Last Saturday, I attended my first event hosted by the Madison Raw Food Meetup Group—a modestly attended yet cheerful potluck at Jewel in the Lotus Yoga. The brightly hued, spiritually rich studio provided a jovial atmosphere in which to meet like-minded Madisonians, discuss vegan issues, learn about individual experiences with raw foodism, and sample an array of delightfully fresh uncooked vittles.
I provided three dishes: Raw Tacos—chili-spiced walnut “meat” topped with pico de gallo, guacamole, and cashew sour cream wrapped in a napa cabbage leaf; Spiced Melon Shooters—a creamy soup of cantaloupe and avocado uniquely spiced with ginger, cumin, and a hint of cayenne, elegantly served in Dixie cups; and Coconut-Lemon Meltaway Cookies, the scrumptiousness of which I’m certain you can gather simply from the title.
Goodies prepared by my fellow potluck attendees included a tasty mingling of contrasting flavors and textures in a “casserole” of Bragg’s-marinated mushrooms, sweet corn, and alfalfa sprouts; fresh-picked purslane; a pesto of kale, basil, walnuts, garlic, and nutritional yeast; and a superb dessert of rosewater-soaked date halves stuffed with almond butter and sprinkled with cacao nibs.
While seated upon tasseled, jewel-toned cushions, our small group of friendly strangers shared a deliciously nourishing meal and engaged in a surprisingly intriguing discourse pertaining to veganism. I chatted primarily with a lovely and fascinating woman named Sonya, who dove into the vegan realm a mere two months ago, yet offers the tremendous insight of an experienced activist. Our conversation flowed in and out of our personal journeys through veganism, my jealousy of her well-stocked raw kitchen (complete with an Excalibur dehydrator and a Blendtec), the vegetarian community in Madison, and the wild success of this year’s Mad City Vegan Fest. However, after touching upon one topic in particular, I couldn’t shake it from my contemplative mind: adopting a vegan diet solely for health reasons, only to backtrack into animal product consumption and repudiate a potentially life-altering shift in consciousness, whether toward animals, the environment, or both.
I’ve unabashedly admitted before that I, like many others, became a vegan out of a borderline obsessive desire to achieve optimal health through my eating habits. Eliminating animal secretions (I had already not eaten their flesh since the 4th grade) from my diet almost overnight, I dove headfirst into the ocean of veganism, immersing myself in the waters of vegan blogs, books, Twitter accounts, magazines, and podcasts. While I did so with the singular intention of stuffing my brain full of plant-based nutritional information (Becoming Vegan played a huge role in my early days), after a couple of months, the compassionate message at the heart of the vegan movement ceased to serve as a mere murmur and transformed into a veritable roar. Yes, these bloggers, authors, Twitter-users, columnists, and podcasters offered wholesome recipes and a wealth of nutritional knowledge, but they also shared an intense desire to rid the world of animal cruelty and environmental degredation—a desire that often crept (and often more-than-crept) into their work and that I could not ignore “once I finally allowed myself to absorb the true magnitude of the utterly inhumane impact a non-vegan lifestyle has on non-human animals” (as quoted from my blog’s Philosophy tab). I soon traded Becoming Vegan for Animal Liberation; cried while listening to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcasts on “free-range” egg farms, pigs, and animal mutilation instead of downloading only her nutritionally focused episodes; and expanded my Twitter feed to include PETA, Compassion Over Killing, and Mercy for Animals among the food bloggers.
But what if I hadn’t permitted the reality of egregious animal suffering to permeate my once purely health-conscious psyche? What if I hadn’t surrounded myself with a virtual community of like-minded people? What if I hadn’t continued to educate myself and expand my knowledge of vegan issues on a daily basis? What if I hadn’t shifted my perception of veganism from a rather superficial aspiration of weight management to a selfless urge to cause as little harm as possible to the world and all of its inhabitants? If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t call myself a vegan today.
Recently, I’ve encountered a number of former vegans who, after harboring supposedly steadfast ideals, somehow “unlearned” the cruelty to animals, to the environment, and to their health that originally inspired a passionate desire to live in accordance with their values. While I certainly don’t believe that their compassionate morals suddenly morphed into a bloodthirsty lust to harm living beings, I strongly suspect that they allowed themselves to conveniently forget the astronomical impacts of animal consumption, re-blanketing their once liberated true ideals with weak excuses and justifications—”Sometimes I crave a cookie and it’s hard to find a vegan one”; “I had to eat meat after getting pregnant”; “There was nothing else to eat at a party except for steak and I was famished. I just kept eating meat after that because I liked the taste”; “No one else I knew was vegan and I felt isolated”; “I felt tired all the time as a vegan. It just wasn’t right for my blood type.”
Perhaps, though, their true ideals never actually seized the chance to fully manifest themselves. As I discussed before, veganism never enveloped the deepest crevices of my soul until my reasons for maintaining the lifestyle matured from health-based to ethical. They did so because I constantly inhabited the virtual vegan world, which first introduced me to the magnitude of animal cruelty, provided a support group to combat the barrage of non-veganness in my real-world community, and continually enforced my decision to live compassionately. In order to thoroughly cultivate the dedication and unwavering psychology necessary to nuture a permanent vegan lifestyle, I strongly believe one must accomplish two tasks: 1.) Discover and heavily educate oneself about all three intrinsic backbones of the vegan movement—animals, environment, and health—to create a powerful plethora of personal inspiration and a constant reminder of why veganism remains essential in saving the world. 2.) Surround oneself with likeminded people, whether online or in a tangible community, to converse, share experiences, and reinforce each others’ imperative decision.
If these two ongoing missions rest incomplete, perpetuating veganism can seem quite difficult, isolating, hopeless, and finally, unmerited. Persuading oneself to forgo a vegan lifestyle, founded upon any of the excuses listed above or a number of others, becomes infinitely easier without a staunch “why vegan?” knowledge base or encouragement from fellow vegans.
I sincerely hope all of you have already or will soon uncover the motivation to remain vegan for the very very very long run.
Until next time, Ali.