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Powered by Plants: Why we go vegan

A honey bee comes in for a landing on a flowering lavender plant while gathering nectar and pollen in a garden on May 25 in Seattle. Honey, eggs and cheese can be part of a vegetarian diet, but they are not part of a vegan diet.  (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
By Jonathan Glover For The Spokesman-Review

After more than a decade of being vegetarian, I don’t know why I went vegan. Allow me to explain.

It was a little more than two years ago, and I was looking at Twitter as all burned-out journalists are wont to do. I follow a cavalcade of accounts spanning the political and culinary spectrum, and if memory serves, a video of a calf appeared on my feed. It was happy and frolicking in a field of grass, making quick movements toward her handler. She acted just like a dog.

This is it, I thought: No more excuses. How can I, a self-described animal lover, support a dairy industry that would rip this calf from her mother, force her to live in an area a few feet bigger than her body, then impregnate her until her udders can no longer produce milk, only to then chop her up into steak and hamburger.

If she’s “lucky.” The unlucky ones get processed into veal. I quit animal products that day. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, while vegans also avoid all animal and animal-derived products, including honey, milk and eggs.

I haven’t had one animal product since. The problem is: I’ve had this exact thought countless times over my adult life since going vegetarian when I was 18 (I’m 30 now).

So here I am, wondering why I went vegan. Maybe it was just time.

Like a rite of initiation, it’s a question vegans and vegetarians often ask one another. And if we don’t, others do it for us. Either extending an olive branch or looking to pick apart a lifestyle. Either way, it’s a big moment. One you don’t often forget.

And unlike me, it’s a moment many in our community remember – and remember well.

Don’t just take it from me. Here are three stories.

Sheila Evans

Sheila Evans knows Spokane. No, really.

As a lover of art, animals and mushrooms (the edible kind, not psychedelic), she has a another more distinctly Inland Northwest paramour: Señor Froggy.

I’m not kidding. For years, Evans would enjoy a burrito or taco weekly. At some locations, she could even eat for free – an extension of gratitude reserved only for close friends and family, both of which she was to the Señor Froggy employees, blood relations be damned.

It was that love of dairy (cheese, specifically) that kept Evans from making the full plunge to veganism despite being vegetarian for most of her adult life.

That all changed last fall when she opened her exhibition at Kolva-Sullivan Gallery titled “Sanctorium: a Celebration of Animals Both Farm and Domestic” – her tools of festivity photographs, paint and canvas.

“The art show just provided a good date,” Evans said. “I can’t in good conscience stand here in a room full of portraits of animals and tell their stories, some of them horrific, and not be vegan. I just couldn’t do it.”

Lucky for her, the change wasn’t drastic. For years, she’d been working toward the inevitable, assuring the coffin was secure before hammering home the last nail.

And as for cheese, what cheese? She hardly knew it.

“I think being vegetarian so long kind of burned me out on cheese,” she said. “I’m so happy I did it. It’s been absolutely wonderful. I haven’t missed it.”

Sara Maleki

Sara Maleki is living proof even lawyers – a subset of people who are not only driven enough to graduate law school, but also pass a bar exam – can fail.

In 2008, after being vegetarian since age 14, she tried to go vegan. She lasted six months.

That type of story isn’t uncommon. As little as 10 years ago, vegan options were rare. There were hardly any options in restaurants unless you lived in progressive cities like Seattle and Portland.

But as the industry moved toward plant-based options, so, too, did Maleki’s diet. All it took to push her over the edge once more was meeting and talking to vegans at Washington’s Animal Law Summit.

“I don’t see myself falling back into vegetarianism,” Maleki said. “It’s permanent now.”

Like many others, Maleki doesn’t just enjoy being vegan: She thrives being vegan. At home, she enjoys vegan Reubens with grilled seitan or tofu tacos, and, on the road, whatever she can get her hands on.

She and her husband even make food pilgrimages to Portland, which she calls “probably the best in the world” for vegan options (others tend to agree).

In Spokane, you can often find her at Allie’s Vegan Pizzeria and Café or Stella’s Café in the Saranac Commons.

She hopes one day you’ll join her.

“We’ve got a climate problem. We’ve got environmental issues. There’s the health impact,” she said. “There’s really no reason not to go vegan. At least sometimes.”

Karla Bays

If vegans had a dream similar to the American variety, Karla Bays would be our Aunt Samantha.

She: vegan. Husband: vegan. Son (who is 9 years old): vegan. Against all odds, they’ve won the plant-based jackpot. After all, before joining the lifestyle, she and her husband, Carl Bays, took weekly trips to Churchill’s Steakhouse. And they enjoyed it, too.

“I would have never thought I would be vegan,” Bays said. “My dad is a hunter. They raised us on venison.”

Meat was life for the Bays family until a few years ago, when Karla Bays’ mother got sick. Doctors suggested she try a plant-based diet.

That proposal and a few documentaries about factory farming (especially the staples like “Earthlings,” “Dominion” and “Cowspiracy,” to name a few) later, and Karla was ready to ride the vegan train.

Then her husband hopped on. Then her son Alexander – who to her surprise loves broccoli, tofu and pho.

It wasn’t long before she says the diet started improving her health, as well. Since switching over, she said she no longer uses her inhaler for asthma, and she can’t recall the last time she’s had a cold.

Whether that’s due solely to a diet is anyone’s guess. Point being, it works for her.

And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“I just think people in our society don’t know,” Bays said. “They don’t connect. The light does not go off in their head. A lot of people don’t realize what is truly happening to these animals. What is truly happening.”