Friends and family are sometimes surprised to hear that I wasn't vegetarian before transitioning to a vegan diet. I would say that's in part because this was a true awakening for me. Once I accepted the truth, I could no longer ignore it. I hold strongly the values of authenticity, transparency, and honesty and simply could not live an authentic life in line with my existing values and continue to eat meat.
So where did it all begin? With Netflix, of course (that's right, a robot is determining my future). In June 2017 I got a not-so-random recommendation for What the Health. At the time I thought it was just a health movie in line with my prior documentary-watching habits. Except for the vegan slant--which definitely not something I had ever sought out before. It wasn't until 2/3 of the way in until I realized this was a pro-vegan documentary. I almost stopped watching b/c I had been a die-hard carnivore (who didn't eat much dairy due to 15 years of lactose intolerance) up until that point. I remember actually calling my mom and saying "mom, I'm watching this documentary but I think it's suggesting veganism and I don't like where that's going! What if it provides facts I cannot ignore--I'll have to change the way I eat!" I was intrigued though and had to finish the documentary. [OK yes, if you're thinking "but that movie is full of exaggerations!", you're right, full of them, but that's for another post. If you're curious about my perspective on the truths and exaggerations in the film let me know in the comments so I can write another post.] I finished the film and I have to say it caught my attention. I felt a bit sick to my stomach for the next week or so thinking about eating animals. I kind of cut back a little and felt uneasy eating the pork in my noodle bowl but continued to eat it because a meal isn't complete without animal meat, right? I couldn't stop thinking about it, though, and decided to do more research on my own and sought out more documentaries like Vegucated and Forks Over Knives recommended by other vegans as superior to What the Health with regards to the claims and benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
Simultaneously I began an introductory Nutrition course (as one of my prerequisites for my Master's program) and in the discussion forum, many of my classmates introduced themselves as vegetarians and vegans. They were all talking to one another about their favorite blogs and recipes and how much they enjoyed their food and cooking. I was inspired--but also felt a bit left out and even a little guilty for still eating meat for knowing what I now knew. I began to think that if I'm in a Nutrition class and most of my classmates don't eat animals, what do they know that I don't? I started reading some of the blogs they recommended and the meals looked foreign, almost exotic, to me. I mean, I literally just had no idea how to make a meal without animal meat and here was this whole new world in front of me that was doing it!
It didn't take long. After about a week I realized I hadn't had any meat... and that just sort of kept continuing... After all my research I decided I would adopt a vegan diet unless someone could prove to me that this would be detrimental to my health in some way. So far, I haven't found any proof that humans need to eat meat (side note: there are some nutrients that can only be obtained from animal sources, but evidence shows supplemental B12 and an algae source of DHA & EPA are just as effective). Vegans live full healthy lives consuming a well-planned and healthy diet. If humans don't need to eat animal products to lead healthy lives, why should I? Am I better than a pig? A cow? A cat? A monkey? I cannot ethically eat animal products for three really good reasons:
- Knowing what the animals are subjected to in order to be food for me--it's just totally unfair and I personally feel it is not the right thing to do when we have plenty of other options for food
- Knowing the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet versus a meat-based diet-- even if you're not vegan or vegetarian, the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet are ENORMOUS, even if still eating fish or meat 1-2x/week; and
- Knowing how the commercial animal production facilities are contributing to global warming and the general downward spiral of the environment. Our lifestyles impact the environment every day and adopting a plant-based lifestyle is one way I can minimize my contribution to global warming.
Why not just vegetarian? I was actually already lactose intolerant and had been drinking plant-based milk and ice creams my entire life. Perhaps as a result of the life-long association of dairy with illness, I also have a general aversion to it. It wasn't a far cry from vegetarian to vegan for me -- the big exception being eggs and hard cheese, which I am now convinced I do not need to eat.
To be honest, there was one more appeal of the vegan lifestyle I was drawn to after interacting with the community. It was the people themselves. The people I met were compassionate, caring, and excited about healthy food. I sensed an energy that I wanted in my life.
This is indeed a lifestyle change for me, not a diet. Since adopting this lifestyle my whole approach to food has changed. I once heard that a good way to inspire creativity is to set a limiter or parameter. I had been bored, uninspired, anxious, and frankly not a great cook. By limiting myself only to plant-foods I found a new love for cooking. I was truly inspired in a way I had never been by preparing food! And that anxiety I had about following a recipe to a T slowly vanished. I was discovering new foods I had never eaten and becoming a better cook.
Friends sometimes ask if I miss eating meat or any other non-vegan foods, but I don't feel like I'm missing out at all. Instead, the plant-based lifestyle has opened up more possibilities for me than I ever knew was possible. I am truly grateful for finding this lifestyle!