Slowly at first, then all at once

Have you ever fallen in love and, if so, would you be able to tell me exactly, if I were to inquire, how it had happened?

It’s been more than a year and I still don’t know–I couldn’t tell you–how I became a vegan.

I still don’t know so many things.

I like to believe that I am an autonomous protagonist in my life, that I make conscious and purposeful decisions, and act with at least a degree of intentionality at all times. But there are certain experiences, events and transformations that feel less like decisions or conscious choices and more like something that happened to me, almost against my will or awareness in the moment.

It seems as though the most momentous, meaningful, life-altering experiences are something that happen to us, rather than something we intentionally, preemptively or methodically set about to make happen.


The most momentous, meaningful, life-altering experiences are something that happen to us, rather than something we intentionally or methodically set about to make happen.

I fell in love with the man who would become my husband instantly and overwhelmingly, but it was in no way a conscious, deliberate or particularly informed decision. (I wonder, even, if there’s a correlation between falling in love and an absence of what will inevitably become the most critical and meaningful information about a person in your actual, lived, life together.)

I know why I love him and can list every wonderful thing about him, but I couldn’t tell you how it happened. Though studies show that a heady combination of chemical reactions between pair-bonding endorphins, and socially bureaucratic rules and conventions, were largely at play when I first met Ian, I didn’t experience it that way from moment to moment. Though somebody, somewhere, can no doubt provide a logical and fact-based account of what happened, I personally can offer no such explanation. To me, it just


I don’t know how.

Similarly, I didn’t choose to be a writer, but rather feel as though writing is something that chose me. Though I have regrettably spent the vast majority of my life not writing–and have even actively tried to disentangle my sense of self as being a writer because it hurts so much to realize that you’re not actually being the person you claim to be–I cannot remember a time when I have not identified and moved through the world with the deep sense that I simply am a writer.

Becoming a writer was not an active (or, again, a particularly informed) decision. Rather, it’s something that must have come into being and taken root within me–passively, invisibly–at some point in my childhood or early teenage years. I wonder, sometimes, if I was simply born this way, as though being a writer is less a professional decision and more akin to sexual or gender identity that just is.

Though being a writer (or indeed being married or being a vegan) is something that I must choose and choose and choose again on an ongoing basis, I don’t remember there being an original moment of first choosing it all those years ago. It just


I don’t know how.

I still don’t know so many things.

I don’t even know if it has, in fact, been more than a year since I became a vegan.

All love stories are tales of beginnings.

“All love stories are tales of beginnings,” says the poet and essayist, Meghan O’Rourke. “When we talk about falling in love, we go to the beginning, to pinpoint the moment of freefall.”

Nobody ever asks, “how did you fall in love?” It’s too large and endless a question. Instead, we ask, “how did you guys meet?” By which we mean, when? By which we mean, where? By which we mean: Tell me a story. Transform amorphous, ineffable experience into a narrative that begins Once upon a time….

When it comes to becoming vegan, however, I don’t know when or where to count back to.

Or forward from….

It occurs to me, just now, that I was born a vegan, nursing only on my mother’s milk, which she longed and consented to give to me. I never thought of it that way before just now.

And now a part of a poem, unbidden, comes to mind–‘Trances Of The Blast,’ by Mary Ruefle:

At one time
Now it is another time
How near we were to having thoughts

That’s sort of what it’s like. Becoming a vegan. Becoming a completely different person.

At one time
Now it is another time

Except it’s not as distinct and definitive as that. At least it wasn’t for me. Some people hear the truth, open their eyes, and become vegan overnight, but for me it wasn’t like that.

Like falling in love, I became vegan the way a character in a Hemingway novel became bankrupt: “gradually and then suddenly.” Incrementally. Imperceptibly. Slowly at first, then all at once.

At one time
Now it is another time
At one time
Now it is another time
At one time
Now it is another time
At one time
Now it is another time

With long pauses

and blank spaces

in between

where I was so near

so close

to having


How near we are today.

That’s the next line in the poem:

How near we were to having thoughts
How near we are today

But was I really born a vegan?

A baby’s palate and food memories are shaped before birth. Before we can speak, before we can think, before we are ever pushed blinking and screaming into the system, we are floating in it. In the womb, we are buoyed by and gulp down amniotic fluid, flavored by the food and drinks consumed by our mother, be it broccoli, vanilla, tangerines, or chocolate.

Before we can speak, before we can think, before we are ever pushed blinking and screaming into the system, we are floating in it.

Now (another time) she can’t stand the smell of the stuff but, when she was pregnant with me (at one time), my mother craved Bovril, a thick and salty meat extract paste that can be added to soups and stews, spread on toast, or diluted with hot water, which is what my mother did, apparently drinking buckets of the coffee/tea alternative that then passed through to me without my awareness or comprehension.

So it began. And so it continued in one insidious way after another, spoonfed the system without my awareness or comprehension. I wasn’t born a vegan, romantic and utopian as the idea may briefly have been. Though quite innocent and without a conscious shred of malice or cruelty, I was nonetheless created and came into being within a system of violence that was as soothing and safe-seeming as the warm waters I floated in, as natural and delicious as my mother’s milk, as invisible and reflexive as those first deep gulps of oxygen.

Believe me, I don’t particularly want to, but these are the kinds of things I think about now, as I struggle to figure out the system behind and beneath it all. Because the real question–the thing that keeps me up at night, every night–isn’t how I personally, individually became a vegan, but how and why all us of are born and bred into a system of suffering, normalized violence and inexcusable exploitation of living, breathing beings.

Living, breathing beings who–just like me–are created and born into this world as tiny babies to the very same system of violence. When my mother weaned me from her own breast, and for decades later, I drank the milk of a mother whose baby had been taken from her and either slaughtered at just a few weeks old, if male, or plugged back into the same relentless cycle of breeding, birthing, and stealing that is the dairy industry, if female. It keeps me awake at night. It keeps me awake.

But it’s not the night right now. I’ll save those thoughts and questions for another time and, while it’s still light out and the sun is singing through western windows, I’ll think instead about  falling in love.

Though science confirms that falling in love is a largely chemical affair, and definitely not something as silly and unsubstantiated as destiny, romantic love often has a sense of destiny about it (unlike our relationships with family and friends–though I do have one or two friendships that feel nothing less than fated, no matter what scientists might say).

On the one hand, we experience falling in love as spontaneous and surprising–we’re often caught off guard and feel out of control when we realize we’re falling so hard for this person–yet, at the same time, there’s a sense of calm inevitability about it, as though this was meant to happen, or that everything that has come before now–both the good and the bad, all of it–has been leading us to this point and person in time. 

We experience falling in love as spontaneous and surprising, but at the same time there’s a sense of calm inevitability about it.

Like falling in love, becoming vegan has the same sense of inevitability. It might not be true to say that I was born a vegan, and in fact I tremble knowing that it was statistically more likely that I would not open my mind and heart to reality, I do believe that I was born with the same compassion and kindness that I have finally, thankfully, learned to extend to every animal that I share this horrible, wonderful planet with.

And though I don’t believe in destiny as such, I still have this sense that I’ve become the person that I was always supposed to be before I wandered–if not against my will but certainly against my awareness–and became separated from my true, compassionate and justice-minded self that has always burned so strong inside me.

When I think about the harm and suffering I’ve played a part in in my almost four decades on this planet, I wish I’d gotten here so much sooner, but I try not to dwell on who I’ve been and instead feel thankful for who I’m becoming and, frankly, amazed and relieved that I’ve somehow learned something on this earth that I was meant to learn or put here to learn. Destined or not, everything that has come before now has lead me–slowly, then all at once–to this point and person in time, and for that I am so eternally grateful and filled with nothing less than pure love.

2 thoughts on “Slowly at first, then all at once”

  1. Nice process through your own thought patterns, Deborah,and a good analysis of the “falling in love” patterns of our lives (whether they apply to love or vegetables). I think when we’re first falling in love, we sort of let ourselves suppose for a moment that it’s just a whim we’re passing through, and “I can take it or leave it alone,” until we think of doing without it, and then we realize we’re hooked for good. That’s how it happened to me, at any rate.

    1. Thanks Victoria. Definitely there were periods of “I can take it or leave it” during my transition from being carnist to vegetarian and then vegan. But the more I learned, the more I realized that “leaving it” simply wasn’t an option. I like that you think I fell in love with vegetables. In some ways I did – I’ve developed a whole new appreciation of food and am amazed at the amount of variety and abundance in my life now, as I used to think that being vegan was very limiting, but in fact it’s been quite the opposite. But it wasn’t so much vegetables I fell in love with; it was the animals themselves, and also our planet which I have always loved but sort of took for granted that it would always be here. Once I learned how animal agriculture is harming the planet, I guess I just felt that I can’t claim to love it and then do things that are actively hurting it anymore. I can’t do everything, but making different food choices was something in my control. And now, like you say, I’m hooked for good! 🙂

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