I've been a thriving vegan advocate for nearing 13 years. I became vegan because I am an animal lover. I was born and raised to respect animals and had believed I was an animal lover my entire life; although regrettably, I did not become vegan until I was in my late 20's. A series of events awakened my consciousness; Moby's "Everything Is Wrong" CD included the first essay I had ever read on the concept of Animal Rights. I was also taking college courses; “Humans and the Environment” and “Human Nutrition.” However, the most shocking and compelling contribution to my awakening came as surprise solicitation call from Publisher’s Clearing House when caller enthused “You’ve WON!”

Although it wasn’t Ed McMann at my door with that famous “million dollar check,” I had won something that has given me more wealth than those million dollars ever could. That precious gem was among four, free, subscriptions from Publisher's Clearing House, as the solicitor named off options from some 200 publications, I chose: Architectural Digest, Birds and Blooms, Gourmet Magazine, and most importantly- The Animal's Agenda. When the solicitor had named off that publication, I pressed “What IS The Animal’s Agenda?”

He explained, “It says here it is THE premier animal rights magazine!” to which I exclaimed, “Send me that!”

I'll never forget the day I opened The Animals Agenda and read about what the farming industry does to factory farmed pigs. As I read the feature article, I was transported into a system so undeniably cruel, so wretchedly violent, so gratuitously horrific, so disgustingly fetid, and putrescent; I screamed a piercing scream from the most visceral depths of my soul. It was a scream like I had never screamed in my life. It was the day I instantly stopped eating pigs. Not even beloved bacon was worth it. The fallacy that many people would like to believe is that all farmed pigs are not treated poorly, that pigs not conventionally farmed in factories live happy lives, and that they are too stupid to know or care about what we do to them. However, a look at any college of agriculture’s standard “humane” farming practices and procedures will eliminate all doubt to anyone who really cares about animals as most of those perverted ideas referred to as humane procedures are considered felony abuse charges if done to cats or dogs.

The Animal’s Agenda subsequently shared my address with every animal rights and animal welfare organization in existence, including PETA; which I promptly joined. From then on, I couldn't go to my mail box without some new horror entering my consciousness; bear baiting, bear bile production, Premarin made from horse piss and horse slaughter, animals of all varieties used in Material Safety Data Sheet tests, disposal of spent racing greyhounds, dog fighting, kittens used as shark bait, rhino and elephant poaching, the fur trade, dolphins in slaughter and entertainment, lions and tigers exploited for meat, orangutans as sex slaves, vivisection insanity- the list is too long to tell. I later discovered the underlying, root cause, to all of these atrocities lays within a single, complex, invisible, value system known as speciesism, which allows us to think animals can be unjustly treated as property for any human purpose.

One of the PeTA mailings included a catalog of informative products and so I ordered their latest video, “Meet your Meat”. I remember the day my mom and I watched it. Meat your Meat covered the graphic and unrelenting details of the farmed animal production cycle. The images and sounds now seared into our psyche resulted in my mom and me committing to going vegetarian, yet we hadn’t made the whole connection and still struggled with the concept of using alternatives to eggs and dairy.

A few months later, a tornado hit Buckeye Egg Farm in Croatin, Ohio. My mom and I invested and suited up in some rain slicks and hip waders in answer to an appeal in the newspaper to assist in the rescue of the 2 million chickens. There were over 200,000 chickens crammed in small cages per shed, and 8 sheds were damaged by the tornado; twisting their mechanized food and watering systems, rendering them useless, thus leaving the chickens exposed to the elements, and. Our welcome was as unexpectedly cold as the torrential downpour we arrived in. The farmers sternly sent us away with the warning that "It's too dangerous here with these backhoes". Undeterred, (there were 2 million lives in the balance) mom and I drove to one of the other sites with damaged sheds, without the dangers of backhoes, and delicately extracted as many frightened chickens from the exposed and twisted cages as we could. However, our liberation efforts were short lived. Within a few minutes, the farmers arrived threatening to prosecute us for trespassing if we didn't leave immediately thus, making it clear that it wasn’t our personal safety which concerned them. Discouraged, we left, and I immediately called PeTA. They instructed me to contact a local group, Mercy for Animals. They ultimately assisted in liberating a couple hundred chickens from that terrible situation and introduced me to a missing component I credit to my developmental vegan living and advocacy success.

When I connected with Mercy for Animals, I discovered a community of vegans and hence, was empowered to commit to being vegan because I now, FINALLY, had the strength of a community. I was married then, and he had no interest in going vegetarian, let alone, vegan, and my mom wasn't about to give up the dairy (addiction- it took me 8 years to get her to break that- she has been vegan nearly 5 years). This story would not be complete without other honorable mentions responsible for my awareness which includes some deeply profound books.

"Vegan: the New Ethics of Eating" by Eric Marcus, and "Mad Cowboy", by Howard Lyman woke me up and lit a fire under my ass in more ways than one. Ironically, the Mad Cowboy further connected me to a local Columbus organization, The Wellness Forum, when they sponsored a seminar with Howard Lyman. The Wellness Forum then invited me to a free dinner, and introduced me to how to thrive on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. This was an extremely important event because my family has a long and serious history of cardiovascular disease; all of my grandmother's brothers died between 48 and 58 years of age due to heart attacks and strokes, and my grandmother suffered many heart attacks, strokes, stints, and even triple bypass surgery and crappy quality of life for the last 10 years before she died although she eeked out 83 years of life. I discovered at about the same time that I had gone to this seminar, that after 28 years of eating animal products, including processed and fried foods, that I had developed a 30-50% blockage in my right carotid artery by the ripe, old age of 30. I had some adjustments to make in my vegan diet that have allowed me to do vegan right, which means I've resolved the blockage entirely without drugs or procedure. I'm pretty certain I was not on nearly the same path to excellent health, even as a vegan, because although I had quit the animal products, I was still eating lots of fried and processed vegan junk foods that would have continued to clog my arteries and defile my health and I possibly would have remained oblivious to other important health considerations, had I not been through their Wellness 101 training course. How fortuitous it has proven to be that, in living in alignment with my values (improving mental health with an internal state of happiness) has also revealed itself as the foundation of thriving, physical health I often refer to as, “The vegan fountain of youth.” I was the one who always loved animals growing up. When I finally investigated the details and found out what was happening to the animals not only on my plate, but in so many other foundational social behaviors; the zoo, rodeos, the circus, in experimentation labs, in the death camp gas chambers we call animal shelters, I desperately wished that I had known sooner. I wished that children’s books like “Vegan is Love” or “That’s Why We Don’t Eat the Animals” by Ruby Roth existed back then, that would have helped my mom, and helped me, to make more informed and connected decisions consistent with our values. I had no idea I wanted to be a thriving vegan advocate when I grew up, yet that has become the salient path and the most profound, unstoppable meaning for my life. I sincerely hope that humanity can rapidly make the same connection because literally; trillions of lives and the prevention of human caused 6th great world extinction, is at stake.