Vegan for a Decade: Screw-ups and Victories

Catherine Besch
5 min readJan 30, 2023

Coming into my 10th year of being vegan, I think of all the times I screwed up. I think of the lives that I took unwittingly and the suffering I caused out of ignorance.

Running a rescue this whole decade in which I have been privileged to intervene in thousands of lives who needed me, I shouldn’t dwell on the oopsies, but they are always on my mind even a decade later. My worst examples are the fact that I did not know pesto is usually made with Romano cheese and that croissants are made with butter (though now we get our vegan croissants delivered to our door in Vietnam). I had lived over three decades without knowing these basic facts about common foods. Since I lived in Vietnam when I went vegan, however, we didn’t exactly have pesto or croissants as our common food options, so it was rare that I ate them anyway.

We had 4 rescued ducks and 3 chickens in that first couple of years of running the rescue and I had absolutely no idea that we could feed their eggs back to them or that the dogs might eat them. No clue. I had no avian experience of any kind prior to rescuing them, no vegan chicken mentors as I do now, and I would occasionally eat their eggs thinking that was what vegans with chickens would do. I am so embarrassed of how idiotic that one was. We always feed eggs back to our birds now because they are not ours to take for any reason.

When I was drinking more before the rescue was running at full speed and my entire social life came to a halt, once in a while ran into some cheese and I would sneak a bite in the first few months, always feeling like crap the next morning. At an Indian restaurant, I accidentally had a piece of cow flesh in my soup that I thought was a mock meat and wasn’t, something that made me feel like I had been poisoned years after I had gone vegan. When I first moved to Vietnam and was an ignorant foreigner, I didn’t understand that all the soup broths were made with cow bones so I thought I could eat the soup and just tell them not to put the meat in it. This was long before I spoke any Vietnamese or understood vegan cuisine at all. We all make mistakes and it does not make us less vegan.

Just last week in Wales, I ordered an oat latte and as I took a huge gulp, a waitress came running out in a panic and said it was dairy by accident. She was also vegan and I thought she was going to just pass out in horror. I was so disgusted because I know so well the extreme suffering and murder that goes into dairy, but I worked in restaurants for 8 years and know people screw up in rush hour when everything is so manic. While I wanted to vomit and gargle some hard local whisky, I was going to be OK. They gave me my whole meal for free and made me a new oat latte. I gave them my business card and told them that running an animal rights organization in Vietnam is why I am vegan and why vegan milk is the only way lattes should be made. They were not monsters, just humans that fail sometimes like we all do.

Evolution and understanding

The point is that over this decade I have grown as a vegan. We all evolve and learn in time. I went from trying to be “the nice and inclusive vegan” who would still eat at a table with people chowing down on murdered animals to not being present at all when people eat animals. I eat almost exclusively at vegan-only restaurants whenever possible. I give absolutely no fucks about who is uncomfortable by me being vegan and have a witty retort for every dumb shit response people will give me. I remind them that it is my full-time job to go head to head with people who say they love animals but still put their corpses in their faces, so go ahead and throw me your excuses, you’ll not win this debate. I do not lie to children about where their food comes from either. If their parents want to keep them in the dark and serve them murdered animals, that’s up to them, but I didn’t shoot them out of my vagina so I reserve the right to be honest- except about Santa because he’s definitely real.

My best hope for the next decade is to not lose this fire that I have as a vegan, not an “angry” vegan as we are so often called. This fire I have as a vegan burns brighter every day as I learn more about the horrors of what humans do to non-humans and as I witness more “animal lovers” who are still participating in suffering and murder of sentient beings. I have also learned that people who disagree with you will always call you militant and if you drown in the excuses and attacks from the peanut gallery, this will ensure you are just an angry vegan who makes no headway in changing the world from one that harms to one that helps. That’s how this works in pretty much every debate, but especially ones that question morality.

To be unabashedly vegan and to stand up for all species is not something I do on the side. It is in my every action and is part of all relationships in my life. Veganism and my passion for creating a vegan world is infused in every cell in my body and I look forward to decades more of protecting with all I have the trillions of animals murdered every year for human greed and ignorance.

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Catherine Besch

Cat Besch is a ferocious animal activist and pig, chicken, dog, and cat mom who is the founder and director of Vietnam Animal Aid and Rescue-US.