About “Vegan” Me
I first began my vegan journey in 2000 during my first year in college when I became mostly vegetarian – I cut out all meat except for fish. I honestly can’t remember how much of my decision resulted from scary dining hall meat and how much was result of reading Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy by Dirk Benedict. But either way I stopped eating meat. At the same time I also started gaining the notorious freshman 15 (although for me it was more of the freshman 25). I was less active since I didn’t play collegiate level sports (but had played multiple sports in high school), and I had replaced meat in my diet with lots of cheese and bread. Nothing really changed as I moved from the dorm into my own apartment. Most of my diet centered around pasta, bread and cheese. And then there was the summer of ice cream, where I was fighting off stress and depression with a gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream every week.
Finally, in 2003 I really seriously looked at my weight, and my inability to run more than a mile without being totally out of breath, and I decided that I really needed a change in diet. I found Marilu Henner’s (yes, the chick from Taxi) book The 30-day Total Health Makeover and started to follow it. The huge shift that Marilu helped me make was away from dairy and sugar. There was NO dairy on this diet, and no refined sugars. In two weeks I had lost 10 pounds, my cystic acne had started to clear up and I found myself craving apples and oranges instead of cookies and candy. I was still eating fish (which were a huge part of Marilu’s plan) and the occasional egg, but I knew I was on the right path to better health.
As part of my own total health make-over I started to research vegan recipes (since I was cutting out dairy). In the process I started to read more about animal rights and the slaughterhouse industry. I felt good about myself because I wasn’t eating land animals, but somehow I managed to tune out all that harm that I was causing by eating fish and eggs (and the occasional dairy, when I cheated on my diet).
And then I fell completely off the wagon. As part of my Teach for America program I spent my first summer out of college in an intense and stressful six-week teaching institute – living on in a dorm and back with dining hall food. The first morning I pledged that I stick with my non-dairy pledge, but then I couldn’t find the soymilk and it all went downhill from there. I didn’t know how to subsist on fruit and salad (since the offerings for vegans and vegetarians was slim) and I used that as an excuse to go nuts. I started eating cheese again, as well as fried fish, and my health started to deteriorate again. I continued in this way for my first few years teaching. I sometimes would go a few weeks without cheese, and then I would find an excuse to have some (holidays, stress, etc.). After that I would load up on cheese and carbs, hate myself, go back on the diet and the roller-coaster would begin again.
After moving to Boston in 2007 I resolved to try again to be dairy-free, and I was better about it. I didn’t eat cheese at home, although I would occasionally when out with other people. I still at fish since I considered it healthy, and at this point, for me, being vegan was a health issue, not an animal rights or social justice issue.
But then, in my search for cooking classes, I stumbled upon Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s website Compassionate Cooks, and, more importantly, her podcast Food for Thought. I can honestly say this changed my life. This podcast not only gave me the cooking tips I needed to help eat more healthfully and deliciously, but it also gave me the information I had been avoiding about how the dairy industry works, how the egg industry works, and how being vegan was about way more than health. So, on March 1st, 2009 I became vegan for real.
While I still tout all the health benefits of going vegan, it was really realizing the social, environmental and ethical issues surrounding food that pushed me to truly become vegan and not just dairy-and-land-animal-free. It is one thing to know that eating something is bad for you and therefore cutting back on it (such as cookies, which my husband still thinks I need to cut back on more). If something is just bad for you it is much easier to justify having it once in a while. But when I realized what it meant for me to eat dairy in any form, what it meant exploit a mother (whether in human or cow form), what it meant for the environment, I simply realized that I did not want to be part of that system any more. Since I have made that switch I have been a much happier and healthier person. I never feel deprived. In fact, when people ask “what do you eat” I have a hard time answering because I eat (and enjoy) so much!! I don’t even know where to start. Since becoming vegan I enjoyed a healthy and easy vegan pregnancy and I have a thriving vegan son and daughter I feel good knowing that no animals were harmed in the making of our meals.