Although his family was vegan before that word even existed, he made his own decision to embrace vegan living. Bob shares his story in this month’s Community Profile.
Name: Bob Gotch
Profession: Administrative / Customer Service / Database Management for county governmental agency
I was born into a veg family and my parents had become vegan in the early 1940’s, both of them having grown up in traditional meat-eating families. This would have been just slightly before the word was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson in England. My mother and father were admirers of Gandhi’s non-violent movement that brought about India’s independence. They were pacifists, didn’t believe in killing animals for food or clothing, and also believed that a vegan diet was best for health.
My father had had rheumatic fever as a child, which damaged his coronary valves. Since there was nothing being offered by traditional medicine at that time–no bypasses, transplants, etc., he adopted veganism and fasting in part to see if he could improve his health. He still died relatively young of congestive heart failure at 43, and after his death my mother gave in to the pressure of her relatives and friends who didn’t think her children could possibly be healthy without at least eating dairy and eggs. “How are they going to have healthy ones and teeth?”
I can’t recall the number of times I heard my mom say, “Milk is for baby cows, not for humans.” But still, I drank milk and ate cheese with great zest, once I was exposed to its fatty, salty charms. And as a child unaware of the inherent cruelty of the dairy industry that we’re aware of now, I thought that since I wasn’t eating meat, I wasn’t contributing to animal misery.
Families being the most potent cult in existence, I adopted the lifestyle and beliefs of my parents quite meekly, (except for their views on dairy) and as a kid really believed that meat was bad for me, and carefully avoided it at all times, even as the neighborhood kids tried to slip it into something I was about to eat.
Later as a teenager I had meat a few times, as exploration or rebellion, then not again until about age 26, when upon the advice of an old Chinese herbalist/chiropractor/accupuncturist, I ate meat for about 6 weeks. After that experiment I never returned to meat, but continued to eat as a lacto/ovo vegetarian, which continued until I became vegan at World Vegetarian Day in Berkeley in 1996 after listening to talks given by doctors Michael Klaper and John McDougall. By that time I had already cut way back on dairy, wasn’t eating eggs, and made the transition quite easily, even being able to walk by the supermarket free sample displays in the deli section, not feeling any inclination to pick up a toothpick full of squares of various cheeses that I had indulged in so heavily from the ages of 6 to 46.
Vegetarianism has always been a central part of my identity, even when I was exploring outside of that lifestyle. I had a few vegetarian friends along the way, plus my immediate family, but otherwise was not connected to the veg community in the Bay Area until I encountered Das Deveraj’s Bay Area Vegetarian Restaurant Trek group, Howard Dyckoff’s East Bay Vegetarians, San Francisco Vegetarian Society, and later Bay Area Vegetarians.
The Internet has been extremely influential in proving the network of activities and gatherings that are available to us today. As one of BAVEG’s monthly restaurant hosts, at New World Vegetarian Restaurant in Oakland, I can only marvel at what a difference several decades make! I remember when there were no salad bars, something taken for granted these days. And of course the opportunity to have great vegan meals at restaurants such as New World, Golden Lotus, Cha Ya, Millennium, and so many others is a fantastic difference from the fifties, sixties, and seventies to now.
As a kid I always had mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and dogs living with me. Now I choose not to share my home with animals. I love animals, want them to be free of cruelty, abuse and misery, but have no desire to live with them, unlike most of my vegan counterparts.
Looking back on my early introduction to veganism, adoption of lacto/ovo diet despite my parents’ beliefs that dairy and eggs were not meant for the human diet, and then going back to the vegan lifestyle that I was born into, I’m wondering if there could have been anything that anyone could have said, done, exposed me to, that would have made me leave lacto/ovo vegetarianism any more quickly. It’s hard to say, because I really didn’t meet any vegans until just a few years before becoming one in 1996. I think intense lobbying or guilt-tripping on anyone’s part wouldn’t have been successful, and I needed to take the path that I did to return to the vegan lifestyle that I live today which makes so much sense to me now from all three of the major perspectives–animal cruelty/exploitation, health, and environment.
So, for more than fifty years I can recall my mom’s words: We don’t kill animals for food or clothing, milk is for baby calves, not for humans, and hydrogenated oil is bad! She was ahead of her time.