My pre-vegan days seem like a different lifetime altogether. Back then, when Marty's came out with vegetarian chicharon (pork skin), I didn't get what the fuss was about. I even told my colleagues (yes, from a regular 9-to-6 office job), "Ok lang naman yung Marty's. Pero mas masarap pa rin ang totoong baboy". (Marty's is ok. But a real pig still tastes better). And when I accidentally ordered a vegan meal at a market once, I was also disappointed because I was looking for that real meat taste. That was how I felt about the entire veg version issue: It just was not the same.
Nov 8, 2009, Legazpi Sunday Market
When I was handed a copy of The Vegetarian Starter Kit, I first refused. I thought, "Me? Vegetarian? No way. I love my meat". Besides, the title seemed as though one has already decided to become vegetarian, and I was nowhere near making that decision at that point. But the lady handing out the magazine gave it another try with me. She put on a huge smile and I didn't want to turn down someone who seemed so sincere. I thought, I will take the magazine but I won't read it. I resisted it. Like I said, I loved my meat. I went to a stall and bought pork barbeque.
As I sat down chewing on my pork barbecue, I thought, Ok I will read that Vegetarian magazine, but I won't change my mind about meat. So I read about how pigs are actually smarter than dogs and 3-year-old humans, how fish also feel pain, how chickens are starved so they can lay more eggs, how cows are slaughtered, how meat is bad for health etc etc. But the one article that really moved me was one called The Story of a Downed Cow. It described how a cow in transit from the factory farm to the slaughterhouse was deprived of water for days. It brought back a memory of a time when I was about 7 years old and my sister took me to the mall. On our way home, I asked if we could stop and get something to drink because I felt really thirsty. She said we were close to home and I could just drink water when we get home. I remember how unbearable the thirst was. I asked again. She was annoyed, told me to stop complaining, and said we were only 10 minutes away so I should just wait. Those 10 minutes then seemed like forever. And that was the thirstiest I have ever been in my life. Reading about the cow not having had any water for days made the experience real to me. And I realized I cannot begin to understand the suffering of not drinking water for days. I never had to experience anything like it. But I still loved my meat. So I thought, Sorry cows, sorry animals, so sorry to hear about what happens to you, but I love my meat.
That day, I went home and looked online for videos on animal rights. I watched undercover videos about animals used for fur, leather, food etc. It was like watching a car crash. It was horrible but I couldn't look away. Evening came and I thought, "I am really not ready to change. Being vegetarian would be so inconvenient. I do not want to adjust my life at all. I am perfectly content with how things are." In defiance to the information I learned that day, I went to my then-favorite KFC. I wanted to prove to myself that I can keep doing what I was doing. I loved my meat. I didn't want to give it up.
A one-piece chicken lay in front of me (though I usually ordered two). I took about two bites, then I realized that even if it tasted exactly the same as the other times, I felt disgusted at what I was doing. What lay in front of me was not a piece of meat, it was not my meat, it was someone who had to endure pain and suffering- unwillingly- to get to that plate. I considered for a second that I should finish the meal anyway, since it felt as though it could be my last KFC. Perhaps have one last meal of meat and enjoy it. Then I thought, "You don't have to do this, Nancy. You don't have to force yourself to eat this if you don't want to anymore."
Overnight, I became vegetarian though I had not the slightest idea how. That first month, I thought I would be lacto-ovo vegetarian but that was it. Vegan just seemed too extreme. But I devoured all the information I could get my hands into. I read The Food Revolution, Eating Animals, I listened to the Vegetarian Food for Thought podcast, I watched countless videos. That first month- and beyond, I cried everyday thinking of the suffering that these poor animals go through. It did not seem fair that the world went on as usual, oblivious to their pain. I felt helpless. I also learned that the egg and dairy industries are even more cruel than the meat industry. In a month's time, I was completely vegan.
Food-wise, I ate mostly veg meat in the beginning. And the truth was, I knew it did not taste the same. There was an aftertaste, or something fake about it, but I ate the veg meat anyway, because they were the closest to what was familiar to me. Sometimes, it even tasted like cardboard, but I ate it anyway. And contrary to what people think, it was not a sacrifice. Eating something that came from animals would feel like a betrayal, and is thus, unimaginable. Eating animals was no longer an option.
After Nov 9, 2009
I now eat a variety of plant-based food, and I am no longer limited to veg meat. I do enjoy eating veg meat now. Maybe the quality of new veg meats have improved, maybe my taste buds have adjusted, maybe both. The truth is, I am not sure if what tastes good to me now would taste disgusting to the meat-eater. The truth is, vegans will show you lots of variety and options in the hopes that you will ease into veganism, and you will most likely still taste the difference at least half the time. And the truth is, even if veg meat tasted like cardboard (and some of them still do), I would never consider eating animal meat ever again. If all I have to eat are tofu and celery all day everyday, I will just find a way to deal with it. I did not become vegan because of food. Veganism is not about food or taste or convenience. It isn't even about me. Veganism is about animals. And that is my unapologetic confession.