Why Your Own Story Matters

Stories are so important. They are fundamental features of humanity; storytelling was how our ancestors conveyed lessons and beliefs, reinforced cultural norms and spiritual ideas, and shared knowledge. It was how people interpreted and understood their world before there was more objective information. Even today, though, it is vital to who we are. This is something Mike Favata highlighted in a piece he wrote about the stories people tell themselves about eating meat and why it matters. The power of storytelling is also a visible in advocacy in general too. I work as a child welfare advocate and it is very important for two reasons: it allows a foster youth or alumni to tell their story in the way that they want, and they can connect their experiences with their audience and the broader problems in the child welfare system.  In fact, there is a practice called Strategic Sharing, which is a useful tool for telling effective stories. It involves crafting your own narrative in a way that that you are emotionally comfortable with, doesn’t trigger you or make you feel retraumatized, and isn’t too graphic or explicit such that it might be inappropriate for the audience; but also, in a way that addresses an issue and is relevant to and salient with the audience. The strategy is good internally for the speaker by allowing him or her to control and convey their own narrative, and externally for the audience by focusing that narrative on a specific issue in a way that resonates with the audience.

With that in mind, I want to put storytelling into another frame that Mike Favata also indirectly wrote about: the story we tell others about why we’re vegan. This can have a stronger and more lasting impact than just pointing out the facts because it provides a context in which people can understand and consider the facts. In other words, you can use your experiences to represent or reflect a certain issue and convey its consequences or significance to others. The strength of this is exemplified in Cowspiracy (a monumental vegan documentary) in which the narrator goes through his journey about how he became vegan. Throughout the film, he also goes through the facts about the breadth and magnitude of the problems related to the animal agriculture industry. The way he wove them together is a near-perfect example of how to promote veganism through telling your own story. I like to call this all putting a face to the facts.

Telling a good story is one thing, but telling your own is a more fundamental matter. It’s an issue I’ve faced recently, because my story about how I became vegan has been fabricated and told by someone else, a family member of mine. Ironically, this person is actually the person that caused me to go vegan, yet she has evidently forgotten that and conflated it with another story. She has told a few people about how I became vegan; one time I was there while she told someone the fabricated story and I thought she was intentionally joking or something, but I learned shortly after that she had recited this to other people too.

I want to use this post to reclaim my experiences and journey to becoming vegan. By doing so, I will solidify the truth and work on how to craft my story effectively. So here it goes, this is how I became vegan. I was arguing with this particular individual about a claim she made. She argued that anyone who knows the facts and problems associated with animal agriculture yet continues to buy-into the industry and consume animal products is immoral. She asserted that this is logical and just, and that all vegans should agree with this. I contended that that is a misapplication of the word because it would imply that even people who actively do good things are also immoral because they choose to eat meat or drink milk. I continued that it would be unfair and wrong to call humanitarian activists immoral, for example, just because they eat meat. I argued that we typically reserve the term “immoral” for actions that are more heinous and harmful than just consuming animal products and by-products, so applying it to such actions is unhelpful and diminishes the standard of morality. Her retort was that I was saying this all because I wasn’t vegan, so ultimately, to prove this person wrong, I stated that I would become vegan to demonstrate how even someone who holds the same values can disagree with her argument. Since then, a little more than three years ago, I have been vegan and loved it so much. And I proved my point too, because my position didn’t change and still hasn’t. In one sentence, I became vegan to prove a point and ended up loving it.

The strength of my story is that is exemplifies how each of our journeys into becoming vegan are very different from one another. Another lesson is that vegans are not monolithic and there is diversity of thought amongst us. More importantly to me, however, is that this is now my story once again. I feel fully in control of my narrative.

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