When Light and I became vegan in February of 1970, there was one reason and one reason only. It wasn’t because of its health benefits, which were unknown at the time, as was its positive effect on the environment. If factory farms existed, we hadn’t heard of them. Animal rights was not yet an issue, even outside the mainstream. We were not even aware that there was a word for what we were doing until years later, as both the word and the concept were virtually unknown.
We did it because we were certain, as we had never been of anything before, that ending our participation in violence and cruelty, whoever the victims may be, was the right thing to do. We had stopped eating meat several years before, after witnessing three men slaughtering a bull with sledgehammers. We were horrified, not only at the gruesome sight and heartbreaking screams, but at the realization that by eating his body, or the bodies of others like him, we were complicit in the act. Over the next few years, as we discovered that cruelty and violence were inherent in all animal products, we stopped using them, one by one, until we made the final commitment on that momentous day 45 years ago, to stop supporting any of it. As radical as that was at that time in history, the only question in our minds was… what took us so long?
I knew, even as a child, somewhere in my consciousness, that meat comes from the murder of animals. It was hard not to notice the blood on the apron of the butcher. And yet, I continued to eat it because the grown-ups said it was necessary. It wasn’t until I became vegan that I realized the depth and scope of the programming that allowed me to accept such an outrageous lie, so opposed to the will of my conscience. Breaking through that programming was like awakening from a very deep sleep.
But there was more awakening to come, because despite the warnings from the health authorities of the day that not eating animals would result in protein deficiency, eventual illness and possibly death, we found ourselves getting healthier and feeling better by far, on every level, than we had at any other time in our lives. What a freedom to discover, once again, that voices of authority, however many there are, and however much they agree with one another, cannot be trusted to know or to tell the truth. We also learned with that one move that even the voices inside our own heads, many of which echoed our programming, were suspect, and that the only one whose infallibility could be trusted was the voice of our conscience.
We couldn’t wait to tell our fellow truth-seekers. We thought they would surely agree. Perhaps they’d be embarrassed at not having seen so obvious a truth for themselves. But we certainly did not expect our peace-loving friends to argue that supporting cruelty and violence was justified. As it it turned out, they didn’t even want to hear about it. Their fear of having to give up their habits turned them away from the truth and from us. At that time, we were the only people we knew in the whole world who were willing to live that truth.
But, even as old friends turned from us, it did not take long for new ones to appear who heard the message, understood it and joined us. This support felt so wonderful, that we began to imagine what it would be like to live in a community of vegans; a family of friends who shared ideals, rather than genes; a gentle world in which we could feel safe enough to de-program ourselves from the lies, and live the truths we were discovering.
These were exciting times! Although we lived on a simple diet of fruits, nuts and raisins, cans of corn, sweet peas and vegetarian baked beans, I do not remember feeling deprived, but rather satisfied in a deeper way, as we found that the pleasures we had derived from the products of misery paled in comparison to the joy we felt in knowing we were doing the right thing. Since then, and during the 45 years that followed, despite the trials and challenges we faced every day in the struggle to evolve our natures, we held fast, through thick and thin, to our vegan promise.
In 1982, just before the publication of our first cookbook, The Cookbook For People Who Love Animals, Gentle World became a non-profit educational organization, and its members became a team of volunteer vegan educators and maintainers of our educational center which, at that time, was in Florida. Throughout the eighties, we spread our vegan message as far and wide as we could. We published two evolutionary books by Dr. Michael Klaper, who was a forerunner in plant-based nutrition: Vegan Nutrition, Pure and Simple and Pregnancy, Children and The Vegan Diet, both of which offered nutritional assurance to thousands of people, at a time when the health benefits of a vegan diet were little known. We held free seminars, cooking classes, veganic gardening classes, and in 1987 and 1988, produced and catered two vegan celebrity banquets in Hollywood. In 1989, we moved to Maui, Hawaii and opened The Vegan Restaurant, serving delicious vegan fare to an international clientele. In 1999, we moved our educational center from Maui to The Big Island of Hawaii, and in 2000, opened a second, seasonal center in the Far North of New Zealand. Today, people come to both centers from all over the world to learn the whys and hows of vegan living, from those who have been living that way for decades. In 2003, we published our second cookbook, Incredibly Delicious: Recipes for a New Paradigm. And in 2009, to spread our message further, we began the development of a website that offers free online vegan education to a rapidly growing audience.
45 years… and so much has changed. Thanks to the internet and to the pioneers of the vegan movement, the benefits of the vegan life and the horrors of the animal industry are being made known. Slowly but surely, more and more people are awakening to the understanding that being vegan is an essential step toward realizing our mutual, yet thus far elusive, dream of peace of earth. They know, as everyone with a conscience knows, and as surely as Light and I did way back in 1970, that ending our participation in violence and cruelty, whoever the victims may be, is and always will be the right thing to do.