By Katie Doyle, Food Editor
“Every reason that a person is vegetarian is a great reason to go vegan,” said Rachel Atcheson, a College of Arts and Sciences senior.
Rachel is also an animal rights activist, and accordingly, a vegan. So is Graham Boswell, a College of Fine Arts junior, who has been a vegan for six years now.
When I sat down in the George Sherman Union to interview Atcheson and Boswell, my intention was to write a story about veganism: its pros and its cons, how it’s perceived both on the inside and out and its cultural significance. And, with the information I gleaned from our interview—such as how most meat eaters will consume roughly 30 animals a year, 29 1/3 of which are chicken; how the average omnivore eats close to 200 fish per year; how being part of a strong community is extremely helpful in staying vegan—I probably could have written that piece.
But, I had no idea our interview would have such personal consequences.
While both students weren’t actively trying to persuade me to go vegan—as animal rights advocates, they are inherently armed with a hefty load of facts, figures and details about the modern food industry—the sheer passion of their argument inevitably resonated with me, a long-time vegetarian, but also a long-time animal lover, who grew up around kittens and puppies, horses and pigs and to this day just has to stop and pet every dog walking by on the street.
The thing is, I always used to say that I was a vegetarian not necessarily because of ethical reasons, but because I simply didn’t like meat. After all, one of the reasons I gave up meat was because I found myself having to coat my chicken tenders in so much ketchup to disguise its texture and hide the flesh. I wasn’t sure why it bothered me so much, but I shrugged it off as simply, well, not liking meat. After talking with the two of them, though, I think I may have been wrong; maybe there was more to it.
“So, if you take some of the main reasons people are vegetarian – they don’t want to harm animals – well, factory farming, the way our modern agriculture is now, you harm animals that are within the production line when you’re vegetarian,” Atcheson said.
“For instance, you think maybe you’re not killing an animal vegetarian when you’re a vegetarian, but the fact is, because of our egg industry, little baby male chicks, sadly, get ground up alive, and that’s to get eggs,” she said.
Boswell explained that because male chicks can’t produce eggs, and aren’t bred to produce meat, they are ground up, suffocated or otherwise disposed of as soon as they’re hatched.
“If you really don’t want to harm animals, look at where your eggs and dairy are coming from, because sadly there is no cruelty-free eggs or dairy out there,” Atcheson said.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, and when I went home to research the startling reality of the dairy and egg industry, I could barely watch the behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube or listen to the graphic descriptions of animal cruelty taking places in those factory farms.
Truth be told, I felt sick. And it got me thinking. While I’ve thought about going vegan before—I rarely eat eggs on their own, occasionally substitute soy for dairy without any issues and don’t have a particular craving for cheese—I was worried about the alleged inconvenience and cost of a vegan diet. Still, though, I was interested. And, as a writer, I thought it would be just the perfect process to document.
“It’s just forming new habits and getting rid of the old habits,” Boswell said. “I remember distinctly getting a glass of milk and a candy bar at my grandmother’s house because that’s what she always had, and it was sort of like comfort food, and that was just what I was in the habit of doing, and I had to stop myself and remember the commitment I had made. Now I have new habits, and new comfort foods.”
Boswell, who since going vegan has attained a healthy weight and even recently ran half-marathon, added that he has never been healthier. They both explained how a whole food, plant-based diet comprised of beans, nuts, tofu, tempeh, lentils and the like is not only packed with protein and nutrients, but can be surprisingly affordable, especially if bought in bulk.
So, I thought, maybe it would easy for me—a vegetarian who already loved to cook—to go vegan. But what about an omnivore, who loves meat and cheese?
Undoubtedly, the transition from a vegetarian’s perspective is certainly different from an omnivore’s. So, I enlisted the help of my girlfriend, and there it commenced: we would “go vegan,” or eliminate dairy, eggs and all animal byproducts, from our diets.
Over the next two weeks, I’m going to write about our transition in this blog: just how different it is from vegetarianism, and especially from eating meat; the cost and convenience; and ultimately, how we felt mentally and physically after saying goodbye to animal products once and for all.