What DO Vegans Eat?

I recently made the decision to adopt a mostly vegan diet.

I phrase it this way for a couple reasons that reflect the logic behind my choice. I’ll get into that in a bit. But first, this did change the way we planned for and executed meals and has something to do with the lack of blog posts. It didn’t change my life as much as most people who ask me about my decision assume it would have, or at least not in the way most people would have expected. Still, it did take a little getting used to.

Now, about three months after making the leap, I look back and laugh at how easy it actually has been, and how much happier I am now. I don’t say this to promote how great my diet is, or with the intent to get others to adopt a similar ethic (although, that would be fantastic). Rather, I am better living within my own ethical framework of the world and being more logically consistent between my beliefs and my actions.

So how has this choice affected my life? Well, I eat healthier, enjoy going out to eat more than as a vegetarian, cook more gourmet meals, and am generally more comfortable with others not accepting or adopting my same lifestyle. This brings me to why I made the choice.

For as long as I can remember, I have been concerned about my impact on the world. At 8 years old I became a vegetarian in the hope that I could stop the deforestation of the rain forests and save the orangoutangs. After about a year, a dejected and hungry 9 year old ate a McDonalds cheeseburger. The rain forests were still being destroyed and the apes decimated. I took the cynical approach for the next 10 years until my sophomore year in college.  Chock full of wonderful chemicals from the AU dining room (I hadn’t discovered the farm to fork section yet) I was getting sick a lot and taking a lot of antibiotics. And then I read a book. I was assigned Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for a summer camp counseling job. I think Kingsolver was completely misguided, misogynistic, and xenophobic, but that’s another blog post. At the time, my mind was blown.

And then I read more. During the next few years I was consumed with a desire to know more about where my food came from, who grew it, what it involved, and generally what my impact on the world was. I read Michael Pollan books, Peter Singer, Johnathan Safran Foyer. I wrote my senior History thesis on Monsanto’s production and promotion of genetically modified foods. I stopped eating meat and sought out food cooked with the words ethical, local and sustainable. I volunteered at an animal sanctuary. And I felt very guilty every time I ate dairy or eggs.

I would try to convince myself that my choices were ethical, but my arguments were pretty weak and I knew it. I also think of myself as a patient person, but I found that I lost patience with people who didn’t come to see things my way. I regret this most of all. No one is perfect and even now I question my own choices. But I feel that this is right for me based on a couple of my key beliefs, and here they are.

1-All sentient creatures deserve our consideration

Basically, if I believe that my dog growing up knew who I was, got scared during storms, and looked me in the eyes intending for me to understand something, then there is no reason I shouldn’t extend the same considerations I gave him to other intelligent beings. Why should a cow or a chicken be any different? When and if you make the shift in thinking that grants other animals the status of “subject” rather than “object,” it makes it very hard to feel ok about violating that subject’s interests.

2-Humane is for humans

A cow in the slaughter line doesn’t care how well he was treated before that moment. Words like humane, sustainable, ethical…these are marketing tools that have very little meaning. Which brings me to number three…

3-It is wrong to treat subjects like objects

This is the crux of my belief. I don’t think it is always wrong to kill other animals, just that it is wrong to treat them as objects of our own desire, rather than subjects equally capable of participating in the experience of life. If a bear in the woods encounters a moose calf, it doesn’t necessarily kill it. Only if it is hungry or scared. Only if there is some need.

And this is why I think I am much more likely to eat animal flesh again and not other animal products. As a vegetarian, I excused myself from the death that came as a direct result of my choice to purchase dairy and eggs. Male chickens are discarded in a few pretty awful ways when raising laying hens. Veal is largely a byproduct of the dairy industry. Beyond that, I don’t think cows want to give up their offspring (they must be impregnated every year to continue producing milk), and I don’t think chickens want to give up their eggs since it is in their nature to protect their eggs.

I feel that if I encounter an animal in the wild, and I have a need, there is no reason I shouldn’t take that animal. Friends sometimes ask if I would eat eggs from chickens I raised, or fish from my cousin’s boat. My answer is never a simple yes or no, but rather that I have no need to, living in a city with amazing access to seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I was tired of having to justify my actions to myself, feeling these things were produced unethically but consuming them anyway. I was tired of feeling angry at people who I thought also didn’t care. Now, I might not like the status quo, but I am ok with the fact that most people don’t accept my three axioms and therefore have no reason to act upon them. I now have a clearer focus and drive to advocate on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.

Finally, I choose to say that I “adopted a vegan diet” rather than “became vegan” because the latter implies a change in how I view myself. It implies an identity that I could somehow fail to live up to. I eat wild fish occasionally. I eat honey. These animals are free. I really didn’t change my identity, I am just trying to live in a more logically consistent way.

And my diet is about 95% the same, but the change reignited a desire to explore the culinary world, just within slightly more narrow borders. Stay tuned for delicious vegan recipes and reviews.

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