Today marks my one year vegan-versary!
That’s right: 365 days without meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Had you told me when I was 25 that I’d be a crunchy vegan, I would have laughed over a medium-rare ribeye, but here we are anyway. I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. It really does become part of your identity (especially if you’re an ethical vegan), and now, I can’t imagine ever going back. I wanted to share a few ways that the last year has changed me, both physically and emotionally (and if we’re being honest, spiritually as well).
Veganism is more than a diet.
Once you make the decision to become vegan — whether it is for ethical, environmental, or health reasons — you’ve committed yourself to a decision because of a strongly-held belief. Especially for ethical vegans like myself, I’ve found myself comparing my own veganism more to religion than to a diet or a lifestyle of eating. I feel characterizing veganism as a “diet” severely downplays my belief in its tenants.
This isn’t the South Beach Diet; I’m not cutting carbs to get skinny, and I don’t have cheat days. You don’t cheat on belief, you cheat on a fad. When I was lamenting people always questioning my eating habits with my friend Lucy, she said that when she is asked why she adheres to a vegan lifestyle, she simply says, “Because it’s the right thing to do.” That kicked me right in the gut. I’d spent so long trying to explain and rationalize my choices to people, when all I had to say was that it is my decision because it is the right thing to do.
I do this because I believe so, so strongly that it is the right thing to do. That’s why, when I’m asked if it’s hard or if I ever want to go back, I can easily say no: because I know the root of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it (minus a Chick-Fil-A nug, maybe, that fry batter is the Lord’s work).
“Everyone has to find what is right for them, and it is different for everyone. Eating for me is how you proclaim your beliefs three times a day. That is why all religions have rules about eating. Three times a day, I remind myself that I value life and do not want to cause pain to or kill other living beings. That is why I eat the way I do.” -Natalie Portman
I feel better physically.
I remember in the beginning, I said I felt “bouncier.” Which sounds silly, I know, but it was true. It’s amazing, when you start nourishing your body with colorful, crunchy, beautiful vegetable and fruits (and the occasional Oreo) and cut out the things that human bodies aren’t meant to have in the first place (I’m looking at you, cow milk), your body responds
I read that true carnivores (those animals with the giant sharp teeth) have short intestinal tracts, which allows meat to be digested quickly. Humans, though, have much longer intestinal tracts, and instead, the meat spends up to 72 hours in 98.6 degree tubes. You literally have rotting meat hanging out in your body because it cannot digest it quickly enough (source here).
Gross, right? It is. If you left a piece of chicken out on your back porch for three days in July, you wouldn’t even consider carving it up and putting it in your mouth, right? Hell no! I had been vegan for ten months when I first read about that, and if I wasn’t a non-meat eater before, I would have been then.
I’m more adventurous with what I eat.
Within the confines of what I eat, of course. I’m not out here eating monkey brains or anything. I’m a sucker for a new fruit or vegetable, though, and I love new places and new recipes. I’ll try just about anything if if has that circle-V next to it. I used to have a crazy aversion to onions — I now put shallots in almost everything. I love asparagus, brussel sprouts, eggplant, mangos, plums, quinoa, and basically every bean out there. I’ll say yes to almost anything now.
I pay more attention to what I put in my body.
After checking ingredients lists every day, you see what sort of nasty shit gets added to every day food. Yes, I always check for the no meat-no dairy-no egg, but now, I look at actual ingredients as well. I don’t want preservatives and grossness inside me; I’ve found it doesn’t do my body any favors. I feel sluggish and slow when I eat poorly, and I most likely wouldn’t have seen those things had I not started checking the labels for dairy.
I’ve humbled myself. It isn’t just about me.
The world seems so much larger when you begin valuing the lives that humans have so long deemed unimportant. It’s not just you, it’s just just Americans, it’s not just humans. It’s the largest trees and the smallest microorganisms and everything in between, and it all works together as a machine, and when we start mutilating and destroying a subsection of that machine, it throws off the entire process.
“I’m an animal rights activist because I believe we won’t have a planet if we continue to behave toward other species the way we do.“ -James Cromwell
I love animals even more than I did previously.
Before, I loved pets (as I think all “animal lovers” who eat meat do). Now, I see animals differently. I see the trusting eyes of a cow and the curly tails of pigs and the fluffy feathers of chickens. I can make the distinction between living beings and what I eat — and there is zero crossover. Once I openly chose to make the connection between the animals I “loved” and the food I put on my plate, the decision to go vegan was an easy one. I no longer feel hypocritical when I declare myself a lover of animals.
An extension of the last one: your heart swells larger, which makes it break so much easier.
It’s not just the Sarah McLachlan commercials anymore. It is leaked videos of slaughterhouses. It is owners roughly pulling their animals on leashes. It is seeing animals cower to humans’ raised voices. It is the destruction of the rainforest, of the polar ice caps. It is starving bears and zoo animals that have lost their hair. It is horse races and big game hunting and circus tigers kept in cages. The atrocities we’ve allowed ourselves to become conditioned to are overwhelming, and the longer we choose to turn a blind eye, the more likely we are to be responsible for not only hundreds of thousand of species’ destruction, but our own. It’s hard to stomach, the things we inflict upon animals, and the more you know, the more your heart breaks.
“I’ve always just loved animals and you just start making the connection between what you’re eating and what happens to these poor animals, and once you start making those connections and realizing the truth behind what you’re eating, it just, there wasn’t any other option for me.” -Tony Kanal
The dumbest people you know suddenly become expert dietitians, well versed in the areas of protein and calcium, as well as the zillion-year anthropology of homo sapian eating habits.
God help me. Unless you are calorie-deficient or eating nothing but Doritos, you’re probably okay with protein. Most Americans go overboard with protein (and ignore all the stuff that comes from greens, but I digress). I have an actual dietitian that helps me ensure I’m making good food decisions and that my body is getting everything it needs. We’ll just make a deal: you don’t ask me about my protein and I won’t ask you about your cholesterol, okay Linda?
The biggest deterrent I hear is but I could never give up cheese!
Okay, I see you and I hear you. I loved me a good cheese cube in my cheese days. Let me hit you with a few things, though. First, absolutely anything can become second nature if you stick to it. Something new is always scary, and it can be hard to get used to a new way of cooking (and if we’re bring honest, a new way of thinking as well). Once you get going, though, it becomes as easy as your old way. You quickly learn which restaurants to eat at, which apps to use (Happy Cow!), and your go-to recipes that you can whip together quickly.
Second, food addiction is real, and we are addicted to the Standard American Diet, or SAD (ironic, right?). The Standard American Diet is characterized by high intakes of red meat, processed foods, butter, sugar, and crap (I generalized). In 2010, the National Cancer Institute found that three in four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day. That’s just bananas! I tell you this to make this point: what you have been eating may not be what you should be eating … so while you may think you don’t want to give something up (like cheese or eggs), chances are, you’d feel better if you did.
I’d challenge everyone to try it. Just one day. I can even give you the easiest one-day meal plan ever. I’m always happy to talk about it (obviously … as referenced above), but remember, even if you aren’t ready to make the 100% transition, even one or two days a week makes a huge difference! As a wise man showed us, baby steps work, too.