Waking Up: Vegetarian to Vegan

Over the last six years that I spent as a vegetarian, vegan felt like a small step away. Vegan was, from my perspective, the sister of vegetarianism; close, but with a tumultuous relationship. It wasn’t until five month ago, when I actually became vegan, that I really began to understand how distant these concepts are and why there has and continues to be tension between these two communities.

There were a lot of reasons I became vegetarian, including moral, spiritual, and health-related issues. But at the heart of it, I became vegetarian because I wanted to remove some of the hypocrisy from my life. If I wasn’t willing to kill the animals I was eating, then why was I eating them?

For me, cutting out meat wasn’t that difficult. I simply added in more beans, lentils, healthier grains and veggies. Along with the twenty pounds I dropped after adopting this lifestyle, I began to feel better about my impact on the environment and the animals around me.

Being the only vegetarian in my family wasn’t always “easy,” but I felt like I could walk around with my head held a bit higher… Walk around, that is, in my down jacket and leather shoes, enjoying my Greek yogurt and scrambled eggs.

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Some may say that I wasn’t a true vegetarian due to fact that I still wore leather, and now I realize this fact as well, but I accepted the animal products in my life as “unavoidable compromises.” It was just too “hard” to find acceptable footwear, it was just too “hard” to cut cheese, eggs, honey and other animal products out of my diet and life. What if I was traveling? What if my friends invited me over for dinner? What if I went out to a restaurant? Could I get enough protein from being vegan? Enough vitamins? I was full of excuses and rationalizations for my choices, many of which were unfounded.

Then, six months ago, I began WWOOFing on a small dairy farm in Italy. I wanted to understand more about where my food was coming from and the work that went into producing it.  Working on the dairy farm didn’t turn me vegan, but it did make me realize that if you’re drinking milk, animals are dying for you. What do you think happens to the male calves that are born to keep the cows producing milk? What do you think happens when a dairy cow gets too old? Or too sick?

Even after this experience it didn’t set in.

Next I went to a biodynamic vineyard complete with veggie gardens, chickens, sheep and cows. For lunch, we would go into the garden to pick a salad, and then to the hen house to grab an egg. I have never heard such a mournful cackle as when I removed all the eggs from under a hen attempting to nest. She looked for her eggs for over an hour, wandering confused and calling, calling, calling. It was not only this that broke my heart though, but the realization that often roosters are sold for meat, and male chicks ground up alive at hatcheries. If you eat eggs, animals are dying for you.

Even after this experience it still didn’t set in.

Cutting up scrap wood for the winter.

Then, out of the blue, the mother of one of my friends emailed me a Care2 story about  “Veganic Gardening” and said I should check out Gentle World’s Vegan Education Center and Intentional Community, while I was in New Zealand.  I thought, “what the heck, why not WWOOF for a week and learn a new way of farming?” When I made my decision, my mother, who was traveling around New Zealand with me at the time, asked:  “Do you think you’ll become a vegan?” I replied, mouth full of grilled cheese sandwich, “You never know, but probably not.”

Yet….. the second I walked onto Gentle World’s property, my idea of what a vegan was started to crumble. These were not the skinny, wimpy, slightly grubby hippies I had gone to college with. (No offense intended, but many young vegans subsisting on french-fries and cigarettes do veganism as a whole a great disservice.) The Gentle World community members’ faces glowed. I watched in amazement as one of the senior members walked by carrying a twelve-foot ladder in one hand, over his head, like it was nothing. The food was AMAZING and there were NO animal products on site.

Suddenly my excuses seemed flimsy, the “inconveniences” trivial in comparison to the lives and pain vegan choices would save. After a couple of days, one of my fellow WWOOFers asked to watch Earthlings – a powerful documentary on the abuse animals receive on this planet, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix – and I stayed to watch it with her. I finished the video in tears, nauseated, convinced that there was no such thing as a non-vegan animal lover, and 100 percent vegan. Well, maybe 100 percent vegan in diet choices and 60 percent vegan in philosophy and action.

Veganism is in many ways an evolution; not merely a diet choice, but a complete shift in perspective. As one of my favorite Gentle World volunteers said, “you can’t be vegan on and off — you’re either vegan or you’re not.”

As I look back over the last 27 years of my life, I wonder how it is that it took me so long to stop being lazy and live my life the way I’ve always said I wanted to: with love, kindness and honesty.

If you’ve asked the same questions I have, claimed to be an animal lover, an environmentalist, a health nut, or if you gently remove bumblebees from your house instead of squashing them flat, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why you’re not vegan and what excuses are left.

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Thomas Trescone
Thomas Trescone1 years ago

WOW Valentina.....you're an angry person!

Jody B.
Jody B.2 years ago

Great article!

Deborah W.
Deborah W.2 years ago

WOW this is a real eye-opener for those of us who basically just eat. Seems like a lifelong commitment which needs to start now ... (willing to try hard, wish me luck - hell is paved with good intentions).

Karen B.
Karen B.3 years ago

@Valentina R.
Could you explain your statements ;
"You're not saving the world"
"You live in denial"
"You have zero realisim" . . . . .
Please back them up with some facts?

Victoria S.
Victoria S.3 years ago

I now understand why Vegans can be so judgemental of Vegetarians :-/

Valentina R.
Valentina R.3 years ago

"Vegan was, from my perspective, the sister of vegetarianism; close, but with a tumultuous relationship." Hahaha, hilarious.

Poor naive vegans, they think they're so special. Know what? You are not heroes. You are not saving the world. You are not more worthy than vegetarians. You have no right of bashing them. You live in denial. You have zero realism. You are the ones who need to wake up.

Kathleen Cazander

Thanks. This is something I am working towards.

Anne Mueller
Anne M.3 years ago

thanks for this inspiring article!

wchi wink
.3 years ago

To "go vegan" is not something you decide lightly, as it seriously demands that you: ALWAYS have access to a wide variety of ORGANIC whole foods, locally grown, know how to balance nutrition (getting enough protein if you're sporty for ex.), know how to cook, and take supplements of vitamin B12...this is perhaps not for everyone, due to geographical or other constraints....
Vegan's be more tolerant!
(this is such a "hot" debate!....)

Christine Stewart

I also was resistant to going vegan because I love cheeses and milk so much. Even though I knew about the fate of male dairy calves, it still seemed so far removed from my direct responsibility that I still ate dairy. A few months ago I saw a video showing a dairy cow giving birth in a muddy corral, then chasing after the farmer as he dragged her calf away, through the mud. Finally decided to give up dairy, eggs too. I will admit, that if I ever go out with friends and family, and if there are no vegan options, I'll get the vegetarian option and not commit hari-kari for my transgression. At least everyone who knows me knows I've been a vegetarian for 30 years, so I never have to get into a fight for not eating turkey on Thanksgiving!