1 Year Vegan: An Honest Update

On April 12, 2017, I made the decision to go vegan and lo and behold, I’m still alive! I’ll admit that prior to becoming one myself, I sort of imagined vegans as frail, protein-deficient individuals who willingly deprived themselves of simple “pleasures” in life. Little did I know that it’s quite honestly the exact opposite.

What I have noticed though, is that the general narrative surrounding lifestyle preferences is still very black and white – you’re either labeled a proud “corpse muncher” with traditionalist ways or an “overtly moralizing” vegan hippie. In a world that’s quick to jump on the label bandwagon, it’s important to shed light on the grey areas of such societal categorizations and expand the narrative to include individuals who strive to break the stigma and create an open and welcoming approach to various views.

This is primarily the reason why I decided to share a one year update on my vegan chronicles in a very open and honest way – touching up on the ups, the downs, the non-vegan days, vegan activism, you name it. Whether you’re here because you’ve been a part of my journey personally or out of pure curiosity, I hope to convey that making such a drastic (though beneficial) change to your lifestyle doesn’t necessarily come easy and ultimately comes down to what you value and choose to prioritize. We’re human and transitions take time and serious effort.

So here is an honest update from a vegan twenty-something gal who (surprise surprise) isn’t a frail hippie with dreads or pink hair wearing ‘FUR‘ buttons whilst protesting in front of Antler.*

*How’s that for labels?

Why vegan?

A number of factors came into play in my decision to depart from deeply ingrained practices but ultimately, growing close to someone living a similar lifestyle, watching a few food-related documentaries and being a driven and easily influenced individual brewed the perfect recipe for this lifestyle change. Veganism made sense to me and felt like something that tied many of the things I cared about together; the well-being of the environment, the implications of the animal agriculture industry and my own health. I do have a more in-depth explanation behind my decision if you’re interested in giving it a read.

The ups

It goes without saying that choosing to cut out animal products from your dietary and lifestyle habits saves animals’ lives. While I’m no vigorous animal rights activist, I’ve learned that objectively, there is no “humane” way to kill an animal. Regardless of the method used, taking away an animal’s life assumes that humans’ needs are superior to those of other species.

While it’s true that veganism is primarily based on the premise of protecting animal rights, the lifestyle does render huge environmental positives. For one, meatless lifestyles significantly reduce one’s environmental footprint – from carbon emissions to resource use in food production. No, plants do not have feelings and are in fact more environmentally sound to consume than meat.

Health-wise, I’ve noticed a huge change in my energy levels. Within the first two weeks of going vegan (and many vegans will agree with this) your body experiences an enormous internal cleanse that results in better sleep, higher energy levels, increased blood flow and productivity levels as well as a generally more positive outlook on life. Not to mention significantly lower risk of chronic and fatal illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Knowing you’re feeding your body with what it needs to be its healthiest while simultaneously saving animals and helping the environment is truly euphoric. No exaggeration there. I’ll even go as far as to confess that this internal cleanse led to many personal revelations. I admit it sounds like some hippy sh*t but I genuinely became a lot clearer on where my values stood, what I wanted in life, how I wanted to make a difference, etc. At the end of some of my days, I’d plop on my bedroom floor and laugh for what seemed like hours at how amazing life felt. It was truly life-changing.

Going vegan allowed me to tap into a brand new community of like-minded people who have changed my life in more ways than one. I’ve gotten to network at Veg Festivals, work with environmental services and various student groups at University, become a content contributor to a Toronto-based vegan blog, and most importantly start this online endeavor. You never know how something as small as changing what you eat can set your path on a completely different course. Apart from my Slavic grandpa’s occasional teasing about “hopefully one day becoming smarter and understanding the importance of animal protein”, going vegan has been very positively received among my friends and family. My parents cut out meat out of their diet entirely, one of my close friends went fully vegan while others have expressed enthusiasm to trying to incorporate more vegan meals into their eating repertoire.

Who knew you could make vegan pulled pork out of jackfruit and vegan cheese out of cashew and nutritional yeast? I sure as heck had no idea. Not only did veganism open me up to be more conscious and appreciative of what I put into my body, it also pushed me to unleash my inner chef Nat that has landed me the status of a slightly more useful new-to-adulthood gal.

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Some of the vegan dishes I made or tried out last summer.

The downs

Luckily I had a relatively smooth transition. I didn’t really feel deprived of meat or cheese based dishes initially and never really felt like I was forcing myself into anything too abruptly either. This goes to show that you need to be in the absolute right mindset to do this. Going vegan because someone told you to or because it’s an up and coming trend aren’t valid reasons and you’ll end up hating it in the long run. On that note, transitioning from a deeply ingrained way of living to something completely new requires research. Know and understand how your body works before you cut out certain foods. For example, I know people who aren’t able to digest legumes which is one of the main sources of protein for vegans. Without the ability to consume legumes, the vegan diet becomes a lot more difficult and possibly impossible to sustain.

B12. Oh man. B12 is a vitamin naturally found in our bodies in certain amounts though we need an extra intake to maintain a fully functioning immune system. Unfortunately, B12 can only be found in animal products and must be supplemented in drops or pill form. B12 also promotes weight gain. Not in a huge amount but it does to a certain extent. Which is why I absolutely (and willingly) suck at taking my B12 supplements.

Vegan doesn’t always mean healthy. Just like other types of junk food, some vegan dishes tend to contain processed foods – often to recreate a meat or cheese-like substance. I’ve noticed that overtime vegans do choose to stay away from foods that resemble animal products. After all, they did transition to avoid them in the first place. According to some of the comprehensive food studies I’ve read such as The China Study by T. Collin Campbell, the recommended diet to optimize your health is the Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) diet consisting of non-processed, whole-foods meals.

Many argue that veganism is expensive and primarily targeted at white affluent individuals. While some high-end vegan restaurants in downtown Toronto do charge ridiculous prices for the tiniest dishes, veganism isn’t targeted at any one particular race or culture. Anybody can be vegan. The more the merrier. Luckily there are increasingly more and more vegan options at fast food chains and grocery stores. Opting for falafel instead of chicken in your shawarama for example, is actually cheaper. Have you ever noticed that a can of chickpeas or beans (which also happen to be higher in nutrients) is 1/3 of the price of a pound of chicken breast?

Mastering the skills of planning ahead and budgeting; ironically the absolute bane of existence for many millennials but vital to sustaining the vegan lifestyle or any other lifestyle for that matter if you’re a busy on-the-go individual. If you live a fast-paced life, meal prepping and carrying snacks with you will make your life a lot easier – especially when traveling. Check out the list of tips for plant-based travelers I’ve compiled if you’re looking for inspo.

The sushi I ate that one time a few months ago

Yes you read that right. A few months back I had a craving for a spicy salmon roll and was genuinely curious as to how I’d think of fish after such a long time. The first bite was a battle – mostly a psychological one – with myself and my values. I kept asking myself why I felt the need to eat fish if I knew the cost of such “pleasure”. It’s like becoming “woke” about a subject and then never seeing things the same way again. I also realized though that the only person holding me accountable was myself. I’m human and allowed to tend to a spontaneous craving. Needless to say, I haven’t had sushi since and don’t plan to anytime soon.

Similarly, I have consumed dairy products over this past year. Although not many times, there have been instances where my best bet on the menu was a vegetarian option. In the case that I can’t modify a meal to be vegan, I opt for the vegetarian option. As much as I stand behind veganism, I don’t always support the idea of starving yourself out of “principle”. I’m hopeful though that as the vegan movement continues to grow, supplying vegan options and alternatives will not be an issue for food producers and vendors.

My thoughts on vegan activism and why I choose to partake in silent form

If I’m being honest, I’m not a fan of how everything in life has become extremely politicized. Veganism included. As soon as people start to connect political or religious affiliation to their dietary preferences, I opt out. I mean, all the power to individuals who feel so strongly about their identity that they devote time and energy to vigorously defending it – but that isn’t me. Regardless of our religious, political or cultural backgrounds, if we’re all consciously choosing to partake in a particular lifestyle for the same reasons isn’t that by virtue enough to warrant unity?

I’ve learned to limit the amount of fu*ks I give to only the people I care about most and believe that there isn’t any real value in arguing with a stranger over your lifestyle choices. I realize that there is a fine line between living for yourself and being apathetic, but I’d rather quietly vote with my dollar and engage in open and fair discussion with those genuinely interested than force a particular way of life onto someone. This is something I’ve come to realize recently; especially in the midst of the Antler protests that have sparked a lot of media attention and demonstrated how not to promote veganism. This goes for anything but if you truly want to create change in an existing system, you have to lead by example and show the benefits of your proposed ways gracefully, not forcefully. Forcefulness perpetuates resentment even further.

This also goes for the Toronto Vegans group I joined a few months ago solely because I wanted to find a community of like-minded individuals and also stay informed of various discounts on vegan products that people so kindly share (true heroes tbh). Over the last few months though, the group has turned into a platform for very close-minded discussions about what constitutes a “real vegan” and how political affiliation and social identity play a role in fulfilling such labels. I found myself disagreeing with a lot of the opinions shared in the group and was left sort of disappointed at how the focus has shifted from using veganism as a way to unify a community to now dismantling it by attempting to tell people what true veganism does or does not constitute.

Jeez things got heavy real quick but hey, it needed to be said.

Where I stand today

I’m still as much in support of veganism and everything it entails as I was when I first embarked on this journey. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and 12/10 would recommend it to anybody even remotely curious. I’ve definitely come down from what I call my psychedelic revelations that I experienced in the first few months and have come to better grips with the reality of both its benefits and occasional downfalls. Venturing out of deeply ingrained traditions isn’t easy but understanding the positive impact of your personal lifestyle choices and consciously choosing to commit to them, makes it invaluable.

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Toronto Veg Fest, August 2017.

Positive energies always.

Nat

If you have any questions or comments you’d like to share, feel free to shoot me a line. I’m always open to conversation.

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