I grew up working in my father's wholesale produce business. One might think this would inspire a love of fresh fruit and vegetables - unless of course one has kids and knows how incredibly contrary they generally are. Until well into adulthood, you could not have paid me to eat a salad.
Despite a decided lack of interest in eating fruits and vegetables, I became a vegetarian at age eight upon realizing that chicken was actually a chicken. For over ten years, I existed as what Dad called "a Frito Lay vegetarian." Indeed, the corn in Fritos was probably the only veg I ate for long periods of time. I survived on buttered noodles, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Whoppers-hold-the-beef. Perhaps once or twice a year, I'd eat tofu - particularly if my vegetarian auntie made it for me.
At age 20, when I received the joyous news that my husband and I were expecting "an inheritance from God" (or as my Gran would say, "our first brat"), I also received the not-so-joyous news that I was severely anemic. In retrospect, this is hardly surprising. But at the time, I didn't know enough about vegetarian nutrition to combat my OB-GYN's firm belief that I had to start eating meat. Because I will not accept blood transfusion on religious principle, my trusted doctor told me he would refuse to treat me unless I adopted a carnistic diet.
The problem was, once the habit of cooking and eating meat began, it was very hard to break. My husband had always been a burgers-and-fries guy. I had concerns about my ability to raise healthy vegetarian children. (Not other people's ability, mind you. Just mine. I wasn't much of a cook at the time.)
Fast-forward six years. After the birth of my second son, I became debilitated with pain and stiffness. After several years of tests upon tests, specialists upon specialists, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis. I was prescribed nearly 20 pills a day. I spent months in physical therapy to be able to walk without a cane - at age 26.
Then my hormonal cycle went wild and I was diagnosed with perimenopause - at age 26. My mental health deteriorated from the strain and from constant hormonal fluctuation. Migraines and other health issues prevented me from being treated, and I again become severely anemic, despite continuing to eat a carnistic diet.
I never suspected a link between the way I was eating and the deterioration in my health. In retrospect, I realized I had experienced symptoms of fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis since childhood, but it never occurred to me to wonder what had kept them from becoming as severe as they later became. Now I know better.
In March of 2010, I once again committed to vegetarianism. I didn't have a thought of it affecting my health, or my waistline, or the environment. I just realized that I didn't want animals to die. I've never been comfortable with the idea that any other being should be sacrificed for my benefit. (And I think, in a way, that belief gives a greater significance to the Christian concept of Jesus' willing sacrifice, but that's another subject.) It was only by pushing the thought of what I was eating out of my mind, ignoring it, that I managed to eat meat for the better part of 17 years.
To me, it was simply about empathy. I, personally, empathize with that animal too much to want to eat it. As an adult, and initially for the safety of my child (which was paramount), I learned to push those feelings aside. But that is never a good thing. That sensitivity is a part of who I am and suppressing it makes me a less complete person on the whole. It affects my compassion, my reverence for life, and my sense of wonder at the living world around me. Once my child was safe, I was sacrificing conscience for convenience.
Just a few months after returning to vegetarianism, thanks to some wonderful vegan friends, I learned about the impact of meat and dairy on health, the environment, public safety, and animal welfare. I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, watched the documentary Earthlings, and made the commitment to a vegan diet. It took me a long time to transition, but I believe in progress, not perfection.
Today, I'm a contributing writer to This Dish is Veg, a frequent baketivist (although in my case, it's more like a cooktivist, because I'm less likely to bake vegan treats than I am to share a tasty vegan casserole), and an avid recipe veganizer.
Oh, and my health? Getting better every day! Going vegan resolved my anemia, completely eliminated the symptoms that were misdiagnosed as perimenopause, and made my fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis practically asymptomatic. My mental health stabilized. Migraines became more manageable. My energy levels soared (to the point that I actually joined a gym!) As an added bonus, it also improved my hearing impairment. (No joke. But read the comments on Alicia Silverstone's post about me for an audiologist's explanation of why and how your mileage may vary.)
Other important context for future posts:
- My husband of 20+ years and our two wonderful sons are still eating carnistically, though they are supportive of my vegan diet and frequently cook and/or eat vegan meals as a family.
- I work as the Director of Operations & Communications for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and it's one of several charities I'm passionate about. Others include the South Florida Wildlife Center and Equality Now.
- I'm an avid knitter and crocheter. I founded The Humble Stitch Project to provide warmth and compassion for South Florida's homeless.
- I'm a Christian - specifically a Jehovah's Witness - who believes strongly in tolerance and civil discussion. I come from a religiously diverse family and won't tolerate anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-nontheist, or any other kind of intolerant comments in my blog. Our family has a policy of agreeing to disagree.
- I'm a native Floridian, born at a time when Fort Lauderdale was still a sleepy little town (outside of Spring Break) with a Tropical/Southern blend of culture. I consider myself a Southerner and get a little prickly when people suggest otherwise.
- I absolutely love feedback. Please feel free to constructively criticize, offer comments or suggestions, or just let me know that you read something!