Rachel Sklenicka

At this point in my life, I would consider myself to be an ethical vegan — my main motivation being the animals — but it wasn’t always that way. It all started when I was a lot younger. I was around the age of seven or eight, and I had been spending time with my sister and one of our friends, who were both vegetarian, while I was not. My family had recently decided to make the change to vegetarianism, but I just wasn’t ready to make what I felt was a big change. I have always been a picky eater, and at the time, I thought it would be too hard to give up one of the things I loved to eat: chicken.

While the three of us were playing a game, my sister and friend started talking about meat, both of them expressing their disgust with the idea of it. I spoke without thinking, saying that I didn’t eat much meat, only chicken. Immediately I felt awful; my friend had pet chickens. How could I tell someone I only ate their pets? Something overcame me in that moment and I felt the only way to fix what I had done was to stop what I was doing, so right then and there I decided, “You know what? I’m going to go vegetarian.”

From that point on, I never ate meat again — at least not intentionally. Though, the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized I didn’t decide to stop eating meat for the animals, I did it for a friend. But over the years my capacity for empathy and compassion has grown tremendously. After being vegetarian for a while, I had found plenty of meat-free meals I enjoyed. There was rarely a time I missed eating any of my previous favorite foods, and at this point, I had developed a deep sense of love for animals. One day, when eating one of my go-to meals, I realized the restaurant had made a mistake and put chicken in my burrito. I had only eaten one bite, but I was filled with grief. I remember crying for hours. A few years later, I made the change to veganism, a bit later than my family again, but this time it was something I wanted to do. I had heard that eating dairy and eggs was still hurting animals. While I didn’t understand how simply milking a cow could do any harm, I trusted what people were saying and I wasn’t ready to see the suffering for myself.

My experience going vegan was a lot harder. It took me a few years to be committed, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Over time, I learned a lot and finally decided I was ready to learn about what animals have to endure for someone to have a meal. Knowing what I know now, I can’t believe it took me so long to care.

At this point, it’s been a decade since I made the initial change to a more compassionate lifestyle, and I have changed so much in that time. To this day, I am striving to live a more compassionate lifestyle every day.