It seems that I went vegan at exactly the right age. That was 54, by the way. Did you know there is a perfect age to go vegan? Well, I didn’t either, but apparently there is. I know this because I’ve been told by countless people who are older than me that they are too old to go vegan. You know, folks in their 60s, 70’s and 80’s who are, by their own admission, too set in their ways to make such a significant change. And I’ve also been told by many younger people that they want to have their fill of all life has to offer (you know, like I did for decades) before considering limiting themselves to a vegan lifestyle. They believe they are too young to go vegan.
Clearly, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I’ve heard these rationalizations and justifications plenty, even among people who claim to know about the suffering of the animals, the raping of the planet and the negative impact of an omnivorous diet on our health. And each time I am faced with comments like these I have thoughts and feelings of my own that in the moment I have trouble communicating. So I thought I’d post some of these here.
“But I’m too old…”
This really saddens me, and I don’t say that in a condescending way. I like to believe that with age comes wisdom and I see no wisdom in these words. While I understand that change can feel overwhelming for many people, especially as they age, I believe this attitude is limiting. It serves neither the individual nor society.
From a health perspective, switching to a vegan diet does not guarantee you will be forever free of disease or illness, but it is well known that a plant-based diet can vastly improve health, particularly if one is suffering from one of the “diseases of affluence” like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer. Our system of healthcare in the United States is predicated on a medical model which usually results in treating symptoms rather than finding root causes, so it doesn’t surprise me when I hear of folks spending a great deal of their time going from doctor to doctor with the hope of feeling better. The docs may or may not be of help, but ignoring the huge role that diet plays is missing a key aspect of health and wellness. Doctors are oftentimes woefully uninformed about nutrition, which is seldom taught in medical school, yet we (and especially seniors) have been raised to believe that the doctors have all the answers.
A well-planned plant-based diet has no “side effects” yet so many older people with health issues are loathe to even consider making the change. I don’t get this. To me, any successful intervention that limits engagement with our broken health care system is a slam dunk both for ourselves and our debt-ridden society. Plus, there is something so empowering about taking control of our own health. If you haven’t seen “Forks Over Knives”, and you are of the “I’m too old” mentality, I highly recommend it. It just might change how you view change and aging.
Regarding the animals and environment, it baffles me how someone can learn about these atrocities and decide that they’re too old or set in their ways to lead by example and do something about it. Regarding going vegan, I’ve heard from some people that they couldn’t make much of an impact, so why bother. While I can understand the sentiment given the enormity of the animal suffering and planet devastation, I’ve seen these same folks engage in all sorts of other philanthropic, volunteer and community-based activities trying to make a difference in some small yet important way. Sadly, if we don’t address this problem, the rest of the problems will start to pale in comparison, and it’s likely that I and those who are older than me will be long gone. But what of our children and grandchildren? They are the heirs to the hubris of previous generations (including mine) and I think it’s time we take responsibility. They are watching, and something we can all do today is stop contributing to the killing and destruction and start to clean up the messes we help create. And it can be as simple as changing what we put on our plates. Gaining wisdom and sharing that wisdom is exactly what our world needs. I don’t think we are ever too old to live more compassionately and with greater awareness and integrity. In fact, I’d say that’s pretty much the point of it all.
But I’m too young…
I haven’t met one vegan who doesn’t wish that he or she had woken up and made the change long ago. This is why it can be so difficult to speak with younger people who understand and are aware of the issues with factory farming, the environment and health. I often hear some version of “you got to have fun and eat whatever you wanted for 50+ years, so why do I, as a twenty-something or thirty-something, have to think about this?” It’s as though a vegan lifestyle is synonymous with deprivation and limited opportunity. A variation on this theme is the “I’ve got a life to make happen here; I don’t have time for this”. “This” in this case refers to all the perceived inconveniences of making a large lifestyle change while dealing with career building and social life and fitting in. In some cases, I would say that the perception is the reality. Going vegan can make aspects of our lives more difficult, especially at first. What is missing though is the understanding that “this” is really where the compassion is–where the heart is. Loving animals and eating animals is not a comfortable thing. Neither is repressing our sense of justice and fairness. Compassionate living is peaceful living.
That being said, I actually understand these protestations. I really do. I don’t know what it’s like to be a senior citizen with declining health but I do remember what it was like to be 20, 30 and 40. I remember ignoring common sense and my own health. I remember being very me-focused and then kid-focused. I can’t in good conscience say that if I had become aware of the plight of the animals or water scarcity or the negative health impact of Jarlsberg cheese I would have changed a thing. I like to think that I would have, but who knows. But I would have liked to have known what life would have felt like for me and my children if it had been infused with honesty and the joy that comes from living my values from the very beginning. I see my stepson, Jeff (a vegan) teaching his son about the dignity of all living things, and I know that this is the path forward for all of us.
What I also know, and what these young people can’t know, is just how good it feels to be vegan. A vegan lifestyle is about abundance, not deprivation. To joyfully play with a companion animal knowing that dinner is not a different sentient being. To put on clothes that no animal had to die or suffer for. To look at our own children and know that we’re doing the very best we can to ensure that they and their children will have clean air to breath and clean water to drink. This is what a vegan lifestyle is all about. And no steak or pizza can possibly top that. In addition, I firmly believe that when we open our hearts to the animals, we open our hearts to everything, including our own potential. All the hamster-wheeling in the world won’t help us find what we’re meant to be doing in this world, but by knowing and living our own values the answers are likely to come. And we’re never too young to get started with that.