Kaavan, now unchained at the Islamabad Zoo and awaiting approval to be released to an elephant sanctuary due to social media pressure.

Kaavan at the Islamabad Zoo prior to being unchained.

Less than a year ago, if you had told me I’d be starting a blog about what it’s like to be vegan I would have said you were completely out of your mind. I didn’t even know exactly what a vegan was other than a hyper extreme version of a vegetarian, and someone who took themselves a little too seriously.

I remember having new vegan friends over for lunch the spring before last and offering them parmesan to sprinkle on their (veg) food that I prepared especially for their restrictive and somewhat annoying dietary needs, and they graciously declined. Meanwhile, I was putting heaping spoonfuls on mine, not quite sure why it was so forbidden. It seemed ‘extreme’ and I didn’t feel like asking.

Fast forward several months and I was having dinner with a friend and she was talking about how upset she was about some elephant in a zoo in Pakistan who was alone and suffering – chained to one spot in a dilapidated concrete shed for most of his 28 years. Like most, I was appalled but felt helpless to do anything, let alone have a clue what the “anything” would be even if I could.

She told me about an online petition circulating to free him to an elephant sanctuary and I agreed to sign it even though I didn’t at all believe it would make a difference. Well, 27,000 signatures later the Zoo actually responded to the outside pressure by unchaining Kaavan and giving him (slightly) better care. And, although the fight to free this elephant continues, it catalyzed my interest in not only the welfare of this particular captive elephant, but in elephants, in general.

Like many Westerners, I didn’t know much about these pachyderms other than they were larger-than-life and lived far away in the wild unless they were in a zoo. I may have seen one at a zoo when I was a kid, but I couldn’t recall. And I did ride one almost 20 years ago while in Thailand, but that’s a story for another time.

By fall I was engrossed reading and watching everything I could about these gentle giants. It was like cramming a lifetime of intensive research and knowledge all into one semester. I could not get enough of these majestic creatures. 

I knew poaching was a serious issue, but had no idea that almost 100 elephants a day are killed for their tusks, and that at the turn of the 20th century there were several million African elephants and now there are an estimated 450,000 left. In Asia, there are about 35,000 elephants left, less than half from 100 years ago.

I learned that they are the most intelligent and largest of all land mammals. And that they express grief, compassion, self-awareness, altruism, and have complex social systems.

I also learned that they were being used and abused all over the world for entertainment – in circuses and zoos everywhere, in trekking camps, temple “worship”, hard labor in the logging industry, and on and on.

In my deeper dive into learning about the rampant and worldwide abuse of elephants, I started to randomly come across footage and images of the abuse of other animals – first in the entertainment industry, but then I started to become exposed to the extreme cruelty toward factory farmed animals and, as much as I wanted to look away, I could not.

Like most people, I knew that animals were being slaughtered for food and knew it was cruel, but I considered it a necessary evil. How else were we going to get our steaks and cheeseburgers, BBQ ribs, roasted chicken, sautéed scallops, and grilled salmon? And I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle watching any of those gruesome videos of how they’re treated even though I don’t think I’d ever seen them before. My imagination was good enough.

I’m one of those people who can’t even be around the sound of a horror movie playing in the same house, let alone watch one. But I think my brief, but intense, exposure to witnessing the cruelty against elephants had toughened me just enough to not turn away from what I was seeing, and my moral compass kept me watching. There was no turning back.

After educating myself about what was really going on in the $125 billion a year meat and dairy industry I could no longer justify eating animal products and live with myself.

The industry’s extreme cruelty toward animals is barbaric and horrific – and it’s standard practice. As Paul McCartney says, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian.” 70 billion animals are slaughtered every year, and there is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die. They struggle and resist, and scream and cry, until their very last breath, just like us.

I am the last person I would have imagined would give up things I loved to eat, no matter the health risks, and fortunately, I am happy to say, for everything I loved eating, there are amazing and delicious plant-based alternatives and they just keep coming out with more. My body thanks me. And even though weight loss was not of real interest to me or a need, I’ve lost a few pounds – all while eating as much as I want. You have no idea how much eating animal products packs on the pounds until you give them up!

So I’ve spent the last several months transitioning to becoming vegan and I’ve never felt better, in every way. It definitely has been a process and has its tough moments – surprisingly, not because I miss anything, but because how challenging it can be to go from being able to find and eat anything I wanted, anywhere, any time, to having to navigate a not-so-vegan-friendly culture. Fortunately, that’s changing and will just keep getting less inconvenient – a small price to pay compared to what the farm animals are going through.

I never thought it could be this liberating and how good food can be when there’s no cruelty on your plate. It’s pretty exhilarating. Six months ago, if you had challenged me to go a day without dairy, I would not have been able to take you up on it. I definitely didn’t have the willpower, I surely didn’t believe it was possible, and I dreaded ever having to do so for health reasons. 

Now that I have become aware of the realities of what’s happening to animals around the world when we don’t even need meat and dairy to thrive – in fact, eating a carnivores diet has been linked to heart disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis, obesity, and diabetes – I feel compelled to do what I can to let as many people know that, if I can do it, anyone can!

This will be a place where I’m going to throw down about whatever’s on my mind – there’s a lot! – when it comes to helping the most vulnerable among us – animals.

I’ll be sharing simple, easy, and fun vegan demo recipes that I find ‘out there’, plus nutritional info for a healthy plant-based diet, new and easy-to-make and super tasty meals that I’m cooking, as well as eating out and traveling as a (new) vegan at restaurants and cafes.

I’ll also report on my increasing and others’ involvement in public demonstrations and outreach events to get the word out and bring about awareness – all on behalf of the animals – and invite you to keep an open mind to their plight.

Lastly, no judgment from me on wherever you are on your ‘journey’ – I just feel compelled to share my own and to encourage everyone to question what we were raised to believe was normal when it comes to eating animals.

Here’s to living a life you love free of unnecessary harm to all fellow earthlings! 

Dani


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