Reflections of a Seasoned Vegan
In my 36 years of being vegan, there’s very little I haven’t seen, heard or done with regard to the movement to a cruelty-free world.
When I was 13, my mother gave me All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot , knowing my intense empathy for animal suffering. The book, about a country vet in rural England, made me laugh and cry and wonder why people ate meat. Then I took Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappe out of my local library and decided that I couldn’t eat animals anymore. Since I already didn’t eat eggs because of allergies and I hated milk and cheese because it tasted rancid to me, while ice cream made my stomach feel like I’d eaten broken glass, my professed vegetarianism was actually veganism, I just didn’t know it.
In my 20s, I moved to Los Angeles, well, actually Redondo Beach, and learned there was a name for what I was doing. But back then, in the early 80s, so few people followed this lifestyle that there was a debate raging over whether it was pronounced veegun or vaygun. I started shopping at the farmer’s market at the beach and went to my first organic restaurant.
Then I found two books that changed my life again. The Vegetarian Handbook by Gary Null went into all the gruesome detail about factory farms, none of which I’d known before that. I had based my conversion on not wanting to eat an animal that had previously been a living, breathing creature with a personality, parents and friends. This book made me hysterical. So I started protesting. After a lot of campaigning, a large group of protesters managed to get McDonald’s to stop using Styrofoam containers but the still wouldn’t provide healthier or cruelty-free menu options. I volunteered for Sea Shepherd and we got California to ban gill nets.
But my protesting didn’t work under all circumstances. My mother-in-law was a wealthy real estate agent who fancied herself the most fashionable woman in the room whenever she wore one of her numerous furs. I sent her pictures of the dead foxes after cattle prods had been used to kill them, along with articles about how and why the cattle prods were considered the most effective killing instrument. It didn’t make her give up wearing her furs. It just made her hate me.
The other book was Friendly Foods by Brother Ron Pickarski, OFM. It was the only vegan cookbook on the market in America at the time. I learned to make all sorts of wonderful dishes I’d never thought could be vegan. He expanded my eating repertoire in an instant.
A couple of years later, I was single again and was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner with a bunch of friends I’d met tending bar. I told the hostess that I didn’t eat animal products so she invited me to bring something that I could eat and she would make sure there was an undressed salad. She said that they just wanted me to be there so however that had to happen was fine. So I went.
I brought a pasta dish with a thick, garlicky, spinach pesto and lots of veggies. I had brought more than I could possibly eat and was thrilled to find that other people wanted to try it. One of the men there asked me why I’d brought my own food, when there was plenty already there. I told him I was vegan. He didn’t know what that was and as I explained, his face became redder and more furious by the second. Then he punched me in the face.
I woke up a minute or so later with several people trying to keep him from attacking me further. He screamed and ranted about how it was my fault that his father’s cattle ranch had gone bankrupt. Oh, how I wish that were true.
I wish we had that kind of power back then. I am happy to see that we are finally gaining the power to make enormous changes, but the general public still has too many misconceptions about veganism. In a writing class a couple of months ago, the conversation somehow lead to veganism even though I had said nothing at all and was clearly the only one in the room living this lifestyle. One girl stated that vegans live much shorter lifespans. One said that the Bible advocated eating meat and that was good enough for her. Another said vegans are unhealthy. One young man declared that he was sick of vegans trying to take away his hamburgers. They assumed, without asking, that no one in the room could actually be one. Like a pod person. I just laughed at them.
A couple of days later I read an article that insisted vegans craved roadkill. That whenever we see an animal run down in the street, we have to fight the urge to scoop it up and grill it. Sadly, this was not satire. He was serious and absolutely uninformed about what it means to be vegan.
I know that it’s impossible to change the minds of some people. Like the writer of the article or the man who punched me. I don’t try to cure them of their misconceptions anymore. Stupidity is incurable. These days, my activism is much more subtle and covert. I prefer to seduce them to vegan side with mouth-watering food.
Fianna has been vegan for 36 years. She is currently working on a second M.A. in Human Rights from NYU. When she isn’t veganizing every cookbook she can get her hands on, she’s working her urban farm in New York City. She also writes extensively on veganism, running and green living. Her newest project is to trace everything she buys to find out if it’s cruelty-free (both animal and human) and eco-friendly. Fianna and her fiancé are animal rescuers of dogs, cats and birds.
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