April of 2019, eight or nine years after attending my first VegMichigan Vegfest, I decided to return to the annual event. I’d been waiting for the right moment to return to veganism after a long lapse into the local food movement and eating small amounts of cheese, eggs and fish. Fortunately, I had retained many vegan habits, like non-dairy milks and most cooking and baking. Previously, I’d been a health vegan, a nurse with a longtime interest and many continuing education credits in nutrition. But the intervening years had been ones of mere survival—family deaths, addiction and mental health issues were the water I swam in. I was too busy surviving and supporting to look again at my food choices. It would have to wait. But at last, life quieted down, and when the student is ready, the teachers come.
In March, I was on a kayaking/meditation retreat with three friends. When Pam, a vegan, expressed genuine sadness at the plight of our food animals during one of our post-meditation discussions. I was touched but also perplexed. What should I make of it? Why does she feel this? What allows her to feel, when I don’t? That planted a seed. After the Baja retreat, back at our LA hotel, I ordered a salad with tuna, rare. When it showed up on my plate, I had to force myself to eat it. I’d never before been so aware of eating dead flesh and how unpleasant it was—though I’d not eaten beef or pork or poultry for decades. A month later I was back at VegFest, where I spoke to others and listened attentively to the speakers, hungry again to learn and soak up information. I left there convinced, knowing that this was my moment.
I read everything I could get my hands on, watched all the documentaries I could find, and listened to vegan podcasts until my ears ached. And then I hit the proverbial wall. I couldn’t talk about it with friends and family; I was afraid of making them uncomfortable and of being rejected. I felt silenced and alone, in spite of an active local vegan community. My pain was deepened by the season of death anniversaries now upon me and by a neighbor’s death. Both recent and decades-old grief from traumatic loss engulfed me as I remembered painful past moments of feeling utterly alone with no escape. The image of a cow from the documentary Unity haunted me. Like me, she was trapped with nowhere to turn, sensing death all around…I was connected to that cow; our fates were linked; our fear was the same. I found myself in the grip of depression and anxiety that also affected my body. But in my new vegan enthusiasm, I’d signed up for Main Street Vegan Academy (as well as some online certification courses) and I didn’t want to cancel. It felt like such a deep part of me to do this work, to learn, to grow.
Somehow, I got myself to New York for MSVA. And as soon as I entered Victoria’s home, I knew I was in a safe place. I saw what it looked like to be a strong vegan with an open heart. The other presenters and students were also living examples of what it meant to live joyously and freely. I could do this. I could be strong and open to feeling. I didn’t have to choose. And maybe I could even subdue that doubting voice and make a contribution of my own. Returning to veganism, this time for the animals and the planet, allowed me to reconnect to my own heart, to cry again. Yes, there’s a lot of pain there, but as Kahlil Gibran says, I want to live with “a tear to unite me with those of broken heart; a smile to be a sign of my joy in existence.” May the vegan journey continue to bring tears, laughter and a heart broken open.
Anita Sherman Moran, RN, M.S., VLCE, trained in midwifery and later worked in community health and hospice. She is the mother of four, with three adult children. Anita is currently enrolled in Rouxbe’s Plant Based Professional program and wants to embody and practice compassionate living and eating to share that with others. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her second husband and her dog Gracie. Anita can be reached at [email protected] and hopefully (when she finally moves into 21st century technology) on social media soon.