Thursday, August 30, 2012
Ten years ago this month, I first decided to go vegan. I didn’t mark the exact day because I was not all that optimistic about the venture succeeding. I was a high-schooler, and at the time I was the only member of my family who had ever explored any form of vegetarianism*.
I had spent several weeks reading up on the subject of veganism and the pros and cons thereof, as well as a number of books about specific misdeeds of the modern meat, dairy and egg industries. I read up on nutrition and discovered that contrary to popular belief, vegetarians and vegans were not inherently doomed and sickly, and that there might even be some benefits, health-wise. No matter how much I was mentally leaning in the vegan direction, however, I hesitated to take the final plunge.
Actually, even before the recent spate of veggie-related reading, I had had impulses toward vegetarianism for years. I was always very fond of and empathetic toward animals, and possessed an excessively vivid and gruesome imagination when it came to picturing the process that was required to transform a living, breathing creature into the bloody slab on my plate. However, I continued to grit my teeth and dutifully choke it down, because everyone told me to, because I thought it was necessary for my health, and also because I doubted my ability to make a meaningful difference, in the world at large and in my own life.
I was a somewhat defeatist teenager, you see. My life was far from terrible, but there were a lot of things about it that made me feel powerless. I was not particularly happy at school, where the difficulty of the schoolwork was often far too easy to pique my interest, and yet my chronic illnesses and absenteeism often created huge backlogs of busy work that I would resentfully slog through for hours, mind completely disengaged. I also had some fairly serious health problems that were not fully diagnosed or treated until I was in my twenties—not that I knew that at the time. I thought it was just my lot in life to be severely nauseated all the time, among other issues, and that it simply wasn’t fixable, no matter what I did.
And I was a worrier. I was just well read and informed enough to be deeply concerned about all of the bad things going on around the world, and just as deeply convinced that I couldn’t personally help with any of it. I could not vote (and that rankled, a lot. I’ve never missed an election since I turned eighteen), I had no income to use for charity, I couldn’t rush overseas to get involved in relief efforts—frankly I was too sickly to do much good even with local volunteerism. I was completely powerless, at least as far as my dramatic teenage brain was concerned.
So whenever I considered the potential impact of a vegetarianism, I tended to dismiss the idea that my abstaining would have any significant effect on the industry at large, for I was convinced that I would never have any impact on the world at large, period. And therefore, there was no point in trying. That was the essential fallacy, of course—the idea that a venture must be a guaranteed success (and not just small-scale success, but a worldwide one) to be worth trying in the first place, when any inventor will tell you that failures can be as instructive as successes, or even more so. And I knew this, deep down. I just hadn’t quite built up the courage yet.
So one day, with no fanfare, I sat down to a meal and simply thought to myself, I don’t want to eat that. I don't want to participate in the cruelty involved anymore. And what’s more, I knew I didn’t have to--that there was an alternative lifestyle that I could try. And maybe I would crash and burn within days and fail utterly with everyone pointing and laughing (a common teenage concern). But at the same time, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I would succeed. And wasn’t it worth going out on limb for once to find out?
So I did. And of course, ten years of veganism (and several years of adulthood) later, I can look back and laugh at my uncertainties, my wobbly first steps. And I can evaluate what I have accomplished. No, I have not driven the agricultural-industrial complex to its knees. Although I am no longer actively participating in or financing the meat industry with my custom, the lack hasn’t put any meat company out of business. The planet turns on, largely unchanged by the details of one tiny life form and its tiny choices. I have not changed the world. But I have changed my world.—the way I see life and my place in it. And that is worth something, at least to me.
*Now I am one of six—about half.