‘Vegan’ is a word I never thought I’d use in reference to myself. Until three months ago, I never even said ‘vegan’ without grimacing unless I was being sarcastic. I loved meat, cheese and eggs, pitied vegetarians and looked down on vegans. Why did I single vegans out so much? One or two may have been mean to me once upon a time… I know I’m the only (ex)carnivore who wanted to eat bacon cheeseburgers every time a vegan was mean to me. It’s too bad that asshole meat eaters don’t have the same effect on people, because no one would ever eat meat again.
So how did I go from eating tatarak (a Czech delicacy where several hundred grams of raw ground beef are mixed with a raw egg) to being a beveage (I’ll get to that soon) in the snap of a finger? I didn’t. It took five snaps to be exact, starting with Esther.
1. Esther the Wonderpig
For those of you who don’t know her, Esther is a pig. She is adorable, witty and if she hadn’t been rescued, hundreds of people would have eaten parts of her for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It took me several weeks of following her Facebook page while seeing trucks full of pigs going to slaughter pass me on the street before I made the connection.
You do know that every piece of ground meat contains hundreds of different animals, right? Sorry, not going trying to preach here, just FYI…
I decided I’d stop eating pork because pigs were cute. “But what about cows, you don’t think they are cute?” my husband asked over a chicken dinner. Needless to say, although we started eating less pork, we still ate all other animals and even the occasional Esther too. It was just too hard to make sure our dumplings didn’t contain pork. Right?
2. Fried dog paws in Vietnam 😦
Fast-forward several months to the most amazing three week trip to Vietnam. One day, my husband and I were joking about not being sure what meat was in our noodles with a flexitarian. Two days later we saw a pile of fried dog paws in the market and suddenly we weren’t laughing anymore. I almost broke down, picturing all the dogs I had met on the trip being cut into pieces.
Why did dog meat bother me so much when I was so desensitized to seeing other dead animals? A visit to the market in China is filled with frozen pig hooves, cut open chickens with half-formed eggs inside them and bull testicles casually draped above the vendors’ heads. We ate our first vegetarian pho that evening and I vowed to stop eating meat.
3. Vegans of Shanghai
Just two weeks later we were in our new home in Shanghai looking for something to do. Meetups.com showed only one event that day, a vegan movie screening. This was the first time I didn’t scoff at the word vegan, but I was still skeptical.
“We can’t go to a vegan event… I’ve been vegetarian for a day and you ate beef for breakfast,” I scolded my husband while eating some fried cheese. “We can’t just show up and pretend to be vegan! Could you ask if non-vegans are welcome without being awkward?”
Conversation on WeChat:
*Other people chatting in group*
Isaac: Hello vegans, can my wife and I join tonight even though we are not vegan?
Organizer: Beveages are welcome.
“What’s a beveage?” my husband asks me. I search the term in Google but get nothing. “It must be a term for non-vegans or people in transition…”
Organizer: Yes, of course you’re welcome @Isaac!
“Oh… wow, we’re dumb,” I laugh.
So that’s how we met our first vegan friends who were all nice, chill and didn’t judge us for not being vegan. We did that ourselves… after watching Okja. Which is an amazing Korean movie that’s not in your face vegan and even makes fun of extremists while making an important point about modern day meat production.
That night, one vegetarian and meat eater walked into a room full of vegans and two vegetarians walked out. We felt so good about our decision while agreeing that being vegan was absolutely crazy and we would never do it. Two weeks later, we read Neal Barnard’s The Cheese Trap.
4. Reading The Cheese Trap
Only two chapters in, I removed the $70 2.5 kilo piece of mozzarella from my fridge and gave it to a friend. I thought I was only getting rid of cheese, but suddenly my mysterious hip pain, daily phlegm issues, dandruff and acne were gone too!
I still have trouble believing that it was all caused by dairy until I talk to other vegans who experienced the same exact thing. I had only been expecting the vegan glow and super fast growing healthy hair… *blinding hair flip*
We stopped eating eggs too by the way, but there’s no backstory to that. We just don’t like tortured hormone-filled chicken or mass grinding of baby male chicks (only illegal in Germany by the way). Plus chickens are cute too.
Honestly, it wasn’t hard at all. We had been so bored with food and now we had millions of new recipes to try. We discovered the wonders nooch (nutritional yeast), aquafaba and the dozen different ways to make delicious cruelty-free bacon (rice paper is the best). But we still ate fish and showed that off proudly to avoid being called the still feared ‘v’ word.
5. Realizing I’m a fish-loving but sushi-eating hypocrite
On October, Friday the 13th I stopped eating fish too. I knew I would eventually stop eating fish but I didn’t realize that I was eating my last payday salmon sushi. The last snap was more of a slap.
The kindergarten that I work at did what any school does: they bought some fish as pets for the class. Whoever bought the fish didn’t know much about them and most Chinese fish stores only care about making money. So we ended up with eight goldfish in two tiny round bowls with about three cm of water in each bowl.
“They will be dead in three days,” I said angrily, “they need a filter, more water and a proper square aquarium!”
“I know,” said my supervisor sadly, “but nothing can be done about that now.”
For two days, I watched the (cute) fish slowing down and starting to look sickly. On the third day, they were finally presented to the kids and everyone got to throw food at them.
“Why aren’t they eating?” the teacher asked me.
“Because they are dying,” I replied.
Friday morning I was sitting at my desk with one of the bowls on my table, discarded by the class because the fish were constantly ‘sleeping’. The other four had already died and one of the fish was swimming sideways, following in their footsteps.
I was close to tears with sadness and anger. Anger at myself for feeling this way about a few (cute) small goldfish when I ate several hundred grams of salmon at payday sushi on Tuesday. I felt guilty and realized two things: I would save the remaining goldfish no matter what and I would never eat fish again.
The remaining three fish are swimming happily along with four new friends as I write this. For the first time in my life, I want to call myself vegan. Now that I finally want the title, I know that I will never be able to use it. I will never eat meat, fish, dairy or fish again but I do believe in eating insects.
Are proper vegans super frustrated with me? Probably. Sorry about that!
I am no longer a pescatarian, and although I now buy environmentally-friendly cruelty-free cleaning products, makeup, crafting supplies and I don’t consume any non-insect animal products, I still can’t call myself a vegan! Nor can I get frustrated about that, because I still eat things that live, breathe and (yuck) poop <– see? Still a hypocrite!
Since “90% plant-based” is too difficult to explain, I guess I’ll just keep calling myself a beveage. Will I ever be 100% vegan? Who knows… I was eating cheese-fried bacon several months ago and now look at me! And apparently it’s not just me since Ben and Jerry’s, Bailey’s, Dominoes Pizza, TGI Friday’s and even McDonald’s are now offering vegan options…
If you’re reading this while considering veganism but you’re panicking because you don’t know what you’ll eat, let me tell you these reassuring words: Oreos are vegan. There is also plenty of rape-free chocolate, plant-based cheeses, nut milks and imitation meats to curb your cravings. Speaking of which, once you stop/limit eating processed foods, you’ll mostly just be craving veggies and fruits just like you’re supposed to!
The most important thing that I realized through this transformation is that it doesn’t matter what other people think. As long as you feel good about your choices, don’t listen to meat-eaters, vegans or even beveages. But seriously, go eat some Oreos. Except sh**, they’re cute too! *starves*