There was absolutely no transitional period when I became vegan. I'd never even flirted with vegetarianism. Heck, even though I live in Southern California, which is basically the stereotypical motherland of tofu and green juice, I still only know one actual vegan*...my younger cousin, Alicia.
I'm confident that Alicia and I would FOR SURE be hanging out all the time and driving to do weird vegan things together if she lived in Los Angeles.
Now, something you need to know about Alicia and me is that we descend from a loud and proud meat-loving family. Before I became vegan myself, I noticed at our family gatherings how many negative comments and misinformed opinions everyone always had about the fact that Alicia ate differently than the rest of us. But Alicia just marched on, making her own dips and sides for family stuff and like the lady boss she is, she didn't let the h8rs get her down. I love that. So how did I go from a chicken fingers fiend to a full-on vegan? It kind of all started with a sandwich platter at my Pop Pop's funeral.
A few days before my grandfather's memorial service, my grandmother's friend dropped off a large platter of hoagies so we could stuff our faces in the face of grief. Hoagies are pretty legendary in New Jersey, so I downed as many as my stomach could handle that week. A few days after Pop Pop's funeral, I pulled myself together and flew to St. Louis for a work conference.
If you've ever been to a business conference, you know that the meals aren't made with vegans in mind. We'd start each day with a breakfast buffet of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, and buttery faux fruit pastries. Obviously, everyone pretends they don't see the sad tray of cantaloupe and grapefruit slices. Between meetings, I'd snack on cookies, chips and candy during the breaks and wash it all down with a few cups of coffee with heavy cream. And after dinner, I'd go to cocktail parties and continue to stuff myself with mac 'n' cheese bites, chicken tenders, pigs in a blanket, hamburger sliders and cheesecake bites. I don't drink, so free charcuterie is pretty much the next best thing. Oy. I ate like that every day during the conference and when I got home, I realized that it wasn't just *that* week that I ate and cooked a mostly a meat and cheese diet. Green stuff was always an afterthought...a little pity party on the side of my plate.
I'd honestly get annoyed when my husband Josh would kindly ask if we could pleeeeeaaaase just have vegetables for dinner. Ew. Vegetables. But, I knew he was right.
I knew, deep down, that my chance at a long, healthy life would be better in the long haul if I changed my relationship with food. After all, I want to be one of those spritely old ladies that still travels and plays tennis and dances at weddings and stuff when they're 85. And in addition to all the health implications of the food we eat, certain foods (e.g. bacon, burgers, ribs, etc.) increasingly reminded me of the living, breathing animal that it once was. And our dog Mushu helped make that connection crystal clear.
How I Started
So I literally went all in. I didn't tell anyone (because honestly, I didn't believe I could actually do it), but I cut out meat and dairy completely overnight. I went cold turkey and turkeys everywhere rejoiced. It was weird and hard at first and I'd count those first few days as a vegan as if I was the Count of Monte Cristo keeping track of days in his jail cell.
And then all of a sudden, it had been 4 days, a month, a year, and now, three years. Of course, there were some challenges along the way. Like, telling my grandmother I couldn't eat her mystery sausage dip anymore. Or explaining to my Mom that I couldn't eat her famous jumbo-lump crab cakes when I came home to Maryland. But it gets easier with time and I've discovered plenty of substitutions so I can still enjoy dining experiences with friends and family.
I started a plant-based diet just one day at a time and in the beginning, I was basically checking off the days like this.
Now, I'll be upfront with y'all. Vegans have a reputation for being really freaking annoying. They looooove to tell people they're vegan, perhaps to seem morally "better than" or more enlightened than non-vegans. But here's the thing...I am not better than anyone. Vegans are not better than anyone. Maybe being vegan isn't for you and that's okay! Really! This way of living was just better for me than the way I was doing things before.
So, here it goes. Here are the 5 main reasons I started eating a plant-based diet.
1. Improve My Relationship with Food
I didn't know how to eat mindfully until I became vegan. To really pause and ask myself, "Are you hungry?," "Will this make you feel sick later?" or "Are you full now?" I'd ignore these messages to my brain and would regularly get stomach aches at parties, but didn't know why. I now realize it was from overeating. I would literally eat until I became physically sick. Ever since I became vegan, I don't get those painful stomach aches anymore.
Overall, becoming vegan has helped me forge a healthier relationship with food where I am more selective with what goes in my body - choosing real foods that grew in the ground and don't have addictive chemicals and additives that are designed to keep me coming back for more. Blah. Blah. Blah. I know. I'm so annoying!
2. Meat = Mushu
Another important reason why I stopped eating meat and dairy is that slaughterhouses and dairy farms are pretty disgusting. Like a lot of us, I've long been appalled by the conditions at these places, but just chose to block that $*&% out of my mind. I saw all of those PETA films and signs on my college campus, but could easily tuck them away in the recesses of my consciousness without feeling bad when I chowed down on chicken nuggets at the dining hall. But after we got our puppy Mushu a few years ago, I started noticing that his little features reminded me of animals I ate on a regular basis.
Some studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet saves about 30 animals per year. I like to imagine that they're running around, playing somewhere and holding annual "Thanks for Not Eating Us!" festivals in my honor.
Here are just a few examples:
His tiny folding legs moved like chicken wings
His fluffy white tail swished like an Arctic fox running wild and free
His smooshed face and bulging eyes were like a baby seal
His soft ears reminded me of a baby lamb on an Easter card
His tiny black paws reminded me of a baby Polar Bear
His long back paws looked like a bunny rabbit
His low, squiggly body moved around like a furry caterpillar
His cute speckled belly looked like that of a newborn baby calf
Obviously, I would never eat a seal, fox, bear or caterpillar (I'm not a total psycho) but I definitely used to eat everything else. A lot. And how was my dog different than any of those other edible animals? Mushu also happens to make a lot of weird noises, including a "cluck" that sounds like a barnyard chicken and a happy "snort" that reminds me of a piglet playing in the mud on a sunny day. I decided that if I couldn't eat my dog, why would I eat something that has the same, if not more intelligence as he does?
Did you know that pigs are smarter than dogs? They are actually highly intelligent, sentient beings that feel pain, anxiety and happiness just like us! I mean, have you ever seen how happy a pig is in a pile of mud?
3. Scary Stuff at Slaughterhouses
I don't need to expand on this one, because we all know that slaughterhouses are real scary and dirty and disgusting places. And I won't go all aggressive PETA Police on you or anything, but if any of our own dogs or cats were subjected to the treatment that happens inside those walls, we'd never eat meat again.
To put it simply, I decided that if I couldn't take an animal's life myself, I just didn't have the right to eat it. Sure, there are extremely ethical private farmers out there who give their livestock a nice, happy life until the day of slaughter, but that is just not the reality of where most of our meat comes from. I just couldn't say to friends anymore, "HOW CUTE IS THIS" alongside an adorable meme of a piglet in rain boats and then turn around and eat said piglet without a second thought.
But, seriously...HOW CUTE IS THIS?!?!
I really do believe that our main purpose on earth is to serve one another with love, gentleness and compassion. And what that in mind, the abominable methods used in slaughterhouses and on industrial dairy farms pretty much, fur suuuur, definitely conflict with those thangs. I think these words from the Book of Proverbs sum it up perfectly.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
I used to love eating goat stew. But now I just like to pet them. Here I am at our landlord's farm making a new friend.
Basically, I want to eat foods that have been grown and made with love, not hate. There's a great story in the Book of Samuel about about a poor man who treasures his lamb as a beloved member of the family. Even though the lamb will one day be slaughtered for the nourishment of his family, the poor man and his children truly love this gentle creature. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. But, a rich man came along and stole the lamb, ruthlessly killing it.
King David is appalled when he hears this story and says that the rich man deserves to die. The storyteller Nathan says to him, "You are the rich man" and naturally, King David is horrified to realize that he, like the rich man, has been dabbling with darkness. Our mass-produced burger patties made from the "fattened ox" are obviously not made with love, but hatred. Does that make sense? I just really, really want to fill my body up with things that come from a place of love, gentleness and compassion...like the ground.
5. Doing My Tiny Part for the Environment
Everyone knows that cows fart a lot and their farts are destroying the ozone layer. And while I don't fully understand the ozone layer, I know that that's a bad thing. The United States is home to 10% of the world's cows or about 94.4 million cattle who are farting and burping their delicious methane gases into the air. The average consumer eats 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture so yea, that's a lot of farts. Now, cow farts are a very small part of why our environment is in trouble. There's a ton of other problems plaguing our planet right now and honestly, we'll all drive ourselves mad with anxiety if we worry about all of them at once, but choosing to not eat meat anymore is my tiny way of saying, "I care."
I would probably drink milk if I could take raise the cow and milk it myself, but I currently live in a city so that's really not an option right now. But how cute is my bowl cut and early 90s sun dress combo!
I'm doing my best. I really do care that the Earth is a little better tomorrow because of small choices I made today. And becoming vegan has inadvertently transformed other personal behaviors as well, including my shopping choices. I used to do a lot of impulse shopping, but I really don't buy "stuff" on a whim anymore. I used to not think TWICE when I walked out of TJMaxx or Target or Nordstrom Rack with a bunch of random clothes and do-dads that would only last a few wears or uses. I really didn't care who, how or where this stuff was made. But if I do need to purchase new clothes, I only buy pre-owned items from Poshmark or clothing that was made locally, pays fair wages to garment workers and manages an ethical supply chain.
My favorite "Made in USA" brands are:
Vermont Flannel - my favorite pajamas, scrunchie and cozy blanket are all from this incredible Vermont family business!
NIKI BIKI - they make fun, chic dresses, tank tops and jumpsuits that go with everything! Josh's favorite dress of mine is from here :)
Los Angeles Apparel - most of the things in my closet are from here, including shirts, bodysuits, pants, socks, underwear, dresses, sweaters...
Palm Beach Sandals - this is an adorable shop in South Florida that makes gorgeous leather (see, I'm a far-from-perfect vegan) sandals to last a lifetime. They're much better than the famous "Jack Rogers" (which are made in China from low-quality materials that fall apart)
North Star Trading - made by craftsman on an island near Seattle, these are the most comfortable slippers you'll ever own!
Carbon38 - my favorite exercise leggings are their iconic"high waist Takara pants" which are made in downtown Los Angeles
I highly encourage you to check these companies out! It takes a little extra effort to find the right spots for you, but I feel like the quality of my purchasing decisions is a lot better now that I'm more mindful of supporting local industry. Only 2% of clothing sold in America is made here and I honestly think it's highlarious when people say they care so deeply about restoring American manufacturing and craftsmanship, but then don't even glance at the tags of they clothes they wear to see where they came from. If we're being truly honest with ourselves, our purchases reveal where our hearts are.
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also".
From an environmental standpoint, I switched out paper towels and paper napkins about 2 years ago for cloth ones that can be washed and re-used over and over again. I recycle now. I didn't even think about recycling until just a few years ago and now walk the few extra yards to the blue bin to drop-off our embarrassingly large piles of Amazon packaging. When I'm grocery shopping, I try to buy as few single-use plastic items as I can, opting instead for products in glass jars that I can re-purpose. Obviously, I bring my own bags. These are just microscopic things I can do to be a better, more loving steward of this living, breathing planet that God has created for us. I'm doing my best.
Did you know that chicken are actually really smart? Studies have shown that chickens can demonstrate complex problem-solving skills and have super-sensory powers (such as telescopic eyesight and almost 360-degree vision like owls)
Before I end this increasingly long and preachy vegan manifesto, I want to say that I'm not a perfect vegan. I still eat honey. I have eaten non-vegan homemade cookies my sweet neighbor Stella has made for me. In fact, I bought a down coat just yesterday. I wear cozy locally-made shearling slippers. And even though items were both ethically and sustainably made by artisans in North America, I know the Vegan Police will hate me for that. And that's okay. I'm not perfect, but I'm doing my best.
And while I'll probably never eat meat again, I'd love to fold seafood back into my diet someday. I know the Vegan Police won't like it, but I really can't go the rest of my life without my Mom's jumbo lump crab cakes. And to be fully transparent regarding my seafood consumption, I decided that because they don't have central nervous systems, I ate fresh mussels a few years ago off the coast of France and locally caught conch at a cool waterfront restaurant in Florida.
I'm not perfect. I'm not a scientist. I'm not a nutritionist.I'm not even committed to eating a perfect plant-based diet for the rest of my life, but I'm doing something different and doing my best. I'm a flawed, hungry human just trying to do her part to make the world a little more loving and not feel sick at cocktail parties from too many sliders. And now my cousin, Alicia has someone to share food with at family get-togethers.
Are you vegan? Do you hate vegans? I'd love to read your thoughts and questions on veganism in the comments!
*My amazing mother-in-love Linda is such a hipster vegan that I completely FORGOT that she's been a vegan for like, 20 years. She's the perfect example of a non-annoying vegan.