Becoming Vegan and Finding Integrity

Four weeks ago, I decided to go vegan.

When I became single four and a half years ago, I stopped eating meat. I had wanted to do this for many years – since I was eight years old and watched a beautiful, frightened pig being murdered. Once I decided to make this compassionate change, transition to being a vegetarian was quite fast, except for fish, which was the last thing to go. Going vegan is an entirely different scenario, as it takes added effort to figure out what things we purchase have animals in them.

When people ask me why I went vegetarian (and now vegan), I am often hesitant to respond. In reality, many people don’t want to know, but want to use this question as a springboard to defend their own fallacious position. When I do respond, I either keep it very short and say, “compassion” or – if the person seems genuinely interested – I mention three reasons (animals, the environment and personal health). I then say that while my choice was based on compassion for other beings, it is also nice to know that I am helping to save the planet and improving my own health. Excellent collateral benefits!

Regarding my health – while I noticed myself being less sluggish when I stopped eating meat, the effects were not nearly as dramatic as I have noticed since going vegan four weeks ago. For one, the weight is just dropping off me. I would guess I have lost 8 – 10 kilos in four weeks. Pants I couldn’t get a single leg in four weeks ago, I can now wear.

What else? My cognitive dissonance about trying to be compassionate for animals, while still consuming them in butter, milk, cheese, etc. is gone. It is difficult to hold contrary ideas in one’s head. When we try to do so, we tend to want to ignore one view, pushing our focus onto the contrary view that we prefer. This is cognitively a lot of work. We are not then able to sit with ideas or ourselves, but are constantly defending the wall to the castle of our protected views. We find it difficult to be honest with ourselves about other things, because we know that we are protecting views that – if allowed to be truly examined – would not stand under scrutiny.

So, in addition to my health benefits, what else has changed? I have greater peace of mind. My meditation practice is further improved. I am taking comfort in being true to myself and in knowing that I am not causing the suffering of countless living beings.

We tend to use the word “integrity” to mean “moral”, but there is another meaning. Think about the use of this word in engineering – structural integrity. This relates to wholeness, consistency (e.g. it is desirable for a ship to be consistently strong – one weak section and the ship sinks). To say that a person has integrity could mean that they are moral, but at an arguably deeper level, it can be mean that they are consistent. Their views and actions are in harmony. I personally prefer this use of the word. When I stopped eating other beings, I realised greater integrity within myself.

When I look at the top choices of my life, the decision to go vegan is in the top four. It is also nice watching my weight returning to what it was when I was 18.

Wishing you the best of mental health!

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