Becoming vegetarian

I’m a vegan now, but I wasn’t always.

At age three I had an epiphany and made the connection between what I was eating and where it came from. But being young, I was easily fooled. Call it “chicken” and I wouldn’t eat it; call it “meat” and I would.

For me, meat was a frozen patty in a box in the freezer. I hadn’t really thought about the connection until I was ten. That’s when I moved from Toronto, a large metropolis where it’s easy to be removed from the origins of food, to a tiny, farming town in Germany.

Jean and AlineI was already shunning fish. Especially if I’d bite in and see a chunk of scaly skin. I started passing fish sticks under the table to my dog. But when I saw the local butcher kill a pig in the driveway of a neighbor’s house, my meat-eating days ended. I was in the back seat of the family car and we were driving away. To this day, I can picture the scene in slow motion. The blood, the cruel smiles on the kids’ faces as they participated in the event. Ugh. It was a nightmare. I’ve always loved animals and I didn’t want to be part of that.

Fortunately, my family was practically vegetarian. My mother has never liked meat and didn’t object to my change in eating habits. I still ate eggs and cheese and drank milk, but I was becoming a conscientious consumer. I started to learn about food and what we need to be healthy.

The next year, I moved back to Canada. I packed PB&J for lunch and blended in with the other kids. I didn’t make a big deal about my choices and neither did they.

Not everyone thought me being a vegetarian was a good idea. When I was 15, a boyfriend begged me to eat a burger. That’s the only time I’ve fallen for peer pressure. I ate the burger but told him I wouldn’t do that again. He relented. A few months later though, just to be polite, I had a chicken casserole at his mom’s house. I realized that I couldn’t keep “being nice” so I explained to her that I didn’t eat meat and I didn’t lapse again.

My grandmother’s husband said I’d be dead by twenty if I stuck with a vegetarian diet. I called him on my twentieth birthday to remind him that not only was I very much alive, but I’d grown nine inches and gained about 40 pounds since I was ten (gained in a good way–I was tall and slim and healthy). He forgot his warnings though, so I didn’t have the pleasure of gloating.

Being a vegetarian suited me fine. I’d met a couple of vegans when I in college but thought they were a bit extreme. I mean, what was wrong with dairy and eggs? Luckily, in my mid twenties, a friend handed me a copy of John Robbins, Diet for a New America. It’s a book that changed my life. It was absolutely eye-opening. It led me on my path to veganism.

But that’s a post for another day.


SNL brings it on down to Veganville

I never thought I’d be writing about Saturday Night Live and Justin Timberlake on my vegan blog, but after watching JT host SNL last Saturday, I’m, well, a little verklempt. SNL and JT are my new vegan allies, it would seem.

For his fifth time hosting, Timberlake brought back a skit he’s done variations of before (Omletteville and Liqourville being two of them). This time, it was Veganville. Timberlake, dressed up as a huge block of Tofu, starts the skit as a mascot for a new vegan store. He runs into a guy from the Sausage Depot (played by Bobby Moynihan) who chides his meat-free choices. Timberlake retorts with parodies of songs in a Weird Al kind of way (same tune, new words). There was Vegout (to the tune of Chic’s Le Freak), Brown Rice Baby (to Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice Baby), and my favorite, We found Love in a Meatless Place (to the tune of Rhianna’s We Found Love), among others.

Mr. Sausage urges Timberlake’s character to try some meat but is reminded about how animals raised for meat are killed. Mr. Sausage breaks down and cries about eating “Babe’s grandbabes.” Timberlake’s character poignantly replies, “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” Then, in true comedic, timely fashion, he starts the Harlem Shake (well, Veggie Shake) and the stage fills with costumed dancers.


Perhaps this is just a silly sketch, but I love the message. I especially appreciate how they carried it out to the end and didn’t backtrack. I was half expecting JT to switch teams and drive off in the Oscar Meyer weinermobile. I was heartened when the studio audience cheered for Veganville (of course they were cheering JT too). I’d love to know who wrote this, how it got include in the show, and if Timberlake had anything to do with it.

Justin Timberlake is reported to be a vegetarian, although I haven’t found definitive proof. To me, it’s heart-warming to think that after years of being “the weird one” maybe veganism is starting to be seen as a realistic choice.

Then again, maybe it’s just a skit.

The origin of my compassion

a younger jeanAre people innately compassionate? I’d like to think so, but I’m really not sure. All I can do is speak for myself.

I had my first taste of vegetarianism in the womb. No really. My mom decided that a plant-based diet would be the best thing for my development. She’s always cooked healthy meals, and excluding meat made sense to her. My mom’s a vegan now, but in the 1970s, people told her that meat was good for us. That growing children needed it. So with reluctance, she served small portions of meat every now and then. She’s never cooked a roast or chicken. Performing autopsies in the kitchen didn’t interest her.

At the age of three, I was happy and oblivious to most things. I was learning to read, and interested in books, dolls, cars, and my trike. Animal rights wasn’t something I even knew about.

My grandparents served me chicken one day, and unlike beef or pork, I made the connection. “This is chicken.” I said, happy to share my newfound knowledge of the world. “It used to have feathers. It used to have a beak. It used to have feet, and it used to walk around.”Chicken

Ding! A light went off in my head. “I’m not hungry anymore.” I pushed the plate away.

I don’t remember that incident, but my mother did. It was profound. I didn’t want to eat animals. For a while, people could trick me by calling something “meat” instead of “fish” or “chicken.” But in a few more years, I gave it all up.

I’ve heard other stories and I think a lot of kids are initially uneasy about eating animals. But we’re talked into it by grown-ups–the people we trust (or have to obey). Soon, we don’t think about it and we get desensitized to it. But it’s not wrong to feel your conscience tugging at your heart. It’s good to question our choices.

Do you remember making the connection between animals and meat? When was it?