Churrasco to vegan …
A story of a life change.
Well, 5 lives actually and I am sure many more by example and inspiration.
A short while ago asked a number of people if they could share their story, their journey to veganism – how, when and why did they decide to become vegan. Some of the responses were concise and to the point, others were humbling, all were interesting. They are of one person’s choice to change everything … something we rarely if ever do in one’s lifetime.
I start with the story of someone I know for more than 20 years, yet I did not know the journey she took to veganism. These are the words of my friend, Felicitas from Curitiba in Brazil.
” My journey to veganism
I have always been interested in environmental issues. First influenced by my grandfather – I remember him telling me about melting ice caps back in the early 1980’s, and my father, who always told us about the wonders of agroecology as well as a few wonderful teachers at school.
On the other hand, I am Brazilian and, worse still, gaúcha, which means my family comes from Southern Brazil, where originally extensive cattle farming was developed to feed the growing population of colonial Brazil. A whole cattle ranching culture developed, to the point that nowadays anybody born in the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, is called a gaúcho, or cowboy.
So, despite having been brought up in São Paulo, my family followed that meat-loving tradition and often had churrascos (grill parties) over the weekend, where you could eat meat until you almost burst. My father used to tell me that in the South people estimated 1 kg of meat per person when planning for a churrasco, and still nowadays, many apartment buildings, even the tiniest, have a built-in “churrasqueira” on their balcony. In most of Brazil, this is actually the only acceptable way to celebrate any major event, from birthdays to football finals to weddings.
My wedding was no exception. Loads of meat in all shapes and forms, not to mention the countless desserts heavily based on dairy and eggs. However, one guest at my wedding piqued my interest. My husband’s long time university friend came to the wedding with his lovely wife all the way from Ireland and that´s when I consciously saw a vegetarian for the first time in my life. I was intrigued by the fact that he had been a lifelong vegetarian, but also by the fact that he was so natural about it. Jacques [ author of this blog and website ] just kindly refused any dishes containing meat and never raised a ruckus. I admired him, the way you admire a Tibetan monk or a trapeze artist. You know, he is someone you´ll never be.
Soon after, our first son was born in Sweden, where we lived at the time. Trying to be true to my ecological beliefs, I bought cloth and compostable diapers and wooden toys. I also tried buying organic food as much as possible, mainly milk, which was one of the few organic products available back then. The back of the milk boxes explained why it was so important to have free roaming cows in Sweden (to keep the meadows from growing back to forests). The yoghurt packaging featured pictures of ancient leathery shepherds from the Balkans, revealing the secret to their longevity was yoghurt. I believed all of that and was happy and proud to be able to offer my son, after he was weaned, organic, wholesome cow’s milk and yoghurt. We also regularly ate many other typical Swedish dishes like marinated fish, meat balls and “blodpudding”, a very popular and inexpensive ham-shaped dish made of – yes, blood.
I thought we were doing all the right things, at least in our daily lives, but one day I read one of my husband´s books called Collapse, by Jared Diamond. This book has not left me since, and unfortunately, it is becoming more up-to-date and important by the day. Reading about the fate of the Greenlanders and the people on Easter Island, among others, resonated with me like no other movie, article or book had done before. It was not at all about veganism, but about the finitude of our resources and the different ways societies choose to deal with situations that bring them close to extinction. I started actively looking for books that would help me educate myself as I felt I needed to do something more. The next book that fell into my hands and made a deep impression on me was Fastfood Nation, by Eric Schlosser. It dealt mostly with the shady methods of the fastfood industry, mostly emphasizing the workers’ suffering, but for the first time I also read about the animals’ suffering.
A month before my third child was born in 2006 the historic UN report that stated that livestock accounts for 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions was released. That truly was a turning point for me. I realized that if I wanted to align my actions with my beliefs, I had to let go of meat.
I bought The Omnivore´s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, a book that also discusses the absurdity of our modern industrial food production, but draws the conclusion that the solution to the dilemma would be going back either to small-scale organic operations, where animals are treated “humanely”, or to hunt and gather the food yourself. By then, deep down I knew what I had to do, but the way there wasn’t easy. How does one become a Tibetan monk, right? I started by not buying any meat, but my husband, who did most of the cooking, still did. I stopped eating meat, so my husband started compensating the lack of meat with all sorts of cheeses. I eventually stopped eating dairy and eggs too, and then he had enough. He told me that if I wanted to pull that through I would have to learn how to cook vegan dishes, because he didn’t know what to cook for me anymore.
In 2011 I read another book, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, which, although advocating for small farms raising animals in a humane way just like Michael Pollan, it still made a positive impression on me, as it described the deep emotional connection we have with food and how difficult it is to change our habits. I asked my husband to read the book so he would understand what I was thinking and where I was headed. The ideas also resonated with him, but what finally won him over was the wonderful 2012 talk by Dr. Michael Greger “Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death”, which I highly recommend to everyone. We’ve both become big fans of Dr. Greger and are very thankful for all he does.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have my husband’s support, but I guess he realized he would have to hop on this bandwagon if he wanted to maintain a happy marriage. He’s now very proud of his vegan creations and loves sharing them with friends and family, always making sure to point out it’s all vegan.
I watched most of the documentaries and slaughterhouse footage that first shock and then inspire only after becoming vegan. They made it painfully clear to me that just being vegan is by far not enough, and that we owe it to the animals to liberate them from the eternal hell we make them go through. For a while, I participated in Anonymous for the Voiceless events in parks and crowded streets. Talking to people on the streets has helped me understand how people think and how best to win their sympathy for the cause. I certainly don’t do enough, but I try.
I must mention that I never forced my children to be vegan, as imposed ideas rarely work. I did, however, slowly phase out all animal products from our household (except durable goods like shoes that are not ready to be thrown away yet). Each child has a different approach to veganism, but overall they enjoy the food. They still find that social interactions with non-vegans are the most difficult situation to tackle, especially being invited to a friend’s house and having to refuse the food offered.
My journey began with an attempt to do something meaningful for the environment. Once I started learning more about it, the diet’s benefits for our health became evident and I only realized later the scale of the abuse that happens in all industries that exploit animals. Even though this was my last realization, it is certainly the strongest one.
While you might think that “cheating” occasionally is OK when your motivation is for health or for the environment, but for me it is not an option. When I think that this little exception, minutes of pleasure or even just seconds has ended an innocent and defenseless live, I cannot do it.”
This next piece is Felicitas’ attempt to shorten the original version above. I found them both very interesting, so with her permission, I included them both.
” It is hard to pinpoint when my journey to veganism began, as it was a (too) long process full of smaller insights. My initial motivation was the environment. I had always been interested in the subject, but reading Collapse, by Jared Diamond, gave me a true sense of how fragile our planet is. When I then read in the now famous UN report from 2006 that 18% of our greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, deep inside I knew I had to do my share and stop eating meat.
This certainly didn´t happen overnight, and having a family made things a bit more complicated, so I went the classical route of eliminating meat gradually, starting with red meat, then chicken, then fish. The same happened with eggs and dairy, cheese being the last and most difficult animal-based food I stopped eating. Every time I announced, ” from now on I won’t eat another item on the menu”, there was quite some eye rolling and frustration, as people didn´t know what to offer me anymore. I had to learn how to cook vegan dishes and always made sure to take at least one big vegan dish to parties.
Eventually my husband joined me (thanks, Dr. Greger!), his motivation being his health. At least at home we have all been vegan for about 8-9 years now. My husband and kids love vegan food, but find it difficult at times to refuse non-vegan dishes when in social situations, at parties or having lunch or dinner with customers. I’ve never forced them to be vegan. Imposed ideas are usually rejected, but my hope is that they will eventually find the motivation, courage and social acceptance to stick it out.
While I started out being concerned for the planet, my biggest motivation for being vegan nowadays is definitely freeing animals from the horrendous farming practices that have become the norm worldwide. I understand people who try to improve the lives of animals in these factory farms, but I think that the end goal must be to do away with these cruel industries altogether, as fast as possible.
I still care a lot about the environment, so I decided not to get rid of the animal-derived clothing and household items I still own, but rather to use them as long as I can. However, I totally understand people who think otherwise.
As with many other vegans, I have only one regret: not having become vegan earlier. “
Felicitas Kemmsies Curitiba, Brazil August 2020
A few comments by me …
Throughout much of my life I have not normally voiced my choice to be vegetarian unless asked … I just was. Those around me where sometimes interested, sometimes annoyed, at times almost aggressively so, often questioning my choice … few failed to notice the fact. But I did not know how it affected people and to hear Felicitas’ words I now know that just being vegetarian had more of an impact than I thought.
I was a vegetarian because I was brought up in a vegetarian family for whom it was an ethical choice. It was my life.
Today much has changed, my voice has grown louder… just ask people close to me. And this is what my Hungry Soul* is all about.
This happened after I became vegan. It was then that I read more, educated myself and understood better the implications of the meat / animal-based food industry.
This website is principally to help people change to a diet that does not contain animal products, one that is very tasty, very healthy and very easy to follow. So I share recipes to help that change and give tips and viewpoints to stimulate thought. HungrySoulPlantPower is about changing our world… one meal at a time.
*Hungry Soul – One who is hungry for nourishment of the body and soul, who is helping change the world … one meal at a time.”