A drawing of friends sitting at a picnic table in a green clearing next to the ocean, sharing a delicious vegan meal.
Christine Mi for Vox

The delightful abundance of going vegan.

The beginning of an illustrated essay. Author writes: “For most of my life, I’ve fielded questions about why I’m vegan. Although I write about factory farming for a living, I don’t really invite these conversations. A casual dinner party or happy hour doesn’t feel like the best time to get into specifics. I want to share how deeply rewarding veganism can be, but I don’t want to sound judgmental or sanctimonious.” Comments are illustrated: “What do you cook?” and “That must be so hard!”
Author writes: “Mainstream narratives about vegetarians and vegans tend to treat us as a punchline — as deprived, joyless, or extreme... It’s unsurprising that the idea of ditching meat provokes such strong reactions. And for many people, a future without meat is one not worth living in. But what if we flipped the script on assumptions about plant-based life as something that just subtracts things from our lives?” Text appears alongside a TV scene, people cooking over a grill, a picnic.
An illustration of the author and friend on a white background, followed by text that says: “I totally understand why people feel weird about cutting out meat and dairy. Food connects us to each other.” And then, a lush field with text superimposed: “But let me tell you a secret: My world has never felt so full of joy and purpose.”
A farm illustration. Text reads: “In his book Dedicated, author Pete Davis argues that having an infinite array of options might look like freedom, but this is ultimately a superficial notion of what makes a happy, connected life. “We yearn for the purpose, community, and depth that can only come from making deep commitments,” he writes. This is the role that veganism has come to play in my life. It’s my ethical North Star — the spiritual anchor that makes everything else make sense.”
Text reads: “I didn’t always live this way. When I was 4, I immigrated with my mom and my grandparents to the US from the former Soviet Union, and I grew up eating lots of meat- and dairy-heavy cuisine: meat dumplings slathered in sour cream, beef kabobs by way of the Caucasus and Central Asia, pancakes thickened with cottage cheese.” Below the text, the foods are illustrated against pastel plates.
Text reads: “As a preteen, I decided I wanted to stop eating animals. For a long time, though, I wasn’t a consistent vegetarian. No one in my family or school friends was interested in vegetarianism, and without a community, transforming your diet can feel virtually impossible. Things started to change in high school. I learned that veganism isn’t just about taking animal-based foods off your plate. It’s about adding new ingredients altogether.” Illustration of a haggard teen reading “Meat Inc.”
Text reads: “When meat is the centerpiece of a dish, all the other ingredients serve to highlight and complement its fatty, savory flavors. But plants make entirely different tastes the star of the show — no meat imitation required. Foods like coconuts, cashews, beans, and even oats can add their own delightful creaminess, while braised cabbages, fried tofu, crisped chickpeas, and chewy seitan provide body and texture.” Illustration of author cooking, followed by chana masala.
Text reads: “I baked every type of decadent cupcake imaginable — mint chocolate, matcha, dulce sin leche — from the book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and brought them to school to share.” Illustration of friends saying “These are so good!” and “Yum!” Text continues: “After a while, my definition of food started to change. Far from making me feel deprived, these experiences opened up a limitless world of plant-based foods — foods that many Americans never get to experience.”
Text reads: “I also gained an appreciation for how many plant-based gems already exist in Russian cuisine. Like vinegret, a tart purple salad of minced beets, dill pickles, and other vegetables. Shchi is an herb soup of hardy plants like cabbage and potato. (It’s sometimes made with meat broth, but that’s easily omitted.) Others, like salat olivye, a dill-heavy, mayonnaise-based salad, are easier to veganize than you might think with chickpeas and egg-free mayo.” Meals are illustrated.
An illustration of the author and her mom in front of the stove, tending to a large pot. Text reads: “My mom is still ambivalent about veganism, but she admires how important it is to me and often says she wants to try it. She uses Impossible Meat to veganize kotleti (meat patties) and golubtsi (cabbage rolls). These are best eaten on a bed of buckwheat — the nutty, nutrient-dense whole grain of choice in former Soviet countries.” 
Speech bubbles from various writers. The author’s text reads: “21st-century people who eat meat-rich diets can sometimes essentialize animal products as a central part of culture, but the foundations of cuisines around the world have long been plant-based.” Then two condensed quotes from journalist Marianna Giusti and chef Hannah Che appear alongside potatoes, eggplants, and garlic.
Text reads: “Even in the lands we call the United States, Indigenous peoples for centuries cultivated the Three Sisters — corn, beans, and squash — a protein-rich trio still savored today. We can look to these traditions to build a more sustainable future.” These words are superimposed on an illustration of the Three Sisters growing in a field against a soft yellow sky.
Text reads: “Veganism isn’t just a diet or a way to lower carbon emissions. It’s a philosophy of nonviolence toward nonhuman animals.” Rows of factory farming sheds are illustrated, as well as pollution. Text continues: “Factory farming has literally remade life on Earth. It has replaced wild animals with billions of farmed animals, both victims of and unwitting contributors to our planetary crisis, that live and die in conditions of bottomless cruelty.”
Illustration of cows in close confines. Text reads: “For many people, confronting the violence behind something so intimate as the food we eat makes them want to shut down rather than take action. But I’ve come to see joy and grief as two inextricable sides of the same coin. Committing to veganism has allowed me to mourn animal agriculture’s impact on the planet while being able to build something new, something better, something consistent with my deepest values and with a livable future.”
Text reads: “It has also connected me with others and expanded my sense of home. The Midwest, where I live, has some of the densest concentrations of factory farms on Earth. By some measures, animals farmed for food now make up the bulk of the Earth’s creatures. Animals like cows, pigs, and chickens are ignored in conversations about biodiversity, but my vision of connecting with life on Earth puts them at the center.”
Text reads: “My husband and I volunteer at a Wisconsin farm sanctuary about an hour from our home. There, animals rescued from the region’s factory farms are given a space to live out their lives.” Followed by an illustration of farm animals next to the author. Next, the text reads: “One of them, an enormous pig named Wemberly, had been found as a piglet. At 21 days old, she had spent the first few weeks of her life in a tiny cage before being shipped off for fattening and slaughter.”
Illustration of a small pig in a cage, and then being held. Text reads: “To the factory farm industry, Wemberly was a margin of error. To the farm worker who took mercy on her and called the sanctuary for help, she contained a universe of experience — a life worth living. I often think about an idea I learned growing up in an Orthodox Jewish school, where I first had the idea to become vegetarian. In Judaism, we sometimes say that saving a life is equivalent to saving the entire world.”
An illustration of friends at a picnic, and then two people sharing a plate of food between each other. Text reads: “Even after so many years, being vegan in a non-vegan world is not always easy — logistically, socially, and emotionally. Human connection makes it easier. We share vegan foods and an unspoken understanding of how hard it is to go through life carrying such a heavy burden. What else can we do in this unjust world if not help each other live according to our values?”

Marina Bolotnikova is a deputy editor for Vox’s Future Perfect section. Before joining Vox, she reported on factory farming for national outlets including the Guardian, the Intercept, and elsewhere.

Christine Mi is a cartoonist, writer, and game designer focused on telling stories in and around nature. Some examples of topics she’s explored in her work have been eels (where do they come from?), gingko trees, and finding ways to experience small joys during the pandemic. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Rumpus, and more.

Sources

Tips and resources for going plant-based

Further reading on factory farming, our food system, and the climate

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