It was this month four years ago that I told YDV readers about my vegan evolution. I’ve never made it a secret that I started on my journey thanks to an afternoon in a Barnes & Noble with the book Skinny Bitch. It was marketed with intent. From SkinnyBitch.net:
If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to hear the truth: You cannot keep shoveling the same crap into your mouth every day and expect to lose weight.
There is nothing unique about how I felt about my body or my eating habits. Yes, I wanted to lose weight. I’d been on Weight Watchers. I’d joined the gym once in my early twenties, paying a year’s dues although I had quit by the end of January. I was a burger queen, a chicken finger aficionado. Fries topped with mozzarella cheese were a mainstay of my diet, and I frequented all of the local diners. I was not immune to the societal expectations we all grow up with – size 14 isn’t plus-size when it’s the national average, right?
So I started reading a book that quickly grew on me. The authors, Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, had a no-nonsense writing style with a healthy dose of profanity. These were things I gravitated to. Their approach was controversial to some, but not to me.
But the truth of the book is way more than “stop eating crap.” Rory Freedman told Mind Body Green in a 2009 interview:
It occurred to me that humans very much love animals and don’t want them to suffer, but they also don’t want to sit there and read about their suffering, their pain, and how human involvement is contributing to that. So it occurred to me if I could write a book, call it Skinny Bitch, and not give away that there was going to be anything about factory farming and slaughterhouses in the book, that women who are just living their lives who like shopping, who like watching Oprah, who like reading silly magazines, would pick up this book and it would change their lives, and it would change how they treated animals.
That, right there, is what happened to me. I am forever grateful to Freedman and Barnouin for going about it the way they did because I don’t know if I would ever have started on this journey without them.
Thinking It Through
Here’s why I think this way: I had watched Super Size Me previously. Watching Morgan Spurlock eat nothing but McDonald’s for thirty days, and watching what it did to his health? It affected me. In fact, it turned me off of McDonald’s for several months.
But making a change for me (read: my health)? That wasn’t enough of an incentive to make a lasting, meaningful change. It’s sad, but it’s true, and I don’t think it’s so uncommon. After all, we are a nation of yo-yo dieters, of fad dieters, of people who are constantly being sent messages that we need to be cuter, thinner, healthier (which usually means thinner in this messed up messaging system), even as we drive by endless fast food restaurants and watch extreme couponers stock up on all the free ramen noodles and sugar water they could possibly want.
It’s not as if I had never heard the word “vegan” before. At the end of Spurlock’s experiment, his then-girlfriend put him on a vegan cleanse to fix the damage he had done. I’d been to a vegan wedding in the past. As I re-read my evolution story in preparation for writing this piece, I discovered that I had, in fact, already read Fast Food Nation by this point in my life. I hadn’t put any of the pieces together yet. And then Skinny Bitch gave me the kick in the butt I needed.
Over the next year and a half, I phased animals out of my diet. A friend was going through her journey at the time. I recall her telling me that she thought that a person wouldn’t stay vegan unless they made the connection that it was about animals. At the time, I didn’t agree with her.
Changing My Mindset
It’s been almost seven years since I read that book and I have to say, now I do agree. My own story is evidence enough. Of course, it’s essential to talk about veganism, that it becomes more mainstream and a part of global consciousness. And it absolutely makes sense that we introduce it where we can – the health of the planet and the health of our species matter. But if we stop at health, if we stop at the planet – that’s not going to bring people to the crux of the issue, or at least, it’s not going to be enough to keep them there.
The lives and deaths of animals – how they are raised and treated in our industrialized food system, how they are caged and killed for their skins, how they are stolen from the wild to be put on display or to perform, how they are bred and kept for testing – they are what people need the opportunity to learn about.
But we shouldn’t stop there. It’s just as important to discuss the animals who make it out of those situations – that’s one of the important aspects of sanctuary activism. It’s just as important to discuss how free-living animals live, and how our actions affect them. It’s important that we talk about the animals, that we mention the animals if we expect anyone to extend compassion towards them.
We all take our paths to get where we are and to get where we’re going. Skinny Bitch was a landmark on my path, without which I’m not sure I’d have ever heard the message. I fully believe that we must not lose the message in every mention of “vegan” on a celebrity website or a cookbook cover. As KD so eloquently put it in “The Fight for Veganism,” “to advocate on behalf of a position, one must first be able to define it.” For me, defining veganism has never been about perfection, or about exclusion.
It’s been about learning how to navigate a non-vegan world in a way that does the least harm and thinking about what that means. I hope that what we do here at YDV successfully meets that intent, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
Skinny Bitchin’ Giveaway
KD and I are always looking for ways to inspire others so since the books had inspired me so much, we decided to do a Skinny Bitch giveaway! One lucky reader will get a copy of Skinny Bitch, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch and Skinny Bitchin’: A “Get Off Your Ass” Journal to Help You Change Your Life, Achieve Your Goals, and Rock Your World! That’s right, you get all three books! All you have to do is enter below. Good Luck!
Apologies to our international friends, this giveaway is valid for US residents only.
No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited and all that. This giveaway
February 23, 2015 through March 2, 2015. is now over.