Coming into college, I was exceptionally worried about gaining that notorious "freshman 15."
In high school, I always reverted to being a relatively poor eater as I napped after my numerous fried chicken sandwiches from Chick-Fil-A and indulged on convenient but unhealthy afterschool snack options on multiple occasions. I always felt a slightly guilty feeling after eating what I did, perhaps due to my past experiences with food shaming and bullying for my weight or maybe because what I was eating wasn't good for my body or my mindset.
I had many friends and other acquaintances that had adopted vegan and vegetarian lifestyles throughout the years. It was fascinating to see the plethora of options available to them including almond milks, kombuchas, and probiotics, vegan cheese, vegan eggs, meat substitutes, nutritional yeast, etc. I loved how informed my colleagues were about their health, the environment, and the truth behind where our food comes from. I desired to stabilize an efficient diet for myself that would withstand hours of energy for classes, workouts, and walking around Tallahassee without a car, without all of the extra supplemental caffeine provided by my Redbull.
It was extremely hard cutting out meat entirely as Italian heritage thick runs through my blood and my plate. Saying "no" to nonna's fried chicken cutlets, chicken parmigiana, and penne al la vodka with pancetta was a disgrace. I needed to give this lifestyle change a shot in order to give myself the nourishment I desperately needed. After only a few weeks of making myself fun, plant-based recipes and of course, dealing with some mishaps on the way, I eventually got the hang of this healthy eating thing! After all, I lost 15 pounds and felt like a little ray of sunshine walking on Florida State University's campus. I was able to connect with friends from both my dorm room at Gilchrist and the classroom that were also on this vegan and vegetarian college journey with me and that support was essential for my success.
After a year of solid vegetarianism, I strayed to my moderate meat intake and eventually gained back the weight I had kept off. However, about a week ago on June 18, 2018, I pledged never to eat meat again. Throughout my journey with eating less meat and more plant nutritious items, I hoped to break the stigma regarding vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. No people, we do not just eat grass and inhale air.
I made a Tofurky roast for Thanksgiving 2017 and was actually ridiculed via Snapchat for not being "American" because I chose to not eat a real turkey. I'm not the kind of girl to hound animal activism, environmental sustainability, or vegetarianism/veganism down your throat, so if you read this and don't feel intrigued to try something new, that is totally up to you, your diet is not a problem to me. However, I think it is so utterly important to try new things and give it a chance because how will you ever know unless you try! Even if you just have one meatless Monday, you will cut your overall carbon footprint by 20% and will save nearly 133 gallons of water with each meatless meal you savor. I have gathered a list of overall advice and tips for people considering trying a day of meatless loving or even better, a potential lifestyle of plant-based bliss.
First of all, do you want to try vegetarianism or veganism? Do you know the difference?
Most people get confused about which is which so I'm here to simplify it for you. Vegans do not eat fish, meat, or dairy which includes eggs, and many people do not know that. Vegetarians do not eat fish or meat but still can have eggs and dairy.
Here are some tips for this transition to become more simplified, and less restricted. I found these to be extremely helpful for my journey and urged to pass them along. In the end, do what you want to do! Plant-based foods most of the time are great so please don't restrict yourself. Think "What's going to make me feel my best!"
1. Cooking meals at home is a must, so less takeout food.
- If you do want to enjoy a meal out with friends, don't mind asking the waiter what options are vegetarian/vegan if it's not explicitly said. I used to feel annoying and petty about asking but please do not. Many of my vegan friends have explained to me about how commonly people have food allergies to nuts, eggs, dairy, etc. and need to ask themselves. Schedule time for preparing meals so you don't feel overwhelmed when you're hit with an endless list on your agenda planner This is an "eat in abundance" lifestyle, so don't cut yourself short from it. Add exciting options that are appealing to try- for example, new milks and meat substitutes. Also, make sure to stay stocked on your favorite veggies, fruits, beans, and rice! I recommend trying out Trader Joe's, Lucky's Market or Publix for some amazing and inexpensive options. The myth is that this lifestyle is very hard to afford but I promise that is false.
2. Take your vitamins!
- B12 for energy levels and healthy blood cells
- Vitamin D for strong bone health
- Vitamin C for immunity
3. Think about why you want to become vegetarian or vegan.
- Cowspiracy documentary: the impact of the meat industry on the environment.
- Earthlings documentary: GRAPHIC, shows what the animals go through during the meat process, how they are treated rather cruelly than our preconceived notions that they frolic on farm pastures, look into the fur farm industry, animal shelters, and factory farming
- Food Inc. documentary: a look inside large animal processing facilities and examines aspects of how food goes from factory to chain restaurant plates.
- Gelatin research! Read your labels and see what's inside the product your holding. You will be disgusted by how many items contain gelatin base in them which is ground up and boiled animal carcass, bones, and other tissue! I once opened up honey roasted peanuts to see that gelatin was one of the main ingredients.
4. Have a positive mindset about this endeavor, it gets easier with time.
- Think simple!! Adapt your favorite foods to the vegetarian alternatives. Try Pinterest for vegetarian and vegan meals for ideas! Barnes and Nobles also has a great section of recipe books that are so simple and contain few ingredients
- Take your time with it. Be slow. Your habits will eventually change. You will adapt to wanting to eat healthily! And its guilt-free (for the most part). Adding one day meatless is completely fine.
- You don't have to be healthy all the time. Having a vegetarian plant-based diet should already fill you up with the nutrients you need. If you eat healthy 80-90% of the time, you can definitely binge and make some sweets or try some vegan sweet options that make you curious!