Being vegan may be a slightly newer concept for many folks- maybe someone saw a documentary about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, or their favourite celebrity went on a vegan kick themselves. It isn't a new concept for me, as my first official intentional participation was in the year of our lord, 2006.
This was before most documentaries or celebrities dawned the vegan word.
But, I think what sparked my officially swearing off contributing to animal suffering as much as possible started long before then. I think it started at around age 5 or 6.
Here's the story.
My parents had just split up, it was sometime in 1994 or 1995, and I was glued to our TV. World Vision or some organization like it had ads playing constantly, looking for Sponsor Parents. (They really got me as, I am a sponsor parent. That's another story.).
For the first time, I learned about kids not having parents. This likely struck a chord with me, due to my seemingly fragile family situation. I thought to myself- wow, that's really sad that there are poor kids out there without parents. One day when I am old enough to be a parent, I want to help them.
I recognized that there were these vulnerable individuals in a tough situation, and I wanted to help them.
(Fast forward to this side note- I'm definitely old enough to be a parent to human children. But they also need these things called time and money, so, we'll keep that on the back burner.)
So- we've set the stage.
1. Kids out there are in a bad spot.
2. I feel the desire to help make life better for them.
A few years later, I roll over a tube of my beloved Bonnebell Lip Balm (Cotton Candy or Vanilla) and saw something about the product not being 'tested on animals'.
This was really confusing to me- so I asked my mum.
'Oh some cosmetics are tested on animals in laboratories.'
I honestly have no idea how I found out more about vivisection. The internet was barely a thing and since I have vivid memories of Vim being used at home- I feel like we didn't know much about animal testing back in the day. So why I became so staunchly against it is anyone's guess.
But it did lead to years of me calling 1800 numbers on the backs of packages of almost anything, asking if said product in question was tested on animals. It was also around this time that I learned about sweatshops and forced labour, including child labour.
The rest is a bit of a blur until I was about 16. I went pescatarian at one point prior to that, because I realized that some of the stuff on my plate was actually sections of animals' bodies. I doubted very much that they were wanting to be there. Pescatarian because- I was told that 'fish don't have centralized nervous systems, so they can't feel pain'. I mean. Those are big words for a kid- I bought it.
I was also told that I would get sick from protein deficiency so how about some Kosher chicken? 'They kill the chickens in such a peaceful way- the knife they use is so sharp. It's like getting put to sleep.'
These last two sentences are verbatim. I remember it so clearly.
What I also remember very clearly is being the only kid in my circle of friends who had these ethical convictions. I was also raised to be Christian- mostly Baptist, if you want to pigeon hole it, in a Catholic community. I was an outsider there, too- I knew the expectations but didn't understand why I was the one following them so staunchly and yet not being permitted to participate fully in certain aspects of the religion. I felt like I was doing a better job than most Catholics at being Catholic- not that I actually wanted to be Catholic- I just did it better ;)
So here's this kid who is very fake Catholic, and very concerned about these inanimate objects that end up on our plates and in our make up bags as well as who makes our clothes.
This was not cool. It was weird. And unusual. And it made navigating my world very challenging.
I really didn't like being such a freak, but I also didn't want to eat anybody's flesh or enslave children to be more normal.
So what's a girl to do.
Well, maybe I could just look different- things would be better. But I wouldn't have to be different.
Ok so how would that go, young Emma?
Well, people really seem to admire celebrities. And want to hang out with them. Most of them are pretty fit and beautiful. So maybe I can look like that.
Sixteen. Little internet. Little understanding.
Big eating disorder.
Ahhh... that was not the goal!
And yet, I did wind up in a treatment program.
I did, wind up in a psych ward with a bunch of other kids.
I did... wind up meeting my first vegan.
In a world that was so incredibly confusing, where I really tried to square peg in a round hole, something finally made sense. It was logical- like those kids who were so vulnerable, why would I hurt animals who are also vulnerable? And it wasn't just through their flesh- it was through their by products.
I would never put veganism and anorexia in even close to the same camp- I understand that they are both viewed as restrictive, but the former is restricting to avoid harming vulnerable populations, while the latter is restricting because you are mentally ill and hate yourself to some extent. One is outward looking, one collapses.
I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing from there, but that would not be true. I relapsed- anorexia is apparently one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat. It is pure mental torture and even with the best resources available, it is so difficult to actually get help.
Until, it showed up in a very unexpected place. And that's not something I can fully get into, but let's just say- a mere 6 years after entering the eating disorder program at Children's Hospital, still vegan, I started Zimt.
And then life kind of fell apart for a number of years.
It wasn't Zimt, per se- Zimt was a factor for sure, but life was just a complete train wreck all around. And I hate to phrase it this way because it sounds like I am minimizing how horrible anorexia is, but, I couldn't cater to it anymore. There was a far more pressing, more overwhelming situation to navigate.
This is definitely not something I can go into detail about, but the plus side is- it really helped me gain a lot of weight. And I had to just 'sit' with that because I couldn't regress- because the new people in my life would notice and it would cause social turmoil. And all along, I had really wanted to avoid social turmoil.
I think that yes, what doesn't kill a person does make them stronger. At least that rings true for this person. Because after a fair number of unfortunate trials, I can finally focus on what gives my existence purpose.
I keep learning. Concerns about plastic misuse were not widespread when I first went vegan- now, I can incorporate a more thoughtful mentality into that aspect of life. Through social justice groups, I've learned more about environmental protection, including that of wildlife. I've learned about oppression in different food systems and other capitalistic ventures. I've learned the little ways we, myself included, can all contribute each day to making things better.
Because it seems that, as much of a disaster as life can be, it was only one manifestation of what the loudest, most unfortunate parts of society are emitting. And I think it is important to remember that, because it is easy to feel like we have to become a different version of ourselves in order to fit in.
But why fit in when you can fit better?
We already know what course to take- the most important parts, anyway. And we know this from the time we are very young. But that isn't what makes money or gives power. That isn't how to survive, socially. So, we lose that. We slip away from our inner empathy toward what is not essential, and what is cruel.
But we can come back- it isn't easy, but it is worth it.