In just a few days, it will be my one year “veganniversary.” Before you ask,
YES, THERE WILL BE CHOCOLATE INVOLVED.
But, I will be devoting a separate blog post on the veganniversary festivities and thought it might be nice to reflect upon what impact, if any, going plant-based has had on my life for the past year.
I Did Not Want To Go Vegan Because I Thought It Was Stupid.
Keep in mind, I came to this “experiment” as a skeptic. I didn’t want to go vegan–in fact, I adamantly opposed my boyfriend’s suggestions to do so. We got into one of the biggest fights of our relationship over his determination to cut out meat, and I was worried we might not make it. I viewed vegansim as a lifestyle reserved for the over-zealous, uninformed, and, quite frankly, the arrogant. All the vegans I knew were judgmental, self-righteous, and very, well, wrong about how to keep a trim and fit body, particularly as a woman. I’ve since realized, however, that omnivores are certainly not immune to the aforementioned character flaws, and therefore, it was probably shortsighted of me to hold vegans to a different standard.
In other words, being vegan doesn’t automatically make you a better person.
Notwithstanding my misgivings, I decided to take the plunge for myriad of reasons, started this blog, started cooking a lot more than I used to, and voila. Here I am. One year later.
Oh, and my boyfriend and I are still together. 😉
And No. Going Plant-Based Did Not Magically Cure My Headaches/Bloating/Vision.
The thing I read/heard most from vegans sounds a lot like the following:
“Oh my GOD, I feel so light and healthy and FIT since going plant-based!! I don’t get colds anymore, all my headaches have disappeared, and my stomach never gets bloated! I can even SEE better without my glasses!”
Ok. Well, I’ve been vegan for one year and I don’t feel light, I’m pretty sure I packed on a few lbs over Christmas, and I definitely still get headaches and colds. As to my gut health? Nah. My stomach gets as bloated as a beach ball when I scarf down brownies or a green smoothie. It doesn’t seem to care whether I’m eating sugar, salad, or chicken. And I still have to wear coke bottles to read a book. In broad daylight.
So, am I saying that I’m ready to call it quits? That this vegan experiment has failed and that I’m going to haul ass to the nearest Burger King?
And here’s why:
Top 5 Unexpected Byproducts Of Going Vegan.
1. You Become A Master Chef By Necessity.
In most places (and wallets), Whole Foods and vegan eateries are not readily available options. Before going vegan, I had the entire city at my disposal, saturated with every imaginable cuisine. If I didn’t feel like cooking, I could punch a few buttons on my phone and GrubHub would have dinner delivered to my doorstep in 45-70 minutes. Obviously, going vegan means that my dining-/carrying-out options have shrunk. A lot. Not only are there few places that have a broad selection of vegan menu items, many places don’t offer very tasty ones (think wilted greens + greasy tofu + over-nooched dressing). Whether you are an average Joe or a foodblogger, as a vegan, my boyfriend (whose culinary skills consisted of pouring a can of tomatoes over overcooked pasta noodles) is living proof that you will inevitably learn how to
- properly season your pasta water
- chop and saute vegetables
- mix together a killer salad dressing
- blend a mouthwatering smoothie bowl
- soak things (cashews, rice, quinoa, beans)
2. You Become A Science Nerd With An Intimidating Vocab.
“Nutritional yeast.” “Sentience.” “B12.” “Turmeric.” These are now terms that are part of my everyday vernacular. I’d never heard of nooch or turmeric prior to going vegan and I rarely had the chance to spit out the word “sentience.” Vitamin B12 (as well as Vitamin D) is part of my breakfast every morning. And how many of you have seen that person standing in the grocery aisle pouring over labels with phone in hand (to look up ingredients)? Chances are, she’s vegan. I can explain to you exactly WHY the sugar you drop into your coffee each morning is not vegan or how the gelatin in your favorite piece of candy is made. I can also engage in long, drawn out philosophical discussion regarding the distinction between plants and other living things, and even talk–with some knowledge–on the most recent studies regarding plant sentience.
3. You Become Greener Than Your Most Tree-Hugging Non-Vegan Friends.
I’m green now, guys. Green as the peas in my vegan risotto, and way greener than the non-vegans who recycle and ride their bikes to work. Dude, I’m greener than Leonardo DiCaprio. Without devolving into a post about how being vegan is the single greatest contribution to environmentalism, I will share the following green morsels for your consideration*:
- Animal agriculture (i.e., the farms that raise cows, pigs, chickens) is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all transportation (i.e., carpooling).
- More than half of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and their byproducts.
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 measly pound of beef; 477 gallons for 1 lb of eggs; and 900 gallons for 1 lb of cheese.
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat distribution.
- A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
4. You Become Way More “Cultured” And Ethnically Informed.
When your options are limited, you start looking at foods you couldn’t previously pronounce. For example, after going vegan, I not only reacquainted myself with all the foods of my childhood (i.e., the “Korean” in the Korean Vegan), I started experimenting with recipes from India, Lebanon, and Brooklyn. One of our favorite “vegan friendly” spots is Kurah, where they serve up amazing Mediterranean dishes. I once spent all 43 minutes of an Uber ride discussing the pickling process for eggplants because my driver happened to be a Lebanese immigrant. He was delighted to find that I was vegan and wanted to share with me all the non-meat dishes he could think of. The thing with eating foods from different cultures is that it’s almost impossible not to pick a thing or two up about the culture itself–its people, the history, and the reasons underlying the recipes they birth.
5. You Become A Stronger Advocate.
This, by far, is the most unexpected and welcome byproduct of them all and the one that inspired this blog post. So, I saved it for last as a reward to those of you who’ve actually read through this entire tl;dr post. Shortly after definitively making the choice to go vegan, I noticed, weirdly, that I was able to sit through and watch an entire video clip on FB about stray dogs and humane shelters. I was also able to read articles containing photos of what happens to cows and pigs under the regime of animal agriculture. Facebook, Tumblr, and even IG is fit to bursting with these types of click-baiting posts, but for me, I had always scrolled right past them if I didn’t hit the “hide” button. Thus, I was surprised to discover that I could now stomach far more of these images and videos than I had in the past–not because they no longer bothered me, but because I no longer bothered me.
Specifically, I realized that I was allocating so much of my mental resources to suppressing the reverb of cognitive dissonance (a fancy word for “hypocrisy,” see supra at 2), I didn’t have much leftover to cope with the immediate rage and hopelessness that would fill me whenever I witnessed inexplicable acts of cruelty against the least of us. Because, let’s face it, every time I would allow that sort of empathy to grow, I would have to squash it down with the fact that I would happily chow down on a burger. So, like the vast majority of the world, I unconsciously sacrificed compassion for the guise of moral defensibility on a daily basis.
Going vegan has liberated me–liberated me–from the constant need to cover up a lie. It was like I’d spent 37 years cheating on my spouse–can you imagine how much energy and stress and anxiety would go into covering that shit up for that long? You would have to delude yourself with all sorts of moral compromises; so, when I finally came clean, I had all this leftover emotional fortitude to channel towards the truth. And the truth was simple: it hurt me to watch what people did to animals.
When my mother asked me how I stuck to being vegan for so long, I told her:
“Omma, I can look at my dogs, my Daisy and Roodle, look them straight in their faces and know that now, finally, I am loving them with every inch of my heart. And it is the best feeling in the world.”
*I shamelessly borrowed these stats from here.