This is my answer to the question “Why?” This is my story of how I came to be the person I am today. Please find a comfortable place to read it in it’s entirety. The foundation of this letter arose from my newfound, yet unexpected friendship to two women I have yet to meet and two teachers whose classrooms I have never entered by foot. These exceptional human beings inspired me indirectly, unknowingly to ultimately line up better with my own values. Adding to that, I also quit smoking with the most resolve and determination I have ever felt in regards to my decision. Now I feel brighter than ever. Feel free to share your thoughts with me, positive notes or otherwise. It is all welcome here. Also know that this is very raw and personal for me. I hope you enjoy it.
Through my favorite cookbook and podcasts I finally found my first vegan friend, Colleen, thus the first-name basis. Every time I create one of her delectable dishes, there is someone who asks “Really? That’s vegan?” in disbelief. It is a bittersweet comment in it’s own right, but I appreciate the opportunity now more than ever to begin a conversation. Finding her voice was a new beginning, a cherished stepping stone in my knowledge growing adventure. Not long after, I found three other powerful voices who taught me more truth than I thought I could handle in one lifetime. Their names are Gary Yourofsky, Freelee, and Gary L. Francione. Through all of their words of wisdom and inspiration, I feel I have become fully enlightenment.
My story began on Valentine’s day in 2011, a mere curiosity that had been sleepily residing in the back of my brain, as well as a desire to try something new all on my own. I genuinely thought I would only take what I viewed as a baby step into an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. The more I read and researched the different types of vegetarianism, an increasing appeal drew me to vegan and only vegan. The power behind the words utilized for veganism resonated with me on many levels. This was no longer a little experiment to play with, it was embracing a lifestyle that I felt has always been meant for me.
As a child, and as many other children, I grew up with a loving fascination for animals. First, it was pets. I understood that they had to be struck in order to be trained. Secondly, it was fishing. I learned at age 3 to use my little Disney fishing pole to catch bait for my daddy. Later on, I grew to a size that allowed me fish on the big boat. Wind in my hair, sunshine radiating on my family and myself, accompanied by a challenge to catch a large dinner. At age 9 I began going to the hunting lease and was given a beautiful horse. That was when the metaphorical faucet of compassion began to drip for me. I had a fondness for these activities because it was a way to connect with my admirable father, whom I still have the utmost respect for. I thought that I was an animal lover. A sort of justification seeped into my big picture of life. Live closer to the way the Native Americans did, cherish the animals who are used as food and use as much as possible. Unfortunately I did not know that lifestyle was nearly exclusive to the Apaches, which flourished only a couple hundred years. The rest of the tribes were vegetarian before European influence. But I had been conditioned to know by society that all people have eaten animals for as long as we have existed, that it was necessary for life. Continuing into the age of 13, I joined the Future Farmers of America and began raising my own chickens, pigs, and cattle. All of this incorporated into my life. I was proud of the fact that I could be “strong” enough to see those beautiful creatures myself, thank them for what they gave me, and bring them to death’s door so that they could fill my plate.
I have so many stories that I will never be able to forget, that I see in a completely different light now. The one that sticks out to me the most, is the one I seemed to have been able to bury in dark recesses of my memories. Thanks to my mother’s thoughtful recap, it is again as clear as day and now perhaps the most prominent. My first pig I cared for, bonded with, even cuddled, and learned with. Then again, I also named her insensitively, as heavily suggested by others, as PorkChop. Regardless of whether or not my pig won the “show,” she was still sent down a narrow chute with dozens of others, cramming together as they were hustled onto a large dark truck. That was the last I saw of her bright eyes, her cheerful bouncy step. The seconds before she trotted onto that ramp were the last bits of sunshine and kindness she would ever know before her inevitable death, a knife to her throat, that I had perpetrated. Something felt so wrong, but I did not understand it completely. I had been prepped for that moment by numerous words of warning, yet nothing that had been said was able to callous my emotions for that perplexing sorrow. All I could do was cry so heavily that salt trails stained my cheeks for the rest of the night. That was my reality until at age 21 the dripping faucet had slowly grabbed enough of my attention over the years and turned into a waterfall of revelations. In a span of less than a week, suddenly my sleeping discomfort was brought to the light. I can not imagine myself as a whole person of sound soul without “I am vegan” being a phrase I tell myself, proudly, every single day.
The learning period of becoming a vegan did not end there. I was a smoker and occasional vegan “cheater.” I was a lone vegan in the state of Texas, living on a ranch where friendly cattle and chickens have a predetermined execution date. On some wavelength I still wanted everyone’s approval, to fit in better. I felt that if I generally wasn’t too blunt about my core values, people would and did think “Oh Heather is one of those, but at least she’s a cool vegan.” If I didn’t try to be perfect, I would not cave and give it up altogether. If I ignored the fact I would often buy cigarette brands that tested on innocent animals, I was still doing enough good in other areas. Here is the part of my adventure where Colleen came quietly back into my life. The Joy of Vegan Baking was my favorite, my first cookbook. I never let it collect dust, but the heartfelt personal message in the beginning had faded from my experience. One day shortly after the new year, as I was coming up on my three year VegAnniversary, that leaky faucet of kindness began grabbing my attention again. I was cleaning, then simply decided that I would like to listen to some vegan information rather than music. At last I found my initial vegan educator through the Food for Thought podcast. This woman’s joy and unbiased compassion motivated me beyond what this story can portray, to strive and achieve the same for myself. When I absorbed all of her available teachings, I found myself craving more. Next, I found Gary Yourofsky, who reinforced my ethics and allowed me to accept my humility. Then, Gary L. Francione appeared amongst my searching. His unapologetic dedication, paired by immense intellect granted me the vigor to be unwavering in my stance for nonhuman animals. Finally, I found Freelee the Banana Girl. Watching, listening to her I felt that I was relating to someone on a parallel journey to my own. I found myself looking up to her, going to her when I hungered for more motivation. I decided that I would quit smoking for good this time, to instead use my efforts to help continue the vegan movement that is growing stronger every year. I learned that, no, I do not have to be perfect, but I have the strength to do so much better. I discovered that my beliefs, no matter how different from the majority, are all mine and that I can always find a constructive, positive way to express that without tiptoeing or cowering around others. They have all given me more than I ever knew to ask for.
We are all teachers to one another. We share, we learn from each other’s tales. Finally I have the confident voice to ask others to take a journey with me, to learn that we can truly know ourselves, live even healthier, happier, connect to the world around us on a deeper notion, and easily without causing any harm to other living souls that we share this planet with.
With the utmost gratitude and immense love, I thank the vegan educators of the world, as valuable and few in number as they seem to be today. Because of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Gary Yourofsky, Gary L. Francione, and Freelee I have changed my life for the better. Because of them, I have been influenced to be the best version of myself. I have stopped smoking and cheating on my morals while regularly reminding myself of the reasons why. They are my heros. I hope to one day express exactly how much each of them have impacted my life. Until then and for the days long after, I will support their work. I will continue to spread the word, to share the wisdom, in every way I can.
Here is where I thank you, for allowing me to share my vulnerability and experiences. May this letter find you well in your own journey. Expect more to come.
Namaste, my friends.