Three years ago yesterday is when I took the vegan plunge. I timed it to coincide with my return from a Labor Day trip to Quebec City. I thought I needed one last holiday before committing to this new lifestyle challenge. And that is exactly what I thought it would be..... a challenge.
Prior to this I ate cheese almost everyday. I LOVED cheese. I was scared to even imagine a life without it. Many of my go to meals and comfort foods were full of dairy. I had gotten into a habit of having yogurt with fruit and granola for breakfast every morning. I knew that it was easy to find vegetarian meals in restaurants since I had been 'vegetarian' for years prior to this, but vegan? What was I going to eat? And how would my friends and family react? I didn't know one person who was a vegan back then. Not one. How would Christmas dinner be? What would my kids say? How would my boyfriend deal with this?
It was big decision, but after educating myself and doing my research, nothing else really sat well with me anymore. I could no longer turn a blind eye to the potential effects of meat, eggs and dairy on my health, and the health of my family. That is what motivated me. I wasn't sick. I didn't have high blood pressure or diabetes or high cholesterol.... yet, but knowing what I knew then, I knew things had to change. I did not want to accept that heart disease, cancer and diabetes were a natural and normal part of aging. I felt and still feel that I have the tools to prevent a life that includes these degenerative diseases. I believe that when we make the right choices, we have the possibility to live vibrantly and actively to ages beyond 100 even!
So how have things changed for me in the past 3 years? I think of this as a health evolution and an awakening. "When we know better, we do better." First I stopped eating all animal products. In this day and age it is easy enough to find vegan substitutions for butter, milk, cheese, yogurt, burgers, sausages, hot dogs, etc. And initially I relied heavily on these things, especially for my kids, who were less than enthusiastic about this change, and appearing different from their peers.
Then I started cooking my own EVERYTHING! I started collecting recipe books, and yes, it has become a bit of an obsession for me, but that's a whole other addiction story! I was amazed how EASY it was to make vegan muffins, cookies, granola, pancakes, etc. And no one could tell the difference. So why did everything have dairy and eggs in it?? WHY?? Then I learned to make my own plant-based sausages, burgers, cream cheese, etc, etc, etc.....
Turns out it really wasn't the big challenge I thought it was going to be. I didn't even miss the cheese that much at all... I found it was more the creamy texture that I missed, and that was easy enough to find. Guacamole became my new best friend!!
And then... I started to get angry. Why did it take me until my 40's to hear that dairy was a cancer promoter? Why is the dairy industry educating our children about nutrition? Why did dairy have it's own food group? Why does everyone think that they won't get enough protein without eating animal products? Why were these myths being perpetuated in our society? Why did doctors prescribe drugs instead of teaching people to eat well? Who was responsible? Why were profits more important than our children's health?
My anger only fuelled my commitment. Someone had to get this information into the hands of the people! People had a right to know this stuff! And so I cooked. And I shared my cooking with people. And I tried new recipes. And I cooked for more people. And I organized Forks Over Knives movie nights and I fed more people.... and people started to ask questions! So I answered their questions, I started to blog, I started to teach people to look at things differently and share recipes and teach them to cook in a new way.
In my interactions with people, I have noticed that there are different categories of people when it comes to their thoughts on a plant based lifestyle.
There are the veg-opposers, those that proclaim themselves proudly to be carnivores at the first mention of a meat-less life. These people don't want to hear anything that contradicts their beliefs. They don't want to try anything different. They are comfortable with what they know. And that's fine.
There are the veg-curious; those that make their health a priority and want to learn all they can. These people are curious, open to information and ask questions. They love to see that healthy food and delicious food can be one and the same. They will try whatever you feed them, and often ask for recipes!
And then there are the veg-supporters. Often vegetarian and vegan themselves, some can be very radical and vociferous about their beliefs. And that's ok. I have learned that this group is very active and supportive. They form groups, associations, start pot-lucks, organize bake sales, raise money for animals, start rescue farms and volunteer their time for the cause.
I'm not trying to say one group is better than another.... we are all entitled to our beliefs. I'm just saying this to explain how becoming a vegan changes how people relate to you. Relationships change when your diet changes. Especially with those in the first group. These people can be very uncomfortable with your changes. They can be loud and defensive about their own beliefs. Unfortunately some people very close to me are in this first group, which has made things a bit challenging on some occasions, especially during the holidays. But I am meeting more and more people in the second two categories. And I have learned to stay quiet with the people in the first group. With time everyone gets used to your choices and it becomes a non-issue. And people can and do change categories!
One of the most unexpected changes that I have noticed in the past 3 years has been an increased sense of peace from living in harmony with my values. I don't think I was previously aware of any inner conflict, but my early choices of vegetarianism and my career path in ecotoxicology, indicate that these values have always been a part of me. I do believe my choices benefit the planet and the economy as well as my health, and this has made me even more committed to my plant-based lifestyle.
I just read something today that said "We make our choices, and then our choices make us." This rings so true for me. We are what we eat, physically and energetically. This may sound hokey, but I believe that when we eat an animal, we are eating the energy of that animal's existence. If it was mistreated and scared and sad, we absorb that energy. And with the amount of depression, anxiety and anger in people today... we could use a little less of that type of energy. I think this contributes to my feeling of inner peace.
Despite some challenges, mostly with relationships and family dynamics, I feel that this choice I made 3 years ago has made me happier, healthier, and closer to the person I am meant to be. It has resulted in the birth of Zengarry, through which I have met so many wonderful, amazing, generous people. I love watching the ripples of my actions travel out into the world, and join with the waves of the growth of compassion and consciousness. I thank each of you for being a part of my journey and for listening.
I would love to hear about your experiences with dietary changes in the comments below. Do you have any tips for people transitioning to a plant-based diet??
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