Anastasia Zeller, Kazakhstan
When thinking of Kazakhstan, most people probably associate it with wide landscapes, horse-riding nomads and yurts in a remote countryside. This is what it used to be hundreds of years ago. The roaming nomad lifestyle did not allow people to grow plants but to breed cattle, which is not bound to a specific location. Therefore their diet was mainly based on meat and dairy products.
Over time, nomad tribes, as well as many other ethnic groups, settled in Kazakhstan and built a culturally diverse society. By the time I grew up, the majority of rural households had their own vegetable garden and animal farm; mostly on a small scale. So did my family. Our diet included plenty of fruit and vegetables, while animal products (especially meat) were only served on special occasions.
Things changed in 1996 when my family immigrated to Germany, where animal products are available everywhere and are affordable for everyone. Suddenly, meat became part of our daily menu. For a long time I did not question our eating habits. But as the issue of animal abuse and the ecological effects of mass animal farming gained more public attention, I started to rethink the relationship between human and non-human animals. At that point it was no longer possible for me to ignore the connection between the suffering, and the meat on my plate.
Even I had doubts about whether I would be able to change my habits, but I soon realized that veganism is enrichment rather than sacrifice. My decision to go vegan was like planting a seed of critical thinking and self-reflection. In terms of my diet, it opened my eyes to new and diverse recipes and foods. However, the decision not only affected the food on my plate. From soap to shoes to medicine to furniture, I stopped consuming any kind of products with animal testing and/or animal-based ingredients. It helped me to live more consciously and to take responsibility for my actions. Instead of following the path of consumerism, I am now living a more simple life, in which less is more and happiness is gained from giving rather than taking.
Veganism not only enhances empathy for all living beings; it also encourages us to take responsibility for our environment. In my eyes, this is essential to make a future life for all beings possible.
In the morally progressive state of mind I am in today, not being vegan is unimaginable.
Special thanks to Butterflies Katz for including this as one of 100+ entries in her short essay contest and the resulting published collection: Why I Will Always be Vegan.