Today is World Vegan Day, I know, I know, there is a day for almost everything now but this day in particular is very important, and I would like to share my vegan experience with you.
I became vegan a little over 3 years ago after I attended a talk at Ann Arbor’s first Veg Week in 2013. Jeff Hampton presented “Change your life .. save the planet … one bite at a time”, and now looking back I can say this talk sparked something in me that did in fact, change my life. This was my first exposure (that I recall anyway) to learning how factory-farming is destroying our various ecosystems and it was both heartbreaking and terrifying. Now this talk was certainly not all doom-and-gloom. With positivity and enthusiasm Jeff Hampton also shared what a plant-based diet can do for our land, air, and waters. I left feeling both inspired and frustrated with this new information….How could all of this be true, how could big companies and large farms get away with such practices? Who is supposed to be regulating this stuff?
Since we vote with both our dollar and forks, I decided that I would do a 30-day vegan challenge. I wanted to see what eating a vegan diet felt like. I also wanted to make a postive impact on the enviroment. During this 30-day challenge I experimented with new recipes, watched a few documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Food Inc., and I started looking up vegan and vegetarian articles and research. The book: Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet was recommended to me by Jim Corcoran who I met at Jeff’s talk and I loved it. The more I learned, the more excited I felt about eating a vegan diet and once I reached my 30-day mark I did not want to go back to eating meat, fish, or dairy. Not only was I motivated by the positive environmental impact, but there are major health benefits to eating a plant-based diet. And last but not least animal welfare grew to be a major reason/motivation to continue a vegan diet. I like to now say that I found the vegan trifecta. 🙂
My experience is unique to me and I recognize I have some unique privileges, like I am a registered dietitian and possess the skills to plan a well-balanced vegan diet and feel confident about this. For example, I made sure to include calcium containing plant foods like kale, swiss chard, tahini, fortified tofu, soy and almond milks since I wasnt getting calcium from dairy. I also love to cook and have a pretty adventurous palate. It was important to me to find delicious options to replace the animal-products I was removing and truthfully I found that challenge fun.
I approached the transition with curiousity and flexibility. Yes, in the beginning there were some temptations, frustrations, and “set backs”, if you will. My first go-around at the holidays and social events I remained mostly vegan but ate some cheese/dairy. No, the vegan police did not come to get me and I didn’t really stress out about it because it is a learning process and I was doing my best. With that said, I always come back to the reasons why I am vegan and that is enough.
Over the years I have learned some tips that are helpful. 1) It is okay to advocate for yourself. If you are going to an event – ask ahead of time about potential vegan options. 2) In a potluck setting come prepared with a delicious vegan dish that you will enjoy and can share with others. 3) Don’t show up to events starving because that is never fun 4) Get family/friends interested and involved in trying new vegan recipes. I feel fortunate my mom, while not vegan, always makes vegan friendly dishes, like my quinoa salad, when I come home to visit and my friends make vegan treats when we get together.
I find getting involved on some level can help when it comes to making any big change in life. I have volunteered twice at Michigan’s VegFest and met some amazing people.
The compassion behind these events is so inspiring, there are a ton of new products to learn about and sample, and I have made new friends who share similar ideas/values. Find out for yourself! Try volunteering at an event or the humane society, join a local vegetarian/vegan meetup group, or if you are in Michigan check out the Plant based nutrition support group (PBNSG). Another option is to check out an animal sanctuary. I have been to SASHA farm and met all these cuties:
There were also the cutest cows, cats, dogs and horses but I was too busy petting them to take pictures.
Last but not least, I must bring to light that all animals have feelings and experience different emotions, they are intelligent, and they all want to live. I cannot separate the dogs and cats we know as our house pets from elephants, deer, chickens, pigs, and cows. If you cannot relate to this, I get it, because I was not there 3 years ago.
We all have the ability and power to make a difference on this earth, to choose compassion, and to choose good health. I find most people can identify with at least one reason to try a plant-based diet whether it’s health, animal rights, or the environment. I encourage you to give it some thought and let me know what yours is.