My Story

written June 2010

My brother became a vegetarian in 1997 or 98, his first year at college. I can remember a family dinner where my mother, father, and I ate pigs' flesh while my brother abstained. I teased him a little and claimed I would never give up ‘meat’. Not surprisingly, I was wrong. In the summer of 1999 I stopped consuming the muscle tissues and other body parts of nonhuman animals. This was sparked by reading "The Cell from Hell" in Popular Science magazine. It linked the feces of enslaved pigs with propagation of the microbe Pfiesteria, which can kill fishes and have other effects similar to the more infamous red tide. This was particularly poignant as the beach has always been one of my favorite places, and I read the article while returning from a family vacation in North Carolina, where millions of pigs are bred and killed. Not long after, I had a cheeseburger made of cows' flesh and milk knowing it would be the last time I intentionally ate ‘meat’.

Later that year, I began my first year of High School as a vegetarian. I hardly told anyone about this change in my life. I often took cheese and mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch. In fact, for fear of embarrassment, I tried to hide the fact that they didn't contain slices of nonhuman animals' flesh (both class and gender norms were probably at play). As years went on, I gradually changed more behaviors. Around 2001, I bought a belt made out of someone's skin knowing it would be the last time I purchased ‘leather’. I rarely referenced the propaganda of any advocacy group, but did I convince my parents to match my one time fifty-dollar donation to PETA in 2002. As a reminder of darker times, I still have the membership card they sent me. Early on in my college years, which started in late 2002, I occasionally said that I was some very high percent vegan (99, or whatever). If anyone asked why, my default answer dealt with environmental devastation. At this time, I was consuming chickens' eggs and cows' milk when integrated within baked goods or other ‘foods’, but never by themselves.

Around 2005, I came to believe, quite strongly in fact, that vegetarianism was problematic. I began calling myself a vegan, with no percentage qualifier. Although, when this came up in conversation with my mother, she refuted the claim. In early 2007, I created the Facebook group "Vegans Against Vegetarianism". Although I carefully chose the ‘-ism’ form of the word to indicate it wasn't a personal attack on anyone, I feel the creation of that group came from a place of anger and frustration. The original group description indicates that I saw veganism as a diet. I tried to argue that everything wrong with eating nonhuman flesh also applies to avian eggs and ruminant milk (of course I didn't use this kind of language). I discussed matters of treatment, using chickens and cows like machines, and environmental problems that stem from inefficient allocation of grains and other plant foods.

Also in early 2007, probably for want of something in which to take solace, I began searching for podcasts about veganism. Eventually, I found the Vegan Freaks. When I first listened though their interviews with Gary Francione, the content didn't quite register. However, within the next day or two I did something of a double take to the effect of: "hey, what the heck was that, I've never heard this before". I eagerly listened again, and began reading everything by Francione I could. This was before existed, but he had been blogging since late 2006, and there were some resources available at a website for the Animal Rights Law Clinic he ran in the 1990s with Anna Charlton. I soon bought and began reading though his "Animals, Property, and the Law" (1995), "Rain Without Thunder" (1996), and "Introduction to Animal Rights" (2000).

I was actually quite upset when my mother said I wasn't a vegan. Don't tell my former self, but she was right. I'm not sure at what specific moment I was truly a vegan, but it definitely came shortly after discovering Francione and the Vegan Freaks. Ever since that period of rapid growth, during the spring and summer of 2007, I've been reading, thinking, writing, and talking about veganism and the rights of sentient beings.

To conclude, I'd like to make something clear: Although I was vegetarian before I was vegan, and it took me a few years to become a vegan, I derive no conclusions for advocacy from these facts. Unequivocal vegan education is effective, and it relays a morally coherent position that is true to the educator's views (I would hope so anyway).

Vegetarianism is an incomplete response to nonhuman exploitation. Imagine someone who enslaves humans deciding to free everyone older than 40. Obviously, human animals of that age should not be used as property. Likewise, nonhuman animals should not be bred, held captive, and killed so we can eat their flesh. However, in both cases, the fundamental question has been missed. Not to mention, the vegetarian will often increase his/her/zir consumption of secretions taken from nonhuman animals, and the hypothetical enslaver of humans would probably just buy more people younger than 40.