I'll tell you.
It began for one simple reason and has evolved into something more complex.
My heart grew exponentially and, at the same time, melted the first moment I held my son, Avie, as we lay skin-to-skin and gazed into one another’s eyes after a 20-hour home birth. I began to feel compassion and love in ways I had never felt before. Needless to say, those feelings continue to expand as each day with my son, now 20 months, unfolds.
Further, our connection is made deeper by our breastfeeding relationship. We are intertwined and in tune with one another in an innate, naturally synchronized, special way. I provide food for my nursling, and this bond nourishes our spirits and souls. Nothing can replace the feelings transpired from a mother/nursling connection.
With that said, breastfeeding has been the major change agent for my conversion to veganism, although my journey toward plant-based eating began long before motherhood.
In second grade, herbivorous Brontosaurus was my favorite dinosaur. He seemed nice to me, a seven-year-old, because he didn’t eat his fellow creatures. Was I a natural born herbivore, too?
During high school and college and throughout my twenties, I became an on-again, off-again vegetarian who often experimented with vegan eating for reasons related to compassion for animals to optimum running performance.
A complete conversion to veganism happened when I became a stay-at-home, breastfeeding mom with a toddler. Avie began suffering from infrequent bowels and severe constipation at five months old. His father and I treated the problem with countless home remedies, naturopathic pediatrician recommendations, suppositories, massage, Rolfing, reflexology, acupressure and various diet changes, all of which provided temporary relief.
As his attempted bowel movements spanned days at a time, accompanied by blood, sweat, tears and lost sleep, a light switch came on. I knew that what I ate mattered because of breastfeeding and that what I cooked and served in our home mattered because that’s what my son ate, too. Subsequently, in August 2014, when Avie was 14 months old, I decided to eliminate all animal products (eggs, meat, fish and dairy) from our diets.
We went vegan. He began to poop. Rejoice!
Thus, the answer to the question “Why vegan?” was simple. “Because my son poops!” This was my solid, compelling reason for switching to veganism, one that I could confidently express to anyone who asked.
Now, however, my answer to this question becomes more complex.
Most recently, while reading Vegan for Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, the growing compassion and love accompanying motherhood, which I mentioned at the beginning of my story, began to surface, this time for animal mothers and their offspring, because of the following excerpt:
“Everyone knows that chickens make great moms. They cluck and fuss all day long over their eggs and then over
their fuzzy little hatchlings. It’s where we got the term mother hen, after all. Hens on egg farms never even get to see those babies, though. They sit in cramped cages, dropping their precious eggs onto a conveyor belt. Or if they’re “free-range,” they spend their entire lives in crowded windowless sheds.
It’s the same on dairy farms. Cows give birth every year; they have to in order to continue producing milk. But that milk is for profit, not for nourishing their own babies, so the calves are separated from their mothers within hours of birth. The males, often still on wobbly legs, are sold at auction to be raised in veal crates or for beef. On pig farms, breeder pigs get to see their babies and even nurse them, but they do so through the bars of a tiny crate. Some of them never leave that crate until they are too old to produce any more piglets and are trucked off to the slaughterhouse.
It’s hard to reconcile those kinds of stories with the ones we all grew up with-where animal families live happily on farms and baby animals play in fields and are fed and kept warm by their mothers. But the reality of modern farming is this: continuous exploitation of female reproduction, so that mother animals can produce babies, eggs and milk, all for human consumption. They are forced to do it over and over until they are too tired or sick to be profitable and then they are sent to slaughter. These are the lives of female animals whether farms are owned by a corporation or a family, and it’s true even in the production of organic eggs, dairy and meat.“
This breaks my heart. With that said, I credit breastfeeding for leading me to veganism, and motherhood for flourishing love and compassion, which will keep me vegan long after our breastfeeding days are gone. Moreover, I'm certain that my reasons will expand and grow as we continue our vegan journey.