An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life
US nanny Bethany, the latest contributor to our series, believes veganism is all about love and compassion – and she tries her best to let these qualities in her life speak for the cause
My name is Bethany, I’m 26 years old and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my husband Ryan and our four pets. We have three cats – JiJi, Milo, and Sophie – as well as a tortoise named Teva. I currently work as a nanny for an incredible family, and my previous job was as the coordinator for a local nature museum. I’ve lived in the Southern US all my life and have a huge love for stereotypical Southern cuisine (everything deep-fried please). When I’m not working or eating awesome vegan food I enjoy hiking and camping, reading, crafting, and have just started practising yoga.
I went straight from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based one literally overnight. After a lot of thought and deliberation, I made a plan to go vegan on June 1 2016 and from that date onward I have been vegan, with a few minor slip-ups. I was a pescetarian in college for about a year, and had tried a vegetarian diet a few times over the course of the previous few years.
My attempts at eating a meat-free diet were usually spurred on by reading or seeing something related to animal agriculture (reading The Jungle, watching Food Inc) but was usually thwarted by lack of options or self-control. Saying that now sounds like such a cop-out as there are so many vegetarian options compared with vegan ones.
So, as of today, I have been vegan for two years and seven months!
My husband Ryan watched Earthlings in 2015 and he decided to make the change, quite suddenly, to veganism as a result. I was sceptical about it and I really enjoyed non-vegan food so I continued to eat meat and dairy for an entire year before making the switch myself.
It was tough going for Ryan for a while, as I joked about when he’d give up being a vegan, and I didn’t give his dietary concerns much consideration when choosing restaurants.
Over the course of the next year, I ended up making a lot of vegan food and trying out vegan restaurants with him. I started thinking that it might not be as impossible as I previously anticipated. Ryan was never pushy about me eating a plant-based diet, and it was his patience that encouraged me to start doing some of my own research.
I started watching vegan YouTubers who had totally vegan families. They were all incredibly happy and healthy and raved about the benefits of a plant based diet. I also followed a lot of vegan bloggers and listened to podcasts and speeches. All of this definitely contributed to my decision to go vegan, however it wasn’t until I read articles about the atrocities of animal agriculture that knew I had to make the switch.
I don’t believe I would ever be an omnivore again. I’m a big animal lover and having the awareness of the horrors of the animal agriculture industry is what would prevent me from eating animal products again. And, to be honest, the smell of meat cooking or even plain cow’s milk makes me gag now. There are so many plant-based alternatives to animal products that I don’t really miss any of the old foods I used to eat.
I’m definitely not a healthy vegan. I’m an ethical vegan, which means I switched to this lifestyle to protect animals and the environment rather than for health reasons. I absolutely love deep-fried tofu, potatoes, vegan sausage and bacon, bread, and, of course, anything sweet.
I started out my vegan journey trying to recreate all my favourite non-vegan dishes and eating an obscene amount of processed vegan meats and cheeses. However, this diet is not very nutritious, and I was starting to feel sluggish and tired most of the time. So, while I still enjoy all those tasty treats mentioned above in moderation, I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet. I find my skin, digestive health, and even mental health are much better when I eat a more whole food plant-based diet.
I usually drink a protein shake or make oatmeal for breakfast, but will sometimes splurge and eat banana oat pancakes or blueberry waffles. Lunch is usually leftovers, vegetable soup from Amy’s, or a sandwich loaded with veggies and hummus. For dinner my husband and I try to eat something filling but healthy! Our favorite meals to make are harvest bowls (broccoli, sweet potatoes, black beans, and Brussel sprouts over quinoa), chili, barbeque jackfruit, loaded nachos or tacos, and tofu stir fry.
We get most of our groceries for the week at either Trader Joe’s or Publix as they typically have great prices on produce, grains, spices, and other staples. If we need a specialty item, or if I want a smoothie or protein shake on my way to work, I will head over to Whole Foods to pick it up. We do enjoy going to the local farmer’s market from time to time as well.
I don’t really think much any more about where I get my proteins and other specific nutrients from. I did at the very beginning, but it’s become such second nature to me that I don’t really think about it anymore. I know I won’t be satiated unless I eat something with beans, oats, lentils, or tofu in it so I try to make sure I include one those in each meal.
Most people think you have to eat meat or dairy to meet your daily nutritional needs but that just isn’t the case. Most, if not all, nutritional needs can be met with a balanced plant based diet. I do take a few supplements though, as I had critically low vitamin D3. I take a multi-vitamin as well as extra D3 and B12 supplements. I urge everyone whether they are vegan or non-vegan to get their vitamin levels checked.
Being vegan can definitely make you feel like an outsider. I think the hardest part of being plant-based isn’t finding food at restaurants, or going to a party where there’s no vegan food, or even struggling to find decent vegan dairy or meat substitutes at the store; these things are really minor in comparison to the awareness you have being an ethical vegan.
It’s very hard to come to the realisation that many people around you either aren’t aware of the cruelties that animals face, or even worse that they know and don’t care enough to change their lifestyle. Animals suffer a great deal for the fleeting pleasure that humans get eating their flesh or bodily secretions. I was definitely that person who said, “I’ve always grown up eating meat, so I don’t think I could change my diet”, or even, “I’ll just buy from a local farmer and that’ll be fine.”
But so many people don’t realize the horrors of animal agriculture on a small or large scale. Animals are sentient beings capable of feelings of love, joy, and sadness. To kill them for our own enjoyment is absolutely unnecessary.
Animal agriculture is also a major contributing factor to global warming, something which is an issue for my generation and will be an even bigger issue for future generations if something doesn’t change.
To be aware of all of this, and to continue seeing people enjoy meat or dairy products is very upsetting, and can make you feel a bit hopeless. At times I feel like I’m going crazy as the reasons for being vegan seem to outweigh the reasons not to be, and that can be extremely alienating.
Another source of disconnect for me is the vast cognitive dissonance that most non-vegans have.
A great example is the Yulin Dog Festival – I have seen so many non-vegan friends post on their social media shaming and protesting this festival in which dogs are killed and then consumed. However, there is no outcry for the billions of livestock like pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys who are murdered each year; animals which all experience the same emotions as dogs do. But because they are ‘bred for food’ they immediately lose sentience and value in many people’s minds.
This often creates feelings of anger toward those around me, and in these moments I find myself having to take a step back, regroup, and focus on what I’m doing rather than what those around me are doing. It’s hard to express these emotions without coming across as condescending (which I have definitely been during my journey and apologise to my family and friends for that). These emotions can create a deep feeling of bitterness which I have to constantly address with myself. Having this awareness, and experiencing this disconnect with omnivores, has fostered more feelings of being an outsider than the inability to find food at a restaurant or party.
I’ve met a few vegans here and there and have a few acquaintances who are vegan. And of course, my husband is a vegan as well. Having him as a partner in veganism has been a huge help for my journey; I think having somebody with similar values and outlook on the world has been incredibly helpful in keeping me vegan. Most of my friends and family are good sports and will go to completely plant-based restaurants with me, or cook a vegan option for me, which is very sweet and kind. But I don’t meet up with people who have a similar mentality very often.
I’m a member of a few vegan Facebook groups and Reddit communities, but the biggest vegan group I have online is through my Instagram page. I run a vegan Instagram account (@thesouthernherbivore) and have met a lot of wonderful people through the Instagram community. Facebook, reddit and even Instagram are incredible places to meet vegans and to get involved in discussions or debates regarding vegan topics.
We have a completely vegan household with the exception of our cats. When we have children in the future we will continue to keep a vegan household.
I completely agree with the statement that I feel I have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward. As I mentioned above, being an ethical vegan can create a feeling of resentment or bitterness toward those who aren’t vegan. Veganism is now such a fundamental part of my identity; at times it can feel impossible to connect with those who aren’t. This doesn’t mean I dislike omnivores, but it can create a disconnect at times, especially when the subject of a plant-based diet comes up and I’m outnumbered.
I often eat with non-vegans, as my family and most of my friends consume dairy and meat products. It does hurt my heart a bit to see people eating animal dishes, but I usually keep quiet. They’re always very considerate when choosing places to eat or dishes to cook, and I don’t want to be uninvited or not included in outings. So I try not to be aggressive about my lifestyle. As I’ll state in the next question, I like to lead by example rather that start a confrontation.
I don’t attend any protests or pass out flyers, but I do my own form of activism. I think the best way to promote the vegan lifestyle is to show how wonderful it is. I share the incredible food I get to eat, occasionally share pro-vegan articles or memes on social media, and have a few vegan t-shirts I enjoy wearing. I donate to animal rescues and farm sanctuaries. I’m very open to debates and discussion regarding my lifestyle, and won’t shy away from any question thrown my way. Being aggressive or ‘in-your-face’ about veganism or shaming people for their choices does more harm than good, so I try to be open and honest with my journey and lead by example.
The vegan jokes irritate me, but I try to let them roll off my back. At the beginning of my journey, these jokes actually kept me from telling family, friends, and even servers at restaurants that I was vegan. I was too embarrassed to say it out loud for fear of being made fun of or having somebody roll their eyes at me, so often I would receive food with cheese or butter and have to miserably pick off the dairy or not eat it at all.
These days I’m a lot more confident and have no trouble saying out loud that I’m vegan. Being a vegan is a huge part of my identity. If I mention it a lot and it irritates people, that’s unfortunate, but it’s an incredibly important part of my everyday life.
I don’t think veganism as a lifestyle is a fad. But I do think it can be a short-lived journey if a person follows a vegan diet for certain reasons. Veganism is a way of life, not just a diet to be followed. Those that go plant-based for their health, or to follow a trend usually don’t stay with the diet for long. Not that those reasons are wrong – I think avoiding meat and dairy are great no matter the reasons – but they are often means to an end (for example, losing weight quickly or getting into shape). I think going vegan for ethical reasons and being fully aware of what happens in the animal agriculture industry creates lifelong vegans and helps to show that veganism isn’t a fad diet.
I’m not sure we will ever be able to fully eradicate animal agriculture unfortunately. I do think the number of factory farms will greatly decrease over time (in fact we’re seeing a huge switch to plant-based diets just in the past few years), but there will be people who will always want to eat meat and dairy, or who just don’t value animal life enough to make the change.
I believe change is happening, slowly but steadily. We’re already seeing less of a demand for animal products, and consumption of plant-based alternatives is rising. Time will tell what happens to the animal agriculture industry.
So for me, the best way to promote veganism really is to live a happy and meaningful life. Show your delicious food, wear your vegan clothing, volunteer at farm sanctuaries and post pictures and videos of the incredible animals there, and be kind, compassionate and loving toward everyone. Show how happy and fulfilled you are by not consuming animal products. They always say the best form of revenge is to live a wonderful life – I say the best way to share the vegan message is to live a meaningful life.
I think videos showing the grisly reality of the meat and dairy can be incredibly impactful to non-vegans and vegans alike. The average person has no idea what horrific things happen to animals in order for them to purchase meat and dairy products.
I have found that most people believe the dairy and egg industries are not as bad as the meat industry, but in reality it’s almost worse due to the longevity of the suffering endured. There’s a huge disconnect between a slice of steak or a carton of eggs at the grocery store and a sentient cow or chicken with feelings and emotions. I think these videos can change people’s opinions and emotions regarding the food they eat.
These videos are very difficult for me to watch, so I usually block or hide them from my social media feeds and do not share them. It’s probably not very responsible of me to do so, but I usually tell myself that I’m already vegan – I don’t need to hurt my heart further by seeing their suffering. I’m a little ashamed to admit that, but I try to do my best to help those animals by living a completely vegan life.
There is a great quote about these videos by Gary Yourofsky whose speech “The Greatest Speech You Will Ever Hear” made me decide once and for all to make the switch to veganism. He said: “If it’s not good enough for your eyes, why is it good enough for your stomach?” This quote has stuck with me for almost three years now and I feel it is very relevant to those who refuse to watch the horrific factory farming videos or feign ignorance of the practices in these facilities.
I am very positive about the future of veganism. I think the more vegan options become available in restaurants and grocery stores and the more pressing the effects of global warming become, the more we will see a huge shift in people’s mindset towards veganism. I think a lot of the aversion to the vegan lifestyle comes from people’s fears of giving up foods they love, but as plant-based meat and dairy products get better and better, I think more people will feel better about eating vegan,
Being vegan to me means showing love, compassion, and kindness for all living things. It means reducing the suffering and pain of animals all over the world. It means helping and caring for the environment and for the generations that come after me. It means embracing self-awareness and being a more empathetic person. It means treating others the way that you would want to be treated. Veganism is about love and kindness, and trying to make the world a better place.
If you are interested in sharing your thoughts in our Everyday Vegans slot, please get in touch and we’ll let you know what to do.