I think the most telling remark in this excellent piece was your feeling that you needed a “religion shaped hole” to fill and veganism does that for you.
I understand the basis of veganism’s philosophy but would counter with this: every living thing in nature exists as food for some other creature. That is indisputable fact. You can, and will, argue that humans are higher beings with moral sensibility who can rise above this at least where the living things we treat as food are lacking in limbs (defined to include wings and fins as well as legs). Like many other animals, we have evolved as omnivores and there are ways of ensuring that the animals we eat are treated well whilst alive and are killed using humane methods.
At the end of the day veganism is denying their very existence to billions of animals.