Oh, Tommy, you had to know I’d write about this!

My teeny, tiny, baby cousin Tommy (now known as the 25-year-old Tom) just sent me the best email ever. After seeing Earthlings and Forks Over Knives, he and his girlfriend have been makin’ the vegan move. My first thought: Your dad’s gonna hate me! My second thought: Are those goosebumps? They are! I have goosebumps from this boy’s story of newfound compassion.

Honestly, it was the last thing I expected to read. I was the family weirdo who had to bring her own food to holiday gatherings. Sure, a few brave souls would dare taste the “What? These are vegan?!” cupcakes, and my mom would join me in the fakey meat I brought to grill on my own little grill, but we’re talking an old Chicago family here: Burgers, sausages, some sort of Jell-O thingy, and Old Style—that’s Fourth of July. And this strapping young lad fit right in.

But his girlfriend, Liz—who totally takes the blame here—had these films recommended to her, so they checked them out, and the experience changed them both. The images could not be unseen. She went instantly vegan, with just a few missteps, and he has cut out almost all meat and is working on the rest of it. As someone whose path to veganism spanned decades, I find this absolutely amazing.

I have not seen either of these films. I keep meaning to see Forks,  but I can’t imagine myself sitting down to Earthlings (or any of the other cruelty-exposing films). I’ve always said I don’t need to see rape to know it’s wrong. But I suppose if you are truly ignorant of such injustice, seeing it would likely cause some serious rewiring of your brain. My cousin said it was important for him to sit through the entire film, as difficult as it was, and that the images have stayed with him, staving off any cheeseburger urges.

When he asked for tips, how I approached my food, I stressed the importance of trying several versions of staples. Maybe he’ll hate seitan and love tempeh. I myself love super-extra-ultra-firm tofu and think soft tofu is nothing more than a practical joke played on us by the soybean gods. To me, ricemilk is crap, soymilk has its uses, and hempmilk and almondmilk are the sweet, sweet saviors of the nondairy beverage kingdom. And then there’s the Teese v. Daiya battle! My point is, especially in an overnight flip of the dietary switch, if you don’t like what you’re eating it’s not going to stick. We interact with our food: We smell it, taste it, absorb it—and it becomes us.

To Tommy (sorry, Tom) and Liz, and all the new little veglings out there, don’t get down on yourself if it takes a while. How hard is it for some people to give up smoking—for which there is no excuse? We need food to live, so to only cut out some foods can be tough. You’ll notice over time it gets easier. There will come a time when you don’t think about it anymore. It won’t be “vegan” food; it’ll just be food. And you’ll just feel a little better.

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