Good evening friends,
Today for me marks the anniversary of a surprising doctor’s visit. She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your cholesterol. It’s high.”
I was so surprised to hear that at the time. I had been a vegetarian since 2005, the day after I graduated high school. But the truth was, I still ate eggs for breakfast every morning. And cheese with a few meals a week. And put half and half in my coffee.
I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” The doctor, also a vegetarian, suggested a plant based protein powder for breakfast instead of eggs.
I chewed on that information for awhile. And I used the protein powder for awhile. I started to think about why I stopped eating animals in the first place. I thought about how much I had wanted to give up all animal products, but I knew so little in 2005 about what a plant-based lifestyle was.
I made a plan to “eat plant based two meals a day.” That escalated quickly to veganism. Quickly, like within two days. Because, I figured, if I’m going to eat in a way that’s health promoting and reduces suffering in the world (the latter of which eventually far outweighed the former), why only partake 2/3rds of the time? Why only do the best thing most of the time when you can easily and happily do the best thing all the time?
What had stopped me from taking the full leap to veganism in 2005? Lack of education. When I was a kid, in college grocery shopping for the first time, I had no idea legumes could be a cheap and easy staple. I looked at packages of vegan cheese and thought, “That’s so much more expensive than cow milk cheese!” I just didn’t know.
This time, as a 29-year-old woman with a job and an Amazon Prime membership, I knew what I wanted. I did not want a diet full of processed food. I wanted something that would support my active lifestyle and keep me healthy for as long as possible. So I typed in the search engine, “Vegan whole food cookbook.”
(And quickly learned that the term was “Whole foods plant based.”)
I bought an embarrassing number of cookbooks. Some of them were way over my head with the amount of work the recipes required. Some of them called for ingredients that were already in my house! (I gravitated toward those ones.) I liked “Forks Over Knives” for the simplicity in their recipes. I loved “Oh She Glows” because it helped me branch out when I wanted something more impressive.
I read “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Twice. I learned about food that has been shown to be health promoting through science.
I changed what I bought at the grocery store. Beans of some sort are always on the list. Instead of two eggs for breakfast every morning, it was now overnight oats with berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, shredded wheat cereal, cinnamon and walnuts. Replaced 1/2 and 1/2 with the soy creamer from Trader Joe’s, easiest switch ever. I warmed back up to grains like rice, quinoa and barley, which I had mistakenly dismissed under the influence of my keto and paleo friends. Nutritional yeast, which I had loved in my days at Humboldt but slowly phased out when my partner expressed a distaste for it, came back with a fierce yellow vengeance. Instead of any oil for cooking, vegetable broth became my jam.
I got better at bringing my lunch to work. Unconsciously I had started relying on a bagel and cream cheese from Starbucks to eat for lunch in between sites. It became easy to bring last night’s leftovers to work because I would throw just about everything in the fridge into my dinners.
I experimented a lot but also had healthful fallbacks. I’ve developed a love for creating food.
My mom and stepdad gave up meat and dairy this summer. I relished in an opportunity to put together a vegan Thanksgiving for them. It was truly the least stressful Thanksgiving I’d ever had.
Inevitably I ran into the awkward situation of saying I was vegan while wearing leather shoes. They were thick-soled black Mary Janes, shoes that I had bought before I went vegan. Shoes that I wore to work nearly daily. (Extra shame points for being a vegetarian so long and still partaking in this.)
I came to realize there was more to be done in this journey to be less of a burden on the world. I donated my jackets that had down feathers. I switched my leather purse I’d purchased in a thrift store for a nylon bag. I realized it wouldn’t be practical to donate my leather shoes because I needed them for work, so my plan is to use my shoes until they become unusable, and not buy any leather in the future.
I thought about toiletries. I changed to a more ethically produced soap that isn’t tested on animals. I switched to a natural deodorant. I’m still trying to find the right hair products for me, but you can bet when I find the one it will have that starry bunny logo on it.
The Hardest Parts
For me, by far the hardest part about going vegan has been my fear of judgement from non-vegans. I try to have a thick skin and stick to my guns and research but I’m a really sensitive person and care about what people think. For that reason, I generally avoid mentioning veganism unless it comes up.
I don’t like when people say sorry for eating meat in front of me. My lifestyle choice doesn’t have to be the source of your sorrow, and now you’ve shined the awkward spotlight on me. I’m still brainstorming better ways to respond to this behavior.
The restaurants in my area are not incredibly vegan-friendly. The one a few towns up that is, sells mostly salads and smoothies. (No thanks, for $8 I can make my own at home, plus 3 more for my friends.) Dining out is a chore and I generally try to avoid it if I can. I much prefer to cook a nice meal for others. I want to open friends’ eyes to the fact that vegan food can be nourishing, filling, and delicious.
After 1 Year
Now I feel like I don’t have to work so hard to navigate this lifestyle. I can put together any kind of meal. I’m not afraid to ask if something is dairy-free. I feel supported by my loved ones and enjoy seeing the changes they have made in their lives, too. I look forward to enjoying a lifetime of veganism. There are still challenges when it comes to people who are less educated about the horrors of factory farming and what it takes to get animal products to the table. I still struggle to find the right words when people sincerely ask me “Why are you vegan?” But I’m working on those things. It’s always a process.
I haven’t followed up with my bloodwork yet. I’d be interested to see if it’s changed since last January.
Thoughts? Questions? Please feel free to share! See you next time.