An Act of Will
My experience may be anomalous in that I became a vegan through an act of will.
I wasn’t grossed out by meat; I wasn’t lactose intolerant; I wasn’t overweight or unhealthy; I wasn’t particularly fond of farmed animals; and I read no books, picked up no pamphlets, and saw no documentaries that persuaded me to change my diet. No one in my family was a vegetarian, and I wasn’t especially rebellious. I was passionate about environmental issues, and a few friends (including my future life-partner) didn’t eat (some) meat, but I didn’t possess either the courtesy or curiosity to ask them why or what their beliefs meant to them.
So it was more as an experiment to see what might happen to my body that in early 1989 and newly ensconced in a household of self-proclaimed vegetarians, I decided no longer to eat land and air animals. Like many neophytes, I continued to consume sea creatures for fear of not getting enough protein. I loudly called myself a “vegetarian,” and got away with it until an end-of-year office party at a Chinese restaurant. I chose to order lobster and the obliging chef emerged from the kitchen to wave my dinner in front of me before boiling the animal alive. A colleague asked me why I would kill a crustacean but not a cow. I muttered something about the latter being more sophisticated a sentient being than the former, and tucked in. Two weeks later, struck by my hollow and self-serving response, I stopped eating all animals.
In 1993, my partner and I relocated to New York City and we decided to make our new household vegan. By that stage, I knew about the cruelty involved in dairy products, and subsequently became heavily involved with the animal advocacy movement—helping to start a magazine called Satya in 1994 and my own publishing company, Lantern Books, in 1999.
I’ve read and published many conversion narratives about how folks became vegan. I’d like to say that I’ve changed: that I was blind but now I see; that I was indifferent then but am sensitive now. Yet I still remember with relish the taste of meat and dairy and enjoy the smell of both. I’m also no fonder of farmed animals. I’m persuaded by the ethical case for animal rights as well as the climate-change, pollution, and public-health arguments for a vegan diet. But I also recognize that, for many, logic and industrial policy are no match for the demands of family and culture, peer pressure, economic necessity, or the considerable pleasures of the flesh. I stopped consuming animal products because I felt it was unnecessary and cruel. No more, and certainly no less.