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Personal Story: Sharon

Posted Sep 19 2009 12:00am
The first time I met a vegetarian I was in the 6th grade. She was a CIT at the Long Island day camp where I was a camper and when she was telling me all the reasons why she didn't eat meat it made a lot of sense to me. When I mentioned this to my parents they told me it was unhealthy and silly and I more or less dropped it.

As I got older though, I was increasingly picky about the meat I ate. If I could see fat I wouldn't eat it. If it were too "bloody" I wouldn't eat it. Basically, the more it resembled an animal the more grossed out I was. Based mainly on the "squickiness" of it, I finally gave up red meat when I was 17 or so. In the year of college that followed I was living in Manhattan and ate every meal out so this was pretty easy, but then I dropped out and moved to Michigan when I was 19.

This was the first time I was living on my own in a space that actually had a kitchen. Suddenly I had to go grocery shopping and cook my own meals. When I would pass by raw chicken meat in the store I simply couldn't fathom having to cut that up and cook it. I stocked up on veggie burgers instead and decided I would give this vegetarian thing a try. This was in 2001. After Michigan I moved to Texas where I was nervous that I wouldn't even be able to survive as a vegetarian. But I ended up having a few veggie co-workers who were helpful, and boy did I eat a lot of cheese.

When people asked my why I was vegetarian (which happened a lot while living in cow country - I even dated a guy who was a former cow inseminator on a dairy farm!), I usually answered "because meat is gross." Not a particularly deep answer, but I wanted to avoid getting into the uncomfortable topic that I felt it was "gross" to eat a sentient animal. If I wouldn't kill a pig in the wild, how could I justify eating pepperoni?

I moved back to New York to return to school in 2003. In 2004 the movie "Supersize Me" came out which led me to read . Even though I'd been vegetarian for three years, this was the first time I began reading about the atrocities of factory farming and everything that was wrong with fast food. I began examining my own eating habits and realizing that eating an Egg and Cheese McMuffin from McDonald's was probably not the best choice, so I swore off most fast food.

And that led me to read which was concurrent with an Environmental Science class I was taking. When I started reading about the environmental effects associated with animal agriculture I was startled. And when the author Howard Lyman started encouraging a vegan diet, not just vegetarian, I was torn. I sure did love my cheese and eggs. Plus I had a known a few vegans who seemed to me to be crazy extremists. I hated tofu, so what would I do for protein? I was also under the wrongful impression that most bread had milk in it, which just goes to show you how little most people know about what's in their food. I made some changes where I thought I could - I switched to using soy milk and would sometimes sub in Veggie Slices soy cheese (which I later learned were not vegan.)

In 2005 I moved to California and that's when I met Tim , the man who would later become my husband. He'd been vegan since 1996 so naturally I had a lot of questions, but I still maintained that veganism would be too hard for me. After a few months of dating, when I learned that I liked tofu after all, I decided I'd try going vegan for a week to see if I could do it if for no other reason than because it felt disrespectful to eat eggs and dairy around Tim.

I made a lot of rookie mistakes in that week, buying all kinds of awful fake cheeses and terrible soy products. But when I didn't try to replace the things I was missing and instead focused on trying out new foods and combinations I started to really enjoy it. One week turned into a month and a month has now turned into over four years. Over the course of this time I've educated myself a lot more about the health, environmental, and ethical implications of veganism.

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