I clearly remember the day I decided to ‘go vegan.’
It was an ordinary day by anyone’s standards. I came home from work, made myself some dinner, and took my seat at the dining table. For some reason I was the only one at home that evening, so I decided to put some TV on whilst I ate my food.
As always, my first choice was a nature documentary. No surprise there. I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember, which is probably why I spent most of my childhood looking after countless pets and hatching an epic plan to release ten thousand turkeys from a local factory farm in the middle of the night.
(it never happened, but I still have the blueprints)
Anyway, this particular documentary was about an orphan elephant whose mother had died shortly after giving birth. The orphan had luckily been found and nursed back to health at a local sanctuary, and after growing strong enough, was due to be introduced to another herd.
So the day came for the calf to meet his new family, and unsurprisingly, he was a little nervous. After spending the formative days and weeks of his life raised by humans, he was visibly edgy around these enormous, majestic creatures.
But it soon transpired that these nerves would be eased by one female in particular. Whenever the orphan came close to the group she would immediately stand close by his side, reassuring him by placing her trunk gently on his back. She would pick him up when he stumbled, and offer her tail for him to cling onto as they walked. Within days the two became inseparable, and our orphan had been welcomed with open arms (or ears) into his new family.
What we didn’t know until the end of the documentary was that this female was in fact mourning the loss of her own calf earlier that year. Being able to follow her deep maternal instincts and care for the orphan helped to ease her from months of depression. Just as the orphan needed a mother, she needed a child that she could care for and raise as her own.
This complex display of tenderness and empathy confirmed to me what deep down, I had always known. Animals are just like us. They have a deep capacity for emotions that go far beyond survival instincts alone. They create bonds within species and between species. They love unconditionally. They build families, forge friendships, and make a fool of themselves in front of the opposite sex.
Now that I can relate to.
It was at that moment I looked down at my plate. Here I was, a self-proclaimed animal lover, half way through a piece of medium rare steak. It was hypocrisy at it’s finest, but I knew on that day that it was over. I was no longer going to contribute to animal suffering, and vowed from that day I would never eat meat again.
I stayed true to my word, and things started to snowball from there. Over the next few months I began to ditch the remaining animal products from my diet. I hadn’t eaten dairy in a few years for health reasons, so the only things left were eggs and fish. I lowered my intake of these foods, and as I found replacements and learnt more about the environmental impact of eating them, they soon left the menu entirely.
At the time I never knew the end goal was to become a vegan; but the less animal products I ate the better I felt from an energetic, emotional and physical point of view. The transition from vegetarian to vegan never felt forced. I gravitated towards it naturally and from every angle I knew inherently that it was the right thing for me to do.
Come to think about it, the hardest thing about making the transition was forcing myself to ‘forget’ everything I had learnt about nutrition. For years I had been told that without animal products I’d suffer from multiple nutrient deficiencies, lose every ounce of muscle mass, and spend my days permanently fatigued from the lack of protein.
But guess what? None of it happened.
I began to realise that most of what we learn from an early age about nutrition is highly influenced by a very powerful meat and dairy industry that conveniently sponsors government nutritional guidelines, which in turn regulates everything we are taught about ‘healthy eating.’
This false information filters down from the most basic level (think government food pyramids) all the way through further education to the highest level doctorate degree. The same ‘facts’ are regurgitated over and over, all contributing to a very broken system that still believes we need dairy for strong bones and animal flesh to build muscle.
The more I did my own research and listened to my own body, the more it became clear that I could eat less animal products (and eventually, none at all) and still be extremely healthy.
Physically, I feel better than ever on a plant based diet. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been at a leaner body weight. I feel lighter, brighter, more energetic and always ready for action. I don’t have mid-afternoon energy slumps, I have a higher level of focus and very rarely feel tired or fatigued.
These benefits are amazing, but it is on an emotional level where I have made the biggest change. My conscience is clear now that my dietary choices aren’t causing unnecessary suffering for other living beings. And as kooky as it sounds, I feel like a happier and more positive person now that my system isn’t bogged down with the negative energy that comes with eating dead animals. Every time I eat I choose life, and damn it feels good.
These emotional changes have created even more happiness in my life by opening the door to even more things. I have better relationships, both with others and with myself. I’ve met some of my closest friends through a shared interest in veganism. I feel a greater connection than ever to our planet and all the amazing species we share it with.
A few years ago I would never have dreamed of going vegan, let alone what an impact it could have on my whole entire existence.
And it all started with a baby elephant.