I’m a very ordinary person. I’m middle-aged, with two sons who are both grown and nearing 30 and I’ve been a single parent since they were about 10. I’m practical and resourceful and until I retired in 2013, I was a project manager overseeing the construction of educational establishments for a local authority. I’m analytical with a tendency to over-think things. I’ve never been attracted to mysticism, organised religion or esoteric pursuits. My mind defaults to scepticism about new ideas until I’ve looked into the pros and cons. I’m not particularly sociable; I have a few people in my life that I care about very much but that’s it.
I’ve never been particularly attracted to babies except for my own, or to animals in general, only those individuals whom I have known, loved and admired. As a child no animals shared our house and as an adult, cat friends have come and gone. For 16 years I lived with a wonderful dog friend until the day he died in my arms at the vet surgery. I currently have 4 cat friends who fill my home with fur and their petty squabbles and rivalry. I suppose many would say I’m indulgent as I impose very few restrictions on them, but then they did not ask to be here, I am all they have, and for each of them this is their life, the only one they have. What’s a bit of inconvenience to me if it makes them happy?
So far, so ordinary
Some view vegans as a group apart, as somehow ‘different’. Some choose to do this as a deliberate way of dissociating themselves from examining their own inconsistencies, with the words ‘I could never do that’ becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have also read many scathing tirades from people who seek to discredit vegans and veganism with assertions that they are somehow unrealistic, fanciful and have no place in the ‘real’ world. I’ve even had some patronising remarks suggesting that veganism is a naive and idealistic pursuit of people too young to know any better – as I’ll realise when I’m ‘more mature’. None of this could be further from the truth. I’m ordinary and veganism is for ordinary people.
Vegan for the animals
As I have previously documented in the post ‘Crossing the Border’, I became vegan in 2012 at the age of 56 after I became aware of the vile truth about the dairy and egg ‘industries’ and decided I wanted no part in it. I became vegan for the animals and it is for their sake that I advocate every day in favour of veganism as a moral imperative. I would continue to be vegan regardless of any health implications because I no longer view others as food, commodities or ingredients. Nevertheless, I am far from oblivious to the health aspects of veganism, or more specifically the plant-based diet that a vegan chooses to consume. For once, it is on this subject that I’ve chosen to say a bit more.
Youth feels immortal
When we are young we seldom consider health in the context of a lifelong attribute. When I was young, health came into the same category as pensions – something that I’d take care of some day but didn’t need to worry about just yet. I think most young people consider themselves immortal and only the demise of older family members or the shock death or ill-health of a friend or acquaintance forces us to focus briefly on the existence of death. Until my early 30s I certainly fitted into that pattern. With grandparents having died long before my birth, my parents both died before I was 30; my father, at 65 a lifelong sufferer from type 1 diabetes, died from complications of his condition, and my mother, in her mid 50s, died after a brief but futile struggle with pancreatic cancer.
My wake-up call
In 1994 my sons were 7 and 9 years old when, on a sunny spring day, I attended the pulmonary unit of a local hospital where I finally got the answers to a series of tests. I had emphysema and bronchiectasis in addition to asthma; my lungs were deteriorating and although medical treatment could attempt to slow the disease, no cure was possible. The only possible treatment would be a lung transplant at some future date if I was considered a suitable candidate which was by no means certain. Whatever else the future held, failing health and oxygen tanks were definitely in the picture.
The quest for answers
Thus at a relatively young age I found myself facing the limitations of the medical expertise of the day, and, unwilling to bow to the inevitable, started to look for ways I could help myself. I was sure that there had to be something, some action I could take, and I was determined to keep an open mind. Google was still several years from its beginning in 1998, as was the idea of a computer in every home so information was hard to come by. I heard of several wacky-sounding ideas but none rang true and I didn’t pursue them.
I was fortunate in that my deterioration was slow and at first the failing of my abilities was barely perceptible. I had a heightened interest in medical matters which was further piqued a couple of years later when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition. My sister was diagnosed with scoliosis, a spinal condition at that time not recognised as autoimmune although now it’s accepted that it may be. Some doctors indicated that my lung disease was so unusually severe that it might potentially be autoimmune but little was known and it was speculation. I began to wonder if these were manifestations of disease related to my father’s diabetes but at that time came to no conclusions. Life went on and the years passed by.
Ten years later
My younger son was 19 when more pieces of my jigsaw fell into place, and I began to understand the full nightmarish reach of hereditary autoimmune conditions. By this time he was at university when, after an emergency hospital admission, he was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis as well as ulcerative colitis, both conditions where an autoimmune cause is implicated. Like my own condition, we were told that no cure is possible but that every attempt would be made to limit disease progression by suppressing his immune system and bolstering his liver function with medical interventions. We were devastated to be told that eventually, a liver transplant may be required for the hepatitis while words like ‘colostomy’ were used in connection with the colitis. After a year of treatment to stabilise his condition and with dogged determination on his part, my son returned to his studies and on one of the proudest days of my life I watched him graduate in 2009.
My vegan life begins
At this time although still working, I was becoming increasingly disabled. I had an oxygen machine at home and portable tanks for going out and about. In 2012, although failing, my quality of life was still considered to be too good to take the risk of massive surgery, however I had been accepted as a suitable transplant candidate, under review for when I became sufficiently ill.
I had by that time decided to become vegan and although I did this in August of that year I was actually still extremely naive about the health implications because that had never been a factor in my decision. Almost immediately however, it was like a floodgate had opened. Suddenly I seemed to tap in to so much information on every aspect of veganism that it was almost overwhelming. Leaving aside – on this sole occasion – the discoveries that have shaped my vegan advocacy, I discovered sites like www.nutritionfacts.org and a whole new world with a multitude of vegan and plant-based medical professionals whose words made total sense to me. Suddenly I realised that my long-held instinctive belief in a way to combat disease was well founded.
And as I read the articles and journals, as I watched the videos, the recommended route to control, improve or even reverse almost every condition …… was plant-based nutrition. I learned of the harm that our consumption of flesh, dairy and eggs causes and I realised that there was evidence that animal proteins can trigger autoimmune disease. Meanwhile I was beginning to see changes of my own. After many years of unchanged medication for my thyroid condition, regular blood tests established that my requirement was reducing. Was this coincidence? I didn’t believe it was.
More health stuff
November 2013 is etched on my memory for ever as, at a hospital here in the UK, I underwent a double lung transplant. My surgery took place in November and five weeks afterwards in late December I was discharged from hospital, a bit disgruntled at having missed out on a festive season at home but nevertheless amazed at the speed of a recovery that appeared to have astonished my doctors as much as it did me. I have no hesitation in attributing that swift recovery to the plant-based diet that I follow as a vegan. Even looking as far back as my distant youth, I have never felt so well as I currently do, an improvement that began the day I excluded all animal products from my diet.
The latest – and I hope the final – blow to fall upon my immediate family occurred only a few months ago. The autoimmune curse struck again with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis affecting my elder son. Current medical science recommends daily injections and regular monitoring of the unpredictable prognosis.
Swimming against the current
I hope, as a reader of this post, you do not see this as a litany of complaints. On the contrary. I am sharing it as a factual account so that others may pause for thought or feel less alone in the situations in which they find themselves. Since I became vegan, I have been shocked and dismayed to realise how resistant so many are to the vegan message that I share; the message that we, as humans, have absolutely no need to use or consume the bodies of other creatures, and that every nonvegan choice that we make causes unnecessary suffering and death to our innocent victims.
I have been truly sickened at the hostility and vitriol that I witness on a daily basis from nonvegans eager to call themselves ‘animal lovers’, but who refuse to open their minds to the possibility that they may not, in fact, be as knowledgeable or nearly as ‘humane’ as they like to think they are. I have frequently said that I wish with all my heart that someone had provided me with information 20 years ago to speed me on the road to what I now know to be the truth. It didn’t happen for me but I now try to spare others from making my mistakes.
My son with hepatitis and colitis became interested in veganism shortly after I did and as I learned about the subject, I frequently shared information with him. He no longer lives with me but in the months before he left, the crippling pain and other debilitating symptoms of his condition had led him to decide to try eating as I do and so he quietly moved to the same plant-based diet as myself.
The improvement in his health became very quickly apparent. It was with amazement and delight that he confided that pain has become rare rather than the norm, Other symptoms have diminished or disappeared and most astonishingly of all, he has for the first time stopped requiring the daily steroid tablets which he was told he would need to take for life. At his last consultant appointment, the word ‘remission’ was tentatively suggested and we are all holding our breath in hope. He is in no doubt whatsoever as to the cause of this turnaround and is completely committed to his plant-based life. In addition to plant-based eating he is transitioning to veganism and I’ll encourage him every step of the way.
His brother is still in denial at the discovery that the ordinary, ‘normal’ life that he thought he had, was never truly normal, and never will be. Being more set in his ways than his younger sibling, he had never shown an interest in veganism or plant-based nutrition. Once again, all my reading and research points me in that direction as the one truly effective means to halt the progression of his condition. I will continue to support and encourage – and live in hope.
My sister refuses to acknowledge veganism or plant-based nutrition. That hurts because I have never been dishonest with her, and have only her best interests at heart. Maybe some day that will count for something. I know the resistance of our nearest and dearest is a source of recurring sadness to most vegans but we deal with it as best we may, taking pleasure in any small victories that show we’re getting through the barriers of speciesist cultural conditioning.
Almost every health authority now recognises the advantages of eliminating animal products from our diet. This further reinforces the need to reject our unnatural exploitation of other beings, and adds weight to the evidence that our perverse obsession with force breeding and slaughtering sentient creatures by the billion each year for inappropriate ‘food’ and commodities is destroying our planet at a breathtaking rate.
I’m nearing the end of this saga. It’s a true life story, as honest and sincere as I can make it. This is about my life, not what I’ve heard about from someone else, so I hope that even those who are sceptical will find something here that strikes a truthful chord with them.
When I was a child, my parents forced me to eat flesh and eggs. Both substances made me retch and I have vivid and painful memories of sitting alone at the meal table long into the evening until my plate was cleared. I did not challenge the ‘food’ choices that were forced on me at the time, and although I am ashamed that I would not challenge these for a further 50+ years, I am so glad and grateful that I finally did.
Today I read an article with a catchy title ‘Genes load the gun – lifestyle pulls the trigger‘, the gist of which was that we do not automatically need to fall victim to inherited diseases and conditions. The article stated, with reference to a number of sources, that we do have a level of autonomy even in respect of genetic conditions. By refusing to provide an appropriate environment for disease to flourish we may mitigate or avoid its effects.
To pursue this analogy, I have come to understand that I inherited a smoking gun from my father, loaded with the genes that predisposed me to autoimmune disease. A combination of diet and lifestyle nourished the disease that almost cost me my life. I passed that loaded gun to my children and repeated my parents’ mistakes by ensuring that their diet provided the optimum conditions for their disease to flourish.
So the final thoughts I’d like to leave you with are these.
If you have read this far, you will know that for the rest of my life I will carry the responsibility for passing on a genetic legacy to my children with the nightmare potential for a lifetime of ill health. Added to this is the inescapable knowledge that I compounded this legacy with ignorance and the slavish repetition of my parents’ dogma, by indoctrinating my children into nonveganism. This occurred by the process of half truths and lies that every nonvegan parent must employ to bypass the innocent childish empathy that would reject the concept of eating those whom they regard as friends.
The hype and marketing nonsense about the bodies of animals, their eggs and lactation being ‘good’ or ‘necessary’ for human health are false myths that have survived from our nursery days because we were too young or trusting to challenge them at the time, and because they are very painful to face up to in later years. As a result these myths have now become entrenched in our cultural ‘belief’ as adults.
Not one of us is immortal. Even in the unlikely circumstance that we do not care what risks we take with our own health, we owe it to those we love to keep our minds open to the possibility that we may be seriously compromising theirs. Whilst many are still unaware but would be receptive to the scientific and medical fact behind plant based eating, those who actively resist veganism on behalf of their loved ones are taking an enormous risk, one that I would never have taken knowingly.
Please don’t make my mistakes. No one should take my word for it. Please do the research, learn the truth and then be vegan. It’s the right thing to do on every level.