Tammy’s story: How do you know if someone is vegan?

Today, Tammy shares her story of her vegan life and how it is rooted to something she witnessed in her childhood. An amazing friend for the past 20 years, she’s more recently become a great role model to me for veganism by doing absolutely nothing to convince me but living a life without consuming animals in any way. In fact, she never really announced it. I remember that she once mentioned in a text message that she had been ‘trying to eat a lot more vegetarian lately,’ and it was just by chance that when catching up over dinner in Toronto a couple of years later she alluded to going vegan as we were perusing the menu – at a regular restaurant that she chose in order to accommodate me, an omnivore (at the time). I’d had no idea that she had made the great leap from eating more veg to becoming a committed vegan. In Tammy’s typically understated way, it was with quiet passion that she changed her life. And now she is giving others something to think about by sharing her own thoughts and experiences here.

This is Tammy’s story:

How do you know if someone is vegan?

“Don’t worry, you’ll know.” Or so goes the punchline. Funny thing is, that used to bug me. The inference with that “joke” is that vegans are an obnoxious bunch. And yes, I’m sure that is sometimes true, just as there are obnoxious carnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians and whatever other dietary labels there are out there. The thing is, veganism is more than just a ‘diet’ for most of us. And we are passionate about the reasons why we are vegan and we truly believe that by sharing that passion we can introduce more people to this way of life, which I gotta say, is pretty fantastic.

So, how did I become vegan? I believe the seed was actually planted many years ago when I was a young girl spending part of my vacation on my uncle’s farm in Cayuga, Ontario. My Uncle’s farm was my favourite place to be back when I was a young girl. I was free to indulge in my favourite pastime: pretending that I was Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie books. How I loved Laura. I wanted to BE Laura. And having a farm, and pastures to roam made my fantasy play all that more realistic (the only thing I didn’t have was a bonnet and a calico dress)…but I digress.

I’ve always loved animals, and what better place for an animal-loving kid than a real bonafide farm? This was a dairy farm so there were cows aplenty and oh lord how I loved them. I named them. I stroked their soft, warm foreheads, looked into their big brown eyes, and let them suck on my hands with all the slobbery mess that entailed. I loved the barn cats, the goats, the dog (even though he inadvertently almost killed my brother….ah but that’s another story).

loving-mother-cow-and-calf1-2

During one of my annual summer visits, my uncle excitedly called me out to the field, a cow was giving birth!!! I was fixated, perched on the white fence that bordered the field, watching with fascination as the big blubbery, bloody sack was slowly protruding from the mama cows bum. When it finally fell with a ceremonious plop onto the ground, I watched as the mama cow licked away the mess. She licked. And she licked. And she licked. But there was a problem. Baby cow wasn’t moving. Her licks became more frantic and she started to nudge, gently at first, then more forcefully. We realized that this poor baby was stillborn. I was devastated. My uncle, used to this sort of thing, told my cousin to get the little tractor and take the poor baby away. It was really an awful sight that become burned onto my brain. Mama cow chased the tractor after it scooped up her baby’s lifeless little body, the most pathetic sounds emanating from her mouth. And for days following, she remained outside of the herd, slowly walking alongside the fence, head down. She truly looked forlorn. Depressed, even.

What became painfully obvious to my 8 year old eyes was that animals have feelings that are complex and real, just like ours are, as any domesticated pet owner will tell you.  However, I never once questioned the role of dairy cows in our modern lives. Even after I went vegetarian in my 30’s, I never once questioned the place of diary in our diets. To me, it was natural, like breathing air. Cows make milk. We drink it. Make cheese and ice cream with it. Everyone is happy. End of story. We NEED it to survive and thrive. Right?

I thought veganism was a form of self-inflicted torture….or only for the most self-righteous of extremists. Why not drink milk and eat eggs? That’s what cows and chickens are here for.

Fast forward to the fall of 2014. I had a brand new chubby cheeked dark haired baby girl in my arms. One day during my maternity leave my brother texted me to suggest I watch a documentary called Vegucated. “It’s eye-opening” he said. So, there I was, sunk into my couch, baby girl snuggled in and nursing in my arms. Pressed play, and my world changed forever. My eyes and my heart were opened. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s what happened. I would recommend this film to anyone. It’s not one of those preachy, in your face, gruesome vegan documentaries (which I believe have a place); it’s a relatively easy watch.  Until they got to the part about dairy farms. I’ll spare you the details, but there was a video in the documentary that shows the raw emotion that happens when mama cows and their babies are separated at birth (so that we can take their milk). I bawled. I made the connection (the memory from the farm bubbled to surface).

How could I enjoy this wonderful, amazing, bonding experience of nursing my baby, yet deny other sentient, emotional, intelligent beings that right?

I decided then and there that I would ‘try’ veganism.

You see, even then I thought ‘try’. I challenged my brother to a two-week vegan experiment. Let’s see who will last the longest! I said. I couldn’t imagine how I would get through two weeks TWO WEEKS! without cheese. Without eggs. It slowly started to unravel for me, just how much animal products go into the food we eat. Baked goods. Breakfast foods. Desserts. It truly is almost inescapable. Almost. With this realization I also started to think about things like population. How can we continue to feed the world’s population with all these animal based foods? Where are we going to find the room to keep all of these animals? And boom! awareness was born.

That was two years ago and I haven’t looked back. I can truly and honestly say, I feel more energy. I feel healthier. But most importantly, I feel ALIVE!! I am THRIVING on this vegan diet. I truly am. I’m connected with a passionate group of individuals that believe in this cause. I’m invigorated and I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. I feel like I’m making a difference. I feel like I have some control over this mess of a planet we’re handing down to our children and grandchildren. It’s not the only answer. But, to me, it’s a big one.  I encourage anyone to try it out.  Take a baby step, say one day a week and let us know how you find it?  I’ll be passing on some tips and favourite vegan recipes to tempt you to stick with it.

What a moving and motivating story. Thank you for sharing, Tammy!

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