This year 2010, I am celebrating a 40th! It’s not my birthday or my anniversary to my loving husband. This anniversary is forty years of being a vegetarian, though I did become vegan in 2001. I am very proud of this milestone. These years have gone by very quickly and, with each decade, being a vegetarian has become easier and more acceptable and there are many more of us, I am happy to say.
As you can imagine, there were very few vegetarians back in 1970, even at my very liberal college in Southern California. I didn’t know any. I made this lifestyle decision quite impulsively but I have never digressed from it. I think that is because my decision was based on ethical, not health based, reasons, though we now know that a vegetarian/vegan diet is, in fact, a much healthier diet. I made the decision when I was a freshman at Pitzer College. I didn’t read a book or article about factory farming nor see a video showing farm animal abuse. It wasn’t until a year later that Francis Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet came out and not until 1975 when Peter Singer’s revolutionary book, Animal Liberation, was published. I didn’t have any idea about the wildlife who are killed to give “food animals” grazing land or the marine life who are caught as “bycatch” in the enormous nets in our waters. In his new book, Eating Animals, the author Jonathan Safran Foer lists the other 145 marine species who are killed, including dolphins and seahorses, to get the much desired tuna. I also didn’t know the environmental impact and the amount of grains, water and soil which are being used and polluted by animal agriculture. It just made sense to me.
My decision was simple. I decided that I wanted to live a non-violent life, as best I could. I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally or where I wanted to live or who I wanted to love but I knew I wanted to be an example of what I would learn later is often referred to as “ahimsa”. Now to live non-violently for me seemed easy enough. I got along with all kinds of people, never lost my temper and never hit or hurt anyone in my life, at least not intentionally. So how would this lifestyle change my life? I realized immediately that it was my food choices that caused violence and suffering and death- and generally on a daily basis. I guess you could say that I realized at that moment that “Peace begins on your plate,” a phrase I would later coin.
Now back in January, 1970 and long after, there were few vegetarian dishes at most American-style restaurants so I quickly became a “foodie” for ethnic ones- Indian, Thai, Chinese. Each of them offered numerous, delicious vegetarian dishes that were very satisfying for me. The hardest places for me to eat were & still are the American “Steak & Lobster” restaurants where they go out of their way to make a special dish of steamed vegetables! Who wants steamed vegetables for a meal? I certainly didn’t! My father was in charge of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada in the ‘70s and I would visit my parents often. We would dine at the famous 5 star restaurants at the Dunes such as The Sultan’s Table and The Dome of the Sea which featured a woman playing her harp as she floated in a pool of water in the middle of the restaurant and I would secretly be wishing I were at the local Indian restaurant. There I could get saag paneer, aloo gobi, samosas, bhajiis, etc. and NOT steamed veggies. My parents looked at it as a phase I would grow out of and left it at that. That period of time was definitely the most challenging one for me as a vegetarian- there were no veggie burgers or soy dogs yet- but I was committed to this lifestyle and beginning to learn the ugly truths of factory farming, genetic breeding and the utter disregard for these sentient beings we call “food animals.” I also lost weight & felt better. I became involved with a farm animal sanctuary for rescued farm animals and found “my people,” as this had definitely become a major belief for me and eating is so daily. I was no longer alone- and that is always a warm feeling to us humans.
The rest of my life has been fairly “normal.” I married a wonderful man and we had one child, purposely, as I believe overpopulation is a very serious problem. My vegetarian lifestyle did become a grave concern for my mother when she learned I was pregnant. She was convinced (brainwashed) that I would not have a healthy baby without consuming animals. I knew better and didn’t budge. I am still so grateful that my mother lived to see and hold our 8 1/2 pound, healthy baby girl, as she died six weeks later of emphysema. My husband had become vegetarian and we raised our daughter as a vegetarian. We’d go to BBQs, dinner parties, religious holiday dinners and we would just bring food or our hosts would have food for us. Our daughter did not grow up going to fast food places and survived not getting their toys. I still wonder why these toys at fast food places aren’t seen, as Joe the Camel was, for influencing kids to unhealthy choices. I actually think that our daughter is a stronger, more independent person because she grew up being a little different because of our dietary choices. She learned early that she could survive being different.
I am sorry that it took some 31 years after I became vegetarian to become vegan. Cheese is a very addictive food and I loved it. But I could no longer deny that there is what I now call “living violence” and that every time I had cheese, I was supporting the horrible veal industry. To support the dairy and egg industries was going against the non-violence to which I had dedicated my life so I finally made that much more difficult change. To take a baby calf away from his/her mother, both crying for the other, and to then further exploit them both, is violent behavior- as is confining mutilated birds in cramped cages with no opportunity to live out their natural instincts or to see and feel the sun. In my opinion, there is so much suffering in this world without humans contributing more to it. And we are absolutely heartless in our exploitation of animals, not just farm animals but every species of animals.
But it was really in 2005 that my life as a vegetarian/vegan came to a new level. Volunteering weekly for Animal Acres, a farm animal sanctuary outside Los Angeles that I helped get started, I have grown to know and love these gentle beings in ways similar to my pets. How well I remember our first rescue- a veal calf we named “Gandhi” who was left to die after he was not sold at an auction due to his front legs being crippled. Because his newborn leg muscles hadn’t yet extended since birth, he was considered worthless and literally left to die. He was rescued & brought to Animal Acres where he received 24 hour supervision while he recuperated. He was able to walk & enjoy his life for a short time but he, too soon, succumbed to immunity problems due to his lack of colustrum, a natural immunity suppressor in mother’s milk. Why? Because he was taken away from his mother within 24 hours of birth and therefore didn’t get enough of this immune strengthening milk from her to fight off infections.
Due to foreclosures, we rescued a goat we named Hope whose hooves were so overgrown that she could no longer walk & was slowly starving to death. She shocked us by giving birth to a healthy baby, Faith, the day after we rescued her. However, after giving birth, she could no longer stand; her strength was gone. Despite months of veterinary care, hot baths, massages, & lots of food & love, we lost Hope. Our hearts were broken but we find solace and joy in watching her daughter, Faith, living happily at the farm. I find solace in knowing they all died at a loving, peaceful place with people who cared for them, not exploited them. There are so many stories- some sad like Hope & Gandhi but many more of the lucky animals who came to us- abused, scared and distrustful and were turned around due to patience, care and love. Food helps too! I encourage you to visit Animal Acres or the other 24 farm animal sanctuaries around our country and meet these magnificent animals. It just might change your diet!
So I am celebrating these 40 years & I feel great. I take no medications, have low blood pressure & cholesterol, and I am very grateful for the blessings in my life. I know my vegan lifestyle will keep me healthier but it will not prevent my death. Something will go wrong but I do believe that my diet will always be an advantage in fighting what may come my way. More importantly, I look at my lifestyle as a conscious, compassionate choice that brought real meaning and goals to my life. I am so encouraged to see how many young people, like I was when I made this decision, are becoming vegan/vegetarians. It really is their world to save- or destroy, as it has now been determined that animal agriculture is worse for our environment than all the transportation in the world. But to everyone else I say-it’s never too late to change- to take a healthier, more environmental, compassionate path & I hope you do. It will make a difference- and isn’t that what we all want to do?
“Dairy & eggs are industries built on the exploitation of the female reproductive systems. I wish more people wishing for equality and fairness when it comes to feminist issues would see the unity of oppression and advocate for all females, including non-human ones.” ~The Art of Herbivore
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