Why are you vegan?

Why are you vegan?

My short answer: Veganism makes me happier.

I really like the taste of meat and cheese. But I really don’t like hurting animals. And I don’t like giving my money to people to hurt animals for me.

I think about the meals I ate before I was vegan, compared to the meals I eat now. Last night I had a Beyond Burger with a slice of melted Field Roast creamy original cheese and a side of savory fried cauliflower rice. 30+ grams of protein — about 400 calories — and no animal products. My dinner in my pre-vegan days would’ve been similar looking. Except replace the Beyond Meat and Field Roast with non-vegan, animal product versions. (And probably no fried cauliflower rice, since that wasn’t a thing yet.)

Plain and simple, the non-vegan dinner was very inconsistent with my values. While I really liked the taste, I didn’t like that it required me to pay someone to breed and slaughter innocent farm animals to make.

The reasons why I’m now vegan were there all along. I don’t want to hurt others, especially innocent animals. I don’t want to breed dogs and cats and then slaughter them after their first birthday. I don’t want to do that to pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, or lambs either. And I don’t want to give my money to people and companies to do that.

Eventually I realized that inconsistencies in my values were too extreme to ignore. And that I’m happier when I live more consistently with my values.

Veganism, for me, is living your normal life, but genuinely trying hard not to not buy or increase the demand for products that require breeding and slaughtering animals. That way of life is drastically less contradictory. That’s ultimately why not consuming animal products makes me happier.

It’s also not about thinking I’m better than anyone else. It’s about being a better version of myself. Which makes veganism less of an identity, and more of a result of trying to fit my actions with my values. The only identity I have is as someone who wants to spread happiness, and part of that means genuinely committing to reducing the harm I cause.

In some areas of life, that’s tricky to navigate. But when it comes to what to eat–“not buying or increasing the demand for products that require breeding and slaughtering animals” has became a clear one for me.

There are other reasons veganism makes me happier. I also really like supporting farmers, food companies, and restaurants that help feed the world with minimal impact. There are so many brilliant, innovative companies out there. It’s exciting to support and watch unfold.

Take my Beyond Meat burger + Field Roast cheese dinner last night. Beyond Meat, which makes most of its burgers in Missouri, somehow figured out how to turn pea protein, coconut oil, and beet juice into a delicious, beefy, filling burger.

That is effing incredible. We should be marching in the streets celebrating that we can eat a damn good, high-protein burger that’s made out of peas.

Same goes with Field Roast, a company from Washington state, that managed to turn potato starch and coconut oil into an incredible slice of creamy cheese. That’s amazing.

When I first became vegan 10+ years ago, these products didn’t exist. Now they’re in the meat and cheese sections of mainstream supermarkets, surprising people who assumed vegan meat and cheese is gross.

Supporting innovation, and being part of a bigger positive social change (I should mention that burgers made from peas are drastically less damaging to the environment than burgers made from cows)–this all makes me happier than when I was eating my pre-vegan dinners.

The companies and organizations that are fueling this change are doing exciting things. There are many good people that want to make the world a better place. It makes me feel happy and optimistic to be part of that movement.

All in all, in my 10+ years of not eating animal products, I haven’t found a good reason not to be vegan.

And trust me — I’ve looked for reasons against it. That’s a big reason why I have this blog. I’m open-minded, and I like to explore different arguments for and against veganism. So far, no argument has been as compelling as the drastic reduction in harm to innocent animals that results from veganism.

My actual vegan “journey”

I didn’t start out as a vegan. My dinners growing up centered around chicken, steak, or fish. My breakfasts were usually eggs. My lunches were usually turkey or tuna. That was my diet for the first 18 years of my life. Pretty typical, I think. I was a fan of the outdoors, and nature, and considered myself to be a friend to animals.

I Failed as a Vegetarian

Early in college, I briefly tried vegetarianism — and I failed. I remember being in my freshman dorm, and I stopped at a booth that my school’s student health center set up. There was a pamphlet on the table that said “Vegetarian Meal Ideas.” This was a few months into college, and I had already gained my Freshman 15 on my diet of Five Guys, Chik Fil A, Jersey Mikes and Wendy’s. Somehow I connected vegetarianism with losing weight–so I peeked inside of the pamphlet. I think I also liked the idea of not eating animals. It became quickly apparent how easy becoming vegetarian would be–I could eat eggs and dairy products, which already made up a huge portion of my diet.

So, my meals for the next couple of months were eggs; bagels with cream cheese; pizza. Basically any combination of white bread, milk, and eggs that you can think of.

I didn’t feel healthy on this diet, and I definitely didn’t lose any weight.

I also remember an argumentative kid from my dorm who I was ‘kind of’ friends with. He got wind of the fact that I was vegetarian and he was very displeased. I never experienced such vitriol over my food choices before. I also knew next to nothing about the reasons why I decided to become vegetarian. I was shy, and I knew zero facts. I didn’t even know another vegetarian person. Somehow the argumentative kid claimed to know several things, like how vegetarianism would “destroy the economy” and how unhealthy it is. I had no response. I just felt bad, physically and socially. After about two months, I gave up.

Pandora’s Box

For the next two years or so, meat was back on the menu in a major way.

Most of my food I made myself or ate in the cafeteria, as a college student on a budget–and I ate mostly the same things I ate growing up: eggs, turkey, chicken, tuna. I’d mix it up for lunch and dinner. I was back to being a regular at my fast food favorites (Five Guys, Taco Bell, Chik Fil A, Jersey Mikes, Wendy’s, Subway, and so on). Standard college kid fare.

At the occasional midnight trip to Denny’s or Waffle House, my go-to meal was a just a side of bacon and side of sausage. Looking back, if I had just eaten my meals without bread I would’ve been a keto dieter before that became trendy.

It wasn’t all fast food for me. I experienced some top of the line foodie cuisine as well. Not long before I wrote the article, I spent a spring break road tripping with my biggest foodie friend through California. He scored us reservations at the ultra-fancy restaurants Chez Pannise and The French Laundry.

College wasn’t just about eating for me. I studied journalism as well.

To get a degree in journalism, you need to write articles. A lot of articles. For one class (called “Reporting”), you had to report write a news article from scratch every week. That means picking a newsworthy topic; then, interviewing at least 5 people; and then writing a solid article about it without making a single typo.

Coming up with a brand new topic each week was a challenge. My other articles around that time (this was in 2006 or so) were about things like Pandora.com, a new-ish music streaming website. Another article was about my college’s handball team, which had won some national tournament. All sorts of topics–whatever I could think of that could be deemed newsworthy. Which is harder than it sounds.

One week I somehow decided to write about the “trend” of vegetarianism and veganism. Because why not? I needed a topic, and writing about a “trend” was newsworthy.

So I found some vegetarian and vegan students. I interviewed a vegetarian professor. I interviewed the the chef from the cafeteria. I interviewed a nutritionist from the student health center. I tracked down a spokesperson for a vegan organization, and a spokesperson for a meat industry group.

The vegetarians I spoke to were interesting. They talked about how vegetarianism is a form of “voting with your wallet” by not supporting the meat industry, which they found to be cruel. One of them, who was a full-on vegan, told me that Oreo cookies were vegan (yup, “America’s Favorite Cookie” has no animal products), which was one the more shocking discoveries I made in writing my article.

The nutritionist told me that vegans should make sure they get enough Vitamin B12, but otherwise veganism has been linked with lower risks of many diseases, including heart disease, many types of cancer, and diabetes. That was almost as shocking as the Oreo fact.

The chef told me about how the new vegan/vegetarian section of the cafeteria was becoming more and more popular.

The lady from the vegan organization was very sweet and spoke to me about the ethical and environmental issues. She pointed out a recent UN study called Livestock’s Long Shadow. The study showed that the meat industry was the biggest cause of almost every environmental problem known on the planet. That was shocking, too. I seriously had never considered how much water, land, and crops it takes to breed and fatten up farm animals.

The lady from the meat industry group was defensive. Looking back, I understand why, because here I am writing an article about a movement that, by definition, boycotts her industry. Her message was basically: it’s not possible to get all the nutrients you need from a vegan diet–and by that she meant Vitamin B12. Hm, okay.

Before I wrote the article, I had no stake in the vegan game. The version of me that wrote my article was definitely not a vegan. I had experience all types of meat heavy cuisine: fast food and Michelin-rated. I was definitely eating most similarly to the meat industry lady. But I found myself in awe or agreement of almost everyone else.

And my one goal during my journalism classes was to write literally any decent article, regardless of the topic. Sometimes, those articles changed me. Writing an article about a topic is a really great way to learn about it. I was able to research a subject in depth, and explore it from multiple viewpoints. I became a Pandora listener after my Pandora article. And I started to become a vegan after my vegan article.

Looking back, these articles helped uncover some of my pre-existing values. I loved discovering new music, and there was a brilliant website that could help with that. I also didn’t want to hurt animals or cause them pain; and I’m concerned about my impact on the environment — and there was a diet that could help mitigate that.

My Breakup With Milk

I didn’t become a vegan overnight. I did it gradually–which I believe has helped me stay vegan. It takes time to change habits, and for taste buds to adapt, and to discover new go-to meals to make.

something else happened to me that ultimately made it easier to become a vegan.

In those days, I had a love greater than meat. And that was dairy. I loved cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. But straight-up milk was my jam. Even as a 20 year old, I was still drinking milk on the regular.

One night, during a holiday break, I ordered a tall glass of milk to go with my dessert while out to dinner. A fine way to wrap up a nice meal. I happened to be sitting next to a doctor relative. With a milk mustache freshly lining my upper lip, my relative mentioned a study that he had recently come across. The study found a link between drinking milk and acne.

What a buzz kill. Right in the middle of dessert.

This same doctor knew I was self conscious about my occasional acne breakouts, which I would get even as a 20-year-old.

The study was part of this massive survey known as the Harvard Nurses Study. (I’m pretty sure this was the study, by the way).

That was a pivotal moment in my life. As a college student trying to look and feel my best, I was self conscious about my occasional acne breakouts. The most frustrating part about my breakouts at that age was that they were seemingly inexplicable. I was supposedly done going through puberty, and I knew all the basics about how to keep skin acne-free: I used the best facial cleaning products; I made sure I only used clean towels and pillowcases; blah blah blah. None of those things completely worked.

Hearing that there could be a possible link between milk and acne — that was jarring. Milk — my precious, wholesome milk — might be responsible for the bane of my young adult existence. Apparently it had something to do with the hormones in milk. If you include cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, I had probably been consuming milk in some form at least once or twice a day for as long as I can remember.

That was the last glass of milk I ever had. Fast forward a couple of months, I waited for my next breakout.

It didn’t happen.

Well, full disclosure: one summer, maybe a year after I quit dairy, but before I gave up meat, I did get breakouts again. I thought my dairy/acne discovery was a complete failure. It turns out, I was unknowingly consuming a bunch of dairy. I had moved to a new city for the summer. And my breakouts came back. That summer, I lived right near an Indian restaurant. And I became addicted to a dish there called chicken tikka masala (I was still consuming chicken these days). I don’t want to admit how often I ordered that dish. I didn’t let a drop of that savory tikka masala sauce go to waste. It was good. Until, one day, toward the end of the summer, someone told me that their tikka masala sauce was mostly yogurt, ghee and heavy cream–three products straight from the udders of a cow. Whoops. No wonder my breakouts came back. I had been consuming a mega dose of dairy multiple times a week.

I accidentally proved the dairy/acne connection even more. Fortunately, the breakouts disappeared shortly after I switched to dairy-free chana masala. (This tangent is a good time to mention that Trader Joe’s sells a delicious non-dairy vegan chik’n tikka masala. I highly recommend it–it hits the spot.)

I don’t take this story lightly. I’m critical of quack, pseudo-science claims. But for me, as a study of one, I’m convinced that the link between dairy and acne is real. And that helped change how I think about food forever.

Since then, I’ve come across similar stories.

Like the actor Woody Harrelson, who says he was on a bus once, and a random girl told him to quit dairy and his acne would go away. So he quit milk. And it did.

Woody and I aren’t alone in our discovery that dairy can cause acne. In the past several years, many more studies have come out with the same result: there appears to be a connection between dairy consumption and acne.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

I didn’t quit milk as a deliberate part of becoming a vegan. But it made the gradual process way easier. By the time I really started to think about replacing the meat in my diet, I had already figured out how to replace dairy products.

Trying to find a replacement for all of my favorite dairy products led me into sections of the supermarket I had never given a second look before (like that little section where they have veggie hot dogs). It also led me to another weird and scary place: a natural food store.

Natural food stores terrified me. They smelled weird. I didn’t recognize any of the brands. I mean, they didn’t even have Cheerios at this place.

Still, I bravely explored.

The dairy section was like a bizarro world compared to my usual Publix supermarket. I discovered a strange new world of things like “vegan cheese” and “almond milk.” There were non-dairy milks everywhere! Cow’s milk was the minority in this place. It was mind blowing. I liked soy milk the best, until I found an even better brand of soy milk. And then I discovered almond milk and liked that even better than the soy milk.

I explored further and realized how many companies were competing to make convenient animal-free foods. Tofurky slices became a favorite, as did Morningstar products and Boca burgers.

Slowly but surely I began to upgrade my diet as I discovered more and more recipes, and products. New companies began to spring up and get more popular. Gardein and Daiya joined the party. Then Field Roast. I perfected many of my favorite bean-based dishes.

Around this same time, I began to see more undercover videos of animal cruelty at livestock farms. And I read more articles about how farm animals are treated and the effect the livestock industry has on the environment. These compelling facts edged me closer to realizing that I didn’t want to support the meat and dairy industry with another dollar.

After another year or so of eating eggs, and realizing what happens to the male chicks (they get immediately slaughtered) and even the female hens after they stop producing eggs (they also get slaughtered), I realized I couldn’t, in good conscience, support that industry either. So I began to eat vegan breakfast sausages or a smoothie for breakfast.

By around 2009, I was a full on vegan.

Being Vegan Today

It’s been more than a decade since then. There are now countless more companies making vegan products. Even the mega-companies like KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tyson Foods, Friday’s, Hellman’s, and so many others, are coming out with vegan alternatives of their famous food products.

I can drive through Burger King on a road trip and get an Impossible Whopper. I can find vegan bakeries and cafes in different parts of town. There are vegan options everywhere.

I’ve discovered my favorite go-to meals to make at home.

Like make-your-own taco/burrito bowl with loads of homemade guacamole, tasty savory red beans, a bunch delicious salsas, fresh tomatoes, and maybe some ground vegan beef for good measure.

For lunch I’ll have a garbanzo bean ‘tuna’ melt sandwich, with fresh tomatoes. My lunch yesterday was chili.

Recently I’ve been making tons of fried cauliflower rice bowls, with loads of my favorite veggies.

People would ask me back in 2009 if it was hard to be a vegan. There were and still are challenges, but it really wasn’t that hard. Now when I get asked that question, I can confirm: it really, really, really isn’t hard.

Again, all of this is about living a happier life, more consistently with my values. The reasons why I’m vegan were there all along. Everything that happened before I ultimately became vegan helped me uncover those reasons and values. I don’t want to hurt animals. Breeding and slaughtering them for their meat, milk, and eggs is hurtful to them and to the environment. There is literally no way to do those things at scale without it involving death and pain. After years of studying this, I’ve found that to be the literal truth. Not supporting that industry, and supporting a movement away from that, and living more in line with my values–that all leads to a happier me.