This month I observed the 25th anniversary of the date I committed to be a vegan– to do the best I possibly could not to eat, wear, or use anything from an animal. Using the ballpark figure of 95 animals saved per year by each vegan–and it may be higher–I’ve saved 2,375 animals just by choosing different foods. I’ve also substantially cut my contribution to environmental degradation, and improved my health. Pretty impressive results for just picking up the bean burrito instead of the beef, choosing a tofu add-on instead of chicken, saying, “can I get that without cheese?”, “no butter on the popcorn, please” and similar minor actions.
In terms of learning to accommodate to the alternative foods and other products necessary to keep the commitment, the most difficult aspect for me was not food but shoes. I need a narrow-width shoe, which was no problem when I was wearing leather, but the synthetic and canvas alternatives do not come in narrow sizes. This is still true today after all these years. My best effort was to buy medium width in styles that have a strap or laces across the arch, so that I could get them as tight as possible. Still they did not fit properly, and my feet finally rebelled after 20 years of this with an episode of plantar fasciitis. This painful condition, primarily affecting runners and overweight people, can also strike those who wear ill-fitting shoes, as it did me. I’ve solved the problem by wearing narrow-width running shoes, synthetic of course, all the time, giving up on style for the sake of arch support and comfort, and I’m fine now. I can proudly say that despite my craving for stylish, properly- fitting leather shoes, I never gave in, never wore or used leather.
Then there’s the social aspect of veganism, the countless awkward moments my diet caused me over the years with family, friends, co-workers, spiritual communities, and other social groups. When I look back, I am frankly amazed that my empathy with animals was sufficiently strong to stick with the vegan commitment through all those times of social isolation. So many birthday cakes I was unable to share (I always had a vegan cake for my own birthday, of course). Two incidents particularly stick in my mind. One was a wedding rehearsal dinner. I tried twice to find out where the dinner was going to be held so that I could contact the restaurant in advance, but the bridal couple did not decide until the day of. It was a steak house, very busy that night, which was unable to provide a vegan entree. My husband and I ended up eating a side salad and baked potato while everyone else had a full meal with dessert. The other incident was at work. My boss was aware I usually could not share in office treats–except the ones I provided myself–so one day she brought to an office party a dessert she made herself, saying, “This has no eggs or dairy products, so we can all enjoy this.” I was so pleased, ready to take a serving, when I discovered it contained marshmallows! Not only was it not vegan, it wasn’t even vegetarian! I was able to delay by eating some chips, etc. and then she was called away; she never knew I didn’t eat her dish. (This was long before the availability of vegan marshmallows.)
Does this mean I think veganism is not worth the trouble? Not at all!! I would not have done anything differently. To prevent the unspeakable suffering of those thousands of animals I would otherwise have eaten or worn is absolutely worth any discomfort on my part. Throughout these 25 years I have had other vegans to socialize with, and fortunately vegan food tastes great! Now that veganism appears to be catching on, I expect the social isolation will decrease, and I rejoice that more and more people are seeing veganism’s profound benefits to all beings.