What would a few minutes of driving behind a chicken truck mean for you? For Lynn and her husband, Marc, it planted a seed. A few weeks later, the image was alive in their minds when they confronted the realities of factory farming through a front page article in The Washington Post. They immediately became vegetarian, (and eventually, vegan), and never looked back. Here, Lynn talks about lessons from her work on an animal sanctuary, adjusting to a vegetarian kitchen, and her evolving approach to sharing her choice with others.
You grew up in Rhode Island. What was on your dinner table in the evenings?
Growing up, we ate meat every night. It was usually chicken, with rice and vegetables. We were pretty good about having vegetables, but there was always meat. It was just normal.
And, how would you describe or define your diet today?
We are 100% vegan. There might be cases – “Oh crap, that had casein in it,” – where I bought it and didn’t see it. But, I like to say we’re pretty strict about it.
We cook with a lot of vegetables. We try to go to the farmer’s market every Saturday. We use a lot of tofu and seitan. We use – I do have to say – a lot of fake meats and vegan cheese. But, we try to balance that with a lot of veggies.
My husband cooks pretty much all the time, which I am very thankful for. He’s a really good cook.
Before our conversation, you sent me an article that was published ten years ago on the front page of The Washington Post, noting that it was “one of two things that prompted my first going vegetarian.” How so?
When my husband and I met, we were both meat eaters. On a drive to Ocean City, Maryland, we happened to find ourselves driving behind a chicken truck. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that experience before, but it was heart-wrenching. They were alive, there were thousands of them, and there were feathers everywhere. It was horrible.
In that same month, we read this article, and, we pretty much just stopped eating meat from then on. We still ate cheese and milk, but no more meat.
We were very good about it, surprisingly. Our willpower was pretty strong.
Sounds like a pretty powerful article. What was so compelling that it got you to make such an immediate and permanent change?
There was one part of the article that talked about how they lowered supposedly stunned pigs into hot water, but they weren’t always unconscious – sometimes the pigs were kicking and squealing. Just thinking about that…I couldn’t even process it.
No one tells you this stuff in school. Seeing it as a fact, I thought – how can I contribute to that kind of thing? How can I eat a hamburger or pork and know what happened?
You had been eating meat your whole lives – was converting to vegetarianism difficult?
We saw the chicken truck, read the article, and never looked back. We were so disgusted and so committed that it wasn’t an issue for us.
On a practical, day-to-day, basis, how did you adjust to grocery shopping and cooking in your newly vegetarian kitchen?
It can be hard. You’re so used to going into the grocery store and knowing what you need.
At this point, Lynn turns to her husband Marc, who does most of the grocery shopping and cooking for the couple.
Marc: We didn’t even look at the meat. We just started looking for all of our vegetarian options. We started off with a lot of pastas, and easy vegetarian options. Just go find a vegetarian cookbook, look up what you need, and buy that. And really, any recipe – you look at the recipe, and you can swap out vegetarian ingredients. So, it’s not as hard as you might think.
Lynn: My husband’s a good cook, so I got lucky with that – I know it can be harder for some people.
When did you start to think about going vegan?
In 2003, I was bored with my admin job in DC. I started looking around for jobs where I could work with animals. I found a sanctuary about 20 minutes from our house, where they worked with farm animals, and got a part-time job.
There, I learned so much about the dairy industry. In a week or two, my husband and I both went vegan.
That happened pretty quickly. Sounds like you found out that the dairy industry wasn’t much better than the meat industry?
I was stupid for not really thinking about it before. I just thought, “Oh, they milk the cows,” like in a fairy tale.
But, the females have to be pregnant all the time. So, factory farms are constantly impregnating cows, and they use these steel things to get the milk out. The babies are taken away from them at such a young age, and mothers try to break down barn doors to get to their babies.
I watched one undercover video of an egg-laying factory. You’d see dead birds, because they didn’t have any room, they couldn’t get to the food or water, they’re pooping all over each other – people want to eat stuff that comes from that? How can you treat anything like that?
Working on the sanctuary, I could clearly see the difference in cows that weren’t raised for slaughter. They were enormously huge, probably 7 feet tall. They wouldn’t normally get to live that life. Normally, they would be in a crate, as a baby, six months old, not being able to move around, with shackles around them, so that their meat could be tender.
And, suddenly, being vegetarian wasn’t good enough anymore.
Right. I really don’t know if I would have gone vegan if I didn’t get that job at the sanctuary. I guess I thought that maybe there was a difference between the way cows and chickens were being treated in slaughterhouses versus how they were treated to produce cheese and milk. But, I know now.
Your husband didn’t work on the sanctuary with you. How did he get involved with that second transition to veganism?
He would sometimes come out to the sanctuary to volunteer. So, after that experience with the animals, and talking with others who worked there, he came to the same conclusion as me.
How did your families respond to your decision?
When we became vegetarian, we were pretty adamant about not doing Thanksgiving with our families. We used to spend it with my husband’s family. But, I couldn’t sit there and have a bird, a turkey, in front of me – especially after working at the sanctuary. His family wasn’t angry or upset, but they were disappointed.
With my family, I said – if we’re coming home for Thanksgiving, I don’t want the turkey on the table. They were really nice about it, and carved it up somewhere else. It still bothered me, but…you know, you love your family.
Do you feel like you’ve inspired any changes in your family members?
They have really been much better. My mom makes vegan lasagna when we go home – she’s learning about the vegan things she can buy at the store. We took them out to an awesome vegan restaurant in New York City, and they liked it.
So, they’re willing. They’re not going to change their diet, but if they’re with us, they try to eat vegetarian. Not all the time, but – I would love to say no (to them eating meat around us), but then I won’t see my family.
You and your husband are not only vegan eaters, but in all of the things you buy, including household products. That stuff gets expensive. How do you deal with the additional costs?
I suck it up. We just try to be diligent – we may not buy the nicer, more expensive brands, but buy the Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s store brands.
And, where do you find all of your vegan products – down to shoes and clothes?
I do some shopping online. If you go to the shopping section on the PETA website, they have a great resource for seeing what’s vegan and what’s not. I get some of my shoes at Moo Shoes, but I also get some at Payless, because they are manmade.
It’s probably harder for my husband because he has to dress more professionally for work. He doesn’t have leather shoes, he wears the man-made stuff. It is hard for him to find fancier stuff.
What do you see as the greatest benefits of your current diet?
When we ate meat, I had a lot of heartburn and stomachaches. I don’t even remember the last time I had heartburn. After giving up dairy, my allergies have not been as severe – probably 75% better. I definitely lost weight when I went vegetarian, and I have more energy.
People ask me why I’ m vegan, and I hope those conversations get people to think.
Overall, I feel like I’m making a difference. Even though I’m not really an activist, I am helping in my own little way.
What advice do you give to people who are considering adopting a vegan diet?
For me, the switch was about animals and compassion. So, I would say to do a lot of research and watch the videos. I don’t see how that could not change someone’s mind.
The PETA and CoK websites have a lot of resources, including a vegan starter kit – I would probably order someone a starter kit. I’ve also lent out that book – Skinny Bitch – to my neighbor. And, she became vegetarian after reading it. I don’t think she’ll ever be vegan, though.
How does that make you feel – that she’s vegetarian, but she’s not likely to go vegan? Do you feel like that’s good enough?
When I first became vegan, I was more angry about everything. I would get angry at people who weren’t vegetarian or vegan – I wouldn’t even want to eat with them. I’ve realized that taking that approach shuts people off. They don’t want to hear your story or know why you’re vegan, because you’re being a bitch.
I’ve slowly come to understand that this is my decision. I can try to change people, but if I’m hostile to them, they are not going to want to change.
I can’t change everyone. But, I can tell them what I know.
One thing that Lynn definitely knows is that her husband Marc’s recipe for vegan pumpkin lasagna is downright delicious – and a crowd-pleaser to vegans and non-vegans, alike. Stay tuned for the recipe!