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Is It Hard Being Vegan?

Kathy Freston is the author of the New York Times bestselling The One: Discovering the Secrets of Soul Mate Love, Expect a Miracle: Seven Spiritual Steps to Finding the Right Relationship, and most recently Quantum Wellness (Weinstein Books). She has produced a popular series of guided meditation CDs on relationships, healing the body, creating prosperity, losing weight, and de-stressing. Her work has been featured in Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Self, W, and Fitness, among other publications, and she has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, Good Morning America, The Early Show, and The Martha Stewart Show.

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I am often asked if it’s hard being vegan. People tend to look at me quizzically when they notice I’m not digging into the chicken offered at a barbeque or when I request soy milk at a diner to put in my tea or atop my oatmeal. They wonder how I stay disciplined and say no to all the traditional foods we all grew up with. “It’s easy,” I tell them; “I saw some undercover videotapes of factory farms and slaughterhouses and I lost my appetite for meat and dairy.”

This did not happen automatically or all at once, by the way. At first I suspected that the videos were a one-off, a tool of propaganda for animal advocacy organizations. Until I learned that every single time someone goes undercover, abuses are discovered. But beyond the egregious abuses that beg comprehension are the everyday practices that are uniform in the meat industry, not denied at all, legal—and still highly disturbing.

Egg laying hens crammed into small cages with an industry average of five or six other birds for their entire lives, unable to stretch their wings or turn comfortably. Pigs have their tails cut off, their testicles cut out, their ears and teeth mutilated. Mother pigs are kept in barren crates for most of their lives, living in their own waste, going insane from lack of mental stimulation. They nurse their piglets in similar small crates where they can, again, barely move; they can’t nuzzle their piglets or do anything they would like to do.

Chickens and turkeys make up more than 98 percent of all slaughtered land animals in North America, and yet their slaughter is completely unregulated—they have no Federal legal protection, and the way they are all killed would be totally illegal if they were cattle or pigs—the level of standard chicken and turkey slaughter abuse has to be seen to be believed. The sights and sounds on those tapes ring in my ears even now.

It’s not that I have a righteous or long-standing sense of ethics; this awareness of how food gets to my plate and how I participate in the process (or not) is actually fairly new for me. I struggled with this decision, this new way of eating.

My family and I ate meat at least twice a day every day for my entire childhood. And I loved every bite. I loved the regularity of steaks on Sunday and burgers on Saturday and spaghetti with meat sauce somewhere in between. I loved how I fit in with all my friends’ families; we had neighborhood cook outs and school picnics and as I got older my pals and I would stop by the Waffle House for bacon and eggs before school. And I never liked vegetables, so meat was the mainstay.

But at a certain point, I had to wake up. I had to at least realize that if I wanted to keep eating the way I was used to, that I was saying “yes” to the cruelty I had witnessed. That with every bite of an animal I ate, I was turning my face away from suffering and saying, “I don’t care.” And that’s the problem with being conscious: it’s inconvenient. Open eyes and an open heart means that you see things and feel them. And then you have to make a decision. But what I’ve discovered with this awareness is that there comes with it a sense of joyful responsibility. It’s empowering to know I can say, “No thank you.” Easy as that.

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