I’ve picked up quite a few followers since I began this blog journey, and I realized that not all of you know the story of why I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It was initially just my diet, but now includes what I wear, what I use for grooming products, and sometimes even the types of businesses I support.
My journey toward veganism really began as a child. When I was about 9, I remember eating at Quincy’s steakhouse and getting really sick after. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning or a stomach bug, but I did associate getting violently ill with eating those steak tips. I think the last time I actually ordered a steak in a restaurant was to celebrate graduating from high school. We had dinner at The Trellis, which was once a super fancy restaurant in Williamsburg. My best friend at the time was with us, and I knew she really wanted to order the steak, so I did, too, so she wouldn’t feel guilty about ordering the most expensive meal on the menu.
By my second semester of college, I became more curious about being vegetarian. I was dating a boy who had been lactose-ovose until he joined the military. He said it was nearly impossible to make it through boot camp and not eat meat. My favorite musician was also vegetarian. So I started reading books about it, and picked up Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. It’s a fascinating book. I learned how much industrial animal agriculture was harming the planet. Did you know, for example, that it takes 11 lbs of grain to produce 1 lb of beef? That’s crazy inefficient. And she wrote the first edition in 1971.
After reading that book, I went pescatarian. That was in 1993. I haven’t had red meat or pork since, but I did add chicken back to my diet in 1996. I graduated college early, and I had a semester off before starting graduate school. I worked full time in the mall, and Chick-fil-A was a weakness for me. It actually took a while to adjust to eating that complex protein again. My body just wasn’t used to it anymore.
So, I considered myself semi-vegetarian for a number of years. This lifestyle was pretty easy. But some interesting things started happening in my thirties. I developed a shellfish allergy, unfortunately. And I’m not really a big fan of fish unless it’s deep fried. So, I was forced to give up seafood. And my husband, who became a crossfit addict, was deeply into eating paleo and counting macros. It seemed like ALL we ate was chicken. I felt conflicted between raising my own flock of chickens and then sitting to dinner and eating the relative of a creature I cared for and loved. So, in 2015, I went lactose-ovose. It was an easy choice for me, and then my husband could have whatever meat he wanted for dinner.
But in 2017, I started seeing a functional medicine chiropractor. I know… why is a physical therapist seeing the enemy? (Yes, it’s true… generally there is competition for similar patients with chiropractors and physical therapists.) But I went to one of his lectures at our local organic market, Ellwood Thompson, and I was impressed by what he had to say about managing chronic inflammation. My asthma definitely fell under this category, and the repeated use of steroids from bronchitis 2-3 times a year and its impact on training for races was getting old. With his help, he led me to transitioning to a vegan diet and finally getting my body’s inflammation under control.
The test that convinced me was some kind of voodoo magic trick he played involving holding extracts on my abdomen and then performing a manual muscle test on my arms. Dairy was like kryptonite. I thought the test was bullshit, but I decided to give up dairy for a few weeks anyway, and then see what happened when I eventually added it back.
5 weeks later, my family and I attended a family wedding. There was absolutely nothing there that was remotely vegan, but plenty to build a vegetarian meal. So, I ate all the cheesy, buttery things, and the cake. It was delicious, but my stomach was very clear that it was unhappy. And that was that. I haven’t had dairy or eggs since that day.
It hasn’t always been easy to eat this way, but it gets easier as more people join the vegan movement. Challenges include cooking meals for my omnivorous family. My husband will never give up meat, so to keep the peace, I do cook meat for them. I really wish they would join me on this vegan journey, but I don’t think they ever will. I make lots of what I call “bridge” meals, for example: pasta with two sauces available, burrito bowls, stir fry, or Mediterranean bowls. Lots of veggies and sides with protein choices to suit everyone. And then there are some nights I really just cook for me, and many more that I really only cook for my family.
Maybe cooking for my omnivorous family makes me a fake vegan, but I don’t feel like I have any other choice. I also share this so that others that think it might be impossible to choose a plant based lifestyle may realize that it might be possible to do so in harmony with others in their family that may not do so.
Changing my wardrobe is another story. I did give up using any of my leather items, giving them to my girls or my non-vegan friends. Finding shoes can be especially tricky for the bargain hunter that I am, but occasionally I find suitable items, including some accidentally vegan Doc Martens.
Physically, I really appreciate not getting sick as often. I wish I could say I’ve lost weight. Initially, I did, but the past year of relative inactivity and fewer trips to the gym due to the pandemic, despite maintaining cardio activity, have taken their toll. I’ve put on 10 lbs in a year.
Emotionally, the longer I’ve vegan, the more compassion I develop for animals and other humans. I really hate seeing the chicken trucks that make their way to the Tyson processing plant near us. It’s so sad to see them crowded in those cages, freezing cold or blazing hot. I wonder if they are scared. I think about the chickens I cared for, how different their personalities were and how they greeted me when I got home. I don’t regret giving up chicken at all. I never regretted giving up beef or pork. Cows actually cry waiting to be slaughtered. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.
There are a plethora of documentaries available on streaming networks, books, and websites that can educate you on the benefits of plant based eating, the facts about the industrial animal agriculture industry, and the environmental impact of our diet choices. I recommend:
- The Game Changers
- Great documentary about plant based eating, athletics, and performance.
- Food, Inc.
- Very good intro into the dark side of animal agriculture.
- Fast Food Nation
- This is the movie based on the novel of the same name. It reveals the connection between industrial animal agriculture, human cruelty, and capitalism.
- Diet for a Small Planet
- This is the book that started it all for me. Lots of information about the environmental impacts of animal agriculture and the basics about plant based eating.
- The China Study book and website
- This is a great book, although you must tease out the real information from the author’s praise of himself. The website is very comprehensive with lots of useful resources, including a link to the documentary about the study.
- Forks over Knives
- The cleanest philosophy of plant based eating, Forks over Knives has a cookbook as well, teaching you how to cook without oils, etc. I do not go to such extremes, but the website is a great resource.
I hope you will check out at least one of the videos. It’s so revealing to see how your food is produced. When we are removed from the process of slaughter, eating meat becomes seemingly benign. But the truth is much darker.
I often say I went vegetarian for the animals and vegan for my health. I may have an MS in physical therapy, but I’m by no means a nutritional expert. In fact, I’ve started the process of working with a registered dietician to see how I can improve my diet. I know some of my new found weight issues are from the pandemic. And, let’s face it, in the beginning I was eating terribly. But as I enter serious perimenopausal years, some things definitely need to change!
Clearly, I understand that not everyone wants to live the way I do. I don’t shame my family into living my lifestyle. But I do love when they taste some of the things I make that are vegan, and they like them. Baby steps.
Are you curious about living a plant based lifestyle? Do you enjoy meatless meals? Do you want more strategies on living in harmony with your omnivorous family? Have you seen any of the above resources I linked, and, if so, what did you think about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.