Published by Angela Henderson.

Every person who gets involved with animal rights has an origin story—an “aha” moment in which they realize that what they wear, eat, and buy can change the world. Unlike Spider-Man, the following vegans’ superpower to save animals was triggered by a metaphoric spider bite: a compassionate call to action, whether a documentary or an animal friend sparked the change. Here are some of our favorite vegan origin stories:

Edward Ozols: For Health

We’re only slightly biased when it comes to Ed, our 2014 Sexiest Vegan Over 50. He went vegan after undergoing emergency bypass surgery for a severe artery blockage.

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An avid athlete who has climbed and then skied down Mount Rainier, Ed is currently writing a book about his experience and the health benefits of going vegan in the hope of helping others avoid the need for heart surgery.

He’s also active on social media, speaking out against factory farming and other forms of cruelty to animals.

When he’s not speaking out for animals or sponsoring orphaned elephants in lieu of birthday gifts, the compassionate 70-year-old runs his own architectural practice. You go, Ed!

Genesis Butler: Chickens—Not Nuggets

When Genesis Butler learned where chicken nuggets came from, she knew that she didn’t want to eat her friends. Many people who go vegan do so for ethical reasons once they recognize where their food really comes from. Genesis was 3 years old when she had this realization.

Her dedication to helping animals earned her the title of PETA’s 2015 Cutest Vegan Kid.

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As seen on her Facebook page, Genesis attends protests, speaks at vegan events, and rocks animal rights gear to spread the message. By now, she has saved a lot of chickens from becoming nuggets.

Jessica Schlueter: A TV Show

Jessica, the innovative entrepreneur behind the successful vegan clothing brand The Tree Kisser, considered herself a vegetarian from the time she was 8 years old. That’s when she discovered that pigs, her favorite animal, were being slaughtered for bacon.

Years later, she watched an episode of the show 30 Days, and it changed everything for her. In the episode, a hunter from the South went to live with a vegan family in Los Angeles for 30 days. It persuaded Jessica to stop consuming all animal-derived foods. Now, she’s a constant advocate for animals, whether she’s promoting companion-animal adoption …

… or her adorable clothing line.

You can visit her online shop here.

Vegan Boss: An Activist Friend

In 2009, the rapper now known as Vegan Boss was living in Southern California. His roommate at the time was preparing for a protest against animal experiments at the University of California–Los Angeles. He helped her organize all the signs and pamphlets that were strewn across their living room, and in the process, he read the literature about animal experimentation and even watched PETA’s Meet Your Meat DVD. He was outraged by what he saw and decided to accompany her to the protest.

“It was at the protest that it hit me—the energy of the people there sparked me to make a change. Shortly after, I went vegetarian, and in 2010, I went vegan,” he says. Now, he’s using his undeniable talent to spread the animal rights message. His songs are not only catchy but also inform the listener of the plights of abused animals. He’s hoping that by spreading his message through music, he can open more ears (and eyes!) to a more compassionate way of living. Oh, and if you’re wondering what vegan deliciousness is out there, look no further than his Instagram account:

Alyssa Park: For the Environment

When she learned about the meat and dairy industries’ harmful impact on the environment, Alyssa, a Los Angeles–based editor, was troubled. She investigated further and was horrified by “the whole cow methane problem with CO2 and the fact that there is no place for the large amounts [of] poo that the animals excrete.”

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Then she watched the documentary Vegucated and became aware of the abuse that animals endure on factory farms. She puts it very simply: “You can’t really ignore it, because of how shocking the way things are done.”

Oh, and she also posts pictures of her cute cat on Facebook:

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Ashley Frohnert : An Animal Friend

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Ashley recalls visiting the local fair. She remembers befriending a cow one year whom she visited in the “cow barn” for five days straight. She says, “I made a lot of cow, among other animal, connections, but one goofy calf will always be in my mind! I visited him every day, and he would moo like crazy every time I left.”

Years later, she read the book Skinny Bitch, which propelled her to transition to a plant-based diet. Now, she’s a full-time animal rights activist and encourages others to make compassionate choices.

Jud Meyers: A Desire to Learn

As the owner of a popular Los Angeles bookstore specializing in comic books, Jud has a love for knowledge and a constant craving to learn more. While many people have one specific “aha” moment that led them to a plant-based life, Jud’s vegan story spans decades. He gave up eating all animals except fish 20 years ago and was a vegetarian for five years before going fully vegan. Because of his curious nature, he did something that a lot of people refuse to do: He listened when someone told him what animals go through in the egg and dairy industries, which inspired him to learn more.

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“It wasn’t easy to speak and read and see. But learning difficult things is never easy, and once you do, that knowledge stays with you for the rest of your life,” he says.

Nowadays, Jud donates his time to helping animals, and he and his family even sponsor a cow at a local sanctuary. He says that one of the most rewarding parts of his journey is the fact that he gets to share it with his daughter: “She’s always known who I am and why I live the way I do. But now, she has a better understanding of why I give her the freedom to eat meat if she chooses, but how I won’t allow it in our home. Why we search so hard for non-leather clothing instead of just going to the mall. And why every single choice we make as humans affects animals, other humans, our planet, and our very survival.”

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What You Can Do

Feeling inspired by these vegans’ origin stories? Start writing your own! Take our vegan pledge and start saving animals today.

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