My Journey with Veganism

November is world vegan month and it has me thinking about my journey with veganism. It’s been over four years for me as a vegan. It was the first real, conscious choice I made for myself as an adult, one that involved looking at my values and morals and having my actions be in line with them. That’s what adulthood meant to me, breaking away from your parent’s lifestyles and deciding what was good for yourself. I had gone vegetarian at 16 solely for health reasons. There are tons of scientific papers explaining that red meat and other meats are detrimental to consume over time; there’s no disputing that. So, I stuck with my reasoning for not eating meat as a health thing. When I became vegetarian, I was actually adamant to tell people I wasn’t this tree-hugging, animal-loving hippie. It was a logical decision based on my health. Then around 18, I started reading into the treatment of dairy cows and chickens. I didn’t eat meat, so I assumed I was in the clear, since I wasn’t eating animals, and therefore not contributing to that blatant sort of cruelty i.e. them being killed. Little did I know of the horrible treatment dairy cows experienced. Being forcibly impregnated over and over, having their babies taken away from them so they can be milked until they’re spent, and then their exhausted bodies being slaughtered for us to eat. I learned about how most baby male chicks are dropped into grinders basically after birth, since they can’t reproduce. Even though I didn’t eat pork or beef, learning about how pigs and cows cry in fear before they’re killed was traumatizing for me. I watched countless slaughterhouse videos. I watched cows walk to their death, their entire bodies trembling and pure fear in their eyes. I watched pigs be crammed into trucks, transported to be killed. I looked into their eyes, and they know they’re being taken to their death. Realizing the sentience of these animals we deem as food is what instantly converted me to veganism. It was outside of myself. I had gone vegetarian for my own good, deeming it healthier for myself, but I went vegan because it was the greater good to be done for the animals.

So, after my stark revelation, I began upheaving my lifestyle. Veganism seems to have many different meanings to people, but I always go back to this one definition:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude-as far as is possible and practicable- all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

This covered all bases and explained for me the moral side of veganism and had the diet part as secondary. Having the diet part as secondary was important to me because I felt as if that was the only way other people understood veganism. I wanted it to be clear that I was first and foremost going vegan because of the inherent cruelty we have towards animals.

I began looking through every product I owned and researching whether or not the company was cruelty-free. I began buying cruelty-free deodorant, toothpaste, facewash-basically replacing everything I had with a cruelty-free option. At the same time, I ditched dairy, eggs and honey and began taking my diet more seriously, looking at how I could get my calcium and B12 through diet and supplements, of course making sure the supplements were from a reputable company. Looking back, it was definitely my rite into adulthood. I felt so good looking at my choices and purchases and making sure they were in line with my morals. It took time, but after some months I had completely uphauled my life and I had successfully become vegan.

In the beginning, I was extremely passionate about veganism. I would talk to anyone who even looked in my direction about it. I was the embodiment of the stereotype “how do you know someone is vegan? Oh, don’t worry they’ll tell you.” At that time, I was consuming every type of vegan related media I could get my hands on. I read every possible article and watched seemingly every YouTube video ever on the subject. At the time, the content surrounding veganism was riddled with superiority complexes and horribly purist views. I didn’t know better though and assumed that’s what it was to be vegan. I began scolding people who ate meat and dairy and reprimanding people for using products that were tested on animals. My poor family and friends! Nobody caught a break around me, and I assumed I was doing this sort of converting for the animals.

Over time, my fiery passion died down. Along with my fading enthusiasm was the changing of the content surrounding veganism. I would consume content of people debunking the harsh purist views of the vegans I had looked up to at the beginning of my journey. As well, I began learning about how other cultures treated and consumed animals. It was hard to face at first. I still believed other cultures were wrong for consuming animals, even though I read about Hindus and Indigenous people fully respecting the sacrifice of the animals, using all parts of the animal etc. Along with that, was more information coming out about how consuming animals was detrimental for the environment. This gave me comfort, as I knew my decision to be vegan was still doing good for the world. However, I was also seeing content about how companies who were supposedly “cruelty-free” were exploiting overseas labour and using other practices that were awful for the environment and their employees. I started learning more about the inherent evil that is capitalism, and how nothing I ever did would change anything on a global scale. I also learned about how such restrictive eating can trigger people with eating disorders. My perfect “vegan” bubble of purity and moral high ground was being destroyed. It was disheartening for the impassioned Lashanda who first went vegan.  

After learning about the way the “real” world worked, for lack of a better term, I slowed down a little and looked at my choices pertaining to my veganism. I realized being this purist way was not doing any good for the animals, let alone for myself or anyone else in my life. Refusing to eat something with honey that was baked for me by my mother with love was not helping anyone. Refusing to eat a vegan burger that was fried on a grill containing meat burgers did nothing for the animals. Refusing to see that plenty of cultures actually respect animals was keeping me in an illusioned bubble. I started to understand that my way was not the only way that existed (ah, to be a self-centered teenager) and that many other people would eat meat and dairy and continue to do so, and I had to be ok with that. I realized that upholding ridiculously perfectionist standards on myself and the people around me was not doing anything for the animals, and wasn’t that the reason I went vegan in the first place?

Now, at 23, I have changed the way I live my “vegan” lifestyle, and vegan is now in quotation marks because I am not sure I can call myself that anymore. I do not focus on buying only “cruelty-free” products, because nothing is cruelty-free if humans must be exploited to make the products. Any fruit or vegetable that has come from overseas was most likely harvested by an overworked farmer. How is that cruelty-free? I learned about how buying local honey can actually immensely help local bee farmers and the bees themselves. I don’t go out of my way to purchase honey, but I don’t refuse a food item that contains honey anymore. I still eat strictly plant-based, but I realized I prefer to eat plant-based as a part of my own spiritual journey. I feel energetically lighter by not eating tortured animals and their by-products. Now though, I know that many cultures rely on consumption of animals, and I have no say in whether or not that makes them morally good or bad. Many cultures raise and kill animals sustainably and with the utmost respect and I realized my issue was with the way animals are raised en mass in North America.

At the end of the day, everyone will live their lives in the way that they want to. I was exhausting myself trying to convert people to veganism like it was a morally higher way of life, a cult. The biggest lesson I’ve learned being vegan is that upholding obsessive standards helps no one. Ruining people’s dinners by explaining in detail what happened to the cow that’s now sitting on their plate does nothing for the cow who already lost its life. Putting a sour taste in someone’s mouth by explaining that the mascara they’re applying to feel prettier has been tested on innocent animals doesn’t help the animals who have already been forcefully tested on.

I go back often to the definition of veganism mentioned earlier. “As far as is possible and practicable.” I realize now I wasn’t doing that at all. Writing this has actually made me realize that what I was doing wasn’t practicable, and that’s not even veganism to begin with. Nowhere does it say you must convert everyone you know to veganism. Nowhere does it say you must refuse a homecooked meal containing dairy. It is about minimizing harm to animals, which I will always aim to do to the best of my abilities. I was just a product of the information surrounding veganism at the time, and that’s ok. I’m finding it in myself to be ok with that part of my vegan journey because it is just that-a journey. Veganism, or now for me, eating plant-based, has helped me on my journey. It won’t help everyone. And I’m ok with that.

A Life Lesson from an Orchid

Someone gifted me an orchid some years ago. They’re gorgeous flowers, and I’m not usually one for flowers in my home (I prefer longer lasting greenery), but I loved them. Its arching branch produced many beautifully speckled and spotted flowers, pink and purple in hue. If you looked closely into the middle of the flower, its pollinating center was extremely intricate looking; thin stems covered in tiny bumps with a bulbous end. I was in awe of it, as I usually am with nature.

What I didn’t know about orchids though, was that their flowers do not last for long. They burst and bloom at their fullest for a few weeks, and then they slowly shrivel and drop off. When this started happening to mine, I assumed I had under or over watered it. I assumed my interference with it killed it. In a day or so, it was just an empty brown branch.

It sat on my dresser for months, just a pot holding a pitifully barren branch. I stopped watering it and giving it attention, assuming it died under my care, but for some strange reason, I didn’t get rid of it right away. I did a deep clean of my room some months after and parted ways with the plant, throwing it into a garbage bag without a second thought.

A couple days later, my mom asked where my orchid went.

“Oh, it died. All the flowers fell off!” I exclaimed to her.

“Were the leaves still alive?” she asked. I paused. I didn’t even look at the leaves before throwing it away, but upon second thought, I realized the leaves were bright and sturdy, very much alive.

“They were, but I assumed it was dead since the flowers all died and fell off,” I stammered, trying to defend my action. My mom smiled. She enlightened me and told me that the orchid doesn’t stay in bloom for very long, but as long as I still took care of it, it would have bloomed next year. I felt extremely silly, now well aware of my mistake. I threw out a perfectly fine plant!

Since I’m a writer, my brain works in metaphors. I find the meaning in everything, perhaps to a fault, but that’s for another discussion. I was gifted another orchid by a family member when I moved out of my mom’s house. It was in partial bloom. I remembered my old orchid and had a stark flashback.

I think the orchid, and specifically my mistake with it, was a lesson in how I currently view myself as a young adult. I was seeing the best part of the orchid’s life; the prettiest, flashiest, finished product of its cycle. And once it disappeared, I assumed I was seeing its death, its complete ending. And the in-between? I assumed it was dead too. I only appreciated its finished product.

And in a way, I see myself the way I saw the orchid. I don’t allow myself the time to grow and change, just like I didn’t allow the orchid to keep growing. I assume my own “in-between” phase is not a valuable part of my journey. I see other people’s “finished product” and think I’m not far long enough, not where I’m supposed to be. I’m the bare branch while everyone else is in bloom. I am impatient with my journey and make rash assumptions about myself, just as I did the orchid.

I realized though, that things may look lost and incomplete on the outside, but below, they are healthy and teeming with life. The universe knows exactly what it’s doing, and as humans, we are no exception to the universe’s ultimate forces. The universe doesn’t throw things away because they’re unfinished; there’s a trust in the process, an innate knowing of what’s to come next. And as nothing short but of a child of the universe, of a birthing from the Earth itself, I shouldn’t doubt her. I will have my time to bloom. I require constant care and attention from myself to flourish, just as the orchid does. I may feel unsure about myself and where I’m meant to be at this current moment, but the universe knows where I’m going, and in turn, so do I; I just have to tap into that universal knowledge.

My current orchid sits empty by my window. I water her once a week. She’s a constant reminder that we rise and fall as humans. Some of us are in our rises and some of us our in our falls; all of it though, is on divine timing.

One Foot in the Door: Technology Edition

Every so often, some variation of a ‘then vs. now” trend pops up somewhere on the internet. A good example was the 10-year challenge that happened some time ago. Basically, you were to post a photo of yourself from 10 years ago next to a photo of yourself currently. That’s it. And funnily enough, typing it out makes me realize how futile and vain “challenges” like these are. But nonetheless, they take the internet by storm, and the more shocking your transformations are, the more attention you’ll receive. I could write a think piece alone on how ridiculously conceited that is, and how our generation (generation z, 1997-present) has such an obsession with “glow-ups,” but that is not today’s topic. These types of challenges always shock me to a certain extent, because I’m mostly surprised people have documentation of what they looked like as a teenager/young adult. That is the topic today.

This should not be a surprise to me. I grew up in the prime time of budding technology. However, this was also an awkward time for regular people consuming technology. Cell phones were being pushed left and right, but most of my peers didn’t own one. YouTube was a brand-new platform (can you believe I remember a time where YouTube ads didn’t exist?) that was mostly for that low-quality footage of your baby brother trying a lemon for the first time and not for the ad-generated, revenue making monster that it is today. Technology was everywhere but in the regular consumer’s hands. And blissfully until I was an adult, I assumed this was the experience for everyone else too.

I learned quickly that this in fact, was not everyone’s experience. I remember one friend in 6th grade having a magenta coloured cell phone, those ones where you’d turn it sideways and push up the screen to reveal the keyboard. No one else in my grade owned a phone. This disparity was not apparent to me as an 11-year old. I just thought it was cool my friend had a cell phone.

I began to learn as a young adult that the kids who had technology from a young age had an advantage over me. The obvious advantage was having more access to resources and such, but the less obvious advantage was having documentation of yourself. I find that an important aspect of life, especially living in this technology driven time. It’s special to have that goofy photo of yourself at your first middle school dance. Its special to have a remembrance of the first time you tried makeup and thought it looked great. To have a visual track record of your life to me, is a distinct privilege that only the kids with early access to technology have.

I have none of this, and I sometimes yearn for visual memorandum of my life.

I was painfully self-aware as a child. My psyche, my thoughts, my intuition, were always the forefront in my mind. I was not a lighthearted child, and I was never interested in most mainstream things (I risk sounding extremely “pick-me,” but I mean it in the most genuine way). Along with this, I didn’t get a cell phone until I was 15. I didn’t have a social media presence until I was 17/18/19. I snuck a twitter account behind my parent’s back at 15 but got that taken away. I didn’t have a phone with a decent camera until I was 18 and consequently didn’t start taking photos of myself until that age. I’m 23 now, and I hardly have photos of my teen years.

It’s a very strange dynamic to have grown up during the peak of new technology, yet not have a part in it to begin with. There’s a metaphor lying here, about privilege, about how fast technology moves; there’s a metaphor here. But honestly, I just feel like I was left out of a pivotal movement in society. That’s it. It’s just my inner child wishing I could have documented myself at a young age. I’m sure I would have felt like my existence had more validity than I thought it did. Don’t we all?

Eggs on a Plate without the Plate

I was at value village with my mom one day, a regular occurrence for us. We were looking through the art section when I came across this super strange hanging egg painting. I was immediately drawn to it. My mom commented and said it looked like a painting from Salvador Dali. I really wanted it, but I gave it some thought and decided it would not go with anything that was on my walls, so I left it. A couple weeks later, I went back on my own, and the painting was still there. Naturally, I picked it up. I brought it home and did a quick google search to see if I could find the artist. To my surprise (or maybe not; my mother is always right), it was a Dali painting. It is called “Ouefs sur le Plat sans le Plat” or “Eggs on a Plate without the Plate.” Dali described his inspiration for the painting as an “intra-uterine memory,” basically describing this exact scene as something he saw while in the womb, down to the warm colour palate and limp, hanging fried egg. I found that so strange, but in the best way. It hangs above my dining table, and I am just itching to have someone over so they can ask about the painting and I get to say the phrase “intra-uterine memory.” Like seriously, how cool is that!

This time spent alone at the thrift store, one I would frequent a lot in my childhood, made me think about how I find comfort in clutter. How I find comfort in things that are not necessarily practical but make me feel something. How I find comfort in things that do not match, in things that seem rough and worn out. How I find comfort in things that are used, that have stories of their own before I bring them home.

Growing up, my mother decorated our small apartments in this kind of fashion. Our furniture was almost always hand-me-downs from her brothers and sisters. Nothing in any of the small spaces we lived in ever matched. The idea of furniture and the general ambience of a house ‘matching’ was a foreign concept to me. Kitchen utensils, plates, bowls, were either thrifted or stolen from restaurants or workplaces. Everything in our home had a story, and it was never, “this was on sale at ikea and I thought it matched our accent chairs well, so I bought it.” It was more like, “I stole this whisk from work one day” or, “a customer read my aura and gave me this moonstone ring because she felt it matched me” or, “I found this mirror in the garbage driving home.” (all real stories from my mother).

Now, as an adult, I find myself decorating the same way. I dreamt about being able to decorate my own apartment as a child. I never saw the specifics in my mind. Just the idea of having autonomy and free will over how my space would look and feel was something I always wanted. I find myself drawn towards the weird art, the chairs with piling, the antique looking forks. I find myself drawn towards things with a backstory, things with character, and I am always able to find these types of things at thrift stores. There is something special about picking up a used item and knowing that someone else owned it, spent the necessary time with it, and decided to part ways with it. And now, in this moment, you have it. It is instances such as these that give me a sliver of insight into the connection we all have as human beings. I hope to keep the strange egg painting for a while. I think it is the first thing I have owned with a funny little backstory. I hope to be able to explain the phrase “intra-uterine memory” to the first person who asks about the painting. I hope my funny little backstory will inspire others to pick up things that have soul in them, that have character, that make them feel something. There is something indescribably comforting about things that have already been owned, and I want everyone to experience it.