In January of 2011 I turned 30. It was a big year. I started by quitting smoking. I had smoked since I was 16. I don’t know why I took it up. My grandpa smoked, he died about the time I started. My parents smoked before they had me. A couple of my high school friends smoked too. So the idea of smoking was around. I wasn’t a happy kid. I wasn’t good at school. I had athletic aspirations all growing up, but not being good in school meant that I was academically ineligible after freshman football. I don’t know if it was a way to rebel or conform, but for a myriad of stupid reasons, I started smoking. I had tried to quit since I was 28 or so. For some stroke of luck, I was able to finally quit on my 30th birthday, and It has stuck now 6 years on.
In May 2011, I married Kristina, who I had been with for nearly five years at that point. We already owned a home, a couple of cars, and a couple of dogs together, but we made it official and threw a fun party for our friends and family. Then, toward the end of September, I went vegan, and that was a big left turn. My wife wasn’t thrilled with it, though she was the one who started reading and talking about food issues. I was satisfied ignore such things and spend my life searching for the best hamburger, but questions of health and the food system and the horrible way we treat animals entered my mind. I began making more vegetarian meals at home. When we went out to eat, I would look at menus for vegetarian options and wouldn’t find much to my liking, which made it feel daunting to do anything more than I already was. Still, the idea was planted in my mind.
In the summer of 2011, I came across a comedian named Jamie Kilstein on a TV. I enjoyed his style and content. I dug more into his stuff and found the podcast he did with his wife Citizen Radio. That show helped change my perspective on the world so much, and Jamie and his wife Allison Kilkenny were both vegan, and had guests on the show to talk about animal rights and health and more seeds were planted.
Some evening in September, I was watching UFC, MMA being another thing the Citizen Radio people got me into for a minute. I can’t recall who the fighter was now, but Joe Rogan was talking about this strong, fit man, good enough to be in the UFC and how he was on a vegan diet and it was helping him do all this. This set off a switch in my head, completely blowing up the last bit of the stereotype I held onto of the weak, frail vegan. I was on my couch, probably drinking beer and eating potato chips watching a vegan athlete competing at the highest level, and I thought, “If he can do that as a vegan, then there’s no excuse for this couch potato.”
I still didn’t hit the tipping point until one late September evening, over a meal that must have been noticeably missing some animal products, when my wife asked if I was done with meat. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t asked that question, but I said, “I think so.” With the idea now outside of my brain and into the world, I challenged myself to live vegan through the month of October. It wasn’t easy breaking all of the ingrained habits and cravings, especially early on. There’s more detail and nuance to the story, and it’s a continual learning process, but that’s really the gist of it. I went vegan, and I haven’t looked back in the more than five years, and I wouldn’t go back for anything now. Going vegan along with quitting smoking and having the love of my partner started my life on an amazingly rewarding trajectory I could have never dreamed of. More on that in my next post.
Footnote: I know of the recent controversy with Jamie Kilstein’s personal life. I’m as upset about it as anyone. Still, his influence has made me a better person even if he wasn’t living up to it himself.