(I wrote this intel for Qondio.com and decided to post it here, too.)
Back in 1988 when I declared to my family that I could no longer eat meat, wear leather, or use products containing animal ingredients, I was passionate about my reasons but had a lot to learn about my new lifestyle. I must admit that I was quite unprepared for the challenges I'd face--especially since we were living in Texas at the time.
My reasons for becoming a vegetarian were simple: I became educated! I learned the truth about the atrocities inflicted on innocent, sentient beings on factory farms, in slaughterhouses, on fur farms, in labs, and so on. After that, my conscience simply wouldn't allow me to continue participating, even passively, in that cruelty.
Prior to this time I was your average American, eating meat every day--without ever considering how it ended up neatly packaged in the supermarket, wearing leather shoes and belts and purses, using shampoo and other products--never glancing at their ingredients, etc. I had always called myself an animal lover. And, indeed, I was. Or at least I THOUGHT I was. After all, I had always rescued/adopted pets, I gave those pets a loving, safe home for life, and I treated my pets like they were children.
Then one day it hit me: I was a hypocrite. And I could no longer deny it. All my life I had CLAIMED to love animals, yet I saw nothing wrong with consuming some of them in various ways. The more I thought about how hypocritical I'd been, the more it bothered me. Like most people who claim to love animals, my love extended only to the "pet" variety and other "cute" animals (horses, lions, etc.). But cows? Pigs? CHICKENS? Please!
Well, as it turns out, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, and all other "meat" animals have exactly the same capabilities as dogs and cats to experience pain, fear, love, loyalty, and grief. Some animals mate for life. Others mourn the dead. Some animals raise the offspring of a fallen member of their group. How can anyone deny that these non-human animals deserve a cruelty-free life? I no longer could.
As I write this I've been a happy "ethical vegetarian" for 21 years. I've NEVER, not even once, wavered or thought about eating dead animals again. But in the beginning I definitely faced some challenges!
I'm a California native. You know, the land of fruits and nuts. :) Living in the south was a difficult, unpleasant experience even BEFORE I turned veggie, but afterwards? Oh dear. Our first outings to restaurants were eye-opening...in a very bad way. We'd order something like green beans or cheese enchiladas, thinking they would be "safe" (containing no animal ingredients) to eat. Then the food would arrive and we'd be shocked to see chunks of ham in the green beans or meat sauce on the enchiladas. When we'd ask for vegetarian food we were often looked at as if we were visiting from another planet. We had to EXPLAIN to restaurants--many times--such things as: "vegetable soup" made with beef or chicken broth was NOT vegetarian; green beans with the pork removed did NOT qualify as safe to eat; fish is not a vegetable. It was trying, to say the least.
I'm back home in California now, thank goodness. Of course I'm an old hand NOW at living a vegetarian lifestyle, but it's still nice being surrounded by many other vegetarians, lots of vegetarian entrees at every restaurant, veggie fast food places, etc.
My only regret? That I ever ate animals in the first place. I can rationalize that to a degree because as a child I had no choice. Even if I had known about the torture "meat" animals are subjected to, there's nothing I could have done about it. (Believe me, I would not have been allowed to go veggie back then.) And as an adult, well, I was conditioned to thinking it was NORMAL to eat animals. I can't turn the clock back. There's no way I can make up for those years as a meat eater. I'm just glad I came to my senses...