Last July, I made one of the most radical (to some), wonderful, impactful choices I could make and became Vegan. Becoming Vegan was something that totally transformed my life for the better, and much of my blog focuses on vegan living, from food to DIY beauty. It has been a year since I have made the switch to a vegan lifestyle, and I wanted to share this moment to reflect on this year. I hope that my experience can open others up to this way of living and all the benefits it entails.
Why I did it
I can only speak for myself, but I found my transition to eating vegan to be rather easy. That being said, I think my circumstances that lead me to veganism are a bit unusual. When I was in college, I fought a battle with anorexia. I cut back on practically every food, especially those loaded in fat. This included most dairy products and processed foods. I gave up red meat in college as well, partly because of my eating disorder, but partly because I discovered that the methane gases released by cows have a detrimental impact on our ozone layer. Being an environmentalist even back then, this fact alone was enough to end my long term love affair with hamburgers.
When I started recovering from anorexia, I focused on clean eating in order to get healthy. This meant lean white meats, seafood, greek yogurts, nuts, whole grains, and tons of fruits and veggies. I did this for about a year until I met my boyfriend who told me about veganism. He had been a vegan for three years, and opened me up to a lot of new information regarding the environment and healthy eating. These were my main two reasons for becoming vegan. I learned that animal agriculture is the number one cause of environmental damage, on so many levels, from deforestation to green house gases to ocean dead zones. Being passionate about healthy eating now, I discovered that plant-based eating is the healthiest ‘diet’ around. Eating a whole food plant-based diet can reverse a number of diseases, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes. Even though many people make the switch to veganism for the animals, I had not made that connection yet to the meat on my plate being a once living, breathing soul.
It is that timeless question for plant-based eaters, “What do you eat?” Being a free spirit, my food choices are hardly routine. Each day is a little different in terms of my meals. I am a big fruits and veggies person, so I tend to include lots of those into my meals. I love trying new recipes, and Pinterest is a great resource for me. On my Pinterest, I have different boards that I pin different recipes to, from Vegan Burgers to Asian dishes. Another source of some of my meals are from one of my many vegan cookbooks.
I also like to make my own meals, because more often than not, I do not have all the ingredients or time for the recipes on my board or in my cookbooks. My creativity in the kitchen ranges from stirfrys to vegan tacos and more. An important tip I have learned about vegan meals is that you want to have a base. If you eat just salads all day, every day, you are probably going to feel fatigued and perhaps bored. Having another energy source, be it whole grains, beans, or nuts will keep you fuller longer, and help you feel more energized.
I found that my friends and family experienced more challenges than I did with the switch to veganism. My friends, with puzzled looks, asked the age-old vegan questions, “What do you eat?” “Where do you get your protein?” Wondering how one could give up cheese and meat, the thought alone being challenging enough.
My family had a minor transition with my newfound lifestyle. Even though we all have culinary skills, my mom is the head Chef in the house. Every night, she made dinner for my dad and I. While she still makes dinner for her and my dad, I am responsible for handling my own meals, which is fine for me, but I think was an adjustment for my mom who was used to cooking for her whole family. This proved to be the same case for my father, who bonded with me every Thursday for our pizza night. To keep this tradition alive, we made some alternations, and my pizza is just cheeseless and contains enough vegetables to make any bunny drool.
The holidays with relatives were another small hurdle to tackle. Every family birthday party is usually celebrated with pizza for dinner and cake for dessert. Needless to say my extended family isn’t the healthiest of eaters. Instead of eating these things, I bring my own meal and dessert. I feel like with any personal food diet, your host shouldn’t have to accommodate just for you. I never felt like I was ‘missing out’ during the holidays. In fact, for Thanksgiving (whose central meal is a giant dead bird) we had family over for a Vegan Thanksgiving. I made Shepherd’s Pie, Cranberry Kale Salad, Steamed Carrots, and Sweet Potato Casserole. For dessert, Pumpkin Custard. With all that tasty plant-based food, I don’t think people missed out on not having turkey.
Another minor challenge I faced was the idea of eating-out. Since I like to cook (which is something I believe not only every Vegan, but every person should know how to do) I don’t eat out much. For the typical America restaurant, whose basic food groups are meat, cheese, and deep-fried anything, finding something that is vegan proves quite challenging. Sometimes the only thing they have is a salad, and often times I’ve needed to ask to ‘hold the cheese’, ‘no chicken’, and ‘dressing on the side’. I found that most ethnic restaurants have better vegan options. My favorite eateries are Thai and Indian. Both styles of cooking have tofu options and typically have more than one option for us vegans. If you’re lucky, there may even be a vegan restaurant in your area. I recently discovered The Chicago Diner, after my friend had taken me there. Let me just say, “Best Vegan Milkshakes Ever.”
Benefits I Experienced
Becoming vegan has made my life immensely better in every aspect. I have this healthy relationship with my food, where as before, it was a nightmare of an abusive love-hate situation. I’d love eating ice cream, but I’d hate the guilt and feeling it gave me afterwards, both mentally and physically. Now, my relationship with food is like a happy marriage, I feel great, full of energy and positivity when I have my meals. I’ve noticed improvement both physically and mentally within myself. My skin has cleared up, I’ve become more lean, and I am generally in a happier mood. I’ve become more empathetic, to not only animals, but humans as well. Veganism has opened up this way of living from the heart.
Reflecting on this year, making the switch to veganism has impacted me in far more ways than just my eating habits. It’s been an overall life transformation. Becoming vegan, as I have previously mentioned, I didn’t fully make the connection between animals and meat. My mind knew this to be true; cow = beef, pig = bacon, but my heart was detatched from the situation. I didn’t feel empathy at first because my mind just glazed over these facts like they would any textbook reading. It wasn’t until a month after becoming vegan that I started to realize and make that connection to my heart. Wow, pigs are more intelligent than dogs yet we eat them. Dairy cows are impregnated and then separated from their babies. I was no longer seeing animals as just animals. I saw that they have souls, feelings, and lives too, and it was unjust to murder them for that piece of meat on our plates. Now, I cannot go to a grocery store and pass the deli without making that connection. All those steak cuts, pork chops, and chicken wings belonged to living animals.
Veganism is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle. I don’t believe there is any other form of eating out there in where you know that the choices you put on your plate are helping save animal lives as well as the planet. It is an empowering feeling knowing that something as simple as what you eat can have powerful changes and lasting impacts. Being such an environmentalist, I know that my choice to go vegan is one of the ultimate ways I am helping reduce the damage done to our world, and it provides such a rewarding feeling each time I eat.
My experience has been nothing but wonderful, and I encourage others to try veganism for themselves to experience the benefits for themselves!