by Paola Deocampo Jackson
As April approaches, I look back on the changes I’ve made over the previous four years. On April 4, 2010, I made the decision to transition into a vegan lifestyle. To this day (and for the rest of my life, I’m sure), I’ll get asked and told the same things over and over again. “Where do you get your protein?” “Won’t your hair start falling out?” “Are you sure you’re getting enough nutrients?” “So, you still eat fish, right?” “If you’re not drinking milk, where do you get your calcium?” “There’s nothing wrong with eating meat; everything in moderation!”
Over these past few years, I’ve become a little less happy to reply, partly because I see a lot of eyes glaze over almost immediately after a question is asked. I have great answers to all of those questions, but none of them hold the weight of WHY I became vegan. None of these statements touch my core decision to make the change. You see, I did not go vegan to lose weight. I wasn’t looking to go on a juice cleanse. I wasn’t even that concerned with health and nutrition at the time. In fact, I cared very little about the controversy surrounding the nutritional aspect of veganism.
I came across the book, “Skinny Bitch,” on one of my Target shopping trips. It had been on my Amazon list of recommended books, probably because I had ordered diet books in the recent past. The cover didn’t appeal to me. It looked like just another fad diet book that would probably give me an impossible meal plan to follow, along with exercises I was already familiar with and blah, blah, blah. Finally, I decided, if Amazon thinks it’s along the lines of what I’d enjoy reading, it couldn’t be that bad. Days later, five chapters in, I contemplated putting the book down for good. It had become obvious that the authors, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, were trying to get me to stop eating meat! Me, give up meat? An enthusiastic connoisseur of anything labeled ‘food’, a proud Filipina that was still in the process of learning Grandma’s recipes for Chicken Adobo and Pork Tocino? ‘Impossible,’ I thought, ‘and no thanks!’ But putting a book down in the middle of a story, fiction or non, doesn’t sit well with me. One day later, I opened it up to Chapter 6, You Are What You Eat. This chapter, where they describe slaughter practices and quote actual slaughterhouse workers, this is the chapter that changed my life in an instant. I won’t repeat all of the horrific accounts, but I will tell you which short and simple quote from a slaughterhouse employee changed me for good: “Pigs on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe.”
The moment I read this, I looked over at my dog, Roxy. She stared up at me with her big, hopeful pug eyes, wanting nothing more than a rub behind the ears or a treat, trusting me, her human, to read into her needs and provide her with what she could not verbally ask for. Isn’t that our responsibility, after all? To take care of those that do not have a voice? To empathize, to be aware that all sentient beings, by definition, have feelings. Sadness, grief, joy, happiness, fear. I thought about how easily humans could have (and in some parts of the world, they certainly have) decided that dogs make a delicious meal. I imagined Roxy shackled and hung upside down, moments away from slaughter, overwhelmed with anxiety and fear, the very same anxiety and fear that a pig or a cow or a chicken would feel. That moment changed my life.
Long story short, I made a personal choice to stop eating animals. I told myself that, if I could picture myself chasing an animal down and killing it for my next meal or potentially harming it’s well-being to make it produce milk and whatever else we humans usually take from them, I would go ahead and order it off the menu. The few times I ate fish during the first few months of transition were unpleasant. Soon, the new decision was to keep anything with a central nervous system off of my plate. The last animal product to leave my diet was the egg. I don’t remember how I justified that for so long, but after learning about the practice of Chick Culling months later, eggs have since not touched my lips.
Though the decision happened in a split-second, the transition takes time, but more importantly, it takes a direct connection from the animal on your plate to the slaughterhouse to the suffering of incredibly small living spaces and the awful practices of debeaking chicks and castrating pigs without anesthesia. From the leather jacket to the animal that suffered for the sake of fashion.
For me, that connection lead to empathy for animals, which widened and nurtured my compassion for humans, also resulting in a love of self. I, too, am a sentient being, after all. Consequently, my passion for fitness and nutrition rapidly developed through the practice of being aware of what goes into my body. A huge bonus is meeting fellow athletes that share a similar experience and lifestyle, vegans that squash the old myths that our hair will fall out and we’ll never be able to gain muscle. Go Plant Built Team!
Not everyone has gone through the same experience. Many people will continue to live as they do now and that is life. To each his own. This is just my little vegan story. I won’t cry and scream, “Meat is murder!” while you eat a burger. I won’t lecture you about the health risks of dairy intake. But I will be here with open arms if you decide to make that change. I will be here with a plethora of literature and trusted sources when curiosity arises. And I will still be here if you ultimately decide that you still want animals on your plate. My only wish is that we all practice a little compassion for one another and see where that might take us.
Love, Peace, and Plants,