In February of 2008, I decided to stop eating animal products. In the two and half years since then, I have embraced a whole foods, plant-based diet. I have also answered some form of the question “What are your reasons for being vegan?” more times than I can possibly count. To be honest, I think that many times I have done a poor job presenting my reasons, which I believe can be attributed to a combination of my changing and growing convictions about veganism and a hesitancy to speak out in fear of being thought of as crazy, judgmental, or pushy in regard to my vegan habits.

In light of this, I want to use this platform to speak to why I am vegan without being condemning or abrasive. I am certainly not articulating a position on behalf of the ELCA. It is not my aim to offend, convert, or say that what I believe is the one right way. (My parents operate a hamburger restaurant and I still get along with them!) In my experience many people are very interested in my lifestyle, and I’m simply hoping to express my reasons for it while being informative and respectfully challenging.

The very first reason I started experimenting with a vegan diet was for my personal health. I firmly believe that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet is the healthiest way to live, and that I am avoiding cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and other health problems that have been associated with the overconsumption of animal products – all animal products, not just meat. Eating vegan makes me feel energized and healthy. I learned to eat new fruits and vegetables, a greater variety of whole grains, and enjoy food more. I care for myself through the choices I make about what to eat, and honoring my body is a central aspect of my faith.

As I experienced the health benefits of a vegan diet, I began to learn a lot more about a vegan lifestyle’s impact – an impact that goes way beyond myself. I’ve committed to veganism as a way of life for the long term because I believe it promotes justice for all of creation: other people, the environment, and animals. I cannot personally reconcile eating meat knowing that 1.02 billion people in the world are undernourished, and, while I realize this is not a direct equation, much of the water and grain used to raise animals for food could be used to nourish humans instead. I learned that eating is an environmental act, and came to understand some of the harmful environmental effects of farming and producing animal-based food, including more pollution and land and water use. Now that I have been vegan for two plus years, I am simply not comfortable with the idea of eating animals, or anything that comes from an animal. It doesn’t feel right. This stemmed from a general uneasiness about the impact of factory farming and slaughterhouse policies on the quality of animal life. Also, I’ve learned startling things about food production and distribution, science, industry, medicine, and the government that raise numerous justice issues and further convince me of my commitment to veganism. I’ve “become aware,” as L. Shannon Jung writes in Sharing Food: Christian Practices for Enjoyment, “of the chain of human labor that leads to our tables – from those who cultivate good seed (or not), practice ecologically responsible agriculture (or not), harvest, sell, and package food equitably (or not), and distribute its costs in a sustainable way (or not)” (114).

Before I became vegan I was able to largely ignore food – its quality and how it got to my table. Becoming vegan helped me to remember and be conscious of the fact that food is a gift from God. I realized that my nourishment depends on a widespread community beyond myself.

This summer I’ve had the opportunity to look at a lot of different hunger resources to inform my work at ELCA World Hunger. A few quotes in a publication called Just Eating: Practicing Our Faith at the Table, by Advocate Heath Care, Church World Service, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program, speak to my reasons for being vegan:

“Setting limits that fit our values is a part of eating well.”

“To eat well is to consider not only your own body’s needs but also the needs and weaknesses of others.”

In summary, I am vegan out of care for myself, other people, other creatures, and creation. I love being vegan. I don’t see it as an ascetic lifestyle; I believe it is a lifestyle of abundance and I love food more than ever. I have found that eating vegan is not as hard as many people think it would be, but diverting from the mainstream in eating does not come without challenges. One of the biggest challenges for me has been the impact on my experiences of social and communal eating. But maybe that will be material for a later post. I will wrap up now though this topic as a whole is far from exhausted. I am more than willing to expand on my thoughts, provide more information about my sources, and take others’ ideas into consideration. Thanks for reading!

Julie Reishus