As many of you know, I have been vegetarian for 27 years. At various times, I have eliminated milk products and/or eggs from my diet but have resumed eating them due to the social difficulty caused by my diet. My conscience has gnawed on me to give them up, but I have allowed convenience, for myself and others, to dissuade me. Nevertheless, I have maintained a vegan home kitchen for about 75% of the last two decades, only consuming animal products at social gatherings. My conscience can no longer be assuaged.
Some of you may know that, in yogic ethical guidelines, eggs are considered flesh, so I often made it a goal to rid my diet of them. (Also, eggs have always been slightly creepy to me.) However, I am allergic to dairy (and to eggs to a lesser degree) and have struggled with allergies, acne, digestive discomfort and constipation, and asthma. Often, I would concede to eating eggs just to avoid the consequences of dairy. than the cystic back acne that dairy produces.
A couple of years ago, I began experiencing excruciating stomach pain after meals. I visited my doctor who prescribed Prilosec – a drug used to treat acid reflux, which I did not have. I took one dose and then stopped when I realized it takes 60 days for the drug to take full effect. By chance, I was going to a workshop for a week around that time and had requested vegan, gluten-free meals, because it was simply easier to do that than explain my crazy dietary requirements. After three days there, my stomach pain completely disappeared, which I attributed to the gluten-free portion of the diet, as my diet when I ate at home was generally vegan already.
With gluten off the menu, being vegan outside my home seemed next to impossible. Most gluten-free breads (and pizza crusts) contain eggs; often, even fries are not a safe choice, as they may be coated in flour or batter for flavor or to prevent clumping. I basically gave up trying, which meant constant back acne and digestive distress. I could not be motivated to further restrict my diet, even for my own health, comfort, and confidence.
Then, earlier this year, I started watching various vegan YouTube channels for recipe ideas and became particularly enamored of Lily Koi Hawaii, as she had the sassy honesty that I wished I could display in my own life. During one of her episodes, there were a few clips of animal suffering. For decades, I had convinced myself that I knew enough about animal suffering without watching it, that I was already doing the best that I could and seeing animals tortured and/or slaughtered would not help me in any way. In fact, having grown up on a farm, I was convinced that I already had a good idea how awful it was. Anyway, one of the clips was of a fox being skinned . . . alive. Afterward the fox shivers skinless on a pile of carcasses, looking directly at the camera, and I could practically hear the cry, “Why?!” I felt physically ill.
Since that moment, I have been vegan. I have, I admit, had two slips: one on Thanksgiving day with the in-laws, when I ate Quorn’s turkey roast (which has egg whites), and once when I ate Cheetos, which I thought were vegan (probably wishful thinking). My skin is clearing up, and my digestion is improving; however, veganism has not been a cure-all for me, as I was already in better-than-average health. I would like to note, however, that my physical craving for cheese went away after I had not eaten it for a couple of weeks; I still have psychological cravings occasionally, but they are easily ignored now.
So, as I mentioned, yogic ethics frown on eggs; however, milk is permitted and often even encouraged. Cows are sacred in India, as is their milk. Perhaps, when families and villages had their own milking cows, these animals were treated with dignity and compassion, but this is definitely no longer the case. These gentle animals are forcibly impregnated and their progeny ripped away from them, so that we can benefit from the milk intended to nourish a baby. This is a direct violation of the first Yama, non-violence. For this reason, I think it is worth reconsidering the standard ayurvedic and yogic perspective on milk as a “non-violent,” “sattvic” food.
Many of us, myself included until recently, operate under the delusion that we are not responsible for how these animals are treated, that the reality of their existence is not our fault as consumers. We say that, since humane treatment is possible (though I no longer believe this), it is the fault of the industry if the animals are abused. This is a position I no longer find tenable for myself; I cannot carry the burden of the horror of their existence, and I cannot line the pockets of an industry with such low standards of “humanity.”
I have not made a big noise about this transition, and I place some of the blame for this on the intolerance of the vegan community, but mostly I have been weak and self-centered, fearing I will not be liked and/or included – by either community. I still own and wear leather shoes, wool sweaters, and other non-vegan products, and I do not have any intention of prematurely discarding these items, as I do not believe that shows any great respect for the pain of the animals who provided them to me. In addition, I feel that replacing these items with vegan substitutes would only create more waste and consumerism in my life. Though I will not purchase non-vegan items in the future, it seems likely that I will be wearing non-vegan items for the foreseeable future, because I tend to keep clothing a very long time. For instance, I have a wool-silk sweater that I have owned since 1993 and which seems like it will wear for at least another 10 years, and I have no intention of parting with it just to look like a “real vegan.”
As any vegan will tell you, veganism is a lifestyle, not just a diet, and I applaud the drive to cause less suffering. However, that does not necessarily mean that a vegan lifestyle is by default healthy and/or green (though it would be difficult for a vegan to do anywhere near the damage an omnivore does to the planet). Often vegans switch from eating meat to eating vegan processed foods (which are still healthier than the animal-based foods, so don’t go thinking this is any excuse not to opt for vegan foods) and from wearing wool, silk, and leather to wearing primarily petroleum-derived fabrics, like acrylic, nylon, and polyester. These are not the substitutes that I would recommend: try cotton, rayon, bamboo, and hemp clothing, and stick as much as possible to whole plant foods. I love natural fabrics, and I try to eat whole foods for the most part, which means getting my fats from whole plant foods (avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut meat or milk, etc.), not from oils. Convenience foods, however, do have a place in the vegan diet, especially as we transition and when we are eating out. It may be that I have a (highly processed and denatured) soy burger on occasion in a restaurant, for example, but I try to make burgers from scratch at home. Using what, you ask? Using what I have come to believe is our natural diet: Whole Plant Foods.