Stefan’s Going Vegan Story

My transition from non-vegan to vegan was not an overnight process. Read below to find out why and how I became a vegan.

Stefan Goes Vegan

Introduction

"In my pre-vegan life I was not very much concerned with the fate of other living beings, whether it were humans or animals. Not that I was cruel or anything, but thinking about the fate of others, especially those not close to me, was not a daily consideration. I was not concerned with the fate of the world, my environmental impact or saving energy. Basically my motto was 'Na mij de zondvloed' (in Dutch), in English this literally translates to 'After me the flood', which means that I did not really care what happened to the world after I was gone. I don't have and will not have any offspring, so my genes end with me, and that's fine. Now that I'm writing this I realize that it does sound kind if cruel, but I considered myself more impassive or uncaring.
I guess that all (gradually) changed when I started to discover meditation and, through that, the Buddhist philosophy. The backbone of Buddhism is compassion and loving-kindness, so being kind to all living beings. Not just the ones close to you, but all sentient beings, as we are all connected. I have learnt from Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh the principle of inter-being, which basically means that all beings are connected and influence each other in one way or another. So what I do also influences other beings on this planet. The more I thought about that, the more I realized that I had to change my way of living. I have been very lucky growing up in the Westerns society, giving me all the opportunities that I wanted. There are lots and lots of people on this planet that are not that lucky and could use my support."

The first sign of change


"This was about 6 years ago and gradually I changed the way I looked at things. I did not become a vegan overnight, but I did stop eating 'factory' meat. My idea was that I did no longer want to be responsible for putting animals in tiny cages for the duration of their short miserable lives, to finally end up on my plate for the sole reason that I had a craving. So I figured that if I decided to eat meat, it had to be from an animal that had enjoyed a life of freedom, so from then on it was game meat only for me. In practice that meant that I only ate meat once or twice after that because, first of all real game meat is extremely expensive and, after looking into the game meat industry I found out that that is also a big scam, as is nearly everything in the food industry. Around this time there were also various meat scandals in the news, from animals being stuffed with illegal growth hormones and antibiotics, meat that was not really the meat they claimed it was and unsold meat that was refrozen, cleaned and sold again in the supermarkets. So that was it for meat, no more. What was left for me to eat was fish. These are not put in tiny cages and stuffed with hormones, right? I held up that image for a while longer until I realized that also that image was wrong. Maybe my ignorance was fueled by the fact that I really loved eating fish. I mean, what else could I eat on my sandwiches, I had already given up on meat. But after the reality sank it that also fish are not treated well before they are slaughtered (well, suffocated basically) I also stopped eating fish."

Chicken factory

My inspiration

"The transition to being vegan took a bit longer still. It was actually induced by my wife, who is a health coach and nutritionist. For her it was a new found profession and she really started looking into nutrition and things going on in the food industry. She watched these horrible movies such as Dominion and Cowspiracy and read a lot of material and research about the practices happening in the industry. She would then try to educate me, I now realize that I was quite offensive toward this and having trouble believing the things she told me. For instance the things going on in the milk industry, with baby cows being taken from their mum, their little brothers being 'removed' altogether. We live in a country where cow milk is on the top of the food chain, if this story were true, why didn't I know about it? As it turns out now, there are bigger forces at play that try to keep the general public ignorant, and I guess I myself was quite happy with that.
After seeing these images and knowing what she knew, my wife's transition to veganism was quite sudden. I was quite happy to go along, but not always without a fight. I was doing it mainly for her and did not always understand the harm in using products that had 'one drop of milk', a 'speck of pigs hair' or, potentially, a 'sniff of fish flavor' in them. I mean, they were just using the remains of already dead animals. How little did I know."

My transition

"My real transition to being vegan I made at the worst possible time, while traveling through Asia. A few years ago my wife and I had decided we wanted to travel around the world, and we started off in Asia. For my wife there was no doubt about it that she was going vegan all the way, no matter how hard the struggle. And a struggle it was, not just because it was already hard to find actual vegan food in some places, but to complicate things even more, we are both kind of a germaphobes. So finding a restaurant that had vegan food was not good enough. First of all it had to be a restaurant that would not serve meat at all, we were horrified thinking about cross-contamination in the kitchen. We were afraid of getting salmonella on the food, because the cook used the same chopping board and knife for both cutting raw chicken and then my vegetables. But it also had to be a decently looking restaurant, with clean tables and facilities. So quite often, after hours of fruitless searching in the scorching heat, being very hungry and cranky, we would end up in a local supermarket to eat something NOW!. But the fun didn't end there of course. Try figuring our what's in a package if you do not understand the language. My wife tried so save me more than once from eating something that was not considered vegan, but sometimes I could not take it any more and just had to eat something because I was literally falling over. I did not want to know what was in the 'flavoring', I just wanted food in my stomach. More often than we wanted (which is almost never) we ended up at one of the well-known burger joints, just ordering fries. And then buying fruits to complement it. For a health coach and nutritionist this was a horrifying experience, knowing exactly what it is that you should eat, but not being able to find it.
In some countries things were easier than in others and after a while we developed a strategy and knew what kind of things were available and where to get them. For instance, for breakfast we would stock up on oats, muesli and soy milk so at least we would have that meal covered. But I do remember that I complained a lot, being vegan did take the fun out of a lot of things for me. My wife did remind me, again and again, that being vegan is a choice and nobody is putting a gun to my head, I could stop anytime I wanted. But I was not willing to do that. Maybe at that point my biggest motivator was my wife and the realization how much she believed in it and wanted it."

Vegetables

The rewards

"Over time it dawned on me that my 'reward' for being vegan is the realization that so many animals were not being tortured and slaughtered because of my actions. And what I have not mentioned so far is that my wife of course told me about the many health benefits of not eating meat (and all nasties that are put into it such as antibiotics and growth hormones). Clearly that is an added bonus, who in his right mind would say no to those benefits, just because he 'wants' to eat meat. Or because it's 'tradition' to do so."

Being vegan in the 'real' world


"We survived all the traveling and are more vegan than ever. Now being back in my 'own' world, in the Western part of Europe, being vegan is not hard at all. Supermarkets are very well stocked with vegetables, all packages of processed food (which I try to eat as little as possible) have all allergens, such as milk, clearly marked. The challenging bit is to find the non-vegan ingredients that food industry does not want us to find, hidden in ingredients such as 'flavoring'. Luckily my wife knows all about them and can spot them from a mile away. More and more substitutes are coming on the market for those who have difficulty giving up meat and cheese. But I'm not one of those people, I don't feel like I need to substitute anything, there is nothing I am missing in my meals. I do buy the occasional package of cheese or shawarma but that is just a treat."

Food sign

The challenges

"No, the hardest part is not being a vegan myself, it's seeing people around me and people close to me who think I am mad. Who avoid talking to me about food because they don't want to end up in a discussion about veganism. What I find hard to deal with is intelligent people who do not understand the cruelty they contribute to by eating meat. And not just animal cruelty but also the effect it has on global warming and climate change."

The future

"Now, instead of accusing people of being cruel by not being vegan, I have decided to support those who have already chosen for the cause. After the struggles I had while traveling I decided to give up my job as fire safety engineer and start organizing tours, specifically for vegans. Samsara Vegan Travels was born. I am now using all my travel experience to help vegans enjoy an exciting and interesting holiday, without having to worry about getting a decent vegan meal 3 times a day. And apart from that they get to travel around with vegan companions, so there is no need to justify yourself for being vegan. Being vegan is a fact of life and not necessarily a topic to be discussed all the time, it just is. We try to make a positive contribution by visiting carefully selected ethical sanctuaries and rescue centers, and help out as volunteers."

"Veganism has given my life a new meaning and a new goal"