february 4, 2011 // going vegan

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I've been putting off writing this blog entry.. not because I'm not excited about it, but because it means so much to me and I'm not sure how to articulate what I'm feeling. I'm also unsure about how it will be received.. Hopefully no one thinks that I'm some ranting maniac.. I'm just someone who is beginning to learn the truth about what goes on in our food industry.. and that truth has really, really affected me. It's being hidden from us and everyone needs to know..that's why I'm going to share my story here.

To start off, I've always loved animals. Growing up, my family always owned cats. I think that we've all loved an animal - whether a pet or character in a movie - at one point or another. I've been flirting with veganism for the past few months. I switched over to an all vegetarian diet about a year and a half ago. It was a really big step for me. When I went away to college I had a vegetarian roommate. It was the first time that I'd been exposed to a plant-centered diet. I had always eaten meat.. My parents had always eaten meat.. Their parents had always eaten meat.. It was so ingrained in my day-to-day life that I couldn't think of doing otherwise. I asked my roommate a lot of questions, which she graciously answered... "Why don't you eat meat?".. "Don't you miss bacon?"..."What can you eat?!".. I just couldn't comprehend it.. Why would someone want to voluntarily give up eating meat? My roommate was awesome and I always admired her peaceful way of living.. (we called her our house hippie).. there was just something different about her lifestyle.. she was intentionally seeking out ways to contribute peacefully to the planet and I liked that.

During that same year, I started noticing that the red meat from the school cafeteria was making me feel really gross (this should have been obvious to me.. I mean, what school cafeteria serves a good steak, right?!) I decided to stop eating red meat during this time. This was the beginning of my dietary transition.

On my first Roadie tour with Roadtrip Nation, there was a girl on my team named Mariana. She was the first vegan that I had ever met. I actually didn't even know what the word "vegan" meant before meeting her.. To anyone who may be reading this who is in the same boat that I was in not that long ago.. a vegan is a person who refrains from eating any animals or their secretions (I know.. secretions is an icky sounding plural noun.. but it's true when you think about it.. but yeah, still gross..). I had even more questions for Mariana than I'd had for my college roommate. Now questions were getting into uncharted territory..."Wait, wait.. so you don't eat CHEESE?!"..and "How do you do it?!" oh.. then there was.. "No ice cream? No ice cream?! NO ICE CREAM?!?!?!" I just couldn't wrap my brain around it. Mariana was patient enough to answer all of my questions.. which added up to a lot.. and when you're within the confines of an RV living with three other people for two months, I'm sure that non-stop questions can get overwhelming.. to say the least. Mariana not only answered my (many.. mostly) cheese-centered questions (I..really..like..cheese..no..really), she also opened my eyes to animal cruelty for the first time.

I know that I'm not alone in thinking the way that I used to think because it's what we're told to believe from the moment we start eating solid food - the animals we eat are raised by loving hands on idyllic farms with rolling pastures in the background. When they're killed, they feel no pain.. in fact, they live to give their lives to us humans.. it's only natural. It's the course of nature. It's the food chain. They live so we can eat and eat we do.. breakfast, lunch and dinner.. some sort of meat is a part of our meal. Is that close? Maybe some of you are more informed than I was, but that's seriously what I believed to be true for twenty-something years of my life. I also never really questions my meat consumption before living in close quarters with my vegan friend.. eating meat was what I'd always done, so why change?

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Even as a vegetarian I was only partially aware of the cruelty that is done to the animals that we raise for food. When I made the official switch over to vegetarian full-time I was just beginning to see the truth - that factory farming is behind the meat industry in America. For anyone who may not know what factory farming is (I didn't just until recently), it's when a farm operates as a factory (sounds obvious..I know..).. they raise livestock in unnatural conditions in order to turn out a high volume of animal product (the animals we eat and their.. here's that word again.. secretions). The "unnatural conditions" I'm referring to are just terrible. Animals are kept in filthy, confined spaces and many never even get the chance to see the sun or do the natural things that they instinctively do. It's horrible. There's so much more to go into about it.. all awful and saddening.. but this post is already getting to be plenty long. If you're interested in learning more about factory farming I recommend a book by Jonathan Safran Foer called Eating Animals.

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..So, I was a vegetarian for a while.. and things were going just fine.. then everything changed. I started working at Native Foods, an incredible vegan eatery in Southern California. It was there, over the course of just a few months, that I met more vegans than I had EVER met in my entire life.. I was working with them, serving them and learning so much about veganism all at the same time. I got to hear people's stories about their transition from meat-eater to vegan.. and I started wondering if there was really something to being vegan rather than vegetarian. When I left for my second Roadie tour, I left behind my job at Native Foods and plunged head first into two months of road trip food - mainly Pizza Hut's personal cheese pizza.. like, every day (bad news when you're not doing much exercise and mixing said pizza with pounds of candy...)

Towards the end of the trip, I started feeling kind of.. well, disgusting. So, on the last week of tour, I decided to go vegan. That lasted all of.. mmm.. two days. Cheese got me yet again. I tried a second time.. lasting a grand total of three days! Then I went home for Christmas.. which means that I went home to my family's Italian Christmas day celebration - complete with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese and enough cannolis to go around the world.. twice. Needless to say, I didn't try going vegan during that time.

When I got back to California after the holidays and started getting ready to head up to Montana, I was determined to challenge myself 1.) creatively by writing and illustrating a book.. and 2.) by making an effort to go vegan for 30-days.. I figured, after that I could say.. "Oh well, I tried.. La di dah.. So is life.." and go back to eating all the cheese I wanted afterward. I downloaded a podcast to fill my long stretches of highway called "Vegetarian Food for Thought". I figured that it would help spur me on vegan-ally speaking.. I honestly didn't think that the whole vegan thing would stick. But, I'm now happy to say (nearly 30 days later) that it has. In fact, it's stuck so well that I don't see myself ever eating any differently.

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What really made me want to make the change for good this time was that podcast. I know.. I know.. I sound like an infomercial.. but seriously. If you've ever wanted to learn about the vegan lifestyle or the truth about where your food comes from.. I would recommend a 110% listening to it. The host, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (of a website called Compassionate Cooks), is so wonderfully non-threatening in her approach. She answers TONS of questions that people have about veganism.. everything from, "What's there to eat?" to "How do you get your vitamins".. she really does an amazing job answering questions thoroughly and informatively. I could go on and on gushing about Colleen, but instead I want to give you a challenge. Listen to one podcast episode by her. I'd recommend an episode called "Eating Animals" and another.. a short story called "Beyond Lies the Wub" (a short science fiction story by Philip K. Dick).. and.. well, all of her other episodes (but those are just a few to get you started). You can download her podcast for free on iTunes. If you don't have time to listen, just look up factory farming on Google. I think that we all need to know the truth about where our food is coming from. It's so wrong that it's so hidden from us. We've become incredibly desensitized to our food.. and we've found a way to completely compartmentalize the animals that we eat from the animals that we love and care for.

If you're looking for something to watch, check out Glass Walls narrated by Paul McCartney (an avid vegetarian..by the by) or Meet Your Meat on YouTube.. to forewarn you, both of these videos are really graphic. They're worth watching.. if nothing else but to see what really goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms. Just know ahead of time that there is something we can do about what goes on..If you're at all bothered by what you see, know that just making a change in our own lives helps.. even if it seems like only in a small way. Choosing to cut out meat even one day a week is a step in the right direction. It's the individual making a change in his or her own habits that can lead to a change in the habits of a nation.

I apologize that this post was so long. Again, there's just so much to say which is part of the reason why I put it off this long.. If you have any questions about veganism, please feel free to e-mail me at helloifihaver@gmail.com. I definitely don't have all the answers.. and I'm learning more every day, but I would love to share some great resources that I'm learning from and encourage you! Thanks for reading :-)

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