When I think back to when I first became vegan, 26 years ago, it never occurred to me that it would be hard. It just never entered my mind. Crazy? Probably! But it kind of fits with the way I’ve lived my life. When I had a good reason to do something, I usually just jumped in with both feet and never looked back.
And I had a good reason to become vegan. Actually, a lot of good reasons.
But while I was vegetarian, I continued to consume LARGE quantities of eggs and dairy products. I LOVED milk! I drank at least a quart a day. And of course I loved cheese, too.
also the dairy cows who are forced to produce 10 times more milk than they were designed to produce, causing great stress on the cows. They are kept pregnant continuously to keep their milk production coming. A “by-product” of milk production is a huge number of baby calves, who are immediately taken from their mothers so humans can take all the milk. The male calves are raised in tiny, dark crates and kept anemic so their pale flesh can be sold as veal. (Fortunately, some states are now outlawing these cruel crates.) The female calves are raised to replace their mothers in the dairy herds. The cows should live to be about 25, but are usually “spent” by about 4 years old and are slaughtered and ground into hamburger.
I also learned that chickens were raised in “battery cages” about the size of a file cabinet drawer. But there wasn’t just one chicken in this small space — there were 7 chickens jammed into one cage! They spent their entire, miserable lives there. They couldn’t even lift a wing, and to prevent them from pecking each other to death, their beaks were cut off when they were 1 day old. The boy chicks were considered useless, so they were thrown into a grinder for disposal. Alive.
I not only stopped eating eggs and dairy products IMMEDIATELY — I also stopped WANTING to eat them! It wasn’t hard at all. I loved animals, and I just hadn’t realized what kind of hell they endured so that I could drink my precious milk and make my delicious omelets.
I learned much more in this amazing book — about the food-borne illnesses like salmonella, listeria, e-coli, and campylobacter, that originate in animal products. We often hear about these bacteria on something like strawberries, but that’s only because of contamination from animal products. My own sister’s newborn son died of listeria — and I never understood why until I read this book. The doctors had told my sister, “Listeria comes from farm animals.” There weren’t any farm animals in Sitka, where my sister lived . . . except the ones on everyone’s dinner plates!
I’ve also learned how runoff of chemical fertilizers and manure are polluting ground water, rivers, and causing dead zones in the ocean. Air quality is so bad from the manure lagoons that some residents have to leave to avoid the stench and the resulting breathing problems.
According to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Report in 2006, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, animal agriculture is known to be the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined. As an Alaskan, I see the climate changing faster every year. But who is talking about the most significant thing we can each do to reduce our own carbon footprint — switch to a plant-based diet?
It can be hard to do something when we don’t have a really good reason. It would be hard for most of us to jump into icy cold water — unless we saw that a child had fallen into the water. We would jump in without even thinking about the temperature of the water — we would just immediately do what we could to save this child.
Well, this is why it is so easy for me to be vegan.
I have every reason not to eat animal products. AND, I have great reasons to eat healthy plant foods!
I’m healthier now than I ever was when eating animal products. I used to have serious, inflammatory problems that could have led to blindness and crippling. But by changing my diet, I’ve had the wonderful experience of becoming healthy and slim without dieting, and without needing to take medications.
I also LOVE the taste of the fresh, healthy food I eat. During the summer, I get great joy from growing a huge vegetable garden. During the winter, I find it very easy to purchase all the vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts I need at our local grocery stores.
For me, the reasons to adopt a vegan diet so far outweighed anything I had to give up that it was truly easy. I know that’s not the case for everyone.
But there are things everyone can do to make it a lot easier:
1st, don’t try to go it alone. Hook up with others eating this way. You can attend vegan potlucks and join online Facebook groups. You can take vegan cooking classes.
2nd, become educated. Read books, watch videos, take classes, attend VegFests and online summits. Learn about the nutritional reasons why a plant-based diet is the healthiest for you, as well as the reasons it is the healthiest for the planet, and for the animals.
3rd, Make friends with your kitchen! You can whip up some super simple and delightfully delicious meals that will taste every bit as good — or better–than what you’ve eaten before. You can learn the basics that will really help you by taking a cooking class, either in person or online. You can get ideas from YouTube videos and food blogs. There are lots of good vegan cookbooks available now.
4th, Focus on how good it feels to know you’re doing positive things for yourself and the world, rather than focusing on what you’re “giving up.”
One very simple, yet profound action
We have a lot of problems in our world. It is easy to feel discouraged and even hopeless about them. It is a true blessing to know that there is one action — one very simple, yet profound action — each of us can take that will have far-reaching positive effects: on our own health, on the environment, on hunger, on the suffering of animals. This simple choice, to eat a plant-based diet, does all of this and more.
The more of us who make this choice, the easier it gets for everyone. It begins to seem more normal and do-able when we know others doing it. And more demand means more vegan options in stores and restaurants.
No matter which reasons are the most motivating for you, when your reasons are solidly in place, it becomes easier to shift your diet. And the more reasons you have, the easier it gets. I guess that’s why it was such an easy choice for me!
From this vantage point, after 26 years as a vegan, my main feeling is gratitude. Gratitude for the authors who provided me with the education I needed to make the shift — gratitude for being able to make a positive difference in the world — and gratitude for reversing my health problems and reaping the rewards of excellent health and a great quality of life. I’m also grateful for this beautiful and abundant earth, the amazing plants that can make food out of thin air, and the animals who make this planet such an interesting place to live. I’m also grateful for all the people who are moving toward a more plant-based diet. It truly is a movement! And I love being part of it.
Delisa is a plant-based nutrition and cooking instructor in Alaska. She believes that we are designed to be slim and healthy.