Two years ago, when I told my parents about how I had stopped eating animal products and become a vegan, there was an awkward silence on the phone. I was certain they must have been thinking to themselves, “What the hell?” They wanted to say something, but they didn’t know where to begin. They were imagining how our next Christmas dinner would go and worrying about how it would affect my health. I can understand it after all the things they’d heard from doctors all their lives, such as eating dairy products to prevent osteoporosis and making sure you get enough protein by eating meat and eggs, and these didn’t match with their daughter’s new lifestyle. It’s no surprise they acted like any parent would when they thought, “Why?”

When I told my friends about it, their reactions were similar with questions like:

  • What’s a vegan?
  • Be careful, vegans usually suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency.
  • How do you get your protein?
  • Don’t you ever crave meat?
  • You can’t even eat fish or drink milk anymore?
  • Why?

Anyway, what is this freaking veganism? Why on earth would a person give up their delicious meat?

People are classified according to their dietary choices. Aside from the dominant meat eaters, the best known are the vegetarians who don’t eat any animal flesh. This group is then separated into different subcategories, all of who do not eat meat but consume some animal products. There are lacto-vegetarians, who eat dairy products;ovo-vegetarians, who eat eggs; and pesco-vegetarians, who eat fish. Many who say they are vegetarian are actually ovo-lacto vegetarians, because they eat eggs and dairy products.

Vegans, however, are the strictest of all the vegetarians. They don’t eat or drink any animal product, whether it be meat, dairy, eggs, or even honey. They don’t use any animal products in their clothing, furniture, makeup, and so on, and they don’t attend any event or venue that exploits animals, such as circuses and zoos. One of the first questions we conventional people ask is why would people create such limitations and difficulties, whether it’s becoming vegetarian or vegan, in their lives. In fact, there are many possible reasons. Firstly, as a researcher in consumer culture, let me underline this. There is one reason for consuming something: value. An object has four different values: a useful value, an exchange value, a symbolic value, and a sign value.

Let’s take food as an example. Why do people eat certain foods? Here’s a number of reasons:

  • It could be to get the necessary energy and nutrition, but generally to feel full.
  • It could be they prefer homemade food, because they feel it has added value.
  • It could be their mothers used to bake chocolate chip cookies, so they feel it’s important to eat them.
  • It could be they want hot dogs because they’re American and feel that Americans should eat hot dogs.

Thus, food is related to these values. Some time ago, being vegetarian was synonymous with being “green” or concerned with health, so many people started saying they were vegetarian while still eating meat, fish, and poultry. Others now say, “I don’t like red meat, but I eat chicken and fish” rather than saying they’re vegetarian, because they know what a vegetarian really is now. After this brief explanation, I’ll return to veganism. There are four possible reasons for becoming a vegan: ethics, health, environmental issues, and religion. This could be not wanting to support animal cruelty, not wanting to allow people to profit from the exploitation of animals, wanting to decrease pollution by increasing arable farming, or wanting to stay healthy by not consuming animal products. This is a brief resume of veganism.

So, what does veganism mean to me? Why do I do it? To me, veganism is a religion. The Arabic word for religion, dîn, means “path” and “judgment.” Wikipedia defines religion as “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.” Yes, veganism is a belief system for me. According to this belief system, all beings—whether they be humans, animals, plants, or insects—live together in this world and share it. We are all Earthlings. No one is superior or privileged, and no one has the right to decide about another’s life. In terms of ethics, I’m compassionate and respectful toward animals and nature, and in terms of health, I’m affectionate and respectful toward my body.

Veganism is symbolic to me: Every piece of meat on a plate is part of a slaughtered animal. Every slice of cheese is made from milk stolen from a calf or lamb. Veganism is the most beautiful form of worship, because both of the religions that I’m familiar with (Christianity and Islam), teach the same thing: Be a good person. I don’t think a good person could harm animals, whether directly or indirectly. I don’t believe God would ever ask people to kill animals. On the contrary, I believe this is a prime example of how people manipulate religion. Good people can’t prioritize their own personal pleasure over the welfare of other beings and the planet itself. I also miss some seafood I used to eat with my father, but I’ve learned not to associate it with the time I spent with him because I know that modern, unsustainable fishing has ruined the ecosystem. I’ve also learned to enjoy barbecues in the summer without harming animals.

To me, good people can’t teach their children to love cats and dogs while feeding them chicken and lamb. They can’t teach them to feed the fish in the aquarium while putting other fish on their plates. This is similar to how some races consider themselves superior to other races; it’s a kind of racism.

Love and respect everyone. This is why veganism is my philosophy, my religion, and my reason to live.

Since childhood, I’ve always loved animals. Whenever we saw baby goats, I would rejoice, but my grandmother would say, “Oh, they taste delicious, really crunchy and juicy…” I would then get upset. Sometimes I would find eggs in the fish I was eating and say, “If this hadn’t been fished, there would have been baby fish.” I’ve never tasted grilled sheep’s intestines, tripe, or other internal organs. It’s always been impossible for me. Is it because of the taste? No, of course not. I’m sure they taste delicious with the right herbs, spices, and preparation. It’s because my mind never accepted the idea of eating an animal’s internal organs, so for me, like it is for all of us, it’s never been about the useful value but rather the symbolic value.

When I was 16 or 17, I told my parents I wanted to become a vegetarian. They said, “Absolutely not! You’re still growing up, so you need to eat meat.” I accepted it then, seeing as the doctors were saying much the same thing, and waited a little longer. On my 18th birthday, I said, “Stop! No more meat!” I guess this was a childish and impulsive decision, because six months later, I started eating meat again at university. Because of my friends, I thought it was what I needed to do to be accepted. We all want to be part of a group, right? Vegetarianism wasn’t normal in the group that I wanted to be a part of. I still couldn’t eat things like horse, rabbit, or quail, but when I think about it now, it seems so stupid. What’s the difference between a kid goat and a cat, a calf and a dog, a fish and a lamb, a rabbit and a quail? All of them are living creatures, just like us humans, and they have a right to live on this planet.

People always find ways to justify their acts:

  • It’s not like I killed it!
  • Please don’t tell me how animals are slaughtered because it’ll ruin my appetite!
  • I’m really guilty about it, but it’s just so delicious.
  • I won’t get enough protein and vitamins if I don’t eat it.
  • It’s natural! That’s why there’s a food chain.

I also tried to legitimize my behavior by not eating certain animals based on their symbolic value.

By the way, I used to have a weight problem that started when I was a little girl. The cortisone treatment I was given to “cure” my asthma caused me to put on weight. Being excluded and mocked at school traumatized me and made me want to constantly lose weight. Even when I had a normal, healthy weight during elementary and high school, I never felt slim enough. That’s why I tried every diet I came across. Three years ago, I encountered the Dukan diet, a very famous diet from France, because of a friend of mine. Based on high-protein consumption, this diet has four stages. In the first stage, the body is given a shock. All fruits and almost all vegetables are prohibited, and you can only eat protein sources from animals and oats. In the following stages, fruits and vegetables are slowly added until you start to eat normally again and try to stabilize your weight.

Because of my eating disorder, I spent a whole year on the first stage of this diet until I had the body I desired after dropping two sizes. I only ended the diet thanks to someone I met by chance. If I hadn’t met him, I would probably have one of the many diseases of our age, such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, or arthritis. I’m happy I’ve only had some lower-back problems, which were cured after going 100% vegan and 80% fruitarian.

Two years ago, I met a student at one of the schools where I teach about consumer behavior. He told me he was vegan, a raw vegan even, so he ate a diet of uncooked food. It immediately captivated me in terms of consumer behavior, especially because he was also a triathlete. I mean, how can a person who eats like that get enough protein and energy? I had recently become a fitness instructor back then, so I wanted to learn more. This person, who is a very good friend now, explained his life to me: how he used to eat, how he eats now, why he chose his eating style, and the effect on his athletic performance. After a long discussion, I went home with lots of questions on my mind. By the way, he also mentioned a documentary called Earthlings and said I should definitely watch it. He also gave me some literature about veganism and rawism. I started reading these with curiosity and interest, and all of it was supported by scientific facts and made sense. For example, it’s incredible how gorillas don’t eat meat, yet they’re very strong with well-developed muscles. It made me understand how doctors, the media, and our parents have misguided us.

Because I was very interested in the topic, I decided to conduct a consumer research on it. I often use ethnographic research methods. Ethnography is about immersing a study group in a culture for a long period where they act according to it. The researcher can then conduct interviews, make observations, and so on. In this sense, I started eating raw food, mostly fruit, like my student. Two weeks later, I became someone else. My desire to do some research enabled me to find the real me! I mean, the Celina who ate only animal products for a year, the Celina I couldn’t recognize, was gone. A dynamic, fearless (at least of gaining weight), healthy, loving, and respectful Celina came out instead. It’s so obvious now that someone who is in love with fruits and vegetables can’t live another way! I then watched the Earthlings documentary so all of my thoughts and points of view could consolidate. This documentary explains how humans treat animals in five different areas: pets, farming, textiles, entertainment, and science: It’s a must watch, a real chef d’oeuvre.

My transformation will be the topic of my next article: Raw Fooding and Fruitarianism. To give you a taste of it, I’ve been enjoying perfect skin, healthy hair and nails, a stable weight, reduced cellulite, sufficient energy to do six or seven hours of training a day, odorless sweat, and cruelty- and guilt-free eating for two years now.

You’re probably wondering about the social pressure that caused me to stop being vegetarian. How can I live like I do when everyone around me has a “normal” lifestyle? These are the key words: willingness, motivation, and compassion. I’ve had some precious experiences over the last two years. My husband, a lifelong “carnivore,” has become a vegetarian. My parents eat increasingly less meat. My colleagues eat more fruit, and everyone around me has started questioning their eating habits. Everyone who sees how healthy and energetic I am with this lifestyle is somehow inspired.

Eating in restaurants is not a problem either. You can at least get a salad almost everywhere, and if you ask nicely, they might prepare something vegan even when it’s not on the menu. There’s also some places I enjoy a lot where I can eat in peace, and I go to these often. The situation is under control during gatherings of family and friends as well. Anyone inviting me prepares some vegan food. People who come to my place know that the only non-vegan item they’ll find is cheese (unfortunately!), so they come to eat vegan food, such as vegetable sushi, vegetable balls, pasta, risotto with veggie sauces, or fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m happy to be bringing vitality and health to peoples’ lives. Moreover, I’m happy I’m encouraging people to think and spreading the message of love and respect for everyone. I’m sure I’ve triggered changes in some people’s lives, and these will show themselves when the time is right.