I have told this story dozens of times, but never in digital format for anyone to see. The purpose of this article is primarily to share my story. I will try to limit my preaching, but I will provide resources for those who are interested.
So let us begin...
The first time I ever really had to question my dietary habits was when I was 19 years old. I was dating a young woman, let's call her Amber, who was studying Animal Science. We dated for several months before she decided that she was going to become a vegetarian. As anyone who has ever decided to join a fringe group would know to expect – I was not necessarily supportive of her decision.
At first, I tried to be supportive, but I also felt challenged. I do not even think she ever tried to convert me – but I prodded at her beliefs nonetheless, unkindly. I distinctly remember one argument I made: "If it were not for meat-eaters, there would be less cows, which means less life. Isn't life valuable?". This argument, of course, breaks down pretty quickly when you imagine humans in the same position as cows.
After enough time, I realized that I was not being supportive of my partner's decision and I should relax. I stopped challenging her, and a couple months later we actually moved in together. I actually decided to try pescetarianism at this point – limiting my meat to fish. I wanted to reduce the meat in the household as an act of "generosity" and I also wanted to create more space for having compatible meals with Amber – as I enjoyed cooking and eating with her.
Less than a month after moving in with Amber, I decided to finally research vegetarianism. Like many college-aged white males, my starting point for research was Reddit – so I went to /r/vegetarian, a forum for discussing vegetarianism. It feels like it only took me a single afternoon to convert myself to vegetarianism, but I am pretty sure I spent at least a week browsing the vegetarian subreddit before committing to watching Earthlings – a documentary that showcases, using undercover footage, the horrors of animal factory farms.
The night I watched Earthlings with Amber will forever be cemented in my mind. It is an incredibly difficult documentary to watch, in that sometimes it is actually difficult to not look away from what is happening on the screen in front of you. I was raised on the internet, and I prided myself in being able to watch some really gruesome stuff, but Earthlings hurt to watch. I know that I cried several times. Even now, as I write this, I am starting to feel a lump in my stomach just thinking about it.
After watching Earthlings, there was no way to go back. I declared vegetarianism – bordering on veganism. There was still fish in the freezer, and even though I thought it was wasteful to discard it, I could not bear to eat it either, and I threw it away. I also switched to soy milk the next day, though I did not give up cheese.
This was roughly the fall of 2013. I think it was in September.
I did not go fully vegan mostly because I still had such a negative view of vegans – those preachy motherf***ers, and how do they even do it?! It's so extreme! I was commited to being a moderate vegetarian, not one of those a**holes that never shuts up about it.
(a short break, to appreciate irony)
I remained vegetarian, only occasionally feeling guilty about eggs and dairy, for about two years. I crept slowly more and more towards veganism during this time – eventually declaring "Vegan at home, vegetarian while out" for the last few months before fully going vegan. Why did I go vegan? I think this is the most entertaining part of the story: It involves two couchsurfers and a tattoo.
In roughly the fall of 2016, I hosted a couchsurfer from Chicago who wanted to evaluate the potential of getting her MBA in Saint Louis, and wanted to check out the city. She was so cool. She also had a lot of piercings and tattoos and even told me stories about their origins. I, being incredibly impressionable, took this as inspiration and decided to finally get a tattoo of my own – I had been wanting one for awhile.
For a week after she left, I was debating on what tattoo I wanted. I wanted something meaningful, but something I would not regret. I know myself pretty well, and let me tell you, I regret a lot of things that I do. So, I knew I had to be picky, and could not just get some cheesy tattoo that felt good in the moment. I quickly realized the only thing meaningful that did not feel cheesy was my vegetarianism.
I picked a design, nothing creative or forced, and let myself mull over it for three days before committing. After three days, I still felt good about it, and decided to get the tattoo. Here it is:
I shared this with all of my friends, naturally, and even with a couchsurfer that I had hosted a few months before, my first couchsurfer ever, who was vegan. She was really excited and encouraging, but was a bit flummoxed about why I was not yet vegan. She said something, which still sticks with me: "You know you will see this every time you eat now, right? It's on your wrist!". I had not actually considered this. Somehow, this sentiment is what finally pushed me over edge towards veganism.
I am vegan because I got a tattoo.
I did not immediately decide to cut out eggs and dairy, but it became something that was more present in my mind. Over the next few months, I gradually just gave up eggs, dairy, and honey. A bit uncomfortably, I started identifying with the label "vegan", as well.
At first, I actually thought I was kind of an impostor. I still eat Frosted Flakes and no one knows where Kellogs sources Vitamin D and it might be an animal product, I thought. Since then, I have given up on this narrative. I should not exclude myself from the vegan label just because I do not research every single food product I put in my mouth.
I think it is also important to not give this mindset of perfection too much weight. It is part of why so many people think veganism is so difficult, and it gives them reason to not even try. However, this is a topic for another article. In summary: you don't have to be perfect, you just have to do your best, and forgive yourself.
So this is really the entire story. It has been about a year and a half since I got the tattoo, and I still feel pretty strongly about Animal Rights and my decision to go vegan. I have even challenged myself somewhat recently to reconsider veganism – but the animals always seem to win.
If you want to read another story about my involvement in vegan activism: check out my my article about Anonymous for the Voiceless.
If you want to consider cutting meat and other animal products out of your life, I will leave you with a list of resources:
- Challenge22 - A website that lets you join a group of people dedicated to transitioning to veganism, along with mentors to help you through it.
- Earthlings - A documentary about animal factory farms, showing the cruelties, in video, of the industry.
- What The Health - A documentary about the health concerns of a meat-based diet, also available on Netflix.
- Cowspiracy - A film about the environmental impacts of the animal agriculture industry, also available on Netflix.