A decade has passed since I became vegan – an undertaking that I saw, at the time, as a “project” that would distract me from my deplorable job and endlessly bland life. It was something I could research and immerse myself in and perhaps expand my universe a bit in the process. God knows, in my Midwestern, steak-infested city, I was not thriving, not doing well at all. Dating sucked. Job sucked even more. I needed something to devote myself to, something to feel passionate about. A new project. A new me.
When a tiny health food coop opened up just two blocks down the road from my apartment, things started looking up. There were hippies in Nebraska! Who knew? These were people who baked bread in the back room and had a small selection of organic (and slightly wilted) produce. I started exploring lacto-ovo cooking, but had a few meat-eating setbacks. It was hard to curb that craving for meat. Despite my ultra-thin appearance, I was a voracious meat eater. I always liked my veggies and fruits too, but a good steak or bbq ribs was my idea of a great dinner out. I started buying organic milk that I thought was from happy cows. I thought I was doing the right thing.
I had always been uneasy about vegetarians, not because I personally saw them as weird or “out there,” but because my family did. I remember one of my only encounters with a vegetarian was at a post-funeral luncheon where two of my relatives conspired not to tell the one-and-only vegetarian guest that the baked beans had pork in them. I felt bad for him. He was an outcast, a freak, and clearly, his motives were misunderstood. I don’t know that my relatives were trying to be mean, in fact, I suspect they weren’t, but they couldn’t possibly have known the difference it would have made to that poor guy to just tell him honestly what was in the beans he was about to eat. I didn’t know that non-vegetarians sometimes feel threatened or judged when a vegan or vegetarian is in close proximity – as if their values and food choices are being questioned.
I started exploring a bit more deeply. After chatting with a vegan friend online about the milk and egg industry, I was impressed enough to go cold turkey (excuse the non-vegan reference). He wasn’t judgmental, but had very sound arguments against eating animal products. I had no counter argument. I had always adored animals, but somehow thought that it was natural to eat them. Not that I could ever kill them myself. Until I started actively researching my food choices, I had no idea really how meat, eggs and dairy were produced. Meat, packaged and neatly wrapped at the store, didn’t seem like “animal” to me. What I didn’t completely understand at the time, was that my freedom to choose other foods (vegan foods) allowed me to opt out of cruelty. I could consciously select a palate that was more in line with my ethics. But Omaha was not a vegetarian’s dream. After all, the chain restaurants (and believe me, there’s little else throughout the Midwest) aren’t exactly catering to a crowd of vegetarians. My choices were usually something like a dry baked potato and a salad with no dressing.
I loved to cook, but I needed to learn a whole new way of cooking and did a lot of experimenting with foods I’d never encountered, like tofu and seitan. My first vegan cookbook was published in the ’70s, straight off the presses at a hippy commune – the Farm in Tennessee. I was inspired. I had found “my people.” I learned not to write off a food just because I’d had one bad experience with it. Sometimes, the food was a brand I simply didn’t like and sometimes, it was a poorly written recipe. I learned that there is a vast difference between refrigerated water-packed tofu and the kind that comes in an aseptic package, like Mori Nu.
I believe veganism provided the impetus for me to get the hell out of Dodge and move out West to Denver. First, I flew to San Francisco to meet my online vegan friend. We had vegan sushi, a dinner at a raw food restaurant, lunch at a tiny Ethiopian place, another lunch at a vegan Buddhist Chinese joint, a divine and pricey dinner at the amazing Millenium Cafe. Back home, I was tired of the lunchtime critiques of my meal and felt like I was doing battle over my food choices. At first, I was an angry, defensive vegan. I felt compelled to buy activist buttons and stickers, to confront people about why consuming animal products was wrong. But that abated with time and experience. I started working out at a gym. I was surrounded by extremly obese (though nice enough), unhealthy people – people who could barely walk because of the oppressiveness of their weight. I was miserable at my job. Dating was a fiasco. I may have been the ONLY vegan in Nebraska. I was lonely!
So when my next big relationship ended and I was at loose ends, I became dissatisfied enough with the status quo to forge a new life – one that involved veganism and a job change.
While I was applying to graduate schools for a Masters in Library Science, I met yet another vegan guy online who happened to live in Denver. He suggested a graduate program at a nearby university. I must have liked him enough to take the leap. He’s my husband now. And two kids and a Master’s degree later, here were are. While I was in graduate school, I worked at a large health food store and taught vegan cooking classes once a month. Our non-vegan friends and family praise my cooking.
What’s the next big project?