I always felt like I was a big animal lover because I grew up around many pets. Every Easter, my grandparents would take me to their farm and would walk us around to see the cows, pigs, horses, and chickens. Every time I saw an animal getting hurt, I would tear up. I have always hated hunting, fishing, anything of the sort. However, despite all of that, I would eat cheeseburgers, pizzas, milkshakes, gyros, etc. I “loved” animals, yet I ate them and their byproducts. I suppose I never really understood what I was doing, and it took 18 years to figure it out. As stupid as it sounds, I just didn’t equate eating meat with killing animals.
I would hear that people in Asian countries would eat cats, dogs, and even insects and bugs, and I was disgusted. I would hear that Indians don’t eat cows, and I was perplexed. I only understood my diet: I understood ribs, mashed potatoes, steak, macaroni and cheese, etc. Everything else didn’t make sense. I heard about veganism when I was a younger adolescent, and I had always said “I could never be vegan – that’s too extreme. I love milkshakes and cheese way too much.” Now that I look back, I am amazed at how ignorant I was – how much I simply did not want to understand, how much I did not want to learn how to be open-minded and question why I believed the things I believed in.
I feel ashamed of how I was so obstinate about self-reflection; I always classified any kind of criticism as annoying, and this perspective hindered me from growing as a person. I was then taught to begin judging myself, and I constantly checked on my perspective about things, which in turn helped me understand myself. I realized I was very insecure, a bit sycophantic, disrespectful, narrow-minded, and egotistical. It sounds like I was an awful human being, and to be honest, I was. I didn’t genuinely care about anyone; I honestly did not even have a great self-esteem, so to a point, I didn’t even care about myself. How in the world would I care about animals with that sort of attitude? Over the course of many years, I learned how to be more open to change – I tried to change all my bad habits and replace them with positive, productive activities. After a while, I began to have a more positive, radiant outlook on life and myself, and I was quite content with how much I changed.
One day, we went to see Noah’s Ark, and the way they depicted eating meat was very gruesome. It made us realize how vicious and blind humans can be, how we can justify hurting innocent animals without a thought. Although the portrayal of eating meat was quite extreme, we noticed how it still played a part in our daily lives, and we began to question our acceptance of consuming meat. That night we decided to become pescetarians because our religious beliefs justified the consumption of seafood. We genuinely felt we were helping animals enough by not eating them; however, we didn’t realize the immense amount of suffering that the dairy, egg, leather, wool, down, etc industries caused to farm animals.
A year later, my brother-in-law showed us a lecture on veganism by Gary Yourofsky. I was so moved and inspired by the way he explained the beauty behind veganism. For those that don’t know: Veganism is a philosophy that “seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” I found its intention to be very altruistic, and it honestly seemed as the best way to live life. I was also amazed at the way Yourofsky refuted every argument that came his way – it made it even more indisputable. He closed up his lecture with footage of what goes on behind the scenes at factory farms – I was shocked that these atrocious acts are happening. I was overwhelmed with the disappointment I felt about humans in general, and then I realized that to a degree, my family and I have been a part of this heinous cruelty to animals, and it hurt so much to realize the pain and suffering we have inflicted for so long. Over so many generations, this is what everyone on this planet has done and is still doing.
My whole family became vegan on that day, and it was the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. I feel closer than ever to nature and animals; I can now sincerely consider myself an animal lover. I feel like I am actually a compassionate human being now, and I’m proud of us that we took this huge step towards living a life for a bigger purpose. I want people to understand that being vegan is not “too extreme” – it is a small act of heroism, a small step advocating social justice. Vegans only want people to acknowledge that animals are living beings, and they deserve equal rights as humans to live a long, happy life. Being vegan also does not mean that you’re giving up everything and you’re going to suffer every time you eat a meal because it’s so flavorless and disgusting – that is very far from the truth. A vegan diet sounds very restrictive, but there are so many alternatives that it honestly doesn’t feel that way. Vegans do not eat meat or dairy; however, there are faux meats such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc. There are non-dairy milks such as rice, cashew, almond, and soy. They even have vegan butter, vegan egg replacers, vegan mayo, vegan cream cheese, vegan ice-cream, and they all taste great! People have a very misconstrued view on what vegans eat – they think we’re limited to grass and lettuce, but we eat rice, we eat bread, we eat pasta, we eat fruits, we eat vegetables, we eat legumes – simply, we eat food. We are not limited, and if people stopped blinding themselves into believing that all healthy food tastes awful, then adopting a vegan diet would be extremely easy. Being vegan comes with many benefits to our body, soul, community, and our planet. It gives us a sense of a larger-than-life purpose, and it empowers us to have the discipline to be more compassionate, ethical, and empathetic. It feels amazing to be vegan, and if people gave it a chance, I think they would fall in love with this lifestyle too.
– Yakira Yeje