After an excruciating four-hour climb — with a very insufficient amount of water — we had finally made it to our hostel high in the Swiss Alps. Perched on the side of a cliff, it had an incredible view of mountains that took my breath away.
I spent a few hours on the balcony, talking to a group of young Americans who were a few years older than me. It was one of them in particular who really intrigued me. At one point, it came up that he was a vegetarian and formerly a vegan, which surprised me because he was built like a small bull. What followed was a conversation about why anyone would want to be a vegetarian, how hard it was to travel as one and the philosophy behind food in general. Maybe it was the air up in the mountains, but it really stuck in my memory.
I was obviously very predisposed to being against veganism because as I said in a previous column, I grew up on a dairy farm. What was the point, though, of just one person abstaining from something? Is there any impact at all?
I had also just read the title essay of David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, which made me vow to never ever eat a lobster. So what made other animals any different?
I thought about it for a very long time, usually while chowing down on a steak and cheese sub or Hawaiian pizza or some other meat based food. The only option to rectify the tension between the philosophical and the reality was veganism — complete abstinence from not only meat, but all animal byproducts.
A lot of people said it was possible — if you tried really hard mind you — to get everything you need to function as a human being from plant based food. It required only buying certain food, and a lot of cooking — two things I didn’t previously have to do on a standard Western diet.
But I decided to try it and, since it can be boiled down to being a habit and making it public is one of the things you can do to stick to a habit, I decided go vegan in the most public possible way, by writing about it for The Gazette.
As a result, I’ve stuck to what is a really hard choice to make every day, eating non-animal product foods. That’s really what being vegan is — a move towards morally and ethically justifiable consumption. And it is not at all easy, especially at first. I still struggle to make it work. It requires serious planning and making sure you know exactly what you’re going to eat every day.
Despite how hard it was for me, transitioning can be made easier with some rigorous scheduling. It isn’t that bad to only eat vegetables, fruit and nuts. It can even be tasty, which came as a surprise to me.
Ultimately, being a vegan is all about making a choice. And if you really think about what you eat and where it came from, being vegetarian or vegan is probably a conclusion you will come to. That’s not to say everything about how plant foods get to your plate is rosy — instead of animals being exploited, it tends to be humans — but eliminating meat is a step in the right direction, I think, ethically wise.
It’s hard, but it’s not bad or impossible. If I can do it, so can you. I will probably start to eat animal byproducts and meat again, but those occasions will be rare, and maybe when I really have time to plan and execute the vegan diet correctly, it won’t happen again.