When I decided for the second time to adapt a plant-based diet, I did tons of research on the health effects of eating meat and dairy, and so much of what I came across was extremely disturbing. Take for example, the fact that heart disease, the world's leading cause of death, may actually start in the womb. Or the fact that consumption of animal foods are directly correlated with the development of heart disease, while plant foods are protective. I thought back to the copious amounts of cheese, eggs, pork and chicken I ate over the course of my life and knew that I had to reverse the early stages of heart disease that had been building since childhood.
This was just the tip of the iceberg, but the more I learned, the more I knew that I could never, ever go back to eating animal foods. But I did start to worry about people I know who still eat a standard American cheese, egg & meat-heavy diet. It's something that's discussed often within plant-based circles, the stress of submerging our concern for loved ones who we know would greatly benefit from changing their diet. We don't want to be that asshole who bombards people with unsolicited nutrition advice. Or we know that if we say something, we'll inevitably be subjected to a vicious verbal backlash. So we say nothing, and let them be. But it can be painful as hell to watch people you care for continue to harm themselves with the foods they eat.
Lately, my husband and I have come to realize that because we're both pushing 30, we're only a few years away from watching people we know succumb to diseases that are largely linked to what's on their plate. I honestly feel a certain level of urgency to speak up more frequently and more loudly about how important it is to take diet seriously, and with all the available scientific and anecdotal evidence regarding the protective benefits of plant food, I need to be a more enthusiastic advocate.
According to the CDC, 48% of African American women have some form of cardiovascular disease. While 7.6% of Black women have full-blown heart disease, many more have heart disease and aren't aware of it, largely because there are often no real serious symptoms until it's too late. A whopping 64% of women who die from heart disease have no previous symptoms at all.
As a Black woman, I sometimes get frustrated. While there's a lot of talk about the stresses we experience as a demographic, and lots of vague discussions about the importance of self-care, there isn't nearly enough discussion about the importance of nutrition. Maybe it's a lack of knowledge, and if that's the case then I hope that this can help fill that void. It isn't stress that's killing us, it's heart disease, and while stress can absolutely pull the trigger, our weakened, congested arteries are the loaded gun.
This isn't to give any credence to the all too common stereotype that Black women are fat, lazy and unhealthy, because not only is this ridiculous, it ignores the fact that people of other races and genders are all living lifestyles that contribute heavily to heart disease, and they, too are dying from it. However, I do want to shed light on a sad truth: heart disease is ravaging the world and as Black women, we're uniquely positioned to not only develop the disease, but to also die prematurely from it.
We speak often about the medical neglect that Black women are all too often subjected to, precisely because of the negative stereotypes that are rife within the medical field. One most recent example is the case of Serena Williams' birthing scare, which helped to further highlight longstanding racial disparities in maternity deaths. I know from personal experience what it's like to go to the doctor and not be treated for my symptoms, but for whatever my doctor thinks must be wrong with me purely because I am a Black woman. This has happened on countless occasions. Sometimes it really does feel like we're the only ones who seem to take our emotional and physical pains seriously.
I say all this because, while I do believe that more individuals in general could benefit from taking control of their health, I think this is even more true for Black women. We've learned too many times before that being our own advocates is a matter of life and death. We have to begin and sustain a serious conversation about preventing poor health in the first place, and all of my research has convinced me that change must start on the plate.
The risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity, and diabetes. According to the most recent available NIH statistics, 37% of Black women have high blood pressure, 20% of Black women smoke, almost 50% of Black women have high cholesterol, nearly 80% are overweight or obese, and 55% are physically inactive. While there are lots of initiatives that overtly teach the public how to quit smoking and how to start exercising, there's a lot of tip-toeing around the dietary aspects of these diseases.
Even the most well-meaning, health conscious woman can fall victim to these illnesses, because our food landscape can be somewhat of a minefield. You might be trying to avoid sodium because of your blood pressure, but you might not know that your chicken has already been injected with salt. You might be eating less red meat, but it might not be making much of a difference. As a matter of fact, Dr. Kim Williams, former president of the American College of Cardiology, explains that his switch to a plant-based diet came when his supposedly healthy boiled, no-skin chicken diet led to his own high cholesterol.
I'm going to be quite clear because I wouldn't forgive myself if I did the same kind of half-assed tip-toeing that we find in the media and other public health initiatives. The only scientifically proven way to prevent and even reverse heart disease is via a vegan, plant-based diet. It's one of those things where there's no half-stepping. Vegetarianism isn't the answer either, because eggs and cheese also contribute to heart disease.
I write this not just for older Black women who are suffering from high blood pressure or cholesterol, but also for those my age who think they're invincible because there are no real signs that anything is wrong. Sometimes the first sign that something is wrong is death. This is my plea, from a place of love, for us to start prioritizing this particular type of self-care, where we feed our bodies with whole plant foods that nourish us, fortify us and build us up, not break us down - because the world does more than enough to try to break us down already.
For my last blog post of 2017, I wanted to simply speak from the heart. This has been quite a transformative year for me, from going vegan to starting this blog to exploring my spirituality, I've experienced quite a bit of radical change. I can say without hesitation that I'm a completely different person than I was this time last year, and for that I am grateful.
When I first started this blog, my goal was to create a space where I could release myself from societal and self-imposed constraints, where I could let my voice be heard. As this is still just the beginning, I can say that in many ways I've done that, but in many ways I haven't. While I'd like to live life fearlessly, proudly embracing my raw vulnerability, just letting it all out without fear of what may follow, that's all easier said than done.
I would've loved to have written a blog article per week, but many times I'd agonize over a topic or idea so much that I'd eventually shelve it, hoping that one day I'd have enough courage to put it out there. I'll be honest. I didn't expect for my words, my writing, or my experiences to resonate with so many people. I didn't expect to receive all the wonderful feedback that I have received from so many people. While it's been amazing, it's also brought to the surface quite a bit of fear.
Without getting into the details, a lot of honest self-reflection has shown me that there's still a lot of work to be done. Fear is that several-headed monster that never quite seems to die, no matter how valiantly I fight. But I have not and will not be defeated; I'll continue to press on and as I grow, I hope that I can encourage others to grow along with me.
That being said, the biggest lesson that I've learned this year is that change starts from the inside. I can find plenty of idealistic dreamers like myself with their own unique visions of what this world would look like if it were a better place. On some things we'll agree and on others we'll argue. Some of us take to Twitter, while others take to the streets. Some of us want to lend our hand to government while others want to take the entire system down.
While the tactics and methods may differ, we all know that we want better for the world around us. But what about the world within ourselves? How can we make the world a better place if we don't take care of the feet that march, if we don't nurture the body that toils, if we don't tend to the voice that screams? Not to sound cliche, but you truly cannot pour from an empty vessel.
We talk about self-care, but it's more than simply going for the occasional massage or wildin' out to some tunes in your living room. When I first decided to go vegan, it was to me a long-overdue act of self-care: finally taking a look at the state of my health and making radical change in hopes of bettering it. I expected a plant-based diet to help me feel better, but I did not expect the crash course in self-discovery that it would catalyze.
Call it a detox, call it shadow work, call it what you will, but I unexpectedly embarked on a purge of all the bullshit that had been holding me back. It was like the better I felt, the more my body, mind, and spirit craved liberation from all the baggage that I'd been carrying for so long. Childhood trauma, unresolved feelings, unacknowledged pains, unrecognized desires and unchecked bad habits all came rushing to the fore. It became clear that I was embarking on a period of growth and transformation, and I was not allowed to move forward until I sat down with all my shit and truly sorted it out.
I'm still sorting through the shit. But I've come far enough to realize that my very existence, my very way of living in the day to day was greatly influenced by all the stuff I had sitting in my subconscious mind. The way I acted and reacted towards things, my ability to observe, understand and regulate my own emotions, all of this was impacted by unresolved issues that sat quietly in the back of my mind, craftily pulling the strings without my noticing.
Though I'd been in therapy for a few months at this point, I was finally starting to understand what my therapist meant about the "old records" in my mind. Every thing that we do or don't do, all the things that we say or don't say, all the emotions that we feel or don't feel are all influenced by the way we've been conditioned throughout our lives. The limitations we place upon ourselves, the triggers that cause us pain, the irrational reactions that we have to benign situations and things, these didn't just fall from the sky. They're all a reflection of what's been placed within us. If truly understood, this can be used to our advantage, but if ignored, it can be to our detriment.
Going through my own emotional and spiritual changes and realizing how much I can evolve in such a short period of time made me wonder: how can we truly understand and inevitably conquer the darkness around us if we can't even face the darkness within ourselves? I spent so much time railing against the system, so much time steeped in the emotional pain of the world around me, so much time wondering what the hell I did to deserve being cast onto this horrific planet, and all any of that accomplished was a steadily deepening depression. Yes, the world around me was and continues to be horrific in many ways, but the feeling of empowerment only arose once I faced the horrors that toiled within me.
I view the world through an entirely different set of lenses now. I see the programming that implanted fear, hopelessness, lack of self-worth and doubt deep within my psyche. I know where they came from and I recognize them when they come knocking at my door, ready to take control. I see the ways that my emotions are constantly being toyed with and manipulated for the sake of perpetuating corporate profit or for someone's individual gain, even in the most minuscule of ways. So much used to feel like a personal attack, but now I try to take very few things personally. I see the world for what it is but I no longer allow it to shake the peace inside of me. Yes, there are hard days, but hard days are much better than weeks and months of pure emotional despair.
More importantly, I see the ways in which my own personal issues shaped my tolerance and lack thereof, and I do suspect that many others will find that to be true of themselves. While I considered myself more socially progressive than most, I came to realize that on many occasions, my own personal pain caused me to dismiss certain individuals based on what I considered to be their own backwards or regressive ideologies. While I still hold no space for hatred or violence, I'm much more willing to try to understand where people are coming from, even if I don't agree.
Maybe the most catalyzing change came from facing the realization that in all my despair surrounding human lives I had very little regard for non-human life. My Sociology degree meant that I could tell you all the ins and outs of systemic oppression but I ignored the very blatant patterns of oppression that exist in animal agriculture. Why? Because it implicated me. It made me complicit in perpetuating the same system of oppression from the very same oppressors that I actively denounced. It forced me to face the limits of my empathy and compassion, limits that I did not believe existed. An entirely new world opened up once I faced the oppressor within myself.
We're living in a time when division is rampant, and purposefully so. Marginalized identities are being played against each other for corporate and political gain. Like a fiddle, peoples' pains are being toyed with, by advertising, politics, media programming and fake online bots alike. Tempers and tensions are at very high highs, flaring up at the slightest provocation. We're not at peace as a collective, and we won't be until we can find it within ourselves. Rather than being unconsciously told who and what to hate, we'll be much more concerned with figuring out how to expand love, both within and outside of ourselves.
So how can we make the world a better place? We begin with ourselves. We find the demons that lurk within our soul and face them head on. We take our problems and pull them out by the root rather than dragging them along by the branches. When we can reach that level of understanding, of who we are and why we are the way we are, then forgiveness of self and others can begin. When we no longer shy away from that which ails us, when we've stared it down and refused to allow it to control us any longer, then we can begin to look at what ails the world. Until then, we'll simply continue aimlessly trying to quench the thirst of an ailing world from an empty cup.
Being of Jamaican descent, there's a certain level of comfort that I have when I go there to visit. In so many ways it feels more like home than my New York home. For one, I find the weather, the fresh air and the general atmosphere to be quite grounding, a refreshing contrast to the anxiety-provoking hustle and bustle of NYC. There's also a lot of comfort in being surrounded by people who look like me, who remind me of family, whose roots can be traced back to the same ancestry.
For a foodie like myself, however, the most comforting and exciting part of going to Jamaica is being able to eat the foods that I grew up on, especially those that I don't get to eat too often. For this particular vacation, my husband and I decided to stay at a resort, simply to be able to have that experience together at least once. We did worry about the food options that would be available, and had even decided that if it came down to it, we'd be willing to try a raw diet for the week.
Looking back, more raw foods probably would've been a great idea. Here's what happened. When we arrived at the buffet for our first meal, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there were plenty of familiar Jamaican foods that we knew to be normally vegan, like callaloo, spinach, rice & peas, breadfruit, plantain and cabbage. Nothing was labeled as vegan but we felt comfortable taking the risk eating familiar vegetables and other normally meat- & dairy-free foods, especially after being assured by a couple of the chefs that there were plenty of vegan options and that we wouldn't have to worry.
The first day, I felt fine. The food was great, and we were happy to not have to worry about finding food to eat. We would be alright as long as we stuck to familiar and obviously vegan foods. Or so we thought. At sometime around 4 am after the second day, I awoke to a violent pain in my stomach. For the next couple hours I was glued to the toilet in agony, wondering what in the hell could've caused this pain. Because I believed that I'd only eaten vegan foods, I chalked it up to the fact that I was eating more fried food than usual (I ate SO MUCH fried plantain), and within a few hours I was back to normal.
Fast forward to dinner the next night, when the head chef came to talk to us about vegan options. Mind you, this was after I had already finished eating. I listened to this chef exclaim proudly that, for the sake of flavor, almost every single thing at the buffet that night had been cooked in butter, including all the vegetables. He offered to cook us up a separate vegan meal, but of course it was already too late. Before I even got up to leave, my stomach was already doing flip-flops. I knew it'd be another early morning on the toilet.
I was quite upset. I went back to our hotel room to cry for a bit and gather myself, because I couldn't believe what I'd heard. I was under the impression that I'd been eating vegetables that were vegan when really they had been cooked in butter. I was terribly confused because, even though I did feel sick earlier in the morning, I had eaten plenty of meals that didn't make me feel sick at all. I'm both lactose intolerant and allergic to whey, so even if I wasn't vegan, I can't eat dairy without feeling ill. Why did I feel alright after some meals and sick after others?
The next morning, we went looking for the chef, only to find that there was a different chef during the daytime shift. After talking with him, we made the realization that while one head chef was cooking all of his vegetables in butter, the other was cooking all of his in vegetable oil. It also seemed that some of the other cooks weren't too clear on what being vegan truly meant, and weren't aware enough to inform us that butter had been used in some of the vegetable dishes. So while the steamed & sauteed vegetables that I had for breakfast and lunch were vegan, the ones I had for dinner were not.
I felt annoyed and angry. Mainly because I got way more familiar with that hotel room toilet than I intended to during my vacation, but also because it was a massive oversight on the part of the second head chef. It wasn't simply the fact that I was eating non-vegan food, but I was eating food that my body could not tolerate. It's one thing not to label foods as vegan, it's another not to label them as possible allergenic, especially when the normal preparation is dairy-free. I was also particularly frustrated at the outdated culinary tradition of dousing vegetables in butter simply for the sake of imparting "flavor". Oil is an option if health is of no concern, and even without oil, there are seasonings for that.
Luckily, my body had become quite resilient since going vegan so I only felt ill for a fraction of the time that I was there. Several months ago, my meetings with the toilet would've been a day-long endeavor. Though I spent my vacation way more bloated and nauseous than I wanted to be, I was still able to have a great time.
Looking back, there were many lessons to be learned during this experience. For one, I'm no longer going to be afraid of being *that* vegan. I was so concerned about not being a bother that I didn't ask enough questions and I didn't advocate for myself when I should have. I also assumed that the dishes coming out of the kitchen were prepared using a standard recipe, so if it was vegan once then it would be vegan again. I definitely didn't expect the preparation to vary so drastically between chefs. Never again will I be making any assumptions.
Ultimately I've come to learn that being vegan means that I may have to teach others about the dietary nuances of veganism. Some of the cooks were clearly unaware of what it meant to be vegan, and didn't realize that butter would be an issue. While veganism is becoming more and more popular, there's still a long way to go, and there's a lot of educating that needs to be done. The day will come when foods will be more carefully and consciously prepared and more clearly labeled. Until then, my husband and I will be opting to stay at places where we can cook the food ourselves... butter-free.
I'm no stranger to dieting. I've battled with my weight since my preteen years, and like I wrote about previously, I've struggled with an emotional eating habit that absolutely contributed to a great amount of weight gain. That all being said, weight loss wasn't on the forefront of my mind when I first decided to go vegan. I was mainly inspired by my desire to improve my health. In the six months since I've been vegan I have lost about twenty pounds, a fact that I won't deny that I delight in. However, it wasn't veganism, but rather my commitment to whole foods, plant based eating and consistent exercise that did the trick.
I say this because I worry that with all the publicity now surrounding the veganism movement, a lot of misconceptions are being spread around, some of which are purposeful attempts at casting a negative light on what is way more than a simple change in diet. Let's be clear. Diets do not work, at least not in the long term. Anything promising that you'll lose a ton of weight in a short amount of time with very minimal effort will more than likely lead to a dangerous cycle of yo-yo dieting. To rope veganism into the world of fraudulent, dangerous diet gimmicks is mistaken at best, dishonest at worst.
Veganism is not a fad diet. At its foundation, veganism is a fundamental shift in consciousness. The rejection of animal foods is not for the purpose of losing weight, but rather to minimize and reverse the damage caused by animal agriculture, not only to our environment but also to the animals themselves. It just so happens that vegan diets also tend to be healthier for the body, particularly if whole, plant-based foods are prioritized over processed junk foods.
So why is veganism picking up steam now? Because we've reached a critical point where individuals, as citizens of this Earth, are deciding that something must be done to stem the detrimental impacts of animal agriculture. People are coming to the realization that cutting down entire forests for the sake of acquiring additional land for grazing and growing feed crops simply isn't sustainable for our collective future. They're realizing that we'll all suffer if we continue overfishing our oceans.
People are hearing the horrific stories and seeing with their own eyes the sadistic treatment of the animals that eventually become our food. They're learning about the unhygienic conditions and cramped quarters that animals are stuffed into, which create breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. People are learning about the nightmare conditions that factory farm workers have to contend with, as well as the physical and mental health consequences of this work. They're learning that these factories are all too often located in the neighborhoods of low-income Black people and other people of color.
Sure, there are going to be those who see veganism solely as a weight loss technique, but to reduce an entire movement to the next dieting fad obscures the fact that the meat and dairy that we consume are linked to animal abuse, worker exploitation, environmental collapse, environmental racism, and poor individual and collective health outcomes of many kinds.
And to be clear, you can be vegan and not lose weight at all. With all the meat and dairy substitutes on the market, it's ridiculously easy to indulge in meals that taste just the same if not better than those made with animal products. This is also part of the growing veganism appeal. People are waking up to the fact that they don't have to deprive themselves of the types of meals they love. They can refuse to participate in animal cruelty AND still have a delicious burger, fries and milkshake if they so desire. Those who are more health conscious have learned that they need not worry about nutritional deficiencies. People are going vegan because in this day and age, going vegan simply makes sense.
Veganism is not a fad diet, it is a moral decision. It is the choice to actively put the future of the planet, of humanity, and of one's individual health before the desire to consume animal meat and dairy. It is an urgent clarion call to corporations to reject practices that result in the unnecessary destruction of life and environment. It is the growing recognition of the inextricable connection between ourselves and the other living beings that walk this Earth with us. It is the selfless desire to leave old paradigms behind for the sake of creating a better future for our children, their children and generations to come.
There's one thing I know for sure that I didn't know before, and it's that I will be a vegan for the rest of my life. I know It's a pretty strong statement to make, especially for a Pisces like me who hates boundaries and tries to live by the motto "never say never", but I now know too much to waver in my convictions about this. What started out as an attempt to calm my debilitating monthly menstrual cramps became an entire lifestyle for me. For the first time in my life, I can say that my beliefs and values truly align with my actions.
However, this isn't the first time I've tried the whole vegan thing, and the last time didn't go very well. After spending three years as a pescetarian and about half a year as a vegetarian, I decided to try going all the way vegan, but my priorities and convictions just weren't strong enough to sustain the lifestyle. I lasted about a couple months before I jumped off the wagon. Looking back, I realize that I made a few mistakes that made going vegan a lot harder than it had to be.
I Didn't Do Enough Research
My first attempt at going vegan began with watching the documentary Forks Over Knives. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the beginning and the end of the research that I actually did. While documentaries are a great source of information, they're limited in how much information they can give in a short span of time. Because of this, you may learn a few tidbits about how and why you should make a change, but sometimes it isn't substantial enough to actually sustain the new lifestyle. Further research is almost always required.
This can be difficult because the internet is chock full of information, and a lot of it can be contradictory and confusing, especially when it comes to nutrition. There are hundreds of nutrition studies published every year, and the absolute majority of them never end up in mainstream media. To complicate things further, a lot of what does end up in mainstream media has been misunderstood, misconstrued, or completely misstated after being filtered through editors and journalists who oftentimes don't have the scientific knowledge necessary to present the facts as they are.
So when the mainstream media was abuzz with the news that "butter is back" and "saturated fat isn't that bad", it was easy to fall for it. What I didn't take into account was the fact that a lot of what comes through mainstream media only reaches us because it's been paid for by corporations. What is presented to us as a health fact isn't always fact. This is not only confusing, it's damaging, because the reaction for most people is to throw up their hands in frustration and just give up on the notion of making any change at all. This is what I did, and many years down the line, I can say, it was a huge mistake.
These days, I find Nutritionfacts.org to be one of the best resources available, and no, I am not being paid to promote this site. It's a volunteer-run donation-based organization that parses through all the available nutrition studies in order to reach more sound conclusions about what's best for us nutritionally. The work is thorough and transparent, and it's been a major help for me in deciding how to shape my dietary choices.
I Didn't Prepare & Plan Well Enough
The biggest complaint I hear from people when they first go vegan is "I don't know what to eat". I felt this way a lot during my first attempt at going vegan, especially since this was in the days before Instagram popularized food porn. These days, however, it's much easier if you're willing to put in the effort. For most of us, eating never required any conscious effort. We would simply get a craving and then seek to fulfill it, oftentimes by running to the nearest fast food restaurant. This all changes once you decide to remove meat and dairy from your diet.
The first thing you'll notice when looking at just about any standard menu is they put some form of meat or dairy (or both) in just about everything. You'll go from being able to eat the entire menu to only being able to eat the side salad, and it'll frustrate the hell out of you. And if this happens when you're in hangry mode? You're more than likely going to say "fuck it" and order the cheeseburger.
However, the food you eat is worth thinking about because your body, your health, and your future are worth thinking about. So if that means reading restaurant menus before eating out, so be it. If that means looking for vegan restaurants or restaurants with vegan options, then do it. If that means choosing to eat before a gathering rather than hoping they have something you can eat, then do that. Happy Cow is a handy app that lets you find vegan food within a few miles of wherever you are, so the "work" really isn't that much work at all (and no, unfortunately they're not paying me either).
I Didn't Cook Enough
The reality is that while many restaurants are now getting hip to the game and adding vegan options to their menu, we still have a long way to go. That means that a lot of the time, you'll have to do the cooking yourself. I provided some tips for making cooking easier a few weeks ago in 10 Tips For Embracing A Vegan, Plant-Based Diet.
The first time I went vegan, I did try cooking the meals I brought to work in order to make things simpler, but I ended up eating the same things over and over again, which bored the hell out of me. This time around, I've found that it helps to be willing to try cooking new vegetables, fruits, beans and grains that I've never cooked before. I continuously try to expand my repertoire so that I'm not bored with what I'm eating.
I Didn't Seek Out Vegans Like Me
I'm going to keep it real with you. The mainstream vegan movement, like most things mainstream, is a very White movement. It's great at understanding the oppression faced by animals, but historically poor at considering how other forms of oppression may inform the capabilities, choices and beliefs of others.
Noble as the quest to save the animals may be, they aren't the only beings on this planet who have been subjected to systematic oppression. The lack of sensitivity to that fact undermines the movement by alienating Black people and other people of color who otherwise would be receptive to the message. I've written about veganism, systemic racism and the link to speciesism before.
Fact of the matter is, while we're all human, people of different races are subjected to different life experiences. Oppressive systems of racial subjugation aside, there are also cultural differences that are reflected heavily in the foods that we're familiar with. The first time I went vegan, my Jamaican background came in handy, because I discovered that ital food was just as amazing as the rest of the Jamaican food I grew up with, just without all the animal products. Unfortunately, access to ital food was limited and access to a community that I could integrate myself into and utilize for assistance was even further limited.
I needed a community of vegans that were like me, with people who could relate to the life I've lived, the struggles I've had and the foods I've grown up eating. Instagram is a great place for that these days. Seeing other vegans who are in similar circumstances affirms that I, too, can make it work.
I Didn't Care About Animals
Unfortunately, our own individual health isn't always important enough to us to keep us on the right path. Sometimes, we need multiple reasons to help us stick to major lifestyle changes. The first time, I didn't have that. My biggest concern the first time was honestly losing weight and getting healthier. This time around, however, I realize that the reasons to be vegan are much bigger than me.
I've come to realize that we have to be more aware of where our food comes from. When we walk into a supermarket and pick up a pound of beef that has already been raised, slaughtered, butchered, "cleaned", packaged, and sold to us, we're mentally and emotionally distanced from the cruel reality behind the production of that meat. I could write long, graphic articles about the things that go on in slaughterhouses (and I probably will eventually), but you really should take a look for yourself.
Spend some time on the Mercy for Animals website and learn more about what really happens to the animals that become the food that you eat. Most of us avoid this information not only because it's graphic, but because it triggers a deep empathy in us that is often accompanied by anger, frustration, guilt, and shame. However, this can't continue to be an excuse for turning away and pretending that it isn't happening. It won't change until we're willing to confront the truth and change ourselves.
This time around, I did decide to look more into animal cruelty, and it was gut wrenching. I felt so much shame and guilt that I'd had a hand in contributing to such inhumane treatment of other living beings. I had moments where I couldn't do anything but cry. For most people, all it takes is one tasty-looking cheeseburger to forget about their quest for bodily health. But when you begin on the quest towards eradicating animal cruelty, that cheeseburger won't ever look the same again.
I Didn't Understand The Connection Between Food Choices & The Environment
As with the animals, I didn't understand the impact that my food choices were having on the environment. I was all for stemming climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and all that, but I didn't understand that I was contributing to these problems with my lifestyle choices.
I didn't understand that raising cattle for beef is a major contributor to climate change. I didn't fully understand that entire forests are being chopped down to plant crops to feed the animals being raised for food. I didn't fully understand that entire ecosystems are facing collapse as a result of these actions. I didn't fully understand that sea life was being fished out of existence. All so that I could eat my beef burgers, my bacon, and my sushi. This is what happens when supply must meet demand, and the sorry truth is that we're demanding too much. Cowspiracy, available on Netflix, is a great documentary on the link between animal agriculture and climate change.
To be completely honest, it wasn't like I wasn't capable of understanding all of this before. I just never gave it the attention it deserved, because I knew it would require me to drastically change my ways, and I wasn't yet willing to change. I may not have been conscious of this at the time, but this was the truth. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I see with great clarity that I was being willfully ignorant. I'm saying this because I don't want other people to continue making that same mistake.
I Wasn't Emotionally Ready
As I wrote about a few weeks ago, it wasn't simply that I was enjoying my food too much to care about my health, or the animals, or the environment. I was in a lot of emotional pain, and food was my way of soothing it. I wasn't ready to truly change my habits because I wasn't ready to truly confront why I was eating the way I was eating in the first place. I wasn't ready to face my pain.
Everyone is on their own particular life journey, and while I may envision a Utopian world where we're all eating healthy, vegan diets while playing with our animal friends, I know that it's just not that simple. Making major lifestyle changes calls for a lot of willpower and a lot of financial and emotional resources that many people just aren't in a position to give.
So I ask everyone to just do their best. Stay aware and do your best, and when the opportunity comes to do a little better, do it. Inevitably, we're all going to have to take into account the way that our decisions and choices affect the lives and the world around us, but that change starts on the inside.
My name is Nivea, but you can call me Niv. I'm an independent Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness Coach hailing from the Bronx, NY.