Many thanks to Ian Byrne for answering our questions. If you too want to participate and share your story, read our questions and email your answers to us at www.vegan.ie or vegansireland@gmail.com.

How and why did you go vegan?

Like so many others I was raised on meat, dairy and egg without ever being given a choice or being educated about the consequences of my actions. I became accustomed to eating meat and it felt ‘normal’ because it seemed like everybody else did it (except for those few vegetarian oddballs of course). I remember hating the taste of milk but being pressured to drink it in school and even forcing myself to drink milk as a teenager because we were constantly bombarded by adverts that told us milk was vital for strong bones and teeth.

One day I happened to catch a glimpse into the back of a meat truck parked outside a butcher shop which contained dead pigs hanging on hooks. That image stayed with me because it was a first real life glimpse at real fully formed murdered sentient bodies and deep down I felt that something was very wrong. After that I began to feel disgusted by meat isles in supermarkets and I could only eat meat as long as somebody else cooked it for me or I didn’t have to handle raw meat myself.

Even though I had started to feel a sense of guilt about eating meat I continued eating it for a long time because I was still missing something and still felt somehow justified. The marketers made meat very attractive and only told their side of the story while doing their best to cover up the cruelty side. I had no idea how to cook so I ate meat for convenience because of a very busy and distracted lifestyle. Before I became non-religious I went to church on Sundays. There were often references to fishermen or stories like the miracle of the loaves and fishes or the father who ordered for the best calf to be slaughtered on return of his lost son. So I figured if God said it was ok then it must be ok.

However as I got older and wiser I began to realise that what I perceived to be ‘normal’ was down to what I had been socially conditioned to believe by my culture and environment. I learned that platforms such as politics, media and religion are often cleverly used as profit making tools that force notions upon the masses to make them perceive even the most ridiculous and evil behaviors to be ‘normal’ and so I became very distrustful of them.

A vegan friend told me some things about veganism and after some research I was shocked to learn about the extent of the unnecessary animal suffering that went on and it went way beyond just meat products. Also after being diagnosed with a long term illness, my research lead me to discover that the consumption of animal products caused a huge amount of today’s well known major diseases. I had already given up egg and dairy products a few years prior due to allergies and now it all started to make sense. Finally I was able to open my eyes and make the connection. When I finally went vegan on 31/12/2009 it was the easiest and best decision of my life.

How do you cope/thrive in a non-vegan world?

One of the greatest coping mechanisms for me is acceptance of the fact that it’s almost impossible to be 100% vegan. Veganism is not a bed of roses because there are many things to consider. For example if your carnivorous pet’s nutritional needs are not being met by vegan pet food should you purchase and handle meat or fish yourself in order to feed them properly? If so how many innocent animals/fish have to suffer and die in agony for your one pet to live in bliss? Should we even domesticate animals at all? If stranded at sea and your only option were to kill fish for food what would you do? You may decide not to drive a car because you don’t want to kill insects but what about the truck that took your food to the supermarket or farmers market? Your existence inevitably impacts others therefore I feel that the goal of a vegan is to minimise the impact of their existence on other sentient beings (to live and let live) as much as is practically possible.

Another challenge about being a vegan is coping with living in a human speciesist society i.e. a society that discriminates against others simply because of their species. In such a society the use of animal products is so widespread that they are almost impossible to avoid. For example how can you tell a vegan chair from non-vegan? A chair in a restaurant or waiting room may have been glued together by glue manufactured from animal products simply because that was the cheaper option for the manufacturer. Even the manufacture of the wood or plastic to make the chair takes away habitat from wildlife. Yet I will most likely still sit down on the chair. Of course if given the choice and I would rather sit on a chair containing no cruelty. Unfortunately vegans just don’t always have a choice.

There are endless other examples. Fertilizers are often made from animal products and many activities such as farming, mining, drilling and pollution inevitably kill animals. Fruits are often covered with waxes containing animal products for preservation purposes and even organic fruit and vegetables are often technically not vegan because many organic farms shoot deer, kill moles and employ natural pesticides.

Is there a better way? Yes of course. All of these things could be avoided if industries themselves were vegan but they simply don’t care because within capitalism profit comes before life and that includes human life. However even though many things are beyond our control, a vegan will always choose the vegan option if the option is presented and that’s the point. I cope knowing that I’m making a positive difference and setting better example for others simply by making the most vegan choice possible. Maybe if enough of us continue to do the same we will finally create an ethic that spreads not just throughout our friends and family but throughout industry and humanity itself.

Do you think the future will be vegan?

Yes I like to believe that at some point in the future there could be a mass awakening in consciousness and humanity will shift towards the notion of non-violence towards others (ahimsa). This shift would not just eliminate speciesism but all forms of violence including racism, bullying, ageism, chauvinism etc. Presently the profit based system we live under encourages violence, competition, lies, deceit, corruption and manipulation. People are shielded from the true consequences of their actions. Education is poor and critical thinking is not encouraged. Also current practices of wasting precious resources like land, food and water to feed and then kill billions of sentient lives each year simply cannot be sustained. Something has to give.

What challenges did you encounter when you became vegan? If so what were they and how have you dealt with them?

I was never much of a cook so the main challenge for me was figuring out what I could eat, where I could get it and how I should prepare it. On day one I basically started with peanut butter sandwiches and went from there. I was worried in the beginning that I might not get the nutrition I needed because I had no idea what I was doing but after only a few days I was literally flying and I discovered that being vegan is extremely easy. You soon realise that there are plenty of staple foods, meetup groups, online resources and restaurants to help you along your way. I was amazed at this whole new world of creative food dishes that I had been missing out on all my life. Shoe shopping was also a little challenging. Choices are very limited when it comes to vegan footwear so you often find yourself wearing shoe styles that you don’t like. But it’s a small price to pay for an amazingly liberating lifestyle.

Is there anyone who has particularly inspired or helped you?

My inspiration came from a few sources. Growing up I rarely had any contact with a vegetarian let alone a vegan. My sister went vegetarian in her teens before returning to eat meat after 5 years. However I was still inspired by her efforts and they say that change is often inspired by a series of smaller events rather than one larger one. Even when I went vegan at the start of 2010 I only knew one vegan and a handful of vegetarians at that time but I think that my contact with all of these people inspired me in some way. Now of course I have an abundance of vegan friends and I like to think that we all inspire each other and hopefully we inspire others too. I have a lot of respect for vegans who dedicate their lives to animal activism and I find people like Gary Yourofsky, Gary Francione, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Steve Best and Keith Mann very inspiring.

What do you think are the most effective ways of helping veganism become more mainstream?

Much responsibility lies with vegans themselves being such a small minority. Vegans tend to be mostly concerned with animal welfare but it’s also important to be knowledgeable in the areas of health/nutrition and environmental issues. This involves continually educating ourselves because there are many useful facts, figures and statistics to be familiar with. In essence the more we can master our knowledge of all areas the better we can both defend and promote the vegan lifestyle with facts and rationality. It is also very important to get active because activism has been proven time and time again to bring about change. In this modern world full of distractions I greatly admire anybody who gets active whether it’s handing out leaflets, creating websites and magasines, protesting, rescuing, lecturing or whatever. Education is crucial for spreading awareness and giving a voice to those without one and the internet has opened up a whole new world in this regard. With the number of vegans now doubling every two years in the U.S. and more and more celebrities embracing the vegan lifestyle, signs are good that all of the amazing efforts of the worldwide vegan community are helping to push veganism into the mainstream.

Did going vegan change your relationships with your friends and family?

I don’t think it changed the quality of my relationships with my family but I definitely began to spend less time with my family at meal times and more time preparing my own meals and eating when it suited me. I joined meetup groups and began share ideas with many like minded people. As a result I spent less time with my old friends but I don’t think that I lost any friendships as a result. I sensed perhaps that I wasn’t as included in as many activities as I once was. It seems when you make room for new friendships that old friendships are inevitably affected but overall once you make a little extra effort good friends will always be there.