My Vegan Story

I often feel like veganism for me is partially innate and partially a legacy of my mother. As a child, I didn’t take a dummy, but I had a security toy – a stuffed white harp seal that I named Sealy. My other favourite toy was “Ducky”, a stuffed duck that lived in the dolls corner at preschool that I loved so much that my teachers let me keep it (no I never got the award for original names!) I cried when the other children pulled off Ducky’s eyes and I became severely depressed when my Nana melted Sealy in the drier after she washed him. My Mum told me I didn’t eat for months. I was around 4 at the time. Ducks and seals are still two of my favourite animals to which I have a soft spot for.

My parents were my teachers for animal loving. My Mum was forever bringing home lost dogs and taking injured animals such as mice and possums and birds to the vet; My Dad spoiled our dog, Bernie rotten – but despite our animal loving household, meat was still table food.

Nat's family

My parents divorced when I was 11, and my Dad remarried and moved to the very outskirts ofMelbourne. He had a large property and he had a couple of dogs, a couple of ducklings, a chicken and a lamb.

This was where the penny dropped – where a neural pathway was created. I call this my Lisa Simpson moment: We all sat down to dinner one evening and as my stepmother served me a plate of mashed potatoes and lamb chops I looked out the window. I looked at my plate and then looked outside again. I repeated this several times until I finally pushed my plate away. I realised that the lamb on my plate was no different to the lamb outside – the one that would frolic and play and baa! Needless to say, I have not eaten lamb since. I went home to my Mum and announced to her that I was now vegetarian. I have to give her credit for being supportive as it was 1995 and vegetarianism was not overly common. She bought a vegetarian cookbook but insisted I still eat fish and chicken.

I maintained this pesco/pollotarian whatever you call it diet for two years until my priorities shifted to being cool and fitting in. I started eating hamburgers at Maccas with my friends on drunken nights out – but once school was over, coolness mattered less and I matured a little, I became vegetarian for real – no fish or chicken this time.

At the age of 19, about a year after becoming vegetarian, my mum was diagnosed with advanced non-small cell carcinoma of the lung. She died painfully 8 or 9 months post diagnosis. 6 weeks after her death, my grandfather (my mother’s father) died suddenly from heart failure. That same week my grandmother (my mother’s mother) was diagnosed with lung cancer as well. She died 8 weeks later. And then there was me, left behind. I had my very supportive boyfriend (now husband) by my side as well as my stepfather and close cousin, but no parents (I was not in much contact with my father at this time),no grandparents and my brother lived interstate. I was scared and very very sad. I had depended on all the people who were now gone.

Natalie and her daughter Malia: passing on the love and compassion

During that first year post the deaths of my loved ones, I stumbled across an article about veganism purely by chance. I cannot even remember which one it was or where it was from but it was detailed enough to make me realise that I was feeling the same grief that the baby cow feels when he is taken away from his mummy, my mother felt the same fear on her road to death that the beef cattle feel as they approached the slaughterhouse – I realised that we are all the same. Another neural pathway creation!

I feel like although the foundations of my veganism are very unconventional (and undesirable to say the least), my life experiences allowed me to empathise with my fellow earthlings on a whole new level. I thank my mother for teaching me compassion for animals and for setting this path for me to follow and I am grateful to her as I see her as a massive part of my vegan foundations. Although she wasn’t vegan or even vegetarian herself, it is because of her that I am and because of her that my daughters are.  


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Vegan Super Mum Columnist

My name is Natalie Cunningham and I am from Melbourne, Australia. I am a mum of two beautiful girls, Leilani and Malia and my husband is Robert. We are a vegan family – I have been vegan for over 10 years now, Robert for 3 years and our children have been vegan since birth. I am the vice president and one of the founders of Vegan Parents Australia – an organisation dedicated to bringing vegan families together for moral support and friendships and to mainstream veganism by dispelling the myths that it is dangerous for children to be vegan, and that it is in fact easy and healthy!

More about Natalie

Check out Natalie’s co-founded organization – Vegan Parents Australia

Check out Natalie's Vegan Family blog - The Veggiebacons