Going Vegan, Staying Vegan, and Finding Support
By Taryn Dams, Guest Contributor
Though I’d been an animal lover my entire life and compassionate to a fault –truly, I once cried when I accidentally killed a fly, and I was 14 years old– I just never really thought about the animals (or animal products) I’d consumed as food. My parents made it, I ate it. Everyone did. I didn’t know a single vegetarian growing up in school; it just wasn’t something we thought about.
When I was shocked into veganism during University, after seeing a graphic film documenting animal use abuse in factory farms, I couldn’t have felt more isolated. While most of the class left throughout the presentation due to the disturbing images, I forced myself to stay, and I openly sobbed the entire time. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and that I hadn’t seen it before. I cried the entire walk home from campus back to my shared student house, and pretty much non-stop for the next two weeks. I was inconsolable.
Of course, I had to change immediately. But what scared me the most were the people that didn’t change – they stayed, they watched, and the next day at lunch they’d have a slice of pizza topped with meat and cheese in the student center. I felt like I was surrounded by monsters. I was terrified by how people could be so heartless, how I could seemingly be the only one affected by what we’d seen. (And frankly, it took years before I was able to look at non-vegans without seeing a monster. I’ll admit that. When I got home after watching that film I was indescribably angry at the world, a feeling that would last for years until I would learn how to turn my anger into a constructive activism.)
The shock of what I’d seen began to wear off. While I would go on to never eat another mammal or bird, I began to eat fish in small amount when I’d go home to my parents’ house for Christmas and summer. (Fish weren’t covered in the documentary and l suppose I just didn’t think about it.) Then I’d started up again with dairy. “Organic is better, there are strict laws, the animals are treated better,” my Mum would say*. Afraid to look into it for fear of stumbling across more graphic footage, I took her word for it. Now, of course, I know that organic dairy and eggs are no better for the animals than their conventional counterpart.
(I’m going to take a quick moment here to add that I know and believe that veganism is not just about what you eat. I’d learned about the issues of animal testing and experimentation back in high school and had boycotted things of that nature ever since.)
One day, I just woke up. I thought, Why am I eating this stuff, even if it’s just a little bit? Why not just go –and stay– vegan? Black and white? No animal products, period.
I didn’t exactly have a lot of emotional support for my new decision. While luckier than most in that I wasn’t necessarily belittled for my beliefs or change in lifestyle, t was a lonely time. Being not so much a “people person” anyway I had no problems with spending time alone but I ached for some camaraderie in my newfound ethical lifestyle. I turned to the internet, and I beautiful world opened up before me. I found a vegan forum, and other online groups chock full of people who understood the issues and what it felt like to be so isolated from an omnivore world.
I cannot express enough gratitude to the vegan people I’ve met online. When I’d found them after I decided to go (and stay) truly vegan, they were there with their emotional support, ideas, recipes, and anything else I could need. Being around (whether it’s physically or online) vegan, like-minded people did wonders for me – my lifestyle, my self esteem, and my willingness and desire to go on to educate and encourage others in the vegan way of life. I’ve met some of my favourite people through the internet and even today I can’t beat it when it comes to vegan friendship – the vegan community of Twitter, for example, is absolutely brilliant.
Get involved to open your vegan world
- Find online forums or chat rooms for vegans
- Join a vegan meet up or dinner group
- Read! Pick up books about animal rights and vegan issues or read blogs on these topics online. Knowing you’re not alone does wonders.
- Volunteer at an animal sanctuary! I interned at the NY location of Farm Sanctuary for two months and met a ton of amazing people and animals.
I wanted to share my story with readers because I know it’s common to feel lonely when you go vegan. If you don’t live in a large city with vegan groups or events, like myself, this new lifestyle can be isolating. While you love animals, without support and continuing education it can be easy to slip back into the norms, because that’s just how society works. Armed with willpower, a love for animals, and some like-minded folks, it’s easy to go (and stay!) vegan, happy, and healthy!
* A note on my “organic is okay!” Mum – In fairness, she grew up on a small family farm. Fifty years later, things have changed, and she understands that. After seeing my passion for this cause and after being educated, she’s changed her tune, and is just a step shy from veganism! What’s more, my 64 year old, German, meat-and-potatoes father was also moved to a lifestyle change after being shown Earthlings, and is now vegetarian.