World Vegan Day: I’m Not That Special. If This Picky Eater Could Go Vegan, You Can Too

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Nov. 1 2021, Published 10:23 a.m. ET

World Vegan Day
Source: Sophie Hirsh

I’m vegan — and I promise you, I’m not that special.

By that I mean, when I went vegan, there was nothing pointing toward veganism in my life. I was an extremely picky eater who hardly ate any vegetables, I didn't have any close vegan friends, I was working an underpaid job, and I wasn't even a huge animal lover.

I was (and still am) probably a lot like you: a regular person just trying to do their best for the planet and its inhabitants... who used to occasionally cringe at "angry vegans."

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I'm really not that special. But numerous people, upon learning that I’m vegan, have either scoffed or marveled at me, as if I’ve done something so impossible and otherworldly. They tell me they “could never go vegan” — something I (and pretty much every vegan ever) said on multiple occasions before finally taking the plunge.

If I was able to remove the blinders, watch the footage of the animal agriculture industry, and finally align my actions with my values that animals should not be needlessly killed, well, then you're probably more capable of going vegan than you think you are. Because seriously, I’m not that special.

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Why I went vegan:

In the spring of 2017, about a year before I really learned about veganism, I learned about the threat of the climate crisis, being made worse by the presidential administration at the time. I began taking steps to live more sustainably — composting, shopping in the bulk section, and thrifting my way into a zero-waste lifestyle.

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As the following Earth Day approached, a vegan friend shared a clip from the documentary Cowspiracy on Facebook. “You can't call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat. Period,” animal activist and former farmer, Howard Lyman, said in the clip.

How dare someone imply that I, someone who had been working to reduce my environmental impact for nearly a year, was not an environmentalist?! I thought to myself. Human instinct is often to ignore things that challenge our beliefs and values. But going zero waste and first learning about the severity of the climate crisis had opened my mind and heart.

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So instead of ignoring my friend's post, I started a conversation with him. And even though his “angry vegan” Facebook rants had been ticking me off for years, everything he told me made sense. He had drawn an intelligent conclusion based on horrifying information — and, like me, there’s nothing special about him that led him to veganism. He was just a regular person who opened himself up to learning information, and was then able to make an informed change.

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That same day, I performed in a climate change-themed educational comedy show, and one of the other participants told me she was vegan. In a cringeworthy moment, I remember telling her “I could never go vegan,” giving her lame excuses that she never asked to hear. I felt puzzled by her flustered, emotional reaction — why would she care what someone else eats?

Ironically, the show was titled “WTF Do We Do?”, in regards to climate change — and the answer was right there, uncomfortably watching me eat cheesy popcorn and selfishly claim that I could never make the same change that she did.

But then I wondered… Was that woman really so special? Or did she just know something I didn't? If she could get over herself and go vegan, why couldn’t I?

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After that day, I began doing more research. I was shocked to find out that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions, as per the UN. I learned how unsustainable and inefficient factory farming is, as it wastes immense amounts of water, land, and grain, just to sustain the planet’s greed for meat, dairy, and eggs. And I learned that the tens of billions of land animals being raised and killed as livestock every year go through immense abuse, pain, and torture during their short lives.

The more I learned, the more I was able to understand my friend’s anger, and my new acquaintance’s fluster.

I started trying more and more plant-based recipes, and I realized that a lot of the meals I already ate were vegan (pasta and tomato sauce, anyone?); that it was possible to go vegan without buying specialty vegan meats and cheeses every week; and that shopping for beans, rice, and tofu could actually be much cheaper than filling my cart with meat, eggs, and dairy products. I finally had an incentive to try more vegetables, and surprised myself by liking many of them.

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I also started dipping my toes into the vegan community, and I realized that there wasn’t anything particularly special about these vegan influencers, Facebook group members, or vegan acquaintances who I forced to become my friends. They were regular people who learned that they had been financially supporting an injustice (factory farming), and decided to do the right thing (stop supporting it). Being vegan suddenly didn't seem anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be.

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Within two months of that Earth Day, I was pretty much living a vegan lifestyle, though I had somehow avoided watching any footage from the animal agriculture industry.

But finally one day, I finally relented to a viral YouTube video titled “Dairy Is Scary: The industry explained in five minutes” that YouTube continually suggested to me.

I didn’t want to watch undercover footage of the dairy industry, but I did it anyway. And there was nothing special about me that propelled me to do so — I just gave into the YouTube algorithm, as we all do at one point or another.

Five minutes later, after finally seeing the abuse cows go through in the animal agriculture industry, I was screaming — a reaction that surely many scary movie fans get a thrill out of experiencing. At that moment, I knew that I would be vegan for the rest of my life.

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Yes, I did have a few privileges that helped make my commitment to veganism easier, such as living in a city with many vegan restaurants and more than one Whole Foods. But there is nothing special about me as an individual that facilitated my "vegan epiphany" — nearly anyone capable of having emotions or comprehending logic can make the connection between animal suffering and the animals on their plate, and then make the transition to veganism in a manner that is sustainable for their life and budget, on their own timeline, even if it takes years to get there.

Nov. 1, 2021 marks the fourth World Vegan Day that I’ve been vegan, and every year, I’m even more grateful that I opened myself up to learning something new and making a change. Veganism has made me more compassionate and less hypocritical, and it has made me feel proud that I’m doing something positive for the planet and for animals every single day — and to me, that all feels pretty special.

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