If you had told me four years ago that I would be vegan, I would’ve laughed at you over a rack of baby back ribs. Vegan. The word alone incites shudders and groans from people who picture extremists fueled by grass and self-righteousness. I get it—that was me once. Looking back, I realize it was easier for me to mock the vegan lifestyle than to confront the hypocrisy of my own.
I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, and yet for the majority of my life, I had no qualms about eating meat.
Why? For one, I never stopped to wonder how the meat on my plate got there. I knew, of course, that bacon came from pigs and steak from cows, but there was a mental disconnect between the living animal and the food I was eating. Now, having given up all animal byproducts, it’s hard to believe that I was ever so blind to the conditions that factory animals live (and die) in.
Once I’d educated myself, there was no way I could justify supporting the meat and dairy industry simply to satisfy a craving.
Adopting a plant-based diet has improved my mental and physical health in countless ways. I have a newfound peace of mind from following a diet that doesn’t contradict my values. I feel energized after eating, not sluggish or uncomfortably full. I’ve lost the extra pounds I put on freshman year (thanks, Windsor cinnamon rolls) and have finally established a healthy relationship with food. I’ve even come to love cooking and thinking up creative meals that my entire family can enjoy.
It wasn’t all easy, of course.
I faced a fair share of judgment over my decision to go vegan. People who had never commented on my eating habits were suddenly extremely concerned about the amount of protein I was getting. I found myself on the receiving end of the vegan stereotype, and it wasn’t fun.
No, I don’t eat salads for every meal. No, it’s not “so sad” that I can’t eat the same desserts as before.
A common misconception seems to be that vegans only eat salad.
The question I've received the most since giving up meat and animal byproducts has been, “So what can you eat?” The answer: not just fruits and vegetables (although I’ve probably eaten more of those in the past year alone than in the first two decades of my life). Lots of ethnic dishes feature tofu or beans, a great source of protein. Vegan alternatives exist for American staples, including meat, butter, and even cheese. Many restaurants offer vegan options on their menu—or, if not, are very accommodating in making alterations.
If there has ever been a time to give the plant-based diet a shot, it’s now. You don’t have to go vegan overnight; in fact, a gradual transition is more maintainable and realistic. You could start by switching out the milk in your smoothies or cereal for almond milk, which actually has more calcium per serving.
Try incorporating “Meatless Mondays” into your weekly meal plan, and swap out that beef patty for a black bean burger. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll feel happier and healthier, and won’t even miss the baby back ribs you once thought you couldn’t live without.