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Personal Essays | The Unintended Rewards of Veganism

By Daryenne Wickliffe

As a child, Earth Day is exciting. Children get to enjoy activities that facilitate their interest in and expand their enthusiasm about the natural world. They don’t have to pay taxes; worrying if their hard-earned money will be spent on expensive conservation projects. They don’t have to worry about voting for or against a measure that could seriously affect their quality of life.

For many adults, a day like Earth Day passes by unnoticed, or at worst, with annoyance toward the constant push for change. The carefree Earth Day we enjoyed as children—spent playing with bugs in the grass, exploring a creek nearby, or planting a tree—is lost as the interests we had become “childish” and we dispose of them for more practical ventures, like working to make money.

I am guilty of departing from the interests I had as a child. As I grew into a skeptical teenager, then a know-it-all college student, I looked at environmental advocates, nature pursuits, and days like Earth Day, with disillusion. I judged these things and the people who partook in them without understanding. At the end of it all, I turned the other way, and decided that those things just did not matter; they were not of my interest and did not deserve my time. That changed when I started dating a vegan.

Before I started dating Curtis, I thought I could never make an adjustment. I worried that it would be something that came between us, or at the very least, would cause us discomfort during dinners and time in the kitchen. Mistakenly, I believed that our eating habits were the only aspect of us affected by the food we consumed. In a reflection of my personal changes, brought on by the recognition of Earth Day, I laugh now at my fear of the differences in our diets. Now, I realize that Curtis’ openness and consciousness have increased with his change in diet and has functioned to bring us together.

On this Earth Day, I am lucky to say that Curtis has helped me rediscover the interests I lost after my childhood. Even though he became a vegan for health reasons, his interest and respect for animals has grown and helped keep him on his path. Early in our relationship, we had difficult and eye-opening conversations about what it means to continue to eat meat. He taught me about the waste of the meat industry, which continues to degrade the environment gifted to us. He has given me resources to expand my own knowledge about the food we eat and how it is produced.

We didn’t just focus on the negativity, we also explored our perspectives. We talked about the animals that we do and do not eat, comparing their intelligence to ours. My curiosity soared during these conversations. I began watching animal documentaries again, something I left behind at ten or eleven years old. I was awed when I saw a cheetah take down a gazelle and remembered why cheetahs are my favorite animals. I was shocked when I saw a colony of ants decapitate a larger insect that threatened the life of one or two ants. I was impressed when I saw a honeybee use different vibrations to signal the suitability of a new home to its peers.

Instead of belittling these interests as childish ones, I pushed my self-judgment aside and embarked on a rediscovery of the different forms of life that keep us company on Earth. My renewed interest has enhanced my view of myself and everything around me. I thought changing diet habits was the only difference between meat eaters and vegans. I had no idea that what I eat could affect me in ways more profound than the tangibles of increased health. As I continue to adjust my eating habits, I have blown open the dam of indifference, doubt, skepticism and overall negativity that I have been building since my stubborn teenage days.

I care about the planet we inhabit more than I ever have. I believe in the adjustments that seem small. I am learning that those adjustments do make a big impact. I am becoming more receptive about what could happen if those adjustments are not made. Curtis and I watched Interstellar, an epic movie about the end of Earth’s health and the search for another planet to inhabit. The implications scared me, but also made me think about how much improvement we would see if we all adjusted, even by an inch, the things we care about.

The biggest change I have experienced, as I change my eating habits and embrace my forgotten interests, is an increase in my empathy. My empathy no longer maintains exclusivity rights to other humans or even animals. It has begun to spread, signaling like the honeybee when it finds a new home.

On this Earth Day, I hope you can make an adjustment.

Maybe, this Earth Day, have a conversation with a vegan without prowling for something to judge. Just listen. Go for a hike and accept the feeling of excitement that nature and a reconnection to it gives you. Scan the animal documentaries on Netflix and embrace any leftover curiosity from your childhood that arises. If you have the time, watch Interstellar without any criticism or doubt—let the story take you on a ride and consider your feelings if that movie were currently a reality. These things may seem small, but they can start chiseling away at the dams you have constructed.

Thanks to Curtis, my enhanced empathy and I keep finding new homes all over, and will continue to, past this Earth Day. I hope yours can too.

Daryenne Wickliffe is a writer currently residing in Santa Clara, California. She is excited to have the freedom to explore her writing capabilities, and happy to be a work in progress. Instagram: @daryennewrites

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