Veganism is a Humanism

At fifteen years old, I made a life altering decision.
I decided to become a vegetarian.
This was unsurprisingly hard for my mother to stomach considering our Filipino heritage. Meat and fish are at the core of traditional Filipino fare. Typical holiday cuisine includes deep-fried pigs leg, blood stew, and duck fetus.
Because she grew up on a farm, my mom saw no harm in raising animals for food. She could not comprehend why I would stop eating meat. She was devastated.
Four and a half years later, I made the transition to vegan. A vegan does not eat meat or any animal products, including eggs, dairy, gelatin, or honey. Some choose not to wear silk, leather, or wool.
In 2008, 3.2 percent of the population identified themselves as vegetarians. Less than one percent recognized themselves as vegans. My support group is as limited as my options are for dining-out.
My initial reasons for becoming a vegetarian were more reactionary than ethical, but as I made the shift to vegan, my diet evolved into an emphatic raised middle finger aimed at the corporate food system and a salute to a local America.
Meat, rice, and a full glass of milk made-up the average dinner at my house. Refusing the obligatory glass of milk represented the first stage of my teenage rebellion. I was starting small.
Giving up meat was the next step.
A fifteen year-old has a hard time seeing past all of the nuances of puberty. I was too busy worrying about what boy “x” would think of my newest zit to develop a significant argument for being a vegetarian. I cited animal cruelty as my first defense, assuming the role of my animal-loving best friend, who has been a vegetarian since I met her in third grade.
At that time, being a vegetarian was more of a way for me to appear avant-garde and rebellious in our conservative, Catholic high school than to take an ethical stance.
So my initial justification for not eating meat lacked political fervor, but as I grew older and my mind more critical, I realized the broader environmental and political impacts of a meat eating diet.
It takes 7.5 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork and five pounds of grain to produce one pound of chicken. This means that we lose 90 percent of our grain protein to animal feed.
Industrially farmed animals produce about 30 times more excrement than human beings. Because there is no efficient animal-waste-system, this excess excrement pollutes surrounding waterways as well as the air.
As my political passion increased, so did my vegetarian conviction.
However, the past five years have not been an idyllic vegetarian utopia. I did occasionally struggle with my new diet, especially at the whiff of a delicious burger or bacon frying in a skillet.
I briefly regressed to a carnivorous diet my senior year of high school because of an unfortunate run in with a Peruvian style chicken drumstick. I couldn’t resist the succulent sight of the glistening drumstick, especially after witnessing my friends indulge. After the hiatus, I returned to my vegetarian diet my first semester at college.
The second offense came this past summer when my then boyfriend and I were staying with his aunt in San Francisco, part of a ten day road trip up the California coast. His aunt was excited to have the young company and had her Indonesian boyfriend cook us a traditional stir-fry.
When she placed the serving bowl in the center of the table, I realized that dinner was going to be a true test of my morals. The traditional stir-fry consisted of peppers, onions, and shredded chicken. Normally, in a situation like this I would pick out the offending meat or choose a different offering of the meal. Unfortunately, the meat was shredded to the point where I couldn’t separate it successfully and the only other dish was plain rice. In fear of offending or inconveniencing his aunt, I spooned a helping of the stir-fry on top my rice.
Although I felt defeated and guilty, I also felt justified. I felt O.K. knowing that I had prevented food from going to waste.
That’s when I realized that being a vegetarian is not just an anti-animal-cruelty fashion statement. Being a vegetarian means being an environmentalist, an advocate, and a humanitarian.
With this realization, I gradually eliminated eggs and finally dairy to complete my dietary shift. This was the toughest aspect of my foodstuff rebellion. I have always been a huge lover of fine cheese – fontina, gorgonzola, and brie just to name a few of my favorite offenders.
Around this time, I also began to advocate for organic and local food, which correlated with my vegan lifestyle.
My mom and I joined our local Community Supported Agriculture in upstate New York. We worked early mornings on the farm twice a week in exchange for weekly shares of produce. We felt empowered knowing that our food was not doused with chemicals and did not use unnecessary fossil fuels in transport. We were supporting local farmers rather than corporate super-market-savages.
Imported foods and packaged products that have traveled long distances in fuel-guzzling trucks dominate grocery store shelves. Our choices are limited to what the corporate distributors believe will make them the most profit.
After a year of suffering my anti-corporate rants and my non-animal product diet, my mom dropped an atom bomb in the form of her own dietary restrictions.
She decided to reduce her meat intake to once a week and drink only soy milk. I was floored.

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2 Comments on “Veganism is a Humanism”

  1. chris says:

    One reason I can’t wait to get out of the city is for an opportunity to grow and gather more of my own food. I have this whole book on mushrooms in the northeast that is going to waste because I live in an industrial shit hole. I remember when I was young and all I wanted to do was live in the city where there was “stuff to do”. Now I realize that “stuff to do” means more places to waste money. I used to think cities were how humyns were supposed to live, but now I see that cities rely on the exploitation and importation of resources on an alarming scale. There are too many people on the planet to begin with, but living in a city one of the least sustainable things I think a person can do. I feel great about being vegan, and I know I’m doing more than most people, but I can’t help but feel guilty for eating apples from Chile, or Acai juice that may have be fair trade but still killed the environment being shipped here. Local is a step in the right direction, but you can’t really be all that local in Brooklyn.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I totally know what you mean – I similarly thought that manhattan was the end all and be all of a happy life, but I’ve come to the realization that I hate how my hair smells like cigarettes I don’t smoke, that I live next door to a homeless shelter, and getting local food costs me my soul (or at least a two dollar subway ride to the green market). I considered joining a Manhattan CSA (there are a few in Brooklyn!), but they’re super exclusive – it’s like they’re trying to prevent people from getting involved rather then encouraging them. Sometime I question the influence of the sustainable food movement – it occasionally seems more like a secret society than an altruistic community.


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