Why and how I chose to be vegan at 76

Guest Author, Sam Okoshken

I’m a man of a certain age.  No longer in my fifties, nor in my sixties, and I’m clinging to my seventies with my fingertips.   But, I’m a lucky guy.  It wasn’t until my fiftieth birthday that M announced that she was pregnant.  You might consider late-in-life child-bearing wryly amusing, but it’s really a blessing in disguise to have at my age a girl-child barely 29 and a boy-child of 26.  Although I now live in Florida, Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth is sadly nowhere to be found, not even in the steamy Everglades; but the birth and cultivation of my children has rejuvenated me in a way that defies description.  

One might wonder what that bit of family history has to do with my becoming vegan. Cause and effect.  My 26 year-old son was one day smitten by the purity of the vegan philosophy–and its simplicity, albeit sometimes rigorous in application, gradually became the guiding light for our family’s conscious or unconscious quest for a long and healthy life.  

For some time after the family’s dietary conversion, I remained fiendishly loyal to the House of Pescataria.

I admit that of all of us, moving from carnism was hardest for me.  Beef, chicken, and pork, were not so difficult to give up, even after many years of blissfully oblivious carnivore existence; but giving up fish was my challenge.  For some time after the family’s dietary conversion, I remained fiendishly loyal to the House of Pescataria.  Though my son was gratified that I’d at least greatly reduced my meat consumption, his tacit disapproval of my clinging to fish hung heavy in the air.  The videos he sent me, like the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and Melanie Joy’s Ted Talk on The Psychology of Meat-Eating, and his gut-punch questions like, “Can you imagine eating our family dog?”, hit home but not hard enough to push me all the way.  He was young, I reasoned, and I was old.  Old dogs/new tricks and all that was my refuge from self-abnegation and surrender.  I was caught in the dynamic tension of wanting to and not wanting to until, one day, as if by a miracle, it was as if a school of fish streamed by in their natural innocence, penetrated my last remaining wall right into my consciousness–and I experienced epiphany.  It was time.  Without knowing why, I knew it was time.  I could swear the swarm of fish were smiling in unison as they swam gaily on.  At that self-same moment my metamorphosis into a full-fledged vegan was complete.  I thought with compassion of those who were not, or not yet, among us, and then gazed upward at the sun whose warmth reassured me that all was becoming right with the world. 

At that self-same moment my metamorphosis into a full-fledged vegan was complete.

Please forgive me if the words written in the preceding paragraphs seem prosaic. At the risk of committing willful pretentiousness, I ask whether Shakespeare’s words would be quite so memorable had Brutus shouted: “Hey, fellow Romans, shut the f**k up and listen to me!”  

Through thought and practice, I’ve already discovered that the vegan life is not simply a dietary choice, but a tribute to all things living and possessing a brain, and to the stricture not to slaughter them for our gustatory and sartorial pleasure; it is a recognition that physical pain experienced by sentient beings cannot be segregated into lots based on their outward appearance, but is part, no matter how small, of the pain and suffering we inevitably experience merely being present on our living planet.  Though it is unwritten, it is our duty to minimize and lessen that pain. I am content that what seemed at first like a hard regimen to choose has literally become a life-saver. 

Sam Okoshken, Sarasota, 2019

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