Veganism entered my vocabulary one year ago on 1 July, and fully infiltrated my life on 18 February, 2013. People ask me DAILY why be vegan? 6 months in, and I think I have finally formulated my reasons into words. SO many people, family and stranger alike, have determined my reasoning for adopting a vegan diet, and I just want to stop them and say “Hey! It’s MY reasoning, not yours!” I thought that this week, it might be a good idea to explain what exactly those reasons are, in MY own words!
Yeah, yeah. I know how it looks. I’m a little girl in thick-rimmed glasses who rides her cruiser bike to work (almost) every day to the Humane Society where she hugs puppies and cuddles kittens and, you know, basically saves the world. People who see that surface image are like “Yeah, it makes sense; what a vegan/hippie/pretentious weirdo.” And I get that. A year ago, I would have thought the same thing. Heck, 6 months ago I would have thought the same thing! The thing is though, my decision to go vegan actually wasn’t fueled by my career. Whether I knew it or not, my new dietary lifestyle change was set in motion 6 years ago, arguably even longer than that!
I had been a figure skater my whole life, and once I decided to focus on school and cease training, I needed another fitness outlet. Skating had taken up a lot of my time, and I really enjoyed the prolonged fitness experience I had grown used to since age 2, so naturally, I fell into long distance running. I wasn’t on any teams or anything though; I just ran for me. I thought when I stopped skating, I would be able to relax my strict diet a bit, but soon discovered if I wanted to continue running, that could not be the case. I became very interested in nutrition and soon began eating healthier than I did even in the midst of competition season when I skated. I was even a vegetarian for about 6 months.
About a year later, I began developing a moderate aversion to dairy. Now, I don’t think it had anything to do with my diet, since it happened while I was eating a hearty amount of cheese, yogurt, meats, butter, basically all things animal. For some reason, though, my body had had enough and called it quits. “Have no fear!” my mother told me. Her friend had been buying this stuff called soy milk for her family for years, and she raced over to snag some for me. It was alright. I loved drinking a huge glass of milk with my PB&J though, and soy milk was so NOT the same. Dairy milk wasn’t an option anymore, though, and so I adjusted.
I came to LOVE soy milk, and even brought the craze to my sorority sisters when I left for college. Many of them still drink non-dairy milk to this day, even though they aren’t lactose intolerant! Sharing this healthy alternative with others made me feel so good inside! After a couple years of eating dining hall dinners and Taco Bell (oh, the life of a college student), I decided to start doing more cooking of my own. My mother and father had always cooked meals from scratch for my siblings and I growing up, so I was used to fresh ingredients and ready to get back to my roots! I was still eating meat and just as much dairy as I could manage (I wasn’t giving up cheese for ANYTHING!), but the recipes my parents each gave me were mainly vegetarian, or had a vegetarian option. I cook many of them today in my “vegan life”! Again, my sorority sisters took notice and I was able to turn them on to healthy meals and tasty home cooking, and again I felt really good about it!
By the time I graduated, I was dating someone who just wasn’t as passionate about health as I was, and began to fall back into the frozen-dinner/processed food coma. One hot summer day though, we were in our room watching Netflix, trying to avoid the heat, and he flipped on a documentary about some guy who drank a bunch of juice and lost weight. I assumed it would be entertaining and probably pretty funny (we had never heard of juicing), and by the end of it, my then-boyfriend was on amazon ordering himself a juicer. That was the most passionate I ever saw this TGIF frozen appetizer veteran ever get about his health, and my enthusiasm was renewed! I began delving into the world of juicing, and even started this blog to document my first juice fast! Together, the two of us survived our ten-day juice fest, and we were on cloud nine looking at our accomplishment!
Life soon resumed though, and the frozen dinners crept back into our groceries within the month. While he saw the juicer as a fad, I saw it as an opportunity and a renewal in my passion for health. Even though we didn’t work out, I have to give the guy credit for firing my passion. Research into juicing quickly led to vegan articles which led to information supporting a whole food, plant-based diet, and I never would have gotten here without that. The pros kept piling up, and it wasn’t long before I realized there weren’t a whole lot of reasons to not be vegan. We lived together for another six months after our initial juice fast, and I began an attempt to transition to veganism. It wasn’t met with enthusiasm though, since he wanted burgers for dinner instead of “that weird kale thing”. The day I signed the lease to my new apartment was the day I went fully vegan, and I never looked back.
That was in February. I was wary of calling myself a “vegan” though, because I was afraid of what kind of connotations that word carried (I always thought of vegans as weird hippie folk carrying guitars and walking barefoot), and above all else, I was afraid I would mess up and cheat on accident (label reading is tricky at first!) I didn’t fully feel comfortable with my eating habits to identify myself as a “vegan” until two months later. I’m so silly! Health isn’t about perfection; it’s about progress! You’ll hear me say that a lot.
Though the relationship that cultivated my vegan interest failed, it was in no way due to my choice of diet! Come on people, no one ever broke up over beets and quinoa. My friends always ask me if I feel I need to meet a fellow vegan, or if I would ever be able to date a carnivorous milk-drinking man again, and my answer is, of course! I mean, health is OBVIOUSLY at the forefront of my interests, so I want to surround myself with people who also are health-conscious and active, but that doesn’t mean I need to shun the cheeseheads of the world! Now that I have a little more experience and knowledge under my belt about how to live and eat a vegan lifestyle, I think it would be absolutely possible to coexist with someone who ate a different diet. While veganism was something that just “clicked” with me, I understand that other people don’t want to eat like that, and I’m okay with it.
I’m not some crazy animal rights activist. I’m not going to hold hands around a tree and throw red paint on fur coats. I don’t wear long gauze skirts and bandanas while weaving flower wreaths in the middle of a field. I know I work for an animal welfare agency, and the anti-cruelty aspect of veganism isn’t ignored by me, but I won’t deny that I one hundred percent chose the vegan route for health reasons. I’m lactose intolerant, and the majority of my grad school research has focused on adverse effects of meat consumption, so veganism works out pretty well for me. And seeing as I’m currently in the midst of working towards my Master’s in Public Health, such a health-conscious lifestyle definitely suits me! You won’t hear me criticizing others for noshing on steak tips or reveling in a gooey grilled cheese and creamy tomato soup though. Trust me, I stuff’s delicious! I do this for me, and no one else.
Whew! I hope that gives a little bit of insight into my reasoning for becoming a vegan and how I turned into a total Juice Junky! After reading this, it’s no surprise this dog-walking MPH student’s a vegan, but not for the reasons you might think at first glance!