As a child, I’ve always loved dogs, turtles, doves – just about any animal I encountered, really – but I never cared much for cats. That all changed nine years ago when a grumpy, clingy black cat named Merlin came into my life.

It wasn’t going to be the last time an animal changed my world view.

Fast forward to today and I no longer eat meat. As someone who used to love steak, beef salpicao, lechon manok, grilled liempo, and barbecue, I surprised not just my friends and family, but also myself when I decided to go vegan.

Me, vegan? Well, hell must have frozen over!

Veganism: Not Just About Food

Then again, it made sense. Going vegan not only went hand-in-hand with my affinity for cats (and other animals), it also synced with my being a health advocate and a brings-her-own-metal-straw-and-reusable-bag kind of girl.

I once had surgery for a tumor growing inside me which, according to my gynecologist, was related to all the meat, dairy, and poultry I was consuming. At some level, I knew she was right. But despite my medical education, it didn’t sink in until I did my own research and found overwhelming evidence supporting my doctor’s theory.

According to a 2007 journal article by Jeanine Genkinger and Anita Koushik, about 35 percent of cancer can be linked to diet, almost the same as tobacco’s contribution (30 percent). Every scientific publication I read told me what I also instinctively knew was true: What I was eating was slowly killing me.

I started growing my own plants and going vegan after a health scare in 2017 that put me in the hospital for ten days and made me want to die. I thought growing my own food gave me more control over my health, but it did more than that. It gave my cats a patio garden they loved to hang out in, edible plants to chew on, and a hooman who more than ever wanted to go vegan.

Yes, it started with food. But, just like with all other vegans, it didn’t end there.

Self, Others, World

After a week of eating cruelty-free food, I stopped craving meat. It was a small miracle, given how I always ordered food during the wee hours of the morning just because I had an insatiable appetite.

Foregoing meat made me feel stronger and in better control of my body. The plants have been generous to me, giving me the calcium I needed as I got injections that were expected to shrink my tumor (and also my bones). I got all the macro- and micronutrients I needed, thanks to a diverse plant-based diet. I slept peacefully at night, given my guilt-free vegan lifestyle.

Veganism and gardening also made me start composting, which meant I didn’t have to throw out as much as garbage as I used to. Going zero-waste went hand-in-hand with going vegan.

“You can’t be an environmentalist and feed yourself animal products, period,” said Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher who received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award after he lent his voice to the animal rights movement. He had a point, considering how rearing cattle produced more greenhouse gases than driving cars, according to a 2006 report by the United Nations.

ANIMAL WELFARE VERSUS ANIMAL RIGHTS

My column has always been about animals – particularly cats – being the winners that they are. My going vegan doesn’t change this, but it does elevate other animals to a level where they earn the same respect and love from me as my fur-babies.

I used to fight for animal welfare, unaware that I could do better by fighting for animal rights. After joining a vegan community online, someone told me there was a difference.

With animal welfare, I only choose which animals to fight for, forgetting the others that also need our help. The term also limits how much compassion I have for them – it’s as if it’s okay for me to eat and kill farm animals, as long as they have had happy lives.

Animal rights, on the other hand, pushes the envelope further. My role as a steward of creation is brought to a higher level where I protect those that cannot protect themselves. When I fight for animal rights, I refuse to kill animals because it is unnecessary. I become a kinder version of myself, acknowledging the lives of animals around me to be as sacred as mine.

Animals for the Win

This is the first time I’m writing about veganism in Fur The Win. Finally, I get to share with you the major choice I made that changed how I lived my life and saw the world. Veganism is so positive and broad in its impact that it even affects the cats in our lives! (I’ll explore that in my next article, so watch out for it in June.)

It took almost 40 years for me to turn vegan, a fact that humbles and saddens me up to now. But I’m glad to share that I’ve finally completed my transition and that going vegan and advocating animal rights has made me happy in so many ways.

While I continue to love my fur-babies, I have learned to expand the scope of my love to all other animals, including those covered in fur, feathers, or neither. Maybe one day, you will join me in my journey.

When we fight for all animals, we all win.

 

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s May 2018 issue.