I don’t know the exact date, but sometime last month was 20th anniversary of my conversion to vegetarianism. I thought I’d celebrate the milestone by telling my vegan story.
Meat comes from animals?
I’m not exactly sure how I figured out that meat came from animals, but I remember being very little (probably about 6 or 7) when I asked my mom why we kept cats and dogs as pets and ate pigs and cows. To my little brain an animal was an animal and I didn’t see why some were for snuggling and some were for eating. I don’t remember the answer, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “Because that’s the way it is. We need to eat them to live.”
I was probably in 8th or 9th grade the first time I saw the word “vegetarian” in print. I’ll be honest and tell you where I saw the word to – it was in an interview with Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. He had said he would be a vegetarian if he didn’t love steak so much.
I’m not even sure if I had know that a “vegetarian” was a thing before that, but I remember thinking “A vegetarian! That’s what I want to be.” I never really liked meat, and I didn’t understand why we had to eat it. I was would always scarf down my broccoli and then be stuck at the dining room table, forbidden to leave until I finished my pork chop.
After graduating from high school, I went to art school in New York City. I was happy to find that there were actual vegetarians at school, so I decided to give it a try. Once again, music was my influence. I knew that R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who I absolutely loved, was vegetarian, as were the members of another favorite band of mine, the B52s.
I gradually went vegetarian, first by removing beef and pork from my diet, and then phasing out tuna, turkey and chicken. Of course, I now know that chickens suffer my most of all factory farmed animals, but for some reason back then it seemed that by phasing out the larger animals, I was doing less harm.
In June of 1992, my grandfather took me to visit my aunt in California. We ate most of our meals at restaurants, which was probably the most I’d ever eat out in my life. To my surprise, there were vegetarian options everywhere we went! There were even veggie burgers! For lunch one day we went to a little dinner that served dozens of different flavors of burgers, and they could be made with a beef hamburger, turkey burger or veggie burger. I ordered a teriyaki veggie burger, which came topped with grilled pineapple, and I was hooked. There was no need for meat anymore. “This is going to be easy, I thought,” and I gave up all meat at some point during the trip.
When I came home, I realized that were even places in New York and New Jersey where I could buy vegetarian food! I used to live on pita melts with broccoli and cheddar cheese at the Land And Sea diner in Fair Lawn, and my favorite meal in New York City was Dojo’s soy burger dinner.
It wasn't always easy
Back then the market wasn’t saturated with the vegetarian convenience foods that we have now. I used to have to go to the little closet of a health food store in the mall to get my favorite Yves veggie burgers, which were very expensive and only came in a two pack. Green Giant had frozen burgers that I could find at the local grocery store, but I’m pretty sure the box they came in tasted better than they did.
Like most people who grew up in the 70s, I grew up eating food that came from bags, cans and boxes. Most vegetables weren’t fresh and those that were, weren’t very good. (Iceberg lettuce, anyone?) When I changed my diet, my mom would buy a bag of frozen cubed carrots, corn and cut green beans and try to serve it to me as a meal, and she didn’t understand that beef flavored Rice-A-Roni had meat it in. Family meals became a problem. So I subscribed to Vegetarian Times, bought a copy of Peta’s The Compassionate Cook, and taught myself how to make vegetarian food.
I was vegetarian for 9 years when I met Dennis. I had been looking around online, trying to find a vegetarian group to join, when I stumbled upon VeggieDate. On a whim, I placed an ad. (Hey, it was free!) I was really just looking for veggie friends to hang out with because I was tired of being asked "well, what do you eat"", and "where do you get your protein?" After a few months, Dennis answered my ad, and even though I told him that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, we started dating a month or two later.
Dennis suggested that I start a website as a vegetarian resource (there weren’t very many veggie sites around at the time), and Veggiegirl.com was born! While researching the site, I read about the egg and dairy industry and couldn’t believe how horrific it was.
Dennis and I decided to go vegan together. I had already given up eggs, after reaching for a hard boiled one a salad bar and then suddenly realizing exactly what it was. (I was horrified! How could people eat that?)
I have to admit that giving up cheese was much harder for me than it was for Dennis, and I still snuck some when he wasn’t around. It happened to be a particularly humid summer that year, and I had one long sinus headache. Regular medicine wasn’t helping, so I decided to try acupuncture. The doctor told me that I needed to give up all cow’s milk because it was mucus forming, and my desire to be headache free, along with my new knowledge of the dairy industry helped me kick the cheese habit for good.
And that is that! I’ve been vegan for 11 years, and now I help others go vegan too.