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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

The Epiphany That Came in Trickles

epiphany  |iˈpifənē|
A moment of sudden revelation or insight.

When I talk about going vegan with people who aren’t, I generally sense an invisible wall going up between us. It’s all very well and good for me, I can almost hear them thinking, but my way of life is not feasible for them.

I am not a “hippie,” nor was I raised in anything remotely resembling an alternative lifestyle. Growing up, my favorite meals were steak and baked beans on summer Sundays and my grandma Dorothy’s meatloaf. I have very happy memories of stopping for Egg McMuffins at what felt like the crack of dawn en route to my grandparents’ vacation house in the Poconos.

So what changed? What chain of experience separates me as a vegan from you as a meat eater?

When I was ten or eleven, I remember calling the toll-free number on the back of a Noxzema jar to ask if Proctor & Gamble tested on animals. (Of  course they do; although according to their website they are “committed” to phasing it out. No timeline though.) I can’t remember what initial “click” of insight possessed me to do this; my parents weren’t pet people, so my firsthand experience of animals was relatively limited. All I know is that I wasn’t ready to follow the thread of irrefutable logic that connects testing on animals with eating animals.

In my teens, I often felt a vague unease whenever I ate meat or seafood. For some now-inexplicable reason, I cut out poultry but still ate a few steaks a year, and in high school and early college I often grabbed a tuna sandwich for lunch. I ate a lot of pasta and called myself a part-time vegetarian.

The summer after my freshman year at NYU, I found a copy of Conversations with God on the bargain cart at the Strand. I’d scoffed at that book whenever I encountered it at my part-time job at Waldenbooks back in high school, but this time it practically leaped off the cart into my hands. (Funny how that happens, right?) I remember reading the following lines on the A train one afternoon:

A [highly evolved being], in fact, would never consume an animal, much less fill the ground, and the plants which the animal eats, with chemicals, then fill the animal itself with chemicals, and then consume it. A HEB would correctly assess such a practice to be suicidal.

Whether or not I actually believed these words came from “God,” they produced a physical reaction. I didn’t feel ill, I felt wonderful–what I’ve come to call a PING! moment. Since that epiphany on the A train, I have never felt a craving for the flesh of a land animal.

Fishes, however, were still a semi-regular part of my diet. It seems like a lot of people go through this particular phase of cognitive dissonance; Colleen Patrick-Goudreau talks about being a pescatarian in her early 20s in a recent podcast on vegan dating. But as I wrote last week, I was doing the best I could at that time, and for most people this undoing of old patterns isn’t going to happen overnight. I called myself a vegetarian but often ordered tuna sandwiches for lunch and the occasional salmon plate from my favorite Asian restaurant on Union Square (and yes, it does make me a little bit crazy now when I hear a pescatarian refer to themselves as a vegetarian, although I know I am not remotely justified in reacting that way). I publicly decried the vivisection going on in NYU research labs yet drank my hot chocolate with dairy milk. Looking back on all of it now, my epiphany seemed to be coming in trickles.

It was the following summer, 2001, when I realized I needed to stop eating seafood. My dad was having a cook-out, and he’d gotten us tuna steaks. I can’t remember whether or not I finished the meat on my plate, I just know that as I ate the little voice said, It makes no sense to eat this fish when you said you weren’t going to eat meat.

That day I became a proper vegetarian. And for the next ten years, I would occasionally pour factory-farmed milk on my Cheerios while believing I was doing “enough.”

As a vegan, it’s been my experience so far that vegetarians often become much more defensive than meat-eaters do when we discuss veganism. I wasn’t one of these defensive vegetarians, but only because I didn’t know any vegans! Until I got to Sadhana Forest, aside from my brief interaction with Lauren from PETA, my only encounters with veganism were with two former vegans. I suspect both of them had been in it for the novelty value; but in fairness, we were all very young then.

By the beginning of 2011, I was feeling uneasy whenever I consumed dairy products. I can’t quite recall when or why I first got the idea to go to India; on the surface of things, I just wanted to travel and do a bit of volunteer work, but it seems perfectly clear to me now that I was supposed to go to Sadhana Forest. I was supposed to have that conversation with Jamey. On some deep level I was ready to change, and I was looking for a catalyst.

As for Sadhana Forest, you already know about that particular breakthrough. And the really beautiful thing is this: my “vegan epiphany” wasn’t the last. I keep having them, whether in yoga class or at my desk or reconnecting with the natural world; and each one is like the perfect inverse of a tiny earthquake inside of me, lining up the pieces instead of breaking them apart. That’s been the greatest personal benefit, for me, of giving up animal products–I feel way more serene and spiritually attuned than I ever did before.

2 Comments to The Epiphany That Came in Trickles

  1. October 1, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    My story is so similar. I think I’m going to write it out on the blog soon. The fish thing was like that for me. I would eat sushi very occasionally, rolls. But in April Simon and I splurged on the bowl with the actual slabs of the fish in it, not pieces hidden in rolls with other things, and my stomach revolted. I just couldn’t eat it. I haven’t been “able” to eat fish since.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.