To Be or Not to Be: A Vegan? One Story of Change

To Be or Not to Be: A Vegan? One Story of Change
Meeting one of the gentle cows at Friend Sanctuary.

I ordered beef goulash for my wedding day meal.

It was a cool February day in a mock-medieval setting, and I set myself up for a red wedding. Unexpected snowfall dusted the outdoors while a pristine white dress graced my body, and the blood of my sin threatened to mar the illusion with each bite.

This is how I see it now.

The truth is that my mother is a wonderful cook and she prepared my childhood favorite meal for my intimate family-only wedding nearly eight years ago, filling the dish with all things red, red and red.

Cow flesh, red wine, and tomato sauce.

What was I thinking?

Not about the apparent wish to stain my dress, but the choice to eat meat when even hooking a worm to a fishing line can make me cry. For years I joined the status quo eating animals because much like our choice to drive a car, it’s part of the culture I grew up in. I’m sure you’ve heard that chorus before. It's just part of my culture.

My path to veganism has been a there and back again story.

While I became vegetarian in my mid 20’s and soon after vegan, I relapsed several times into eating animals again, and these times typically coincided with big changes in my life.

It’s proof that our convictions are not always solid, revealing the conflicted nature of the human condition. So many of us can love our companion dogs or birds to pieces, yet turn to eat pieces of another animal without blinking an eye. I know because I have lived this narrative.

After separating from my now ex-husband in 2017, my life turned upside down for awhile; everything felt like a new start.

I’d been vegan at that point, but when I went to North Cyprus, I was seduced by the assurance that “animals here are not treated like in America and Europe,” and so I started eating kebab and all the local cuisine (animals) while suppressing my feelings about them.

My sense of self-worth was at rock-bottom and I felt depressed, so how could I cultivate empathy for animals?

I stayed in North Cyprus off-and-on for three years while growing my own illustration and advocacy voice, and meanwhile I continued with the mainstream Cypriot diet for the first two years.

Pigs are not commonly on the butcher block in North Cyprus, considering the majority of the population is Muslim, but chicken, sheep, fish and cow are typical with many meals. Veganism was virtually unheard of there, but like everywhere else, things are changing. The movement is growing.

The main reaction I received when explaining my former vegan ways was, how can you be healthy and get protein without eating meat? The protein claim is often used to disguise a deeper reality. People feel attached to their habits and even suggesting a change can quickly lead to defensiveness. Humans don't actually need protein in the way that is commonly believed, learn more from these physicians.

At some point in North Cyprus something started to change for me.

It began with the experience of holding a hen in my arms and feeling her heartbeat.

Maybe it was coincidentally coming across a lot more vegan content on social media (or was it a coincidence?).

Maybe it was witnessing the violent capture of a rooster destined for slaughter.

Maybe it was seeing my plant-based sister running a number of intense long distance races, planting more seeds of assurance that it’s possible and even better to be athletic and vegan too.

Or maybe I grew enough courage and self-love to make a stand for what I deeply believe in again, even though the entire culture around me acted otherwise.

During this time I joined an online illustration challenge called Powerful Women Week in 2019 and that set off a series of events introducing me to empowering individuals. I began to focus on my own healing and part of that process meant becoming vegan again. Truly, for the first time. I felt it spiritually.

In 2019 I ran the Istanbul Marathon - my first marathon - after months of eating plant-based again. While the race was tough, it was also life-changing. My dear friend Julie dubbed it my "Freedom Race" and I did feel like I was running with a heart free of fear and sorrow. Surrounded by thousands of people cheering on the sidelines reminded me of the immense power of our human spirit.

We are capable of so much magnificence when we join together.

Being surrounded by passionate voices and loving new friends met through Powerful Women Week ushered me onto a remarkable journey, which soon led me out of North Cyprus in 2020 and eventually here, cycling with the world.

I especially want to thank my coach at the time, Nancy, for teaching countless lessons and helping me see the warrior spirit inside of me and transform my life. She was one of the inspiring souls I met indirectly through the illustration challenge. Our work together in 2020 and 2021 was life-changing.

This story is why I have so much compassion for people in all walks of life. Whenever I feel frustrated for the animals I can to only look in the mirror and remind myself how deeply embedded animal consumption is in our psyche.

Some people find it hard to believe, you were vegan and then went back to eating animals again? I'm a big advocate for highlighting the deep complexities of our human experience. We are full of contrasts and there are many reasons why people don't always change easily.

That said, there are even more reasons to stop eating and using animals and they are perfectly summed up in: “You Will Never Look at Your Life in the Same Way Again” on YouTube by Earthling Ed.

What I really want to leave you with is a message about change. Our universe is in constant motion and we too are constantly changing. Just because something was one way yesterday, doesn’t mean it will be the same tomorrow.

Everyone experiences their own reasons for becoming vegan. All agree that the philosophy of life has opened their hearts to greater compassion for themselves and others.

So I invite you to watch Ed's video and leave you with a question:

Are you ready to open your eyes and heart?

If you are currently struggling with depression, help is here for you. Sometimes the hardest part is reaching out, but know that you are not a burden for anyone, and there is nothing wrong with you. Depression or whatever you are facing doesn't define you are make you flawed. I've found what has helped me the most in difficult times is creating a circle of support and there are many amazing resources to help you right now.

This story is a personal narrative by Karla Sanders @karlasandersart originally written in 2019 and edited in 2022 | Feature photograph taken by Steven Tiller @steventiller from Friend Sanctuary during our 2021 visit