When I was 13, in 1980, I had my last meal of red meat: a Carl’s Jr. bacon cheese burger. It wasn’t very appetizing, and it certainly wasn’t an emotional farewell. It was more like: good, I don’t have to eat that crap again despite what normal convention was around me. At that age, I had an understanding – though rather vague — that a living being was behind the preparation of the meal. I was not a sensitive kid by any means, but I did have an innate sense of compassion that has guided me throughout my life to draw pretty clear boundaries. At 13, I acted on that internal guide very decisively, and never ate red meat again. It was my first example that I could live my life according to what felt right even if it was against the norm.
I was on and off vegetarian for the next 23 years. I did not make the full-scope connection that all animals suffered when raised for production, not to mention the damage this industry causes on then environment and our health in large part. But in 2004, after closing down a business and going through a phase of emotional eating, I felt miserable. I was out of shape, bloated, and in general I felt badly and bogged down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Around that time, I took a temporary job at Mother’s Market – a fantastic health-food market – and schemed ways to heal myself. Every time I came to work, the produce section was illuminated by the overhead halogen lights. I was mesmerized by the vibrancy of color and drawn to the idea that nutrition could be simple, and quite beautiful. The image was – and still is – such an impressive one for me. Many of young cashiers I worked with were vegan. They were a fun, positive group and after asking a lot of questions, I decided to go vegan for one month to see how I felt, and to see if it was hard to keep up especially since I had a family with two young daughters at home.
During that month, I read more about the meat and dairy industry. I read about its environmental impact through over-production. And during that month, as I fumbled through new foods and recipes, I started to feel so much better – less clogged. My energy skyrocketed. My skin cleared and I lost a few pounds. Mainly, I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I also couldn’t believe the conditions in which animals are raised. It was shocking and it all seemed so illogically inhumane . But when a living being is perceived as no more than a commodity, money becomes the sole driver of an industry, and compassion dissipates. If money was the driver, I didn’t want to spend another dollar supporting this disregard of life. In my mind, there is nothing that can taste good enough to justify my contribution to and endorsement of any industry that uses animal products. That first month came and went. I never looked back. That was eleven years ago.
I’m often asked if I would eat meat if it came from a seemingly humane source, or if I’d eat eggs from a small farmer. Being vegan will be a life-long adventure for me. I treat my decision as an across-the-board boycott of animal products, no matter more-humane claims. In the simplest of terms, I don’t want an animal to die or suffer for me. In our day and age, I don’t feel it necessary. And I don’t feel deprived in the least because of it.
As an athlete, I’ve also been asked if eating animal products could guarantee me personal gains or much better performance, would I do it. Even if that were true – maybe it is, maybe it’s not – I don’t feel that a short-term and very specific gain in one aspect of my life is as important as my foundational stance of compassion and a broader-scope connection to all things, which includes the environment and the people who work in that industry . I’ll take my chances with kindness.
With all that said, I don’t judge others for personal decisions. We all have our own road of discovery, growth, and evolution. I live according to what drives me and what is important to me. If I inspire others toward a more compassionate life, great! I only wish wellness and awareness to others for a more fully-lived and joyful life.