Like most people who live in the Western society, I was not raised on a vegan diet. Instead, I was taught at an early age that humans eat animals. Eventually, I grew up and had kids of my own and taught them the same thing.
I still remember the day that my youngest daughter made the connection between actual chickens and the chicken on her plate. “Wait. This isn’t really a chicken is it?”, she asked. I responded “Yes, it is. It’s not a big deal. Just try not to think of it as a real chicken.” As the words came out, something about what I had just said seemed wrong. It actually felt like I was lying to her. When she realized that it was an actualy chicken, her eyes began to well up and she pushed the plate away. Her sister, her mother and I all continued to make a case for eating animals and we eventually succeeded. That evening, she became the newest member of the meat-eater’s club. What would have happened if we had not had chicken that night? Or any night after that? Or if we never introduced her to the thought of eating meat at all?
Here is the deal. Kids love animals. We all had pictures of animals on our pajamas, in our books and in our games. There are animals all over kid’s songs and TV shows. Small children do not see animals as food. There was a time when you would never dream of killing an animal much less eat one. There was a time when you would have done anything to protect an animal. It is not normal or natural for a human to possess bloodlust. It is even rare among sociopaths. Well then, what happened? You were eventually taught – like we all were – to believe that eating animals is normal, natural and necessary. Welcome to the club.
Let me ask you something. Do you think vegans are weird? I did. I thought being a vegan was akin to belonging to a cult. A cult of weirdos who eat nothing but salad and try to push their beliefs on others. What is funny is that shortly after making my decision to stop eating animals, I actually felt like the exact opposite had happened. It felt just like I had left a cult and they all became pissed-off at me about it. I still can not believe the level of hostility that people rise to when you mention that you do not eat animal-based food. I am a pretty normal, every day guy who carpools, drives a mini-van and enjoys a cold beer after finishing yardwork. Yet, I have been called a ‘hippy’, a ‘treehugger’ and even told by one angry family member that I have been ‘brainwashed’ by the books that I read. This last comment was made by a person who never even noticed the irony of telling me this while they sat next to a massive bag of pills which they are required to take everyday.
Remember when I said that something felt wrong about persuading my daughter to eat meat? Shortly after I stopped eating animals, I realized that I was unknowingly kidding myself the whole time. Cognitive dissonance. Humans are hard-wired a certain way but at a young age, we are taught to behave the opposite. The result is a conflict which we live with all day, every day. We deal with this conflict by pushing it far back in our minds and not thinking about it. Vegans bring that conflict back out in the open again where it has to be confronted. Once again, you become that child being told that the thing on your plate was once a happy animal who wanted to live. Except now you have the baggage of being a meat-eater. What do you do? Most people refuse to confront the conflict because they like the taste of cooked muscle tissue. Vegans choose to end the conflict and restore that feeling that they had as a child. Their 2-year-old self would be proud.
At the age of 47, I had thought about a vegan diet for health reasons. By that time I had become an avid runner. I was was also interested in other endurance-related sports like cycling, swimming and skiing. I read a lot of books and articles and spent many hours watching documentaries and videos about elite runners, training techniques, strategies and gear. As I learned more about these sports, I became more aware of another factor. Diet. I discovered that a large, disproportionate number of the athletes who I really admired were either vegetarians or vegans. It became clear to me that – unlike what I had been taught – meat and dairy are NOT needed to be healthy. It still seemed a bit too drastic of a change for me to make but it was an eye-opener.
The Moment Of Change
On the evening of November 10, 2013 – my wife and I watched a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”. It is about the enormous health problems associated with animal-based food and the benefits of a plant-based diet. By the end of the movie, I realized that I could never again eat anything that was derived from an animal. As the credits rolled, I told my wife and thankfully she also agreed that we need to go vegan.
We informed our two daughters about it and told them that they could continue eating meat and dairy if they wanted. We would just have to make separate meals for them. Thankfully, they both said that they never actually liked meat that much anyways and were willing to make the change with us.
After The Change
I will admit that those first few months were not easy. Eliminating meat was surprisingly easy and we all agreed that almond milk tasted better than dairy milk. However cheese, butter and eggs were another story. They are everywhere in the Standard Western Diet.
One of my wife’s great passions is cooking and it was tough for her to abandon several of the dishes that she loved to make. Initially she tried to find vegan replacements for common ingredients that were animal-based but, unfortunately, this usually resulted in responses such as “it’s not too bad” which we all knew was code for “it’s not as good”. It was tough going for a while. There were even a few tears shed at the dinner table but we stuck with it. We had to. Even though we had some tough evenings at the dinner table, nobody ever considered going back and we pressed on.
My wife kept researching and experimenting. She started to find new ingredients that either successfully mimicked the flavors that we liked or introduced new things that we had never had before. Soon she had a handful of vegan dishes that we all loved. She also found a couple of cookbooks which were nothing short of outstanding. Every recipe seemed to be a hit.
More and more, we would be surprised either by a new vegan dish that we all loved or one of our old favorites prepared with no animal-based ingredients. Pizza, veggie burgers, pasta with non-dairy cream sauce, meatless meatball subs, pancakes and pot-pies were all re-introduced to our lives. And it wasn’t just meals. She also found incredible ways to make treats as well. It took several attempts but she even devised a way to make the “friendship muffins” that we all loved. Also things like cake, ice cream and even “not-cheesecake” (which tastes as good as any Wisconsin cheesecake that I have ever had). It was actually surprising to find how much vegan food tastes better than it’s non-vegan counterpart. By the spring of 2014, we weren’t even thinking about meat or dairy anymore.
It gets even better. Both of our daughters used to be moderately picky eaters. However, now they often let out a cheer when mom tells them what we are having for dinner. They always eat everything and usually go back for more. One evening in the summer of 2014, one of our daughters told us that she gets far more excited about food these days. She also admitted that before we went vegan, she actually wasn’t that fond of most food that we ate or the restaurants that we went to. She said that she ate it but there were not many things that really excited her about food. She said that since going vegan, she now gets excited about 99% of our meals. How cool is that?
One thing that I noticed after going vegan was that my running had not changed. My weight remained the same, my pace was the same and my fatigue level did not improve. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. Why did so many elite athletes prefer a vegan diet? I didn’t get it until late in the winter of 2014 when I began training for my third marathon. During the winter months I rarely run over five miles but my training plan called for a 10 miler at the end of the first week. It had been several months since I had gone that far and the run was brutal. About an hour after the run it became obvious that something was different. I was actually shocked by how great I felt and I wanted to go again. The next week I did an 11-miler and again noticed that I bounced back almost instantly. Was the vegan diet responsible for this?
After this happened, I began to notice a reoccurring theme in books, interviews and articles about top athletes who maintain a vegan diet. Recovery. Not just recovery but lightening fast recovery. I had not noticed it before but after that long run it all suddenly made sense. Brendan Brazier credits a vegan diet as the key factor that helped him go pro. The fast recovery gave him a significant advantage over his competition by allowing him to fit more workouts into his schedule. He found that he was more fresh and ready at the start of each workout and did not have as many aches and pains from the previous one.
More Than A Diet
I initially decided to switch to a plant-based diet for health and fitness reasons. I also took comfort in the fact that my food was no longer requiring any animals to be harmed. Once you discover that you can thrive without harming any animals, it begs the question “Why are humans harming animals for food at all?”. You realize that you always knew the answer. You just refused to ask the question. Cognitive dissonance.
After going vegan, you begin to realize that there is an enormous array of problems caused by the cult of humans who believe that they are – in any way, shape or form – carnivores. High production factory farming, deforestation, destruction of wild life, over-fishing, climate change, heart disease, cancer, obesity, health care… the list goes on. There is even convincing science that suggests that meat and dairy are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Why do we continue to propagate this myth of needing animal-based food even though it is leading us to destroy not only ourselves but nearly everything else on earth? The answer is in these powerful presentations. I encourage you to watch these videos. I realize that what I am about to say sounds extremely cliche but it’s true – they could change your life.