Unemployment Made Me Vegan

by

Johanna Kesterson

[Female, fifty years-old]

I’m fifty years-old, a native born Texan, well-educated, a lawyer and MENSA member.  I’ve been vegan for the past two years. You could say that being unemployed made me become a vegan.

Now, you have to know that Texas is all about beef.  Steaks, barbecue, all of that. Vegetarianism is just not part of our culture.  I was a meat eater, to be sure.  Not just a meat eater, but a junk food junkie. I was living in the suburbs of Houston, working most of the time, had no time to cook.  Every day, twice a day, I’d eat at  McDonalds or Taco Bell or KFC. I was always thin and relatively healthy so I saw no problem with that.

In March of 2006 I started dating a man who ate very little meat for health reasons.  Sometimes he’d have a hamburger or some chicken, but most of the time he’d eat lots of vegetables and stuff like tempeh. I’d never even heard of tempeh!  On one of our first dates I invited him to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is a probably the biggest  social event in Houston. I ordered a corndog and a fried snickers bar. He later told me that when he saw me eat that corndog and that fried snickers bar, he wondered if he could really date someone who had such an unhealthy lifestyle!

My boyfriend had a couple of friends he told me were vegetarian.  I’d never met an actual vegetarian before and I just thought they were weird hippy types. But when it came to their vegetarianism, they never talked about it and I never asked . . . talk about don’t ask, don’t tell!

In 2008, the company I worked for closed its doors and I was left unemployed.  My boyfriend had just moved to Palo Alto, California for a post doctoral position at Stanford and I followed.

The economy was bad, and I couldn’t find a job there, so I decided to take some continuing education classes at Stanford.  One of the classes I took was a philosophy class.  We discussed some of the works of Peter Singer, the Australian philosopher, nothing related to animal rights, but some of his other books and articles.  I was so impressed with his writings that I decided to read more  on my own.  That’s when I came across Animal Liberation.

As I read the book it all made sense to me. I started to question  whether  or not I should be eating  meat.  I decided to go to the PETA website.  I watched a video on how chickens were treated on factory farms, and after that I never ate a chicken again.  About two weeks later, I summoned enough courage to watch another video and learned about how pigs were treated on factory farms and  I stopped eating pigs.  It took another week before I forced myself to watch the video about cows, this time knowing how things would turn out:  I became a vegetarian and swore off all meat.

I bought a bunch of books and started reading about the issues.  It didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to give up dairy too.  That was a little harder though.  For a while I would eat dairy only when I went out, never at home.  By this time I was eating most of my meals at home, I wasn’t working and had time to cook.  Eventually I just gave up dairy altogether.  My boyfriend – the one who mostly ate tempeh and vegetables, was happy with my change but still ordered hamburgers when we would go out.  Even at this point I still had never met a vegan.  I was it.

Time passed and I still hadn’t found a job.  I was running out of money  and my boyfriend’s post-doc position was about up and he was going to move to Irvine, CA for another opportunity.  I couldn’t afford to go to Irvine and decided to go back to Houston. I had friends in the legal community and I still had a house there that I had been unable to sell.

Well that was the beginning of one uncomfortable year.  My friends and family were not interested in my vegetarian and vegan ideas. They  thought I had lost my way while I was in California.  They teased me, got angry with me, and mostly were just waiting for me to realize how crazy this all was and go back to eating “normal”.  I joined a vegetarian/vegan meet-up group in Houston and met a few vegans for the first time in my life.

Sometime before July 2010 I heard about an animal rights conference in Washington, DC.  I didn’t know a soul who was going and  I really couldn’t afford it but figured if I didn’t get a job or sell my house soon I was going to be out on the street  anyway – it wasn’t going to make the difference.  That conference changed my life.  I learned so much and was surrounded for the first time in my life by other people who were interested in animal rights issues.  I never felt so happy to be anywhere in my life.

I learned that being vegan was more than just not eating meat and dairy.  After that, I stopped buying leather and wool and just became more conscientious overall.  Giving up leather was bigger than you might think, I had over two hundred  pairs of leather shoes some of them very expensive designer shoes: Chanel, Prada, Manolo Blahnik, to drop a few names! I had an extensive collection of  expensive leather purses.  I had three leather couches.  I gave them all up.  I gave up my two fur coats.  Just about everything I had acquired over the years that was of any value or lent any status I gave up.   I swore off rodeos, circuses and zoos. Now my friends and family knew for sure I had lost my mind.  Who would boycott the rodeo, the biggest social event in town?

My boyfriend was still living in Irvine, so I interviewed for a job there. Several months later, I got the job offer and my house finally sold and I moved to Irvine.  But the job didn’t work out after all. I am still unemployed and  my boyfriend has broken up with me, but I am happier than I have been in a very long time.  I am now an active member of the Orange County People for Animals and have participated in numerous animal rights demonstrations  and have met the most amazing vegan people in the world.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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