Each year, January not only marks the beginning of a new year, but the start of Veganuary – a month-long drive that encourages participants to adopt a vegan lifestyle for a month, in hopes to cultivate a long-term change in attitude and lifestyle. In this post, I share my journey as a vegan – from a scientist experimenting on animals, eating disorder recovery to a vegan chef.
The Seed of Veganism, thanks to Earthlings
I cannot pinpoint the exact time I heard of the term “vegan.” The seed of veganism was probably first sowed unconsciously in 2008 when my college teacher screened the film Earthlings during English class. This was my first exposure to factory farming and “behind-the-scenes” of the food industry. However, caught up in the insurmountable paperwork of college and then university, ruminating on morals and ethics was not a priority back then. Furthermore, I was diagnosed with having an eating disorder (anorexia), and my mum having the old-school way of thinking, would insist on having animal protein of my plate, as was recommended by my dietitian and doctors.
The Turning Point – and a Blessing in Disguise
In university, I studied biomedical science specialising in cancer biology. For my final year project, it involved studying cancer signalling (specifically the Notch pathway) using the Drosophilia fruit fly as a model organism. This entailed breeding fly stocks, mating fly lines to create knock-out mutants, dissecting the larvae to extract the brains followed by imaging by confocal microscopy. There were hundreds of fly lines to screen, and tens of thousands of larvae to dissect and examine. I had to do this nearly every day for four months. Breeding something just to kill them. I felt like a murderer.
After graduation in 2013 (with first class), I did the standard operating procedure of fresh graduates despite my truthfully half-hearted interest in biomedical research: I applied for jobs in the biomedical sector – in hospitals, research institutes, and even prepared for MCAT exam as I toyed with the idea of PhD. Months passed without avail; I was still unemployed perhaps because I appeared too “sick” (by graduation I had withered down to 31 kg / 68 lbs). I set my sights on my other interest – the food industry. I had already been blogging amateurly for 4 years and took part in Vegan MoFo 2013, posting crazily for a whole month! I got my first full-time job as an administrative in an F&B company, and on the sidelines, picked up a new set of skills in culinary and herbal pharmacy through online and onsite courses at Matthew Kenny Culinary Academy (now defunct Plant Lab) and The Herbal Academy. In retrospect, I am so glad I did not go down the research scientist path and have to do more animal testing, in the name of ‘medical science.’
This period was also a time of healing my mind and body. I attended local events such as vegan potlucks and it was through “International Raw Food Day” and a screening of the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead that I got to know about the power of living enzyme-rich foods to heal the mind and body.
There is no significant day I can say that I “turned vegan;” mine is not a cold-turkey story. It helped that I was not much of a meat-eater from young, which made my transition easier. My last favourite animal food to give up was fish, specifically cod, salmon and mackerel. As you progress eating more nutrient-dense, enzyme-rich, living plant-based foods, you will find yourself craving less for hormone-injected “dead” foods, and also evolve a higher consciousness or spiritual awakening. By 2014, I was more or less fully vegan.
After my first job, I decided to align my values in my second job by working at a fully plant-based and vegan company, this time as a chef. Today I am grateful that I am able to do something I am passionate about as a living. Although the initial reasons for turning vegan was personal health, it is environmental and moral reasons, above all, that keep me going as a vegan. Apart from food, I am more aware of the ingredients and processes that go behind the manufacturing of beauty and fashion products. I do not post or write about them much because they are not of my interest (you’ll see me barefaced 99 percent of the time).
What Veganism Means to Me – and You
As most of us are brought up eating meat, the choice to ‘become vegan’ is a transformative moment; a chance to actively engage in the aesthetic reconstruction of the self and reconnection to the natural world. It is not an absolute black-or-white label, or an end unto itself, but a continuous creative and experimental process – of enjoying the feeling of caring for living beings and minimising suffering; of celebrating eating food and using products that have been ethically produced; of taking pride in making conscious efforts to slow environmental degradation. The modern vegan is more than just preaching the moral high ground, it is also about working together in a shared quest for a kinder, more sustainable world and in attending to the steps we make a difference. Cheers to Veganuary and beyond!
I’d love to hear your vegan story, or if you are not vegan, the reasons for why you are not. You can ask me any questions too!2