How I Got My Rancher Husband to Go Vegan
Ranching is part of my husbands family tradition, but love and support (and vegan ice cream!) got him to adopt a cruelty-free life.
When folks think of Texas Ranchers, generally they picture rugged cowboys who wear leather boots, drive a diesel pickup truck, and participate in their local Cattlemen’s Association. This stereotype used to describe my husband Tommy Sonnen, a Texas Rancher whose ranching heritage dates to the late 1890s, when his great-grandfather drove cows from San Antonio to their Houston slaughterhouse with whips, brands, and silver nickel spurs. But things have changed, and currently Tommy works for me as a volunteer at Rowdy Girl Sanctuary on what used to be his beef cattle operation.
In May, my husband will be celebrating his two-year vegan anniversary. Changing my husband’s mind to think it was a good idea to eat plants instead of the Standard American Diet was not easy, but I did it. Here are the five hardest things I had to deal with as he transitioned from a Texas Rancher to a full-on vegan.
1. Deer heads
When we met, Tommy was an avid hunter, and throughout the 1990s, our weekends and holidays were spent in West Texas, where he owned a hunting ranch. Similar to his ranching heritage, hunting was a family tradition, and it was difficult to get him to see that those deer heads on the wall had to go. Tommy considered them to be heirlooms and family relics that would be passed down generationally. Our first Vegan Awareness Festival & Fundraiser was in May 2015, and Kip Andersen volunteered to speak. I was mortified that Kip was going to come into our living room surrounded by death, so I prepared him and apologized for my husband’s “décor.” When Kip (and others at the event) accepted my husband for who he was and where he was in his life, something changed: he wasn’t judged or criticized. He was accepted and loved, which started him down his path of becoming vegan.
2. Animal products had to go
When I went vegan, nothing could stop me from converting our beef cattle ranch to a farm sanctuary. Tommy, however, was against the idea completely. So when I started telling him that animal products were forbidden in this house, I got his attention. Unfortunately, it was negative attention! Reluctantly, my husband agreed to watch the films Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, and Food Matters. The documentary that began to convince him was Forks Over Knives because he related to T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study due to his father’s heart attack-induced death at age 62. With a big sigh, he agreed to try eating my cooking.
3. My cooking
Enthusiastically, I began preparing vegan recipes—and because my husband was a big meat- and cheese-eater, I began experimenting with vegan meats and cheeses. He wasn’t eating animal products in the house anymore, but he didn’t like my cooking one bit. Each day I would say, “Well, what did you think of that?” Repeatedly, he would say, “I’m not going to lie, Renee—it tastes like crap!” He continued watching the videos, and something began to sink in about the addiction of meat and dairy. Getting him to understand that he was detoxing animal waste was not easy, but eventually it began to happen.
4. Giving up dairy
Tommy loved ice cream and cheese (Blue Bell was his favorite), and he gravitated toward cheesy toppings and casseroles. I didn’t think I would ever be able to satisfy that need in him until vegan food companies began sending us samples. At our first event, Tommy experienced So Delicious ice cream and Follow Your Heart cheese. All day, he whizzed around in our Kawasaki Mule with a different ice cream and sandwich. He beamed from ear-to-ear about how good the ice cream was and said that he had “finally found a [vegan] cheese he liked.” Good vegan products made all the difference, and right after the event he said, “With So Delicious Ice Cream and Follow Your Heart cheese, I might as well go all the way.”
Tommy loves his family. One of the highlights of our marriage has always been family gatherings, and when there are family gatherings, there’s lots of food. Generally, this includes barbecued meat, shrimp, oysters, fried turkey, big hams, creamy casseroles, and desserts full of milk, cheese, and eggs. To new vegans, it meant isolation. We’ve tried taking our own vegan food to family affairs, and it ends up feeling awkward and forced. We’ve tried eating whatever vegan food is being served, but we end up depressed and wanting to leave. The joy of being with the family during festive occasions has ceased. This issue has been the hardest. At times, Tommy feels like going vegan has separated him from his family, and in some ways, it has. It’s interesting how food either binds or separates us. Still, one holiday at a time, our vegan light will shine on those we love.
Renee King Sonnen is the founder and Executive Director of Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, the first vegan cattle ranch conversion in the country (and quite possibly the world).
Photo ccourtesy of Renee King Sonnen
10 Vegan Things This Lesbian is Wearing to San Francisco Pride
I care about social justice and I like to go big. I can only hope my gaudy outfit will reflect my values.
Read More »
6 Things You Didnt Know About Vegan Chef Jason Wrobel
The beloved TV personality and cookbook author spreads the plant-based lifestyle through culinary entertainment.
Read More »
15 Vegan Ways to Celebrate LGBTQ Pride
Pride Month is here, so be loud, proud, and cruelty-free with everything from rainbow colored eats to multi-hued makeup looks.
Read More »
5 Animal Rescues Adopting Vegan Food Policies
Animal-rescue organizations love animals, so its only natural that they have adopted vegan guidelines.
Read More »
7 Vegan Memes That Pretty Much Say It All
Every plant-based prince and princess should know that there is a meme out there that understands you.
Read More »
- Sizzling Vegan Summer Beauty Brands and Tips
- The Anti-Unicorn Vegan Goth Trend is Finally Here
- The Best of Eat Drink Vegan
- 8 Outrageous Vegan Scoops at Ice Cream Shops Nationwide
- 9 Questions with Comedian Myq Kaplan
- 6 Ways to Get Your Children to Eat More Vegetables
- Mistress Gingers Vegan Guilty Pleasures
- The Vegan Bachelors Guide to Peanut Butter
- How to Throw the Ultimate Graduation Vegan Barbecue
- 4 Reasons Vegans Should Consider a Detox Vacation
- Why Diversity in Veganism Needs to be a Thing
- Veg Rock Stars: From Classics to Coachella
- NYCs Most Successful Vegan Restaurateur Shares Her Secrets
- 9 Must-Visit Booths at NYC Vegetarian Food Festival
- 5 Vegan Gifts to Give a Grad
- 5 Vegan YouTube Channels to Binge-Watch
- 5 Ways to Celebrate a Vegan Mothers Day with Your Mom
- 8 Questions with Veggie Grill Co-Founder T.K. Pillan
- 12 Vegan Unicorn-Themed Things You Need Immediately
- A Sneak Preview of Plant-Based by Nafsikas Second Season