It all seems so familiar and yet it’s not at all the same. I recently made the decision to go all out vegan. All right, I’m on the path to getting there. At the very least, I am much better equipped than the last time I had a go at this — and fortunately, so is the world.

A College Whim?
It was the fall of 1996 and I had just started Rutgers. I had been reading the Tao Te Ching (properly pronounced dao deh zhing with the beginning of the last word sounding a bit like the French word “Je” and decided that it was not in the proper way of things for me to eat animals, and so I just stopped. This was quite awhile before I started keeping kosher so I would eat at any restaurant so long as I wasn’t eating any animal product whatsoever.

The problem there was that I suddenly went from having a fairly well rounded diet to having a very poor diet. I didn’t think in terms of what I needed to eat in terms of the needs of my body and so I ended up eating a lot of food that was simple to make and very starchy and not so healthy. Moreover, I had no idea where I could look for guidance on the subject and I didn’t have the finances to buy a bunch of books on healthy vegan eating — not that there were that many around.

Vegetarian Kosher For Awhile
It wasn’t long before I found myself pretty much eating everything again, and I didn’t give it much thought for a few years. I don’t remember how it came back to me but early in 2001, I once again thought about the idea of not eating animals — only that this time, I thought I would be more sensible by being a vegetarian. This wasn’t too bad for a good long time and as I started keeping kosher, it seemed simple — all I had to do was to not eat meat and since Jews always keep dairy and meat separate, this was not too difficult.

When I went to Jerusalem to live for awhile, people were confused and regularly made jokes about my dietary choice. People really loved to refer to PETA as People Eating Tasty Animals even though I clearly stated that my not eating animals was completely health related and had nothing to do with the ethical treatment of animals. They also told me that it was a joy to eat meat during the holy Sabbath. I told them that it not only did not bring me any joy but frequently made me sick to my stomach. They then agreed with me that I should not eat it if it made me so sick or otherwise upset.

A friend of mine bet me (non-monetarily) that I was going to be quitting the vegetarian diet soon because in her mind, becoming a vegetarian was something that a lot of Jews who weren’t Orthodox did because they felt compelled to have some sort of dietary restrictions since they weren’t keeping Kosher. It seemed silly to me at the time and still does but it is something I have noticed in my interactions with non-Orthodox Jews. I did break down at some point and started eating meat again, and it seemed I would continue doing so forevermore.

It Started With A Book
A friend of mine who is currently living with my wife Elizabeth and I suggested that I read a book that he was reading at the time. Titled Skinny Bastard, it called itself a no-nonsense guide to cutting the fat and getting buff and was aimed at men. While it is true that the book has a rather crass title, it seems that the authors of the book chose it only to get attention. Since I have been trying to get in better shape (with the ultimate goal to get in good shape) I thought it was a good idea to give it a read. Honestly, it took me nearly a month to read the book because I kept on seeing things that sickened me — and there are some things that you can never Unknow once you Know them. It was almost as though I was attempting to keep myself ignorant by reading the book more slowly!

As I read the book I was horrified as I found out all of the different things that the food that calls itself meat but is really just a nice euphemism for decaying flesh does to the human body upon eating it — not to mention a solid guide to the non-animal products that one can eat and have a fulfilling relationship with food while keeping the body healthy and trim. When I finished reading the book, I cut meat entirely out of my body. Why I didn’t just read the brilliant article Veganism Lowers Blood Cholesterol Levels and take that advice to heart (pun not intended) is of course beyond me. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready to take that advice. I certainly am ready now.

People in my Orthodox Jewish community are reacting remarkably well, although with predictable questions that most often come from people who do not understand how a vegan diet is possible. Where will I get my protein? Where will I get my calcium? All these things are possible with a varied vegan diet. Leafy greens — we love you! I thought that people wouldn’t invite us to their homes anymore for Sabbath meals but this has not been the case. Moreover, when people know we are coming over, they are more than accommodating and cook a few extra vegan dishes just for us — how very considerate!

As someone who is transitioning into a healthy vegan way of life, I would like to recommend the book Vegan Freak. The book is an excellent guide to how to live a vegan life in a world that is extremely carnivorous in nature. I mean no pun there either. It has definitely helped me in the last few weeks.