As a vegan blogger and traveler, I often get asked by my readers why I’m vegan. I’m happy to share my personal story with you. Here are my reasons for a plant-based lifestyle.
I always love reading about why people go vegan. For some, it’s all about animal welfare. For others, it’s about a healthy diet or dealing with health issues. Some people have decided to try a 30-day vegan challenge. And some have made a personal pledge to do their part in helping the environment. And for those who haven’t made the change to veganism but go meatless one day out of the week or day, I applaud you. I commend anyone who makes thoughtful choices when preparing their meals or dining out. My story is not a typical one. Here are my reasons for a plant-based lifestyle and the events that led to my decision to go vegan (and I never looked back).
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I was raised as a vegetarian from birth. I’ve never consumed meat or fish in my life. Well, not that I know of, anyway. Growing up in the 1980s, this was not considered to be “normal”. My younger sister and I were the only vegetarians that I knew growing up. I’d go over to friends’ houses and their parents would be shocked. I heard, “Well, what do you eat?” more times than I could count. I’m fairly certain that some of my friends’ parents thought my parents were some sort of hippie devil worshipping child abusers. Some kids at school would shove the meat from their lunches into my face. Some of my friends arrived home to announce to their parents, “I’m vegetarian, too!”. I’m sure their parents loved that!
Even though I was raised in a meat-free household, I was always given the option to eat meat when I was old enough to decide for myself. Should I ever be tempted to try a Big Mac, my parents weren’t going to keep me from it. With that said, I’ve never felt the temptation. I don’t find it appealing. It doesn’t even seem like food to me.
I remember doing a school presentation in high school about why I was vegetarian. I explained all of the positive health benefits, how it’s better for the animals, and how it is more environmentally-friendly. This was before the Internet was commonly used. There definitely weren’t websites or blogs devoted to vegetarianism or veganism, or at least I didn’t know about them. Were blogs even a thing back then? The only thing I knew about vegans was that they didn’t eat any animal products, including dairy or eggs. From what I gathered, cows were making milk and chickens were producing eggs. It didn’t hurt the animals to eat these, right? I didn’t understand why anyone would choose to go without.
In my early-twenties, I started to feel tired all the time. I went to the doctor. She did a basic blood test and everything looked fine. She told me, “It’s normal to feel tired now and then. You’re going to university and you’re probably not getting enough rest. Try exercising a little more. Get some more sleep.”
I started drinking coffee.
In my mid-twenties, I started to feel sick all the time. My stomach constantly ached. My tummy troubles alternated between a dull ache and sharp stabbing pains. I tried eating and drinking certain foods to settle out my stomach. Nothing seemed to help. Functioning normally in daily life became increasingly difficult. At work, I sat in my chair, doubled over in pain. Something wasn’t right.
One of my best friends has Celiac disease, and she suggested that it could be a food that I was eating. Her advice was to cut out a common allergen to see if that helped. At the time, I was eating dairy yogurt on a daily basis because I knew it had probiotics and thought it was healthy. Though I didn’t drink much milk, I did enjoy my ice cream. And who could resist chocolate milk?
I was completely shocked: when I stopped eating dairy, my stomach pains completely vanished.
I couldn’t believe it. Why did dairy make me feel so ill? When I want to figure something out, I take to Googling it. This opened a giant wormhole of the Internet that I didn’t know existed. I started to learn about veganism. The more I learned, the more I realized that I had to cut out all animal products for good. Not only was this for my own health, but it became equally about my own peace of mind.
Vegan for Health
I knew all about the health benefits of cutting out meat – a reduction in cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and a myriad of other health issues. Cancer runs heavily in my dad’s side of the family. Actually, I don’t really have anyone from my dad’s side of the family left. My dad, my dad’s parents, and nearly every one of my dad’s siblings have passed away from cancer. Even though my dad was vegetarian, he still passed away from cancer. While I don’t feel that the food we eat is completely to blame for our illnesses, it does play a role.
I started to read that dairy products can be linked to cancer. In fact, scientific studies suggest that dairy can be linked to prostate, testicular, ovarian, and breast cancers.
Beyond cancer, the consumption of animal proteins is linked to osteoporosis and increased bone fractures. That includes dairy. What? I thought dairy was the best source of calcium that we could get. Milk and calcium go hand in hand. And eating enough calcium ensured that our bones would stay strong. Wrong. Turns out, this is just a combination of clever marketing and something that we’re taught from a young age without question. Brainwashing. Animal products are acid-forming, causing your body to be less alkaline. When the body is more acidic, extra calcium is needed and leached from our bones. So, drinking milk actually promotes calcium loss from bones. Have you ever wondered why Western countries have higher rates of osteoporosis?
A great book to read about the link between the consumption of animal products and disease is The China Study. It’s a hefty book, so I found a cheat sheet version that breaks it down very simply. Another awesome movie you need to watch is Forks Over Knives – you can download it at their official site.
For calcium, the best sources include dark leafy greens (kale, bok choy, mustard greens, collard greens), broccoli, beans, tofu, figs, almonds, and non-dairy milks.
As for protein, I already knew that it was easy to get enough protein on a vegetarian diet. Most people get too much protein. Protein can easily be eaten by vegans in the form of beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and meat substitutes. For more information, look here.
There are many other reasons for a plant-based lifestyle for your own health, including warding off type 2 diabetes, having great skin, preventing vision decline, and even having a sharper mind. For my health – this is one reason that I am vegan.
Vegan for Animals
For many years, I thought that I wasn’t contributing to animal suffering by simply being vegetarian. While it’s a huge step forward, the dairy and egg industries are ridiculously cruel. If anything, factory farms raising cows for dairy and chickens for eggs are even more cruel than the meat industries.
Cows don’t just make milk on their own. I know, it’s crazy, but I actually didn’t give it much thought. I figured that cows produced a ton of milk so we were free to drink it. I’ll let you in on something I didn’t realize right away: cows milk is meant for baby cows. Shocking, eh?
Cows must be impregnated in order to make milk. Dairy cows spend their (short) lives in an endless cycle of being impregnated, having baby cows, and being impregnated again. Once cows are “spent” (cannot make as much milk), they are sent to be slaughtered. Even though cows can live to be 20 years or older naturally, most dairy cows don’t make it to age five.
When the baby calf is born, it is taken away from its mother. There are stories about mothers crying out for their babies when they are separated. The calves are equally as distressed being denied access to their mother. If the calf is male, it is useless to the farmer as dairy cows. These babies are killed and eaten as veal. The female calves face a punishing and torturous life as a dairy cow. I think I’d rather be the male calf in this situation, as bad as it seems.
The egg industry is the most cruel of all. Chickens are the most abused of all farm animals. When I first learned these facts, I actually bawled my eyes out. I used to eat eggs a lot. I couldn’t believe that I had contributed to such cruelty.
Male chicks cannot produce eggs. They have no value to the egg farmer. 260 million male chicks are killed every year in disturbing ways. These include being gassed, being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified “kill plate,” or being ground up alive while fully conscious in a “macerator.” Even if you eat “cage-free eggs” (which doesn’t mean much), you’re still supporting this practice.
Female chicks are de-beaked, meaning that part of their beaks are seared off with a hot blade. It’s used as a way to prevent the chicken from plucking away at her own feathers, due to the sheer amount of stress she’s under from living completely confined. The de-beaking process is extremely painful for the chicken.
Most chickens live in battery cages, in a space no bigger than a piece of letter-sized paper. They will never see the light of day, and they have no space to move. Their bodies become covered with bruises. When a hen becomes “spent”, she is killed by being gassed. Many of the chickens survive the gassing. They have been witnessed crawling out from beneath the bodies of decomposing chickens at landfill sites.
I’m an animal lover. I don’t see any difference between the lives of my own cats, a dog, a lion, an elephant, a chicken, a cow, or a pig. Every life is precious. There might have been a time when humans had no choice but to eat meat for survival. However, I do have a choice. I can choose to eat meat or I can choose to eat plants. I love all animals and don’t want to cause any harm. For the animals – this is one reason why I am vegan.
Vegan for the Earth
Going vegan has a greatly positive impact on our natural environment. I consider myself to be an environmentalist. The most environmentally-friendly way to live, in terms of diet, is to choose a plant-based diet. Here are a few reasons for a plant-based lifestyle:
- It conserves water. It takes 460 gallons of water to to produce one hamburger, or 2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. It takes 1000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. It’s extremely inefficient. Animal agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of all US water consumption.
- It cuts greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the exhaust from all transmission combined.
- Livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, water pollution, ocean dead zones, and habitat destruction.
- It creates an incredible amount of waste. Every minute, seven million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the USA. A farm with 2500 cows produces the same amount of waste as a city with 411,000 people.
- Still eating fish? Think again. We are over-fishing and could see fishless oceans by the year 2048. For every pound of fish caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for the destruction of 91% of the Amazon rainforest.
Looking for more? Check out the film, Cowspiracy, for the negative impacts that animal agriculture has on our planet.
And here are some encouraging facts for those following a plant-based diet:
- Someone following a vegan diet produces 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/13th the amount of water, and 1/18th the amount of land for their food when compared to a meat-eating person.
- Someone following a vegan diet saves 1100 gallons of water, 30 square feet of forest, 45 pounds of grain, and one animal’s life – every single day.
For the environment – this is one reason why I am vegan.
What happened when I transitioned to a vegan diet? Well, I wasn’t perfect. I didn’t really know what to eat at first. I didn’t realize how much I relied on dairy and eggs. There are so many great substitutes for animal products out there nowadays that taste awesome. When people I know transition to vegetarianism or veganism, I always tell them to focus on the new foods they can eat, and not what they can’t eat.
I love food and I love eating. There’s a whole world of possibilities out there, filled with foods you probably have never tried. Before I went vegan, I barely ate tofu or tempeh, and now they’re among my favorite foods. I expanded by horizons by trying new recipes and I’m a way better cook now than ever before. There’s so many international dishes that are unintentionally vegan, with a new world of flavors to discover.
There are so many incredible vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and almost every restaurant has a vegetarian option. Treat yourself to a new meal and use it to gain inspiration in your own kitchen.
Some other benefits I’ve had: saving money (eating plant-based is typically cheaper than eating meat and dairy), losing weight, having more energy (much more than ever before!), needing less sleep to function properly, and feeling my best. The strongest man in the world is vegan and many athletes are turning to a plant-based diet for quicker healing and increased athletic performance.
When I fully embraced going vegan, I treated myself to visiting Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York. It was a huge part of the healing process as I still felt the guilt of eating animal products for so many years. Back in 2013, Justin and I visited Farm Sanctuary together after he had switched to veganism for a while. There’s something so peaceful about being surrounded by rescued animals who won’t have to feel pain again. They are ambassadors for the millions of animals that are killed every year. These animals are free to live naturally and happily. After hugging a sheep, petting a pig, feeling a cow’s rough tongue lick my leg, and feeding blades of grass to a hungry chicken, I can tell that these creatures aren’t different from any other. Why love a dog so much…and eat a pig? (For those of you who don’t follow Esther the Wonder Pig already, do it. You’ll fall in love!)
How to go Vegan
It’s easy to say, “Stop eating animal products,” but it’s hard to know where to start when we rely so heavily on them. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Vegan Starter Kit by Veganuary
- How to Switch to Vegetarian Eating by TryVeg.com (Compassion Over Killing)
- Read all about great vegan recipes, tips, and news at VegNews.com
- Look up vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in your town using the Happy Cow website and app
- Here are some of my vegan travel guides
Well, that’s my story! After being vegan for well over eleven years, I can say that I’ve never felt better in my life – both physically and emotionally. Those are my reasons for a plant-based lifestyle. And I’ll never look back.