“You’re Really Gonna Eat That?” Becoming Vegan

I was very interested by the movie, a documentary, which I had heard about, Shark Water by Ron Stewart.

Sue's Bull
Taken by Sue Vaile during our trip to New Zealand.

I’m not sure what caught my attention about it or why I really wanted to see it. In fact, I am absolutely terrified of sharks and always wonder, each and every time I enter the ocean, if I am going to face a shark. I just knew it was a documentary which I was really into at that time, and it was currently in the theaters, the spring I think, 2006.

Watching that movie changed my consciousness. I left the theater, abhorred and disgusted with the way man treats animals, all for the sake of money. As we left that theater, I looked at Sue and said “I don’t want to participate in the killing of these, or any animals.” I said “I don’t want to eat any animals ever again.” She looked at me and said “So, I guess that means we are not stopping at McDonald’s for dinner?” Little did either of us know how impactful that little statement I made would become in our lives.

I went home and researched. I Checked out PETA, which by the way, is an absolutely bad choice. It ingrained my developing vegan philosophy even further. However, it was their videos that I couldn’t really get out of my head,. You can’t unwatch something. So, I went to my book shelf, dusted off my book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Lappe, which I had purchased back in the 80’s when I was vegetarian, and tried to figure out how to eat without any animal products.

It was as quick and easy as that. In a moment of clarity, I made a decision to live my life differently and then I spent all my time enforcing that decision through all my actions. It’s that singleness of purpose that I learned through AA. One of my oldest and dearest friends, who knows me so well, just shrugged her shoulders when I told her and said “Well that’s just like you. Set your mind to it and it’s done.”

What was really interesting was the reaction of most folks to my proclamation that I was vegan. People responded to this information with open hostility, blaming, condemnation and challenging my conviction. “Are those leather shoes you’re wearing?” “Vegans are sickly.”  “Are you really going to eat that? It looks disgusting!” “You’re anaemic, so you can’t be vegan!” The interesting thing was I did not discuss it with people. I wasn’t one of those PETA-type people, who admonish everyone for their meat choices as we sit in a group ordering dinner. I never lambasted anyone for their contribution to animal suffering. It was a very deep conviction for me, a very personal choice and one I did not want to discuss. I understood it was my choice and not yours. I didn’t want to convince, convert or cajole anyone to my way of living. I was just overcome with the idea of animal suffering just to be a food source for us. So, I wasn’t bringing it up and I actually refused to discuss it over dinner. If you really wanted to know why I did this, I would discuss it after we’ve all eaten. I was not in this to change anyone. Only myself.

I didn’t know how to cook vegan and I was scared I might not get enough nutrients. So I researched and found a vegan food delivery service in my area. I received two small meals and a soup every week. But most importantly, I received an ingredient card with the instructions of how it was made. Bingo. Exactly what I needed. Through this I learned how to cook for myself. The interesting thing is that whenever I cooked my meals, both my mom and Sue would be like, “That smells really good. What is it?” As soon as I told them it was vegan food and would offer them some, they both would screw up their nose in disgust and decline. Go figure. Resistance.

That first Thanksgiving was hard on Sue. I told her I would cook the dinner. I did not tell her we were having tofurkey, or even what it was. It came with a mushroom gravy sauce. Sue doesn’t like mushrooms. But she was good, and she tried it and ate it in support of me. I think secretly she liked it but wouldn’t say it aloud, because at other occasions, Christmas and Easter, she would just ask if we were having tofurkey without any complaints. Truth was, I missed having turkey most of all!

The hardest was attending the police college as a vegan. Every officer in Ontario must be trained under the same standards and so for about four months, we all live at the the college. I was assigned special menu #1, so whenever I went to the cafeteria, I would say “I’m #1″and besides the affirmation, I would get my very own food. At the college, the biggest hurdle is getting enough protein. The courses are intense, the time schedule more intense and the physical workouts and activities are just over-the-top. At least for this 42 year old it was. So to supplement, there are eggs. Hard boiled, scrambled, poached, fried, and even raw. The boys grabbed these by the half dozen each meal and were still dropping weight drastically.

So, here I am in the line-up, about a month into the program. When it’s my turn, I say “I’m #1,” and the server goes and dishes up my food. Now don’t forget it’s a vegan meal. But everyone behind me is fed-up and bored with their food which just repeats each week. I, however, have been receiving gourmet different foods every day, no repetition. So they come up behind me and say “I’ll have what she is having,” only to be told no, they can’t have it. Talk about trying to make friends! But the worse day was yet to come. Here I was standing in line, when the chef came out to me. He told me he was vegan himself and he has been so excited to finally cook for another vegan, yahoo! Then he asks me how the food has been and if there’s something I want him to add. I then tell him, as my mouth starts to drool, that I miss black beans and corn with Mexican spices and beans and rice done with the deep southern states spices. He advises me he will make that for the next meal and I thank him as he returns to the kitchen. I then become aware of someone starring at me, hard. I turn around to find not one, but an entire line-up of people starring, no glaring and glowering harshly at me. I knew right then and there, they hated me. I heard the sound of ‘slop’ on someone’s plate who was being served and I went to find a seat. Today, it was alone. For safety.

So, when did it all end? About four to five years after it started. I was vegan for about the first year or so as an officer out on the road. My staff, a hunter, always had to show me photos and tell me the stories of his kills when he’d return from a hunting trip. People just couldn’t help themselves. It strikes a nerve for some, actually most. As one friend put it “I don’t want to be reminded that my food has a face. That’s just too close. When I look at you, knowing your vegan, I remember that.” However, it was becoming increasingly more and more difficult to maintain being vegan. By it’s very nature, 911 work is unpredictable and you can’t always heat up a home made meal. I was trying to join the new ranks of the boys club and I had so many things that, just made me different. I was female. I was much older. I was gay. I was a vegan. It was just too much, and so the decision to go back to meat was made. There was no one more happy than Sue!

So in an instance of clarity, a decision and path were born. Through my understanding of AA’s singleness of purpose, I maneuvered everything in my daily life to support that lifestyle change. It is that kind of focus that makes us successful. I know, Sue still calls it obsessive. Whatever it may be called, it is the means by which I achieve my goals, support my decisions and overcome my obstacles.

It was also the philosophy which later led me to becoming a police officer and later, a photographer. Singleness of purpose.

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