The opinions expressed in these essays do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ARAUNY.
We’re going way back before many of you were born, to the 1970’s.
My personal journey to veganism began when a close family member became vegetarian at age 16. Even though I considered myself as the animal lover in the family, I justified eating meat by reasoning “animals eat other animals…humans are animals…it’s only natural we’d eat other animals too…” So even though I didn’t become vegetarian right then, the seed had been planted, so to speak.
As the Vietnam War began to slowly wind down, a period of environmental consciousness began. Media reports were full of stories and articles about corporate pollution, the dangers of pesticides & plastics, animals headed to extinction, and so on. Not until I began reading two very important books did the connection between eating meat and the desecration of the planet finally register.
The first was Mankind? Our Incredible War on Wildlife by Cleveland Amory. Mankind? changed forever the way I thought about animals. Like many people I bought into the “hunter as conservationist” myth, believing that deer would starve unless hunters thinned the herd (killing them to save them–go figure). From the introduction on how we use animals in language, e.g. a violent person is an “animal”–to exposing so-called conservation organizations as nothing more than selfish entities caring more about protecting their right to hunt than protecting species, this exceptional book also covers trapping & the fur trade and ends with the horrific poisoning of coyotes and other valuable species by Western ranchers and the federal government for the purpose of grazing livestock–on public land. In testimony before Congress, Mr. Amory requested to submit as evidence a book written about this subject by Jack Olsen. It was Slaughter the Animals, Poison the Earth (1971), a scathing indictment of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s poison-control program. Incredibly, almost a half-century later, the poisoning, trapping, and killing of native animals so livestock can graze on public lands is still happening. Learning the truth about meat production and the destruction it causes directly and indirectly was the impetus for me to go vegetarian.
It was a gradual process; we didn’t have the array of meat-substitutes like there is today such as Tofurky, Field Roast, Gardein, Beyond Meat and the dairy alternatives Daiya, Silk, So Delicious, Vegan Gourmet, and Go Veggie. I recall one faux chicken product, frozen in chunks, that was pretty tasty but taken off the market for some unknown reason. Another meat alternative came in a tin can with ingredients one couldn’t quite pronounce–not very appetizing. Vegetarian recipes were found in the rare veg cookbook; Freya Dinshah’s The Vegan Kitchen was one of the first cookbooks to use the word vegan in its title. It’s now in its 13th edition and Freya still heads the American Vegan Society which her husband founded. Bridal and baby showers were very uncomfortable at times. You were served a giant salad topped with shredded cheese, usually before the other guests, as they looked at you as if you came from Mars. Many times dining out your only options were an iceberg lettuce salad or grilled cheese sandwich.
Thankfully, because of the increasing popularity of veganism, there are so many meat-and-dairy alternatives that are truly tasty as well as healthful. Support groups and Facebook pages for folks in transition to veganism are popping up all over, plus VegFests throughout the country are attended by thousands. Despite the many cruelties animals yet endure, I think we can say that the rise of veganism signals some actual progress for animal welfare.
Being Vegan…Then and Now was originally published on Animal Rights Advocates of Upstate, N.Y.