MY STORY starts when I'm seven. Like all kids, I eat what adults serve me. My parents prepare my breakfast and dinner, my school's canteen provides me with lunch. I eat it all without thinking too much about it. Sure, I may refuse to eat cooked carrots because to this day I despise their taste. And of course, given the chance I'd prefer to eat candy all day long. Apart from that, I don't waste a lot thought on where my food comes from.
On a beautiful summer day on the Austrian countryside where a part of my family is from, that changes radically. Like every summer, I spend the days outside roaming freely in nature, playing with sticks, building hideaways in the bushes, feeding our neighbors' animals and doing what happy kids do at age 7. One of our neighbors owns a large flock of sheep and there is one that I particularly love: It's the only black one in the herd and, proud of my rudimentary English skills, I name him 'Blacky'. Blacky is adorable. He is gentle and calm and I spend afternoons feeding him and his friends all the best blades of grass from the other side of the fence, where the grass is long and lush and has not been grazed.
One day, however, he is gone. In fact, many sheep are. I wait patiently for Blacky to come out of the little hut in the middle of the neighbor's property, but hours go by and he's not there. I get worried, so I run back to my house and demand to know my friend's whereabouts. People at the countryside are, naturally, more used to these things, so a relative tells me: 'He was probably slaughtered.' 'Slaughtered?', I ask. I don't understand. After a short lecture on what happens to old animals that are no longer of any use, or, worse, ready to be eaten, I am horrified. I realize that what I had on my plate the night before may have been a sweet, innocent animal just like Blacky. I announce to never eat a piece of meat again. (And I'm not the only kid who reacted like this when exposed to the fact that they are eating animals. Watch a little boy's reaction below).
My relatives laugh. They think it's a phase that will pass. My parents, however, are more concerned. They know how stubborn I am and spend the coming months trying to convince me to eat "normally". I do, occasionally. I know they had my best interest in mind but I have vivid memories of my family guilt-tripping me into eating what my grandma cooks ("She made such an effort. You have to at least try it, it's really good and healthy for you."). I do eat meat when we're invited over to other people's houses, because as much as I am stubborn, I'm also very shy.
At around age 13 or 14, I make use of my unsupervised access to the internet to start researching vegetarianism and watching horrific footage of slaughterhouses. I cry my eyes out. These are not horror movies. This is the truth. The videos are made by brave activists who risk going to jail (and yes, they often end up in jail, actually) in order to capture and spread the conveniently hidden, ugly nature of the most inherently cruel legal industry in the world (really though, think about it). Paul McCartney once poignantly said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian." I am more convinced (my parents say: radical) than ever. I find a group of vegan and vegetarian activists online and join them for "awareness campaigns", where they hand out leaflets in front of fashion stores selling fur at a Viennese shopping street.
I have a brief episode of eating meat after moving to France. Not wanting to start off on the wrong foot, I am too embarrassed to tell my lovely host family that I'm vegetarian, so I start eating poultry. Used to fitting in and being 'normal', I continue to do so even after my return to Austria. It's the sight of a pig transporter on a highway that wakes me up. What am I doing? I don't want to finance this. The same day I see the pig transporter, I stop eating meat again and while doing research on the food industry for the first time in years, I'm exposed to the concept of veganism. To me, it sounds crazy. Crazy radical (but chickens lay eggs anyway, what's the big deal?) and crazy impractical (what are these weirdos even eating?).
But it lingers in the back of my mind. It takes a few more years and lots of vegan role models that I find online, but I come to the conclusion that the only way to fully live in sync with my view of the world is to discontinue to finance ALL industries that inflict cruelty on less powerful sentient creatures. Why, you ask me? There are three major reasons.
1. I would never eat a cat or dog. It follows that I also don't want to eat a pig, an animal that may be smarter than both, or any sentient animal that is scientifically proven to be capable of complex emotions and behaviors.
2. I would never steal a baby from its mum, so I don't want to pay for stealing calves from mother cows.
3. I would never kill a baby, so I do not want to finance the mass-scale shredding of male baby chickens.
As you can see if you click the links above, the mental part is easy. Actually putting that lifestyle into practice is harder. I have a few unsuccessful attempts before I finally go vegan a few weeks before leaving to a university program in Indonesia. For the most part, it's really easy to eat vegan there and I fall in love with tempeh and the huge variety of South-East Asian vegetable dishes. That was in the summer of 2015. I have been vegan ever since and I am happy and healthy (yup, my blood results are great) and I feel content that I live "my truth".
Yes, of course, there's challenges. Some countries are more progressive in terms of food offering than others. There's the issue of birthday cake, which I never refuse because it would be too rude in my book, and when I'm traveling and there's really no other way, I will at times resort to eating vegetarian. And yes, sometimes fellow humans give you a hard time. I don't mind people asking and even challenging me about my beliefs - especially when they're genuinely curious and not out to mock you (Hint: "You're eating away my food's food" is not a good conversation starter...). On the contrary, many times, your conversation partner will be exposed to arguments they have never heard before and/or you may learn something about their view of things and I'm always up for enlightening conversations.
But, fundamentally and most importantly, my actions are in line with my philosophy. I have a lot of love for living beings. I would never want to harm, let alone kill, a sentient creature if I can live perfectly healthy without it. And so I choose not to pay people whose business is built on harming and killing animals. Also, side note, veganism is the future. Just saying. In the long run, humans will either be eating artificial, lab-grown meat that's produced without death and wrecking the environment or we'll be eating mainly plant-based food. Either way is good for me. If you want to know how to go vegan, stay tuned for part two of this veganism series.