roivoire (roivoire) wrote,

From Pregan to Vegan: A Coming Out

When I was in Seattle the other day I made a new friend, and while we were at Elysian Brewery eating habits came up. When he asked me if I was vegan, and I said yes, he asked, "And how's that going for you?"

It's funny, because I was taken aback. Such a simple question with so little intention of impact, I'm sure, but I had a moment where I stared at him. But then I grinned, and said, "Great!"
People ask me all the time, about this seemingly new choice of mine. But this was the first time that someone had asked me anything pertaining to how it made me feel, or how it was affecting me, and I realized how much I had been thirsting for this. So at the risk of... no, I guess there isn't any risk. For the sake of airing my thoughts, I write it down. In the hope that someone is interested, I post it.

It may be sad to say, but nevertheless it is true - my connection to religion and spirituality is tenuous at most. A lifetime of what can be described as agnosticism has not contributed in a concrete way to a feeling of connection and inner peace that people customarily describe when conversing about such matters. But for moments lately, I think I know what that is like. I can only guess that the act of consciously living compassionately is what has changed - nothing else really has. Cutting out the last of the animals in my diet - specifically fish, dairy and eggs, did not seem like a big lifestyle change for me - I rarely ate them anyway, more as a matter of convenience than out of true gastronomic desire.

Well, I guess I could backtrack and explain that I haven't eaten red meat in a long time - I think it was before I was twelve when my mother stopped eating cows and pigs, other than her beloved bacon, and I followed suit. Around the age of eighteen I became ill after a chicken-filled barbecue, and found poultry distasteful. For the next nine years I was quite happy with my lacto-ovo-pesca-vegetarianism (or as dismalsportfan likes to call it, the girl-vegetarian diet), though none of these decisions were particularly mindful. I never realized the compartmentalization that was taking place, even though I had a sense of guilt when spending time with vegan friends or discussing veganism. I don't have to put up those blocks of rationalization anymore. This feeling must be freedom.

All my life I have struggled to be someone that doesn't fit easily in a box (just a clothes drier), someone that you can't describe in one word. I think that I resisted a way of life that was so attuned to my own ideals and ethics because of this. When I say "vegan" I think of so many other personality traits that have nothing to do with the simple truth of "I do not knowingly support the suffering or servitude of members of the animal kingdom." I didn't want to be someone that people think that they know just because I say "vegan." The lecturer, the judger, the martyr. None of that has anything to do with veganism, especially my veganism. I chafed at the idea of preconceived notions and ill-informed assumptions.

This is not a manifesto. It is an unbuckling of my heart in a manner that required words - I could feel them building up inside. Everyone has a story that they need to tell, and this is only one of mine. It is not a story that hopes to change anyone but myself, even as it tells how I am already changed.

Which is funny, that I do not mean to change anyone's mind. With the idea of religion, especially in these parts, there is an idea of conversion and evangelism. I think I know what that desire is like, only because I feel happy - conspicuously happy - and I want to share this feeling with those I love. But I was not ready change until i was ready, it's as simple as that. So I know that goes for everyone.

I did learn a lot about the subject matter recently, and it is fair to say that it inspired me to re-evaluate. But what was the exact sequence, I wonder? I searched out a podcast having to do with food, with vegetarianism, and I ended up with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's Vegetarian Food For Thought. Her enthusiasm for food is truly inspiring, and I quickly listened through all the food related episodes and continued on with those devoted to nutrition and to specific myths on vegetarianism. Enthusiasm is one of the most infectious traits in someone, and I have to say that she infected me. With food, I learned a little, but in every other arena, I learned so much. I let her change me, but it couldn't have been just anyone, that I am sure. She was in the right time at the right place, but she was the right one.

I always had my truth, but she was the one that inspired me to speak it out loud. I didn't think I was going to lose any friends over it, but people can react in unforeseeable ways. It does make people uneasy, and I am not good at doing things I know will make them uncomfortable. I can be a bit of a crowd-pleaser, despite wanting to be the weird one. I don't understand it either.

The change inside or the need to speak - I'm not sure which came first, the plant or the seed? It could have been the chicken or the egg, but something about this question seemed to favor the flora over the fauna. It speaks more closely to this process that happened, is fact happening, a closeness much like an inner blossoming.

Is an ethical decision really a decision? Ethical compulsion feels like its not a choice at all - especially because making it comes as such a relief. For a life that already felt emotionally awake, the idea that this choice would open me up even more is a bit frightening. But here I am with a fierce happiness tempered with moments of very real anguish. In a way it's better that I am not asked regularly how it feels - the results might be exhausting for the both of us!

As a writer I am possessed with the need to express myself just as mnuch as I am possessed with the frustration at the incompetence of mere language to recreate the true experience of living. One simple experience that I have trouble tacking down to the screen in that of gratitude.

I am grateful that I lived with Katherine Gladwin and philosophile, who made eating animal-free familiar, friendly and something to aspire to. I am also grateful to people like Pandora and @awdmbond who walk the walk for the long haul and remind me that its about more than just food. All of my friends have taught me more about being present, connected and passionate than I could ever have asked for, just because of who they are, leading by example.

This idea of connection with humans as well as non-human animals does not discredit the wonders that human beings are in my eyes. I think of an old song from an animated educational show:

You are a human animal
You are a very special breed
For you are the only animal
That can think, that can reason, that can read.

Just as humans are glorious creatures, I think we do more to honor that specialness by using our gifts to live compassionately rather than use them to compartmentalize our emotions, justify cruelty, and intellectualize violence. With not only our minds but our hearts fully opened, we become more glorious, more awake, and more human, ultimately.

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