I’ve been vegan since the 29th of January 2015. At that point in my life, I had already been vegetarian for four years (since the 1st of January 2011) thanks to a school project I had to do on the topic. I know those dates so well because each time something significant happened that deeply resonated with me.
Starting to live vegetarian was first a challenge to myself: let’s see if you can stick to this for one year. I first thought of eating a vegetarian diet after watching the animal rights documentary Earthlings. It deeply shocked me. I remember sitting in front of my family’s computer and physically shaking after only the first few minutes. From then on it only got worse. If you have not seen the film, be warned: it’s horrible and heart-breaking, but all the footage is real. And I think that’s what made it so hard for me to watch. How can people hurt other living beings in such a horrible, disgusting way? And not just in the meat and dairy industry, but in all areas where people keep and treat animals. Yes, there are good people out there, of course. However, I decided that as long as others commit crimes like they are shown in Earthlings and countless other documentaries, I would not eat a single piece of meat. So, on the 31st of December 2010, celebrating the New Year with my family, I ate the last piece of meat. Fast forward to two weeks later and I knew that this one-year vegetarian thing – would be more like a lifelong commitment.
Weird salad eating hippies
I read and watched and learned more about why people refuse to consume animal products for health, ethical, environmental, and other reasons. One of my sisters became vegetarian roughly one month after me. For the next four years, I was happy with being vegetarian. I thought that with refusing to eat meat and fish, I was making an impact, that fewer animals would be killed just for some variety on my plate. Vegans for me were weird salad eating hippies at that point, to be honest.
It took me a while to realise that after several years, my sister who became vegetarian after me started a vegan diet. I was intrigued. Because I knew my sister and she wasn’t a salad eating hippie. The opposite actually: when we were younger our father told us week after week that we should finally start eating some salad because we never did. My sister and I had to become vegetarian and then vegan first to, in the end, eat more salad than my father probably ever will.
My sister and I used to pre-cook our lunches together: she for university, I for school. That was the first time I was tipped off about something being different. Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to use cheese or milk in our meals anymore. First, I thought it was weird, but then I started doing research again. What could have motivated my sister to switch from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one? I soon learned that one of the reasons why I became vegetarian – namely reducing the number of animals being killed – did not apply to me eating a vegetarian diet. Dairy cows still loose their often only hours old calves due to us wanting to drink their milk. Calves that I love and have often played with at the farm of a friend’s grandfather are still being killed, especially the male ones. Dairy cows themselves are killed as soon as they don’t produce enough milk anymore. Chickens have the same fate. Male chicks are being shredded and female ones lay eggs and then die.
Forkes over Knives
As soon as I realised that I knew for sure that as soon as possible I wanted to switch to a vegan diet. No more animal products whatsoever. What held me back at that point was that I was in my last year of school and only months away from taking my final exams. Stressful times and I didn’t want to add another stressor by changing my diet. That thought process flew out of the window when my sister made a bet with my father and won it. As a result, my whole family watched the documentary Forks over Knives together. Leading American physician Caldwell Esselstyn and professor of nutritional biochemistry T. Colin Campbell show the connection between eating a plant-based diet and reducing and even reversing several chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. I was fascinated. And I felt nauseous. Because here I was, still eating cheese and yoghurt and eggs even though I knew better. That night I decided that I had waited long enough. The next morning, I told my family in the kitchen that from now on, I was vegan as well. Reactions were mixed, I won’t lie. My sister thought it was nice, I guess, but the rest of my family didn’t like it that much. I didn’t care. I knew it was the best decision for me.
Veganism is more than just a diet – it’s a lifestyle
It took a while, but I soon started thinking about other aspects of my life regarding my vegan way of life. Soon I stopped buying leather and wool products. My shampoo and other cosmetics are now vegan and certified to have not been tested on animals. I try to buy organic food as often as possible. When I have a spider in my bedroom, I use a glass and a piece of paper to bring it outside and no longer the vacuum cleaner to get rid of it. Veganism isn’t just a diet. Yes, eating plant-based is a part of it, but as The Vegan Society defines: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
I grew up eating meat, fish, dairy, egg and honey products. I never really thought about where the schnitzels and scrambled eggs on my plate came from. I first had to stumble over documentaries, articles and other people telling me why they changed the way they lived before I knew that I wanted to change something myself. I see my vegan journey as far from finished. There are still many things to explore and learn and share.