What do you think of when you hear the word “vegan”? A straight-edge hardcore kid with neck tattoos? Your aunt who never married and lives in Northampton with five cats? That willowy girl from your high school who ate only lima beans? How badly you want to eat a steak right now?
Personally, it makes me think of getting a snack, because it describes all the food I’ve eaten for the past seven years. That’s right, I’m one of those people. After I get some hummus and pita from the fridge, I will tell you how I, an otherwise hedonistic person, got this way.
I grew up chowing down on chicken and fish, with the occasional steak ordered in a restaurant. My parents, health conscious hippies who eschewed red meat and pork, did their best to introduce me to a wide variety of foods, which I generally hoovered up with haste so as not to be denied membership in the Clean Plate Club. I was the kid everyone made fun of for bringing ratatouille for lunch instead of boring ass PB+J. Philistines.
In addition to liking weird foods, I loved animals. Our cat, Crystal, was pretty much my best friend from ages five through 15; I’d carry him around the house and put clothes on him and tell him my secrets, and he was very understanding about all of it. (I realize Crystal is a girl’s name; I did not realize this when I was five). I went to nature camp. I went to farm camp.
Somewhere between the ages of five and ten, I grew aware of the fact that meat is made of animals. This caused a queasy, visceral discomfort; I didn’t need to read Peter Singer to feel that there’s something sort of weird and fucked up about gnawing on the leg of something that was only just recently walking around, squawking, pooping, and generally being cute. Whose idea was that in the first place? Was it really okay to kill our animal buddies just because they might taste good? It seemed crazy to me. It still does.
It took a while for me to articulate these feelings to my parents, but I eventually asked them if there were people who didn’t eat meat, and if such a thing were even possible. They took me to the bookstore, bless their hearts, where I picked up Judy Krizmanic‘s A Teen’s Guide To Going Vegetarian. In it, eleven-year-old me found many compelling arguments as to why this was a good idea, delivered in a snappy, easy-to-read fashion. It described the horrors of factory farms, as well as statistics as to just how environmentally destructive the meat industry is. It also talked about the health benefits of a balanced vegetarian diet, but I’ll admit I didn’t really care about that part. I was sold.