As a part of a service at Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship called "Sustenance," I was asked to speak on veganism and spirituality for about five minutes. This is what I said:
My name is Tesa. My family and I practice veganism. What does that mean? Usually the answer involves a whole list of no-nos. No eating beef, chicken, pork, turkey, fish, eggs, dairy, or animal products in general. But I have to tell you, while it might sound limiting to many people, we don’t really feel that way. Instead of focusing on what we don’t eat, let’s talk about what we DO eat. We love vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, nondairy cheeses and milks, and cupcakes. Lots of cupcakes.
For us, being vegan is a very joyful and peaceful way of life. It is also our spiritual path, although we didn’t realize that when we took the first steps. We started off from a place of poor health. By age 30, my husband, Matthew, was on prescription medication for high cholesterol. This meant regular trips to the doctor to manage the medications and to test his liver for possible damage. Since his dad died at 49 from heart disease, we were feeling the fear of inheriting the past and not being around for our children. The idea of Matthew being on this medication for the rest of his life wasn’t great either. We decided to try another route.
We did lots of learning and decided that giving up beef would be a good place to start. This was one way to reduce the risk of heart disease. The more we read and researched, the more we realized there were other issues with eating any type of meat, such as animal suffering, water consumption, and pollution. Within a few months, we expanded to being pescatarian, meaning the only meat we ate was fish. While this was somewhat comforting to us to keep some perceived normalcy in our diet, it felt good to continue on and move to veganism. It was also very rewarding to watch Matthew get multiple blood tests that showed that he no longer needed to take those cholesterol medicines.
For us, this journey to vegetarianism and ultimately veganism was a lot like finding a religion. It was a personal journey that we felt happy about, but others had a hard time understanding. It brought up strong emotions for friends and family and polarized some of our closest relationships. Social events left us feeling like outsiders when our preferences didn’t match others’, such as at a barbeque. We had to commit to defining our ideals and ourselves. We were those nonalcoholic vegans in the corner, sipping on a Sprite and making plans to go to dinner after the event. But like good UUs, a difference in opinion didn’t keep us from going to the party. We learned how to enjoy ourselves in those situations and respect everyone’s freedom to choose what they eat.
The commitment not to eat animal products honors several spiritual ideas and guides. The first rule of magick is do no harm. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We should extend these ideas to animals. For some reason, society thinks it’s okay to keep a pig, cow, or chicken in a tight cage its entire life until it is killed and eaten. However, we routinely punish people who do this to dogs and cats. For many vegetarians and vegans, all animals have worth and deserve to live a life free from suffering. Animal lives matter, too.
The Seventh UU principle is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Growing plants for food is less taxing on the environment. Growing plants for food uses much less water and fossil fuel than growing meat. Growing plants for food creates fewer emissions and can feed more people per square acre of land. It helps us use the land more efficiently, therefore preserving natural resources for generations to come.
In addition to this being our spiritual path, it is also our social action. Every meal gives us an opportunity to support our beliefs and our commitment to the environment.
And I know that eating vegan sounds pretty extreme to a lot of people. It did to us before we started this journey. Believe me, we never thought we’d do it. But now that we’re here, we don’t want to turn back. I recently saw an image on Instagram that summed it up quite nicely: Nothing tastes as good as vegan feels. We don’t miss the bacon or the steaks. Instead, we feel so much peace in this lifestyle. It blends well with our belief system. It is our spiritual path, social action, and our way to better health.
I’d also like to mention that there are a variety of ways to make a positive change without having to go all in. The Humane Society supports Meatless Mondays. That’s a great way to try vegetarian food and wrap your head around other options for your meals. Author Mark Bittman wrote a book called Vegan Before Six. He advocates eating vegan before six o’clock as a way to reduce meat consumption. If you’re curious about trying vegan fare at local Denton restaurants, visit my blog at dentonvegan.com for a helpful list of where to go. Or just befriend a vegan and talk to them with an open mind and heart. And when you throw a party, keep the hummus coming. We’re always grateful!
I have this amazing friend and honorary sister. She challenges me with things she's learned from talented authors who inspire her. One of the things she asks me is, "Which choice feels like freedom?" People ask me sometimes why our family makes this choice every day to live this vegan lifestyle. I know they have our best interests at heart. They worry about our health, or our kids being outcasts because they don't eat the cake at the party. For us this is what makes sense, because in the words of my Spiral Diner t-shirt, it "taste(s) like freedom."
There are also benefits that we don't see much in our lives. A simple Google search will turn up plenty of facts and figures, as well as emotional stories. For us, we started reducing red meat for our health. It snowballed from there. The more we researched and learned, the better we felt about going plant-based. Everyone has their own journey, and it doesn't need to match ours. People need to search for what works for them. For us, this is our peace.
Just in case anyone is tempted to pity us about what we're doing without, consider for a moment what we have gained: