March 10, 2013 35 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!