{A-Z:Veganism} I is for Inspiration

I is for Inspiration.

Who (or what) do you credit with inspiring you to embrace veganism?

I credit Dr. Neal Barnard with inspiring me to consider (and, ultimately, embrace) veganism.  Or, more accurately, a magazine interview with Neal Barnard.

It was 1995. December. The festive season.

I was 18, a university student, and one of those ‘vegetarians’ who ate seafood.

I was heading to beautiful Byron Bay with my mum, sister, and our friend Jasmine, for a two-week holiday.

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I had brought along a copy of (the now defunct) New Vegetarian magazine, to read in the car as we headed up the coast. It was the spring/summer issue, with KD Lang on the cover.

The cover also featured a smaller, black-and-white photo – a bloke called Dr. Neal Barnard, standing in front of the Sydney Opera House. I had never heard of him.

Somewhere north of Coffs Harbour, I began reading a 4-page interview with Dr. Barnard. As I read the opening paragraph –

‘Dr Barnard grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, near the Canadian border, in the middle of cattle country….’

– I had no idea that my belief system was about to be radically challenged.

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The early part of the interview discussed Dr. Barnard’s experiences in medical school. It focused on his experiences with patients suffering from debilitating heart disease, and breast cancer. He mentioned his mother’s battle with a ‘dangerously high cholesterol level’, and how 6 weeks of following a vegan diet led to the level plummeting. She was a convert after that!

Some of this information was not new to me. I knew that I did not require red meat to be healthy, and I had ditched it a couple of years earlier, inspired by a book called Old McDonald’s Factory Farm (You can read about that ‘realisation’ here).

Then, I came to the topic that would change my world view.

‘As a committed vegan, Dr. Barnard is scathing about the western preoccupation with milk and dairy products…’

I didn’t know any vegans at that stage of my life.

I adored cheese. I knew that rennet was made from the stomach lining of baby cows, so I chose to purchase a ‘vegetarian’ brand of cheese that didn’t contain rennet.  I thought baby cows were adorable, and the thought of harming one was abhorrent. Even during my time as a meat eater, I chose to abstain from eating veal. I didn’t understand carnism back then!

Dr. Barnard seemed to be saying that dairy products weren’t healthy. Really?

The interview jumped back to Barnard’s childhood in North Dakota, where he ate ‘pork chops or roast beef just about every day’. The impact of his ‘scathing’ opinion may have been lost. But, fortunately, there was more compelling ‘anti-dairy’ information to come.

Just to drive home the point, and ensure that I never regarded dairy products in the same way again, the entire last page of the interview detailed some of the health concerns of dairy products. Dr. Barnard stated: ‘I have ten main reasons why dairy food is not good for health…’ Ten! Wow. This was news to me. I re-read and reflected, trying to absorb the details.

All these years later, I still remember the initial impact that the information had on me.

By the time we reached Byron Bay, I had begun to seriously consider ditching dairy from my diet. Discovering that dairy products were not healthy allowed me to remove my blinkers. I could no longer disregard the cruelty of the dairy industry. If dairy products were not necessary for bone health…. in fact if they were actually injurious to human health, I needed to stop consuming them.

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I had some familiarity with the workings of a dairy farm. As a child, I spent Christmas holidays at a dairy farm owned by my aunty and uncle (in fact, we also visited the farm during our Byron Bay holiday. That’s me cuddling my friend Charlie, the fox terrier, above).

On the farm, over the years, I learnt that the calves were removed from their mothers shortly after birth. I knew that a truck came to ‘collect’ some of the calves, and that the mothers bellowed for days. I knew that the incessant bellowing saddened my mum too. No one wanted to tell me or my sister that the calves were going to their deaths.

I had been led to believe – as all of us are – that dairy farming was necessary. I accepted that humans required cows milk for bone health. 

Now Dr. Barnard was telling me otherwise.

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The trip to Byron Bay marked a significant time in my life. I was a teenager, at the dawn of my adulthood. I had finished my first year at university. I got my first (and only) tattoo that holiday!

Most significantly, the journey that began a couple of years earlier with the discovery of a book about factory farming, was now gathering momentum.

The interview also mentioned Neal Barnard’s recently released book Food For Life: How the New Four Food Groups can Save Your Life. I purchased a copy upon my return to Sydney. I read it cover to cover, enthusiastically consuming and absorbing the words. I still own the book. It sits on the same bookshelf as Diet for a New America, another truly inspirational book.

By late March 1996, I was 19 and a vegan.

I wholly embraced that part of my heart that loved and respected animals. I faced up to the fact that ocean dwelling creatures were sentient beings. I acquired the knowledge to live a healthy life, without consuming dairy products and eggs. I began reading about animal rights.

I had embraced a vegan ethic, not just a vegan diet.

This ethic shapes and influences all facets of my life today.

So, thank you Dr. Neal Barnard, from the bottom of my heart. I owe you.

I also extend my gratitude to the interviewer, Robert Fraser, for bringing the words and wisdom of Neal Barnard to my attention.

Who has inspired you on your vegan journey? I’d love to hear your stories!

Ally

In my A-Z of Veganism series, I discuss and explore a topic or issue related to veganism, and my experiences as a vegan – as I work my way through the alphabet!

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About Ally
Mamma. Vegan. I blog at Made of Stars.

35 Responses to {A-Z:Veganism} I is for Inspiration

  1. This is a really good post 🙂 Only after I was vegan did I discover the horrors of dairy farming. I’m trying to convince my family about links between dairy and health and they’re listening but not taking that extra step *sigh*

    I’ve given you a Liebster Award on my blog 🙂

  2. Andra Muhoberac says:

    No doubt most vegans share a similar story but perhaps not at such a tender age. Good on ya’, Alison, for being so aware in your teens and for going forward in principal and right action.

    I’ve been vegan for 13 years now, lacto vegetarian for 10 years before that, and a “vegetarian” who ate fish for about 12 years before THAT. My husband also shared this journey with me. It was truly a journey, and I sometimes feel like kicking myself that it took me so long to see the whole picture. In my own defense, when I first started exploring vegetarianism plus animal rights–around the mid 1970’s), I was living in California where there were many “health food” restaurants, which served whole grains and lots of vegetables, but also included some fish and chicken. In those days I could not find a vegetarian cookbook, but I did come across “Vegetarian Times” magazine at the local health food shop. (In those days it was just a few black and white print pages, not the up market, beautifully presented magazine that it is today.) Then I inadvertently found Peter Singer’s ANIMAL LIBERATION. That spurred me on! The next find that inspired me was the TEN TALENTS COOKBOOK by Frank and Rosalie Hurd. Although it was definitely not the gourmet vegetarian cookbook I had dreamed about, it got me trying all sorts of new ways to cook things, leaving out animal products. Through years of working hard, raising children, and moving countries, I finally got over myself and became a committed vegan in January 1999. I have been INSPIRED by “New Vegetarian” and “Vegan Voice” magazines and the writings of Dr. Michael Klaper, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. John McDougall, John Robbins, and T. Colin Campbell, to name a few at the top of my list. Isn’t it wonderful that we have so many heros in the vegan world?–Brilliant, compassionate people who continually inspire us!!!

    • Ally says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story Andra. I enjoyed reading it. I read New Vegetarian (and then, New Veg & Natural Health) for years. Of course, we share a mutual love of Vegan Voice!
      Humanity gives such little regard to fish. I think back on why I didn’t get it. I think that it felt extreme to be a vego at that time, and still eating fish tempered that a bit. I’m not sure. When people heard (usually adults) I didn’t eat meat, they would be concerned but when they heard I still ate fish, they sighed with relief! Maybe that is why I ate it for so long.
      Yes, I agree, I am continually inspired on this journey. My aunty recently transitioned to a vegan diet, after decades of eating the Standard Australian Diet. She is an inspiration!
      Of course, the animals are my ongoing inspiration.
      Thanks Andra 🙂

  3. Brittany says:

    I love so much about this post!! I am very much deep in the ethical aspect of being a vegan. I started as a vegetarian strictly for my love of animals, and realized I wasn’t giving it my all by still eating cheese and milk.

    • Ally says:

      Hi Britt! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂
      How long were you a vego for before you took the leap to veganism?

  4. susykat says:

    Who has inspired me on my vegan journey? I have to say that number one, and most importantly, it was YOU, my big sister! 🙂 It was you that influenced me to first become a vegetarian, after reading some of the books and magazines you had lying around, and conversations with you which made me realise that cutting out meat was in harmony with my concern for animals. I vividly remember the day that you announced you were going vegan, and the conversation we had about it. It made complete sense to me, and I knew that I couldn’t justify eating dairy and eggs any longer.

    I never felt pressured by you, but felt guided by your wonderful example. Becoming a vegan is one of the best life decisions I have ever made, and I have to thank you for getting me started on this wonderful journey that has changed the way I look at and interact with the world. Xoxoxoxo

    • Ally says:

      Oh thanks Su! That is a lovely comment! I am so happy that you are vegan. 🙂
      You have a good memory! I wish I could remember that conversation.
      I agree with you on it being one of the best life decisions you ever made. I feel the same way for me.
      Look at us in the photo with Jazz- total book nerds! What were we reading? More importantly, where is Jazz’s book?!

  5. Hey Ally! Awesome post. I know you’ve already read about my journy to veganism, but incase anyone else reads this I was first inspired by Whole Foods Market. By the way, I love reading your blog Ally! I relate to everything you write:-).

  6. Linda says:

    This is a great post. I remember reading New Vegetarian when I first went vego in about 1994. My change to veganism is only quite recent, unfortunately, and it was the calf video that I’ve mentioned in my blog that was the game changer for me. http://www.animalsaustralia.org/investigations/dairy-calf-cruelty-investigation/ I just feel like such a dummy because it took me so long to understand what was going on with eggs and dairy…even though I recently realised that we’ve had a poster on our wall for about 20 years that said that male chicks are discarded. Not sure what I thought that meant!

    • Ally says:

      You aren’t a dummy. Denial is a safe and comfortable place to be!
      My sister told me the details of the calf video, and then I read what you said about it on your blog 😦 I can’t face it. I’m glad you did though. I’m glad you had the courage to face it, and then take that knowledge and change your actions. Good on you 🙂

  7. Linda says:

    Oh, and I forgot to mention the movie Earthlings that I watched online a while back, when I’d taken a study day to work on my course. I was a relatively new vegan, and was struggling with it a bit (not that I ever thought about giving up). I watched absolutely frozen with horror throughout the entire full-length movie and it just strengthened my resolve. (Needless to say, I didn’t get much study done that day!)

    I’ve tried to get others to watch it (after all, it’s free to stream online), because I don’t see how ANYONE could watch that and go back to eating animal products of any kind. Unfortunately, the most common responses are either, “Yeah, I already know about that” or “I can’t watch things like that, I get too upset” (from someone who then went off to buy meat for lunch!)

    The only person I accept that excuse from is my daughter who is 16 and has been trying to drag our family into veganism since she was a tiny thing. If only I’d listened to her years ago!!

    • Ally says:

      Re: Earthlings- You probably didn’t sleep well that night either. I can’t face it. But I know that I’m not the target audience. That’s my excuse anyway! My sister has watched it. I just know that it will paralyse me. But I agree with you. People who haven’t encountered this info elsewhere, should watch it.
      When all the live export footage hit 4 Corners and the mainstream media, I had lots of friends, non-vegan friends, saying that it was horrific and heart breaking. But I don’t think any of them changed their behaviour or thoughts around meat consumption. It was easy for people to say ‘that only happens in Indonesia’, and ‘we treat our animals better than that in Australia’. Of course, we know that isn’t strictly true!
      Your daughter sounds like a very smart young woman. How did the caramel slice turn out?

      • Linda says:

        Well you don’t need an excuse! Hell, you figured it all out yonks ago! I was just thinking of egg and dairy eaters, (like I was) really.

        I know what you mean about the live export videos causing outrage. Why are people so upset about that, but don’t care about all the horrific things going on right under our noses?

        Her caramel slice worked out really well, by the way. The kids demolished it – although I sneaked a piece. She took a photo, so I’ll have to post it on my blog sometime, if she’ll let me.

      • Ally says:

        I hope she lets you 🙂 I’d be interested to read about it. I haven’t had caramel slice in ages.
        🙂

  8. Thomas says:

    Great post Ally ! Its always interesting to hear people’s journey to veganism. I will look up Dr Bernard too. You would a good freelance writer 🙂 (not sure if you are doing it right now) 🙂

    • Ally says:

      Thanks Thom! I’m glad you liked it.
      Thank you also for your kind comment. I’m not currently writing for a publication. I’m always open to that. I’m enjoying blogging, and the freedom it allows in terms of writing style. I like the fact that it can be a less formal style of writing.
      Dr Neal Barnard has written many books in the ensuing years.
      A blogger who shall remain nameless has a bit of a crush on him! Maybe she will ‘out’ herself in the comments, haha!
      🙂

  9. Sophie33 says:

    Good for you & your health & the health of all of the animals in the world!

  10. liveblissful says:

    thanks so much for sharing your story and how you got to this point!

  11. Thank you for writing about your experience :). I remember that my biochemistry professor abhorred dairy products – he ate meat, just kept saying that “we are the only species that drink milk beyond childhood” and commenting on its foolishness…
    I don’t like cows milk that much – I would choose almond milk over it any day. But I was wondering, how do you take in your calcium? Along with (nutritional) vitamin D?

    • Ally says:

      Hi, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂

      Yes, it does seem odd that humans drink milk after weaning, and not even human milk! I agree with your professor on that one.
      There are a number of vegan sources of calcium, including: calcium-fortified non-dairy milks, green leafy vegetables, calcium-set tofu, and tahini (sesame seed paste).
      Vitamin D is not a problem in my part of the world. For instance, today the UV index was 9 (it is Autumn here). In summer, it reaches 15. Of course, there are supplements or Vitamin D fortified foods available if required.
      My friend Angela wrote an informative post about Vitamin D recently. You can find it at
      http://uberdish.ca/2013/02/20/vitamin-d-and-a-big-bowl-of-stew

  12. Xiomara says:

    I’ve missed your A-Zs of veganism! It’s amazing how powerful print can be and the impact it’ll have in our lives.

    I went vegan after reading The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams. Her vegetarian-feminist theory describes how how female animals are the ones being objectified by eggs and dairy industries. it was also the first time I ever realized that death is a result of these industries — esp. for the male chicks and calves.

  13. I was lucky enough to meet a vegan man when I worked at a health store in 1986 – I grew up on a sheep farm and had never heard of veganism before. Then this ‘old’ guy comes into the shop and starts asking us if any of the food is vegan, I had no idea what he meant so he explained it all to me and I was able to point out which foods were indeed vegan. I figured he was about 50 years old. Before he left, his age came up in conversation (maybe I asked? I can’t remember!) and I found out that he was in his 70s! He was vibrant and buzzing with energy.

    Totally changed my way of looking at what was healthy or not, and what was ‘food’ or not. I’m so glad that my co-workers sent the ‘crazy vegan guy’ my way!

    What struck me, looking at this 1995 photo of Dr Barnard, is how you can see that he looks pretty much exactly the same, 18 years later. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Ally says:

      Hi Meg,

      Thanks for sharing your interesting story. I first encountered the word ‘vegan’ when I was 16. It was used in an article about Madonna. I thought it was pronounced ‘vedge-un’, haha!
      Vegans would have been few and far between in 1986! I’m glad you met the ‘crazy vegan guy’. What a fabulous encounter you had.
      Yes, I agree with you about Neal. He looks as though he has barely aged.
      🙂

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