“What if you weren’t vegan?” my friend asked me, with a boldness that caused my head to jolt back in shock. I immediately felt anger well up in my body. What if I wasn’t vegan?
I have been vegan for three years and vegetarian for four years prior to that, and there is no “what if?” It is inconceivable. I am vegan for life, no ifs, ands or buts.
I pressed my fingernails into my palm.
“I will never not be vegan!” I yelled back.
“Well, what if? Are you sure you’re vegan for the right reasons?”
I envisioned scratching the surface of his eyes with my fingernails in one swift swipe.
Of course I’m vegan for the right reasons. I’ve seen all the documentaries, read all the books. Ask me about any “food” animal and I can describe to you in grotesque detail the conditions in which it is raised and the process for making it into a Styrofoam-packaged product that can be purchased for $5.99 in the refrigerated section of a grocery store.
I had made a vow. I, Laura MacKinnon, would never knowingly contribute to such degenerate behavior along with the majority of the human race.
And yet, his words gnawed at me for the next few days, bouncing against my skull in a helium-sucking balloon voice, high-pitched and annoying. I tried to ignore them, but they kept coming back, each time in a more excruciating pitch.
Two thoughts arose:
1) If I’m not vegan, I will die. I will be poisoned. My body will suddenly be gripped by waves of convulsions. My limbs will turn into (vegan) noodles and I will melt into the floor, Wicked-Witch-of-the-West style.
2) If I’m not vegan, what will my vegan friends think of me? Perhaps I will die at their hand. Perhaps they will drown me in vegan cheese sauce.
I do not want to die. Not yet.
A few days later, I was looking through a slightly foggy glass door at an array of dairy products. The golden wrapper of the grass-fed butter twinkled at me, and it was shiny, like a Christmas present. The cow’s face on the wrapper held a content expression, as content as the field full of frolicking cows shown on the company’s webpage. How could I know those cows weren’t really that happy? Maybe they really were.
Because I do not want to live in fear of dying, I took the butter home.
I picked grass-fed butter, because while I wanted to explore the deep rumblings my friend’s questions had brought up for me, I wanted to do so in the most ethical way possible.
The butter sat in my fridge for three days. Every time I opened the fridge, the cow smiled at me.
Come on, just a little taste won’t hurt.
Finally, I gave in. If this butter was going to be the death of me, I figured I had better get it over with. I stood with the refrigerator door ajar and held the stick of butter in my hands. I gingerly unwrapped the folds of golden foil. The flesh was a pale, creamy yellow and looked innocent.
I took my dull knife and cut a thin slice off the end of the stick.
I am a scientist, and so I rationalized that if I were to spread the butter on a piece of bread and then eat it, I wouldn’t know whether it was the butter or some invisible mold on the bread that killed me. One variable at a time, that’s how it must be done.
I stared at the pat of butter, closed my eyes, and threw it back into my mouth. This is the moment of truth! I let it melt slowly on my tongue and swallowed it. It tasted milder than I expected.
I looked down at my body: no convulsions, no noodle-limbs. I looked around the kitchen and peered out the window. No mob of vegans swarmed in and attacked me.
I was okay, I had lived.
On that day, I scientifically disproved two statements I previously swore were true:
1) I did not die from eating animal products, though neither did I achieve incredible health (omnivores, please don’t try to rescue me from what you call my “protein deficiency”).
2) No, my vegan friends did not hate me. I told them what I was doing. I got some questions, some thoughtful nods, but my house was not “egged.”
There is this notion that vegans are militant and strict, that you will be shunned if you aren’t a “true” vegan. To the contrary, the vegans I know are some of the most compassionate people you will ever meet. They understood my need to experiment with my diet in order to challenge my reasons for choosing veganism.
Veganism is about acceptance and compassion. There are all levels of veganism, and if we live in judgment of each other, we are missing the point.
We are also missing the point if we choose something strictly so as not to choose something else.
It can be easy to get into a routine of mindless eating, of making choices because you ate the same thing yesterday, or because it’s easy or convenient, or simply because it tastes good in the moment. But there is real value in stopping to examine one’s food choices closely. By breaking my veganism, I was able to unearth every tangled branch that I confused with the primary root of my choice. Only then was I clear to freely choose veganism.
Now I am a proud vegan because I authentically choose to be, not because I’m scared of what will happen if I’m not. I choose veganism to move toward compassion, not away from suffering and judgment.
Author: Laura MacKinnon
Apprentice Editor: Monica LaSarre / Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Brooke Cagle/Unsplash