I thought my vegan story might be interesting for you because it isn't typical. It isn't often a fat guy in his mid 40s (I'm 50 now) just makes the overnight switch to veganism. But that is exactly what happened to me.
All my life, I've called myself an 'animal lover' and have always enjoyed being around all kinds of animals, farm animals, friendly wild animals, and domestic pets. But I've also always been a big meat eater. Probably 80% of my diet pre-vegan was meat or animal based. In the effort to lose weight I actually ate nothing at all but meat and cheese for 11 months!
I am not a professional chef, but before making the switch, I was a BBQ pit boss from Spring through Fall. It wasn't unusual for me to be cooking a half a side of beef, or a couple of whole hogs in the ground, or 20 chickens all at once. People begged me to come down and make a cauldron of Brunswick stew and roast some pigs for a birthday or a wedding and I was glad to oblige. Giant turkeys for Thanksgiving, enormous cured hams at Christmas.. that was my time of the year to shine.
Obviously there was a big disconnect there. I never was really too good at having to slaughter an animal myself, but I certainly did do it in my life prior to being vegan. I used to go fishing every day from age 14 to 20 or so. I look back and realize I was the only one who would eat whatever I caught, even if it was too small, because I couldn't bear to think of them swimming around with a ripped mouth. Inside me was the knowledge, but it just wasn't expressing itself.
In the early morning hours of May 12, 2012 I awoke from the most powerful dream I have ever had. To recount all the details would make this whole story far too long, so I'll stick to the highlights.
I was lost in a maze in a warehouse that was made up of grocery store style conveyor belts. On all the belts and around them sat various farm animals, mostly chickens and other poultry but also some cattle, goats, sheep.
They weren't threatening me in any way, simply silently looking at me as I became more and more agitated trying to find my way out of the warehouse. I kept turning and looping back, coming to dead ends and the creatures were all just looking at me.
And as I became more afraid, I could feel what I can only to this day describe as their spirits calmly chanting at me "We wanted to live too". It felt like a pressure wave in my mind I couldn't escape.
Crazy stuff, I know!
I finally made it out to the other side of the warehouse, only to enter another room with a train station in it. People were getting onto the train, and there were sides of beef and lamb that were being loaded into the train right beside them and they didn't seem to notice. I was trying to yell to them that they were in trouble, that they were going to die, but they didn't hear me.
I awoke in a sweat trying to yell and my wife sat up and listened carefully while I told her the whole dream. She just sat there quietly for a minute, and said well I guess you know what we need to do. I nodded, and we jumped out of bed, and began to make a pile of stuff in the middle of the kitchen floor. 100s of pounds of meat from the deep freezers, cans and bottles of sauces and prepared foods. Bricks of cheese. We loaded it all into lawn bags and into the back of my truck to be dumped the next day.
I spent the rest of the night Googling like a mad man. I was searching to see if it was even possible to go without eating any meat for a long time, and what kinds of vitamins and supplements we would need "to survive". I look back laughing now, but I honestly didn't know a healthy life as a vegan was so easy.
When we first made the choice, we said we would be vegetarians, but even though I restocked the milk and cheese that we dumped on that fateful evening, it was obvious neither of us was going to be the first one to make that choice, so we just threw it away again and that was that.
The transition was easy. It turned out I can cook just as well without the meat... even better if anything. And we have never looked back. It has opened up a whole new world of spirituality to us and it has been a blessing in everything.
So life as a vegan, as I said, has been pretty easy. Groceries are cheaper. Aside from a very few restaurants, eating out can be managed. We have both lost weight, although I was surprised that I'm still pretty tubby. My wife lost the few pounds she needed to and has maintained a slim figure.
Being a vegan, even if you aren't eating a lot of meat substitutes, is not an automatic key to skinny city. A little disappointed by that, but it is ok. I find my bond with my pets is stronger, and my chickens have now become pets which is a great delight.
As far as 'cheats' or whatnot, there really haven't been any. If I were to confess my vegan sins I would say that the twice I've gotten a cold since being vegan, I have used a bit of honey medicinally. In principle I would have to say I would do it again most likely. When we are on vacation I will use the soap at the hotel, not checking to see if it is vegan or not, but never at home.
I tried vegan leather workboots and they were a disaster. I still have the boots that I had when I became vegan but they have taken a beating, as they were not new even then. I would say probably I would invest in a new pair of leather workboots when these fall apart for good. I don't consider those at all vegan habits. They are weaknesses, selfishness perhaps, except for the boots. But I don't allow vegan 'police' to have at me for those things.
I've been told that because I express those things I am not vegan, that I'm only a plant based eater as if that is a nasty thing. I do my best. I encourage others to do their best also. But I won't lie and claim that I am perfect.
That's my vegan story...
I'll answer your questions as I can as well.
What does "vegan" mean to you?
To not use the flesh, body parts, reproductive substances or other excretions of animals for one's nutrition, pleasure, or convenience and not to rely on the death or suffering of any other animal as a way of benefiting oneself.
How long have you been vegan?
4 years and 3 months
What first inspired you to go vegan?
A powerful dream
What resources (people, books, blogs, films, etc.) helped you with your transition to veganism?
Google. Honestly that was it. But Chef Roberto Martin's vegan cookbook was a godsend in teaching me how to cook vegan foods.
Were your friends & family supportive of your choice to go vegan?
They didn't care. Most didn't believe I would stick with it.
Are they supportive now?
They think I had a psychological breakdown of some sort but accept that I'm not changing my stance.
What do you love about being vegan?
To be able to taste food all through the cooking process with no fear.
What inspires you to stay vegan?
What challenges you as a vegan?
Leather really. That is the only thing I struggle with at all.
Are you a vegan activist? If yes, what form does that take?
Not really. I speak my mind but don't do outreach.
What is your favorite vegan food or recipe?
I veganized my mom's famous lasagna recipe and it is awesome.
What advice would you give to new or wanna'be vegans?
Just do it and don't overthink it. B12 is your only 'must do'.
What gives you hope for the future?
All the vegan products coming out nearly every month and the awesome vegan restaurants and chefs. People are starting to get it.