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"Can I ask... why vegan?"

Why not just vegetarian? Everyone has a different answer to the "why vegan" question, and no one can make the decision for you. To tell my "why vegan" story I should quickly go back 20+ years to my childhood...

I grew up in a family where we ate meat and dairy daily. Milk was an absolute staple-- more important than any other food.

My older brothers had steak-ums in the freezer all the time, we ate pork chops, and we loved my mom's beef with broccoli recipe. I remember proudly cooking bacon and eggs for one brother the morning he got home from college.

But I was always the pickiest eater of the family. I actually preferred brown bread over white long before I knew what whole wheat was. I would only eat very well cooked meat, and didn't like deli meats. And, I loved animals and didn't get the idea of eating them.

One day- it seems like it was overnight- I just stopped eating meat. I was about 12 years old and my best friend's older sister was a vegetarian and it seemed like a cool thing to do. I heard a little about how badly animals were treated and I cut it out of my life. I couldn't really make myself hear anything more about the treatment, I just knew it was bad, and that was enough.

And so I was a vegetarian for about 14 years... Really, not much changed. My family teased me often, but was generally supportive. To my friends I was just a vegetarian, no big deal. I went through all my teenage and college years without meat and I got by just fine.

I was an active person too-- did several sports and joined a sorority. I cared about the environment, without ever knowing how connected and intertwined the two are. I even made it through the business world and eating dinners with people who asked why I was a vegetarian.

But, nagging at me was the fact that I never had a good answer to the "why vegetarian" question. I really just told people that I loved animals and wasn't interested in eating them. But somewhere inside of me I knew that I needed a better answer for them, and for me. I picked up a book called, 101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian and found so much that bothered me.

That was where I started reading and learning. Are you wondering what exactly it means to be vegan? I had found my passion and I was on a personal mission to learn as much as I could about the food world and then pass it on to whoever wanted to listen.

I learned about factory farms and about how antiquated our idea of farms has become-- Old MacDonald's peaceful pastureland is a thing of the past. The true stories of factory farms would bring anyone to tears.

For me, knowing about factory farms was certainly enough information to ensure that I would never eat the flesh of another animal in my life. And, it was enough to convince me to stop drinking milk. But cheese?? I LOVED cheese.

Before I never knew why vegan people abstained from animal products. Wasn't being vegetarian enough?

It turns out that all the horrible things that happen to animals raised for their meat also happen to those raised for dairy products and eggs.

As I continued learning, I read that factory farms are one of the leading causes of global warming and create more toxic gases than all of the cars on the planet. I recycle and reuse plastic bags, but how could I be a good environmentalist if I supported factory farming by eating my beloved cheese?

I also learned that the huge farming industry is putting small farmers out of business, and is damaging our economy. I thought about the farm stands by the side of the road on the way to the beach and about how those farmers were struggling to get by.

Then I started to get into books about how many health hazards of the standard American diet, that exist even if you eat a "healthy diet." I always thought that meat was the best way to get protein, chicken was lower in fat, all fish was good for you, and that you needed to drink milk each day for strong bones.

In addition to health hazards from eating animal products, there are also awesome benefits to avoiding animal products.

I was taught the food pyramid at school and I was healthy and wanted to feed my body properly. I even felt a little guilty about not eating meat because I was missing out on the protein. Reading The China Study taught me my old assumptions about nutrition were wrong.

I was completely amazed to learn more about those foods and learn that my understanding of nutrition was misguided. I don't intend to imply that my teachers or parents purposely gave me misinformation, they just didn't know themselves.

For me, the facts were enough to make a complete shift and cut out all animal products.

Why did you become a vegan?

Share your opinion here

Some go vegan to improve their health, and once they hear about how harmful the typical American diet is, and how healthful a full vegan diet is, they stay for life.

My cousin, who once told me she would absolutely never stop eating meat, went on a 30-day vegan diet to lose weight. She stayed vegan for over a year, which was a huge win for her and kept her in the best shape of her life.

Other people really don't want to know what happens to animals because they don't want to eat a turkey sandwich and think about the turkey. Heck, it took me 14 years before I got the courage to read about factory farming. And that is fine; everyone moves at their own pace.

My husband was like that-- he just didn't want to know. I was reading one day and asked him if he would like to hear one thing. He said yes, so I told him that pigs are smarter than dogs. That day he stopped eating ham and he started to ask me for more information, slowly. His "why vegan" story is different than mine.

My sister is another animal lover who didn't want to hear how they are harmed. She stopped eating red meat after going to a rodeo many years ago, but like me, she still ate plenty of other animal products for years, until she eventually went vegan as an adult.

Maybe you get asked, "why vegan?" and you were looking for a way to answer, much like me. Or maybe you are ready to open your eyes and learn more about food and how we treat our food animals. Or maybe you are just trying to better understand why vegan people choose this lifestyle. Hopefully I can help answer why vegan people make the decision they do.

So rather than ask, "why vegan," it might make more sense to ask, "why not vegan?!"

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