This month is my vegan anniversary. A year ago I’d broken my foot and was confined to the house with a giant plaster cast up to my knee. I wasn’t able to teach yoga, or even really practice besides some forward folds. The highlight of my day was when my husband would take me to the library and I would get a new lot of books to read at home. Around this time, I was also having a lot of conflict with food. I would stress about the organic and free range quality of all our animal products and would feel an underlying sense of guilt whenever I would purchase and consume them. Yet I wasn’t quite ready to give it all up and see the connection to my unease and the way I was eating.
I grew up eating the typical American diet or as some say the SAD diet: Standard American Diet. Eggs and bacon for breakfast, turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch followed by beef ribs and mashed potatoes for dinner. Vegetables were only ever a side dish, never the main attraction. Not exactly healthy or ethical. My father is a hunter and fisherman and I vividly remember watching him skin and quarter (what I would now call dismember) an elk in our garage when I was eight years old. I’d fish too and not once did it cross my mind that what I was doing was morally unjust. I was a proud meat eater!
I had stopped drinking milk around age 12 when I learned I was severely lactose intolerant. I had horrible skin issues growing up, painful cysts and boils. Milk would perpetuate the problem and I felt bloated and heavy every morning after eating my sugary cereal. I went to countless doctors and was told to start taking lactaid pills when I drank milk and was put on nearly every acne medication possible including Acutane. In hindsight it is hard for me to fathom I couldn’t make the connection to the food I was eating as being the cause to all my skin and digestive problems. But although I’d given up milk I continued to eat cheese, ice cream and every other dairy product on earth. Milk was never targeted as the culprit, more my inability to digest it.
Fast-forward to nine years into teaching yoga and claiming to be connected to myself, others around me and the planet, and cognitive dissonance was truly settling in. I felt confused, frustrated and conflicted over food. My husband was a heavy milk and meat eater and I loved cooking for him but we would get into arguments at the grocery store over buying the expensive organic version of everything. I was using delusion to convince myself and hide behind these ‘humane’ labels to make myself feel better about what I felt deep down was wrong. I was on the verge of something but I couldn’t figure out what.
A year ago in my broken foot, library days I was already making countless vegan and vegetarian meals because I did most of the cooking and couldn’t bring myself to prepare or touch raw meat. One day I checked out a vegan cookbook and a book called Main Street Vegan. I went vegan the very next day. I had an epiphany whilst reading the book and had a chilling experience of empathy from reading a specific passage. The author described what it’s like to be a fish swimming along in the ocean and getting hooked in the mouth and pulled out of their atmosphere into one where they can’t breathe and slowly choke to death. My hair stood on end, chills ran down my spine as I imagined myself being plucked from planet earth and pulled out into outer space, watching my world slip away and suffocating to death.
That changed everything for me. In one instant all the guilt washed over me and every excuse fell away. I cried my eyes out. I began devouring Netflix documentaries like Forks over Knives, Vegucated and the infamous Earthlings. I think I spent an entire week crying. I felt incredibly sad for my past transgressions and at the same time powerfully liberated from the conflict I was experiencing with food. I had found a true answer to not only my issues but also what seems to be the biggest issues facing the world today; hunger, drought, violence, war and devastation of our planet.
The change I felt was deep and profound. I often say it is the biggest and best decision I have ever made in my entire life. I felt as though I had a shift in consciousness and my awareness was instantly heightened. [I now] truly understood what we humans inflict on helpless, defenseless animals. I now believe all children are born vegan with their incredible imaginations and empathy towards others, that carnivorous ways are taught; they are not our true nature.
For me it is much more than food. It’s what I wear, it’s what I put on my skin and hair, it’s what I choose to use on my bedspread. It is everything. I don’t eat honey, I don’t wear wool, and I do not ‘cheat’ from time to time. I constantly educate myself about animal industries, the commodification of sentient beings, the massive negative health impacts from animal protein, the true herbivorous physiology of humans and the carnage animal agriculture is inflicting on our planet. By no means does going vegan absolve you from any further responsibility. For me it has become the tip of the iceberg in terms of living more consciously; to make decisions from an educated, unbiased and honest place; to stop making excuses and start living on purpose.
The change for me has been profound, physically and mentally. My skin has cleared almost completely, my joints are more mobile and my lower back pain has disappeared. I used to worry about the cancers and diseases that have killed many of my relatives creeping up in my life and now I feel empowered in the choices I make and not a victim to genetics. I have donated most of my clothes, sold a lot of my belongings and have started to live a much simpler life. Ethical veganism really truly opens your mind to how simple and compassionate our lives can be with a little more attention. I feel more connected to my teaching and more connected to myself as a practitioner. Compassion for others is at the root of veganism and is something I am learning every single day.
Obviously I am passionate about veganism and I share it whenever I get a chance. It has created conflict and issues with numerous people, mainly my family and those closest to me. Sometimes I am discouraged and even feel scared and sad for this world’s future. However, it quickly turns into fuel. As vegans we MUST speak up for the animals. We MUST be vocal.
I believe as yoga teachers we have a responsibility to be aware. Not only of our bodies and minds but also of the bodies and minds of all beings on this earth. Because isn’t that what we claim to do? Be connected and teach others to learn connection? I sometimes feel ashamed of the years I spent peddling connection while simultaneously being laughably disconnected. I in no way look down upon those who are not vegan. I simply think to myself they are uneducated to the truth and hope along their journey they find a way to widen their circle of compassion. I believe eventually we will all find it in our hearts to embrace veganism and I hope for the future of our world it happens sooner rather than later.
Change is not tough. Resistance to change is. Be open. Be willing to learn and take your blinders off. Educate yourself. GO VEGAN.
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Erica is a passionate vegan and yoga teacher. She is also a keen cyclist and photographer.
You can visit her at her website ericadavisyoga.com
‘Main Street Vegan’ is written by Victoria Moran.
© The Yoga Connection 2016