It’s a long story, but it’s a good story. I promise. 🙂
It all started in a church. Or in a university classroom. Or on a bus. It depends on how you look at it.
Growing up as a Seventh-day Adventist, and particularly being in Pathfinders, I was well acquainted with vegetarianism and its benefits, even though my family and I were not vegetarians. Adventists are very health-oriented people. In fact, if there is one thing for which Adventists are well known, it’s for their health and longevity. One of the central tenets is the “health message” — inspiration from the Bible made clearer and more accessible by one of the founders of the church named Ellen G. White. The health message is wisdom imparted to the Seventh-day Adventist church (and all other interested hearers) so that they can basically be the healthiest God intended them to be. It includes getting regular exercise, drinking lots of water regularly, getting regular sleep, surrounding oneself with fresh air, and trusting in God, as well as abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, vinegar, and unclean meats such as pork, lobster, oysters, shrimp – basically animals that don’t chew their cud and have split hooves, animals with webbed feet, or fish that do not have scales. For those who choose to adhere to White’s counsel more closely, it also includes privileging a vegetarian diet above an omnivorous diet. Approximately 50% of all Adventists are vegetarians.
I say all that to say that I was used to being surrounded by vegetarians. Church functions and potlucks usually served vegetarian fare. All institutions managed by the church — schools, universities, hospitals, nursing homes and outdoor camps — serve only vegetarian food. In Pathfinders, our director also happened to be the health ministries department leader at church, so we only ever ate vegetarian food. I guess this was one of the reasons why it was easier for me to become a vegetarian – there wasn’t a lot of meat for me to give up on my part (besides chicken, turkey, fish, and occasionally beef), and I knew that tasty vegetarian dishes existed. Still, when I was younger, that was not enough to convince me to be a vegetarian.
I considered myself a proud carnivore. I couldn’t imagine a meal without meat. I ate chicken or fish pretty much every day. A sandwich without meat was not a sandwich – it was just two plain, boring slices of bread with some kind of sad vegetarian substitute for meat in between. And I didn’t like vegetables. What’s more, as a child of Jamaican parents, I couldn’t imagine a life without curry goat or oxtail or saltfish. So although I knew the benefits of being a vegetarian, I wasn’t having it. That was soon to change.
When I was in my first year of undergrad, I took a course called “Moral Questions and Social Policies.” I loved that course (my final grade was an A+). It was basically an introduction to applied philosophy. Among many other topics, we discussed utilitarianism and deontology and environmental ethics and animal ethics. It was the latter that really got me interested. Our instructor posted links on her website about factory farming and we watched movies about it as well. We also discussed the philosophical arguments for and against eating animals. Philosophically, environmentally and ethically, it became clear to me that it eating animals wasn’t justifiable. It was also from this course that I learned what was really in cow’s milk and that was enough to make me stop drinking milk altogether, electing for soy milk instead. It was this course that convinced me to become a vegetarian, at least incrementally. But, save for switching to soy milk, I still continued on piously eating my beloved meat.
My resolve to eat meat seemed to have solidified even more when I moved to Montreal to go to law school and found myself surrounded by, not vegetarians, but vegans at the new church that I attended. I had never met a stauncher bunch of Seventh-day Adventist young people in my life, and they all took the health message seriously. The church even had a policy prohibiting the bringing of meat on church property. I smuggled in my chicken sandwich anyways. There was no shame in my game.
One Sabbath, after a few friends and I visited a Haitian/Francophone church for worship, we boarded a bus to go to another friend’s house for lunch. I jokingly mentioned how I hoped that that person cooked meat for lunch. I should’ve known better than to say that. All of my friends immediately turned their heads or raised their eyebrows and looked up from their phones. What was supposed to be a joke or a conversation starter at most turned into an intense Bible study as my friends whipped out their Bibles as we sat at the rear of the bus. I reiterated the fact that I was a proud carnivore. One of my friends asked me, “Crois-tu en excellence?” (Do you believe in excellence?). His point was that even though being a vegetarian was not mandatory, as Christians we should aspire to the best standard of health possible, which inevitably included a vegetarian diet. I was pretty much like, “Whatever.” I believed (and still do believe) that one can worship God and eat meat. A change in diet is not a prerequisite for salvation.
We finally got to our friend’s house for lunch where we met up with more friends. There was no meat, as I had suspected, but lunch was good. Afterwards, we decided that we would do a Bible study together. One person suggested that since we were talking about health on our way there, we should study the health message. Everyone thought it was a great idea, whereas I was thinking, “Oh boy. Look at what I started…”
Up until that point, I had never actually done a Bible study on health before. This study really opened my eyes and I learned a lot. God originally gave the first humans nuts and grains and fruits as food. Vegetables came later. God only allowed meat to be eaten as food after the flood because there was no vegetation. It was His permissive will, but not His perfect will. Moreover, after eating a simple diet of vegetables and water, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ended up ten times wiser and looked better than those fed on the rich cuisine of King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1). There seemed to be something to this plant-based diet after all.
Then someone who I consider as both my mentor and my friend gave her testimony about when she became vegan. She said she felt better and was able to exercise more self-control and her marks in law school improved dramatically. That’s what got me. If becoming a vegetarian would make me do better in school and look better, then I decided that I had nothing to lose. In other words, I decided to try.
Needing accountability partners and wanting to share my epiphany with my friends, I took to Facebook, writing this status:
“I, Simone Samuels, heretofore a proud carnivore, hereby declare that I will become a vegetarian. I NEED to become a vegetarian. Pray for me y’all. *Sighs heavily*”
Oodles of friends immediately pledged their support by liking my status and sending me vegetarian recipes! What astounded me the most though was that even Doug Batchelor commented on my status:
Doug Batchelor is a well-known author, pastor and evangelist with a international television ministry called Amazing Facts. We are friends on Facebook, but it’s not like we are even friends in real life. We don’t even interact on Facebook. So the fact that my status showed up in his newsfeed was kind of strange and kind of a big deal, especially since he has around 5000 friends on Facebook. He also rarely comments on other people’s statuses or even comments on his own page. The fact that he commented on my status was an even bigger deal. Many of my Adventist friends told me that this was God’s way of confirming my decision. I took it to be a sign as well.
I then started to do my research. The goal initially was to become a lacto-ovo vegetarian. But I never even liked eggs, even when I was a meat-eater, so I thought that I could technically become a lacto-vegetarian. But then again, I had stopped drinking milk for a while, so I was more like a cheese-vegetarian. It was then that I realized that the only difference between me and a vegan was that I ate cheese. I decided to go all the way and eliminate cheese from my diet too.
So now I’m a quasi-vegan/transitioning vegan. If I’m out with friends or at another relative’s house and there are baked goods that have egg and milk in them, I’ll still eat ’em. I still use honey and I still wear wool and other animal products (I don’t wear leather though). It would be hard to be a strict vegan, especially if I ever want to have a social life. So I give myself some flexibility. I actually call myself a “flexitarian.”
My family and friends – Adventist and non-Adventist alike – have been uber supportive. Whenever we go out, they always make sure to choose vegan-friendly places. If I am invited over, they make sure that there is something there that I can eat (I have the best friends ever!). And when I come home to visit my family, my Mom always cooks something that is vegan-friendly and makes sure that Silk soy milk is in the fridge (thanks Mom!).
Have I seen any changes? People say I look better. I have lost weight. My skin looks healthier. I think I even look a little younger. I no longer feel tired and lethargic like I would when I ate something with meat in it. My hair is growing like a weed (I don’t know if this is a caused by a change in diet though). I admit — I have had a few relapses, but I cut myself some slack. Now, even if I try to rebel and have a slice of cheese pizza, my esophagus starts to spasm and I feel ill. So my body has adapted. My palate has also changed. I just feel really good about not contributing to the callous slaughter of animals or the destruction of the environment and that I’m living my best life possible. I have no regrets!
Update (March 2014):
In the summer of 2013, I hired a personal trainer. I wanted to get ripped. We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot of stuff but I lost 0 pounds. Zilch. Nada. The needle on the scale actually went forward instead of backward (I try to console myself and tell myself it was muscle gain, but that was only part of the truth).
Why wasn’t I losing weight? I had struggled with my weight my whole life and yet felt like I had to try harder to maintain my weight compared to everyone else I knew. Upon the suggestion of my chiseled and muscular younger brother, I decided to see a nutritionist. Reflecting upon my family history, I thought my thyroid was the culprit. That was a catalyst for a chain of visits to the doctor’s office, finding pieces of the puzzle and trying to put them together, all the while wondering if some of them were meant to fit in the first place.
To make a very long story short (because it really is a long story), after seeing my family doctor, two nutritionists, a naturopathic physician, an endocrinologist and an immunologist, I found out that I am extremely allergic to something. This blog will reflect this new development in my journey.