My Vegan Story

On February 11, 2010, I abruptly began my vegan journey. The decision was made calmly and without a backward glance, and was immediately preceded by a long weekend when my husband was ill with a more-than-common cold. For both our sakes I had temporarily moved to the guest room where I proceeded to consume The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone over the course of three days, sometimes staying up long into the night. What I was reading made sense to me, was non-threatening and friendly in tone, and was being received at exactly the right moment.

For almost fifteen years I have dealt with chronic illness which I've managed through conventional and unconventional channels. During this time, I've educated myself about what role nutrition can play in maintaining health. I have long known a mostly plant-based diet (at least 80% plants - 20% other) was my best option for continued good health. I toyed with the idea for years but never really committed. As it turns out 100% is easier for me to manage than 80%!

Looking back, I realize I didn’t fully understand at the decision point in February, 2010, why I was suddenly saying to myself, “I am vegan now,” It just felt right and I trusted. In a handful of watershed moments in life, I've been blessed with a strange calmness, a knowing, a lack of hesitation. In these moments there is nothing to do but step forward. So that’s what I did. But since that moment, perspective has shown me, layer by layer, parts of my background which have contributed to my decisions today.

Grandaddy and me at age 3, at Homehearth

My earliest memories include sitting at my grandparents’ old trestle farm table, in their bountiful kitchen, the only child in a group of happy, interesting adults. I would lean back and look at the setting sunlight as it pierced Grandmommy’s collection of colored glass vases on high shelves, casting colorful shapes on the walls. I listened to the strange and fascinating conversation, not grasping the meaning of everything, but knowing that someday I would. I strained to remember as much as I could, sometimes trying to write it down later so I wouldn’t forget, though I was only five years old and didn’t know how to spell.

I remember my grandparents’ home, called “Homehearth,” as an agrarian idyll. I remember a cherry orchard where I climbed the trees and sampled fruit, embraced by the branches, I remember an archway dripping with wisteria blossoms where I would hide. I remember my grandparents’ farmhand, Ben, who had helped to raise my father while my grandfather was away at war, and who was always ready to play checkers with me shortly after we arrived. My father told me stories of a large, muscular horse named Leslie who was used to pull the plow. Once, when she was pulling a wooden wagon and the wheel got stuck in a rut, she pulled so hard the wagon fell to pieces. At this, Ben yelled to my grandmother, “Look, Ms. Allen, that horse pulled the wagon clean from ‘gether!”

Playing dress-up with Grandmommy and friends -- what a serious child I was!

I also heard stories about a grand rooster who used to follow my father everywhere he went when he was a child. “What was his name?” I asked him.

“I don’t remember,” he said.

“Whatever happened to him?” I asked.

“I guess he went by way of the stockpot,” he answered with a little smile. This was alarming to me, as a child, but as my father wasn’t upset, neither was I. These were my people, those dearest to my heart, and this was a farm.

Once a year we would go to a bigger farm, the home of friends of our family, for a cookout. This was always such a wonderful day, chasing chickens, peering into the pigpens to see the piglets and their impossibly large mamas, watching one of the farmer’s teenage sons with admiration as he ran a lap in the field of an angry bull and leaped over the wooden fence just in the nick of time. Looking into the pigpens, a shadow crossed my mind (what do they do with these pigs?) but it was quickly swept away.


I lost my Grandmommy, Eula Allen, to cancer when I was only twelve years old. Besides my parents, she had been my first mentor, the first to impart practical knowledge (how to make homemade wine, how to can vegetables, how to create a feast from what she could glean from her fields) as well as esoteric spiritual wisdom. Her loss was devastating to me. This was around the time I read Charlotte’s Webb, by E.B. White. Reading has always been such a haven, a way to be transported into a fully fleshed-out environment in my mind. In the case of Charlotte’s Web, I saw gorgeous bucolic corners of my grandparents’ own “Homehearth” and of our friends’ larger farm as well. I imagined myself to be very much like Fern, Wilbur’s owner, so I was hooked on the story from the start.

Now I guess I can see that it all started with Wilbur. Wilbur’s fate was the first farm animal’s which I had allowed myself to fully examine, and in which to become emotionally invested. I woke up in the midst of this book and realized the horror of what was happening at Wilbur’s farm, to each of the animals, with their unique personalities, their individualities. Charlotte, wise mentor that she was, turned out to be the precursor to each of my favorite literary characters: Aslan, Gandalf, Dumbledore. It’s only now that I realize why Wilbur’s loss of Charlotte was such a poignant emotional blow. Charlotte was to Wilbur what Grandmommy was to me. So, to self-psychoanalyze, my identification with Wilbur was profound. I wasn’t like Fern, I was like Wilbur! Wilbur planted the seed that has taken thirty years to sprout!

“So what has taken so long?” you may ask.

Well I’m not sure, but I would point out that, after one loses a beloved mentor, there is an undetermined period of time when one tries to find oneself, “spinning wheels,” responding to the demands of life. During this time I graduated college, married and performed the miracle of bringing children into the world, and their lives have taken precedence over the comparatively small and unrefined personal goals and dreams I have cultivated until fairly recently. In life’s perfect timing, now making decisions out of principle feels more like a relief than a struggle. In other words, being a vegan now is a delight and a privilege, and I am not sure if it would have felt this way had I tried it earlier.

Charlotte’s goal, with her clever web slogans, was to shock the humans into noticing something different about Wilbur. She wanted to help them see him as more of an individual, not so unlike themselves. Charlotte’s demise left Wilbur alone and unguided, but ultimately allowed him a “graduation” of sorts, to discover his own wisdom.  Now I can say there are many reasons why I am a vegan, but I guess it all started with Wilbur.