40 Years a Vegan

butterflies katz

By M. Butterflies Katz, Vegan Poet

I began life as a vegan 40 years ago. It’s now 2018 and I’m no longer alone. It’s soul-stirring to witness the recognition that veganism is an international social-justice movement. When I recently compiled and published the book Why I will ALWAYS be Vegan: 125 Essays from Around the World, I spoke with vegans all over the world (a few through interpreters); even in places I’d never heard of, or expected to find committed vegans.

Contrary to popular thought, ‘veganism’ is not a diet, nor a concept that is about you or your health. If someone eats mostly vegan for weight-loss or to reverse heart disease – that’s eating a plant-based diet. Veganism extends beyond diet, and is an ethical position. It’s about animals and their fundamental rights. Veganism is a philosophy and corresponding way of life that respects other species of animals and seeks not to demand (with our purchases) their torture, murder, slavery, and exploitation, for any reason: food, clothing, toiletries, cosmetics, cleaners, entertainment, experimentation, rescuing versus ‘buying pets’ (bred for profit, while millions in shelters are killed) – as far as is practical and possible. I have come to know that humans can thrive as vegans, but I didn’t know this when first starting out.

I stopped eating animals at age 12 when my brother said that ‘meat’ is a dead animal. My parents tell me that I was unmovable in my position of not eating animals or hidden bits of them, when I was a girl. I later stumbled upon the vegan philosophy when a Florida health-food store clerk slipped me a copy of the ‘Ahimsa’ magazine written by the president of The American Vegan Society; Jay Dinshah. I realized that being vegetarian was simply not enough; because animals are still victimized and killed for vegetarians. I internalized the vegan ethic, and became fully vegan at age 21. I chose to opt out of cruelty, rejecting the notion that humans have a right to harm innocent others who also have the capacity to suffer.

I immediately rid my closet of leather, wool, silk. I discontinued buying any food with animal products, including honey, or sugar refined through huge columns of charred bones. I wrote to companies to find out what was in my shampoo and cosmetics, and if they were tested on animals. We were the generation of vegans that formulated the lists of non-vegan ingredients and companies that test on animals, etc. I didn’t have the convenience of the internet. In those years, finding out if products were ‘vegan’ meant phoning companies and writing snail mail letters to find out if an ingredient was animal-derived. I was vegan when there was no vegan ice cream, no vegan cheese, no vegan marshmallows, no vegan shoes (I wore flip-flops), when I had to shop for vegan products without vegan labels, apps, or any help from others.

The vegan pioneers didn’t know what we know today. Many, like myself, became vegan thinking that it may be bad for our health or possibly even kill us, but we did it anyway. Why? Because we didn’t want to fund animal use/abuse. Luckily, all those people who said to me “you’re going to die from being malnourished, and “where will you get your protein?” were misinformed. They had bought the lies they were sold by those who profit from animal exploitation. Despite being over 60, I have no major health issues and take zero medications. I’ve been propelled through 4 decades by 100% vegan food and a few supplements, and I never felt weakened or deficient because of it. I seem to be more energetic than others my age.

Decades after becoming vegan, I realized that the exploitation of cows for dairy and chickens for eggs, is also a feminist issue. I learned that ALL oppression should be rejected: racism, sexism, speciesism, ageism, or any discrimination against any group. I can empathize with the animals because I was born Jewish (and a woman). My ancestors were persecuted and murdered just for being born to Jewish parents. I walk through life as one who has deeply understood violent oppression and injustice. If I lived 85 years ago in Europe, I would have been enslaved, starved and worked to death, and sent to the gas chambers; for doing no wrong to anyone; comparable to the ‘animal holocaust’. I strongly believe that both human and nonhuman animals are entitled to the possession of their own life, and their most basic interests, such as to avoid suffering and being killed.

I thought it worthwhile to pen this post in honor of my 40th veganniversary. I hope that my story will inspire many who don’t realize that we can, in fact, be long-term vegans. Sure, there’s an initial effort in learning which products and practices not to literally fund. Yes, we have to re-learn exactly what to eat to properly nourish ourselves. We’ll need to get educated about the hidden animal products in foods that we eat. Then it becomes second-nature. Presently, there’s a wealth of information at our fingertips and a multitude of vegans willing to help others to live vegan. Veganism is not an exclusive “club”: it is for everyone. For me, and many other vegans, we know that we’ll always be vegan. It’s the one thing that won’t and can’t change.

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