Manitoba·Opinion

Yes, I'm a vegan and no, I don't want to proselytize others

Yes, I'm vegan. I love animals and am happier not eating them. I care about our health, our environment, our world. And the three meat-eaters in my home.

It surprises me how quickly some people become antagonistic or judgemental when they learn someone is vegan

Living vegan means learning to cook, knowing about food and nutrition. It means not getting upset when restaurants have no idea how to prepare vegan meals, so they bring you a plate of iceberg lettuce with diced carrots and expect you to be grateful. (Shutterstock)

I remember sitting at the dining table in our rural Manitoba home. 

I was ten or so and my mother would fill our plates and expect us to eat every last bite. It was meat, potatoes and vegetables, in that order. When nobody was looking, I'd take the meat out of my mouth and spit it discreetly into a napkin, place it carefully into my pocket underneath the table out of plain view, and make my way as soon as I could after the family meal to find a garbage pail. I took great pains to double, sometimes triple wrap it before dropping it in, to ensure that I would never be found out. 

As I grew older I ate meat, but I always felt bad about it.

Maybe it's because I remember the blood-curdling screams of pigs being burned alive across the way, or seeing an animal corpse randomly here and there. It was a small town in the 70s after all, and not too many people were talking about the rights of animals back then.

I dabbled with vegetarianism in my twenties, returned to it in my thirties and became vegan in my mid-forties. In this city, vegan is sometimes still a bad word.

"Is that like alien? Do you mean vegetarian? How do you get your protein? You must be hungry all the time."

Though the vegan population continues to grow, there's still a significant lack of knowledge about what it is and why people choose to live a vegan lifestyle.

What is a vegan?

A person who does not eat or use animal products.

Why live vegan? The impact on my health has been rather remarkable. At 52, I can honestly say that I have more energy now than I ever have.

Within a few months of moving to an all plant-based diet I noticed an immediate improvement in my skin and hair. I stopped requiring the daily naps that had become all too mandatory. I lost weight around the middle, and most importantly I became much more mindful of all things health-related.

Living vegan means learning to cook, knowing about food and nutrition. It means not getting upset when restaurants have no idea how to prepare vegan meals, so they bring you a plate of iceberg lettuce with diced carrots and expect you to be grateful. Sometimes it requires having patience with people when they're a little too eager to question your lifestyle choices or accuse you of being arrogant or a bleeding heart or any other number of such things.

Living vegan means living consciously and trying to live as compassionately as we imperfect humans can.

It continues to surprise me how quickly some people become antagonistic or judgemental when they learn that someone is vegan. For those who are genuinely interested in finding out more about what it means to be vegan, there is often surprise when they learn that my partner is a meat-eater; that I share a home with three meat-eaters, that I am the resident cook, making all the meals for everyone almost all of the time and that involves cooking meat and other animal products.

Do I like cooking meat? Not particularly. But I put my preferences aside and accept that not everyone shares the same belief system. And, I respect that. Not all vegans are interested in proselytising. But this vegan is very interested in healthy eating, bringing nutrition back to everyday life and living in awareness about where our food comes from, how animals are treated and how all of those things affect the environment we live in and the future we create.

The western world has embraced fast food so much so that our children are developing diabetes and hypertension, we have epidemics of heart disease and more and more people are dying and becoming ill as a result of what they eat. Canada's Food Guide hasn't exactly been a great example of all things healthy. It's next to impossible to find anything nutritious to eat in our school, hospital and care home cafeterias.

Grocery shopping trips excite me as I explore a multitude of foods from all over the world and learn to cook new dishes all the time. What bothers me immensely though is the cost of healthy versus unhealthy food. The fact that we can load up our food carts with pop, chips, candy, white bread, pizza pops, sugary cereal, wieners and other mystery meats and pay little to make our families sick, while a cart loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains and spices costs significantly more.

So yes, I'm vegan. I love animals and am happier not eating them. I care about our health, our environment, our world. And the three meat-eaters in my home.

Janine LeGal is a Winnipeg freelance writer and a grassroots activist.

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