Most every day as a kid, Cathy grew up packing a lunch to school that contained a baloney and cheese sandwich, bag of chips and a fried pie. In her late 20's she decided to get healthy and adopted a vegetarian lifestyle which was a dramatic change, but that was nothing compared to two years ago when she decided to jump in and go vegan.
A friend of mine once told me she was thinking about getting a tattoo to annoy her family. I told her that was child's play compared to going vegetarian. When you first make the change, no one really gets it. And because food is involved in every single social setting, some people react as if you did it just to piss them off.
For me becoming vegetarian was a radical move to help fight my genetics which included diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. I dropped red meat, then chicken, then dairy. I started reading authors like Marilu Henner and David Wolfe and cleaned out preservatives and artificial ingredients. At the time, it was all about health. It wasn't until later, when I read the book Vegan Freak that I started considering the ethics of it. The book delved into factory farming practices, and once I knew about it, I couldn't "un-know" it. Still, it would take three years after reading the book to be able to make it stick.
For context, vegans embrace a lifestyle of not using any animal products. So in addition to not eating meat, they also avoid leather, eggs, gelatin--even in capsules, honey (bees are living things), animal testing, animal derived ingredients in cosmetics, etc. The book presented it in a way that made sense.
A big struggle in making the transition has been learning how to think differently about things. For example, what am I supposed to do about shoes? What kind of purse do I carry? Do I give away my leather coat? Does it really count if I grab a cookie at work without checking ingredients? What if I go out to eat on a business trip and there is nothing on the menu for me? I've learned to be patient with myself and realize that I can't get to where I want to go if I'm always obsessing on the things I haven't figured out yet. Lifestyle changes are a process. There is a lot of old programming to undo.
One of the things I didn't expect in making the change is how my relationship with animals shifted. I was never one of those people who was that into animals (outside my dogs). But since taking animal products out of my life I've had interactions with squirrels, bunnies, birds--even a gorilla at the zoo. I think your awareness changes, and because of that you see your place in the world differently which makes you more open to that sort of thing. It should make for a kinder, more beautiful existence, but then when I walk into the vegan restaurants where there are a ton of angry posters, I wonder if they missed that point.
A piece of advice I read once--and I really wish I remember who said it--is "Vegan makes for a great lifestyle, but it makes for a terrible religion."