Living on the surface of things has never appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in finding meaning and living a life that is considerate and honest. Self-awareness is something else that means a lot to me and is an extension of honesty. I think the combination of these values meant that when I learned about the suffering of non-human beings within the food industry, I could not deny myself of that truth. I could not engage with practices that inflict unnecessary harm. I was so shocked by all of my newly found information that I tried to tell all of my friends about it. I thought that they’d be shocked and disgusted just as I was. I’m sure anyone could guess that this didn’t go down like I thought. I seemed to get really confrontational reactions. People thought I was trying to convert them. I can understand how that conclusion was reached in retrospect, but at the time I just thought “these are good, ethical, genuine people, why don’t they want to know what they’re paying for?”
It broke my heart. But I approached everyone in the wrong way. I was so passionate and hurt by my own actions that I took it out on everyone else. A little bit later I eased up. Apparently, that was a normal ‘new vegan’ frame of mind.
Fast forward 3 years and most of the people I pissed off with my aggressive vegan speeches, are now either vegetarian, vegan, or eating a very low level of animal products.
This is not because I got angry with them or tried to push documentaries of animal slaughter on them. It’s because they saw me living my life happily and fully. It’s because they joined me at all my favourite vegan restaurants and tasted how good plants can be (also the health documentaries and ethical living trend probably helped convince them too). They saw love in my actions and saw that I was not giving up anything, but that I was expanding my own compassion. I gained something. I became more myself. I allowed myself to truly love animals and not just pets. I learned to include more beings in my realm of empathy. It was like I was erasing the boundaries between myself and other beings once I decided not to eat them. I didn’t know or intend for my leap into veganism to be spiritual but that’s what it ended up being. It would’ve been a joyous experience if I didn’t feel so misunderstood in the beginning.
Food, Culture and Necessary Sensitivities
I don’t think I could have found veganism and really enjoyed it as much as I do if I still lived in New Orleans (I moved back to Sydney four years ago). In New Orleans, people have a very unique culture and sense of pride for their culture, which includes cuisine. The food is heavily seafood focused, with elements of French and Spanish flavours. Meaning trying to find a vegetarian, let alone vegan meal in New Orleans is not going to be the easiest feat unless you are well researched. Finding the food isn’t really the issue though. It is finding people who are willing to change something so essential to their culture for a moral reason that is not engrained in them. I know plenty of new vegans and vegetarians in cities all over, but no vegans in New Orleans. Cultural ties are really heavily influential to diet and it can be isolating to take such a leap. And I’ve learned that I have to be sensitive to these lifestyles when speaking about veganism.
All of this being said, animal welfare isn’t the end all be all. Veganism is just one of the ways I consider beings that have different and often harder experiences than myself.
Animal Rights & Human Rights
This sort of expansion that I am talking about is not limited to animal rights. Human rights are at the forefront. This includes caring about and showing up for the fight for trans rights, the rights of women, oppressed men, and non-gender conforming individuals, indigenous land rights, the rights of refugees, and caring about as many people who suffer from institutionalised discrimination, violence, disenfranchisement, and white supremacy that I can. It means caring about women’s rights to cover themselves and to leave themselves uncovered. It means having the hard conversations with my family and friends and strangers and acquaintances and often with myself.
Veganism is just a sector of understating. It’s just a part of my journey. It’s a way to use my privilege to protect the disadvantaged. It’s a part of rejecting patriarchal values of violence and bodily control. It’s a step in the right direction, but never a finishing line.
Right now, veganism also means GOOD FOOD. I am so into cooking, I’m considering making a business (or two) out of it. I love recreating vegan versions of New Orleans classics (think po-boys, jambalaya, gumbo, deep fried popcorn tofu, etc) and staple items done realll well (spicy tomato soups, a legit tasting pad Thai, and salad dressings to distract from your least favourite vegetables).
My favourite resturants in Sydney are:
Otto (vegan tasting menu),
And when I’m in New Orleans I head straight to Seed.
Follow Elly on Instagram @tinyt0fu
Words by Elly Monk
Photograph by Hannah Rankine