The word “vegan” is often misused and misconstrued, so I probably have no idea what that word means to you. (And my word processor didn’t even know the word. Sheesh.)
Admittedly, I am being tricky and somewhat deceptive when I use the word "vegan", because I’m presuming (even though I really do not know) that you see it as someone who doesn’t consume fish, meat, dairy or egg products. This is the most commonly misconstrued view, but it’s me, in a nutshell. And vegan is a nice, little, convenient, descriptive word to use in a pinch.
What it REALLY means, though, is someone who abstains from animal products COMPLETELY. They do not consume it, use it, or wear it if it has come from any animal, bugs included, but there is a debate over whether an insect is an animal or not, though...go figure.
I guess that means I’m not really a vegan.
What am I, then?
I suppose the technical term would be strict vegetarian, or maybe even dietary vegan. I still consume honey occasionally, and I own a wool hat, and (gasp!) leather shoes (I hate the smell of new leather, by the way). I assure you I didn’t know they were leather before I purchased them, if that helps soothe the sting. I was all too hasty in making that particular purchase. Anyhow, I digress.
If you decide to forgive me, kind reader, for my deception, then we can proceed, because you are probably now asking, “why? why are you a strict vegetarian/vegan kind of person?”
Two main reasons: well-being and stewardship. I guess you could say that well-being is wrapped up in stewardship, but you’ll see why I have separated them. In the meantime, prepare for a story.
I have never been a hugely carnivorous. My mom said that I loved my fruits and veggies as a kid. Later on in life, I discovered that dairy products didn’t treat me very well, so I cut them out of my diet. As a high school student, I went through periods of abstinence from meat. As a college student, I discovered that it was cheaper not to buy meat, especially the organic, free-range meat that I preferred, after discovering all the added crap that’s in the standard meat. Besides, I hated, have always hated, handling raw meat, in any way, shape or form. Disgusting. Thus, I would eat meat only if I knew where it came from, and if someone else cooked it for me. That wasn’t very often.
Pretty soon, I figured, why pursue the meat thing? Whenever I actually took the time to chew meat, I noticed how I did not like the flavor at all, and I hated spitting out pieces of fat and bone. So, I gave up meat altogether, and it’s been a year since I made that decision. No dairy, no meat. Shortly thereafter, I gave up eggs, as well, because, as it was with meat, I didn’t really dig the flavor, just the flavor that was added.
And I noticed how physically awesome I felt. Really, I just felt good. This is where the “well-being” comes in. And because I felt so good on the inside, it felt pleasant mentally, knowing that I could survive mostly on a plant-based diet, which is very healthy (and yummy, too!).
Before I move on to the issue of stewardship, allow me to first make a couple other issues clear:
1) I am not an animal rights activist. I think that those who elevate animal life above human life have serious double-standards. There should be a balance.
2) I am not a “hard-core” environmentalist. Again, let’s be careful not to elevate nature above God. The plant earth is the way it is because of sin, yet at the same time, we are caretakers. Balance!
Moving on. Obviously, good stewardship is required with everything entrusted to us, including the body. When you eat well, you exercise good stewardship. No brainer there. A few months after I was into the vegetarian thing full-swing, I learned a couple other things:
1) How uncomfortable I was with most of the meat industry. I have no problem with people who treat their animals well and then kill them for meat. I suppose happy meat tastes better. The problem is when people become greedy for money, and they start to cut corners - injecting hormones and steroids and what-not, cutting off beaks, and letting the animals live in nasty conditions. I like animals (and as I said, I’m not an animals rights activist), so I care a little about how they are treated.
You may ask, “Okay, so you care about the meat/animal industry. What about all that stuff made in China (which is almost everything, it seems)? The sweat factories? Child labor?” Yes, I do care about that stuff. Recall what I said about balance? As much as I am able, I try to make good choices all-around, and attempt to stay informed.
2) Vegetarianism is more economical, more “green”, if you want to use that term. They say it's cheaper to grow and harvest plants than it is to raise animals for meat (makes sense to me, at least). It’s been said that if more people cut back on meat (even just somewhat), there would be more resources to go around. (Although, for Americans, I think we just need to stop eating so much, period.)
So, there you have it. The what and the why of my vegetarianism (or veganism, if it paints a better picture for you). Next time I will address the “how” of strict vegetarianism. Meanwhile, feel free to ask questions. I don't hate you if you're not a vegetarian. :)