satisfy your cravings with delicious plant-based food…
and in doing so, you can avoid supporting the animal farming industry…
and in doing so, you can avoid consuming any animal products…
why wouldn’t you?
why wouldn’t you?

Today, four months after becoming vegan, I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I’ve never felt better.

I’ve never been happier.

My conscious is clear.

* * *

Ending Note: I intentionally chose not to include photos of factory farming conditions, simply because, that’s not my style. If you would really like to see how these animals are treated, simply do a Google image search for things like “factory farming”, “factory farming baby chick”, “factory farm beak cutting”, “factory farm teeth cutting”, “factory farm veal”, or “cow stomach window”.

Have your tissues ready.

You may also want a pen and paper to write your new grocery list.

Please enjoy this baby piglet.

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6 thoughts on “Reflection on a Clear Conscience (Week 16)

  1. Like you, I’ve had people ask me how long I’m going to eat vegan as if it were a diet or passing phase. What’s worse, however; are the several people in my family who encourage me to cheat whenever I go out with them. My dad, for example, tells me that I shouldn’t be so extreme with my diet and that I should allow myself to at least cheat a little when I go out to eat. He doesn’t get it. Anyway, thanks for this post – it was informative and inspirational. I always like reading about how someone came to choose a vegan diet.

    • Sorry for the slow reply. I’m glad you were able to relate to my post, but, sorry that you have to deal with people encouraging you to “cheat”. How frustrating! I haven’t had that happen to me yet. Some people just don’t understand that it’s not a diet, it’s not temporary, it’s a lifestyle. As you know :)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing!

    It’s pretty amazing that at 12 you decided to become a vegetarian. It is pretty great that you found veganism though–you have a lot of interesting things to say about it.

  3. Wonderful post. For me it was the opposite- I went vegan for health and am staying vegan for the animals. I try to explain it to my friends that its a triad of reasons, health, moral/ethical, and environmental. Loved your kitchen organization tips, I’m working on the project today :)

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