Throughout my life, I have been an introvert. I’ve always relished solitude, and preferred small groups to large crowds. I dreaded public speaking and hesitated to express my opinion, especially if it conflicted with others. This is a story of how I transformed from someone who avoided public speaking to becoming empowered to express what matters deeply to me.
I initially chose a career in journalism because of my love for writing. However, I discovered that news reporting did not fit my reserved nature. I was fascinated by psychology, and changed majors in the middle of my junior year of college. I went on to complete a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology.
Now, a few decades later, I am grateful for this heart-guided choice. I found work that I loved and that fit with my interests, gifts, and introspective nature. However, the day-to-day demands of my work as a psychotherapist didn’t leave much time or energy to pursue my dream of writing. And looking back, perhaps I was not yet inspired to overcome the perceived obstacles.
But then I learned about something that became so meaningful, compelling, and life-changing, it has continued to impact me and to make me more fully human, more fully me. It gave me a sense of purpose and passion to make a difference. And over time, I came to realize that it impacts all of humanity, including physical health, emotional and spiritual well-being, and the survival of the planet. No longer could I keep this to myself as a private revelation.
This discovery started in December 2006, a few weeks after my 40th birthday. I was watching a program on PBS which had a segment featuring workers in a meat processing plant. These employees endured difficult working conditions and frequent occupational injuries. They were coerced not to report their injuries but rather to continue working or face the threat of losing their jobs and income. The program did not show any gory details of “meat processing,” but I was deeply unsettled. Maybe it particularly struck me because at the time, I was employed in a pain management program, working with patients who suffered devastating emotional, physical, and financial impacts from work-related injuries.
I also recognized that if I didn’t like how the workers were treated, I would be appalled if I saw the slaughter process or how the animals were treated. For the first time in my life, I began to consider the systems that produced my food.
Obviously, on some level I knew that meat came from animals and that they were killed in order to become what I called food. However, like many of us, I was very disconnected from this process. Although I grew up in Iowa, surrounded by farms, I didn’t know about factory farming. I knew only a few vegetarians, and I didn’t understand why anyone would choose that lifestyle. At that time, I wasn’t much of a cook, and I ate a lot of microwave meals and comfort foods. I couldn’t imagine taking on the effort of cooking and meal planning, much less learning how to eat and cook in an entirely new way.
After watching the PBS program, a door of possibility opened. The very next day, I went to Barnes and Noble, bought my first vegetarian cookbook, and tried out a recipe for roasted red pepper and artichoke lasagna. Because I was such a novice at cooking, I had to drive to K-Mart mid-way through the recipe to purchase appropriate pots and pans. The lasagna turned out to be delicious, full of vibrant colors and sumptuous flavors. I shared it with my boyfriend’s family, and it got rave reviews. Wow, who knew I could cook?
I went on to read every book in my local library about vegetarianism. I read about plant-based nutrition, to make sure I was covering all of my nutritional bases. I also read about the ethical and environmental impact of animal agriculture. I found myself captivated, and at times horrified, by what I was learning.
At first, I still ate meat when it was served at social gatherings. However, at home I was eating vegetarian, and for the first time in my life, found that I enjoyed cooking. I realized I had never liked handling meat, but thought that it was necessary for my health and well being. I began going to the health food store and buying spices and condiments I had never used before. I expanded my food palette and found new freedom, joy, and creativity.
I continued reading about vegetarian ethics and lifestyle. Gradually, I took in that despite what my upbringing and culture had taught me, I did not need meat to thrive physically. I learned that plant-based diets have been shown to reverse heart disease, diabetes, and many forms of cancer and auto-immune disease. But what impacted me the most were the stories about how the animals are bred, raised, and slaughtered, and the cruelty and pain inherent in every step of the process. At that point, I knew I needed to speak my truth: “I’m no longer eating meat.”
A Deeper Commitment
Over the months and years following my decision to be vegetarian, I came to understand that all forms of animal products involve pain and cruelty. I started to limit dairy products, and discovered that I was free of chronic seasonal allergies when I did so. I knew that becoming vegan was the right next step for me to more fully honor my deepest values. And yet, in spite of my desire to embrace veganism, at times a kind of hypnosis took over, where I felt myself pulled back into eating what was familiar. And since dairy and eggs are often “invisible” components of baked goods and other foods, I found it hard to explain my decision to not partake in these foods at social gatherings.
I knew I needed support, and so once again, I turned to reading. Books such as The 30 Day Vegan Challenge and Main Street Vegan helped me with many practical skills for living a vegan lifestyle: How to make delicious breakfasts and baked goods without eggs; how to find cruelty free cosmetics and cleaning products; and where to buy shoes and coats not made from leather, wool, or down. I also learned skills for communicating with others about my choices.
I took in the reality that the living conditions for dairy cows and egg-laying hens are as cruel as those endured by animals raised for meat, and that at the end of their relatively short lives, they go through the same slaughter process. Gradually, I broke through the deep layers of emotional disconnection and social conditioning. At that point, there was no going back.
Finding My Voice
Speaking up does not come easily or naturally to me. Yet my passion for veganism, for animals, for our health, and for the environment compels me to do so. Most of all, I long to share the freedom and joy I have found through a plant-powered lifestyle. When I stopped eating animals and embraced the bounty of the plant kingdom, I became freed in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I was freed from past food preferences, habits, and addictions that weren’t healthy for me. I was freed from the subconscious weight of killing sentient beings for my daily sustenance.
Veganism is a path of listening to our heart’s guidance to extend compassion to all of creation. We have the power to vote for what we believe in through how we spend our money and what we choose to eat. Each day, through these choices, we can honor our deepest values of vibrant health and well-being, a thriving planet, and compassion and justice for all.
Interested in moving toward a plant-based diet? Check out these resources and book recommendations for guidance, information, and support.
Angela Crawford, Ph.D. is a psychologist, transformational coach, and vegan lifestyle educator.