As a young child, food was a big part of my life. I had loved all types of food. I was definitely an avid meat eater; I loved when my mom cooked bacon on Sunday mornings and I ate some sort of meat for almost all meals. Chick fil a was always the chosen fast food place for my family, I could never get enough of the chicken sandwiches. Funnily enough, that is the furthest attitude towards my diet currently. I went from a meat lover to a full out vegan. The transition was somewhat long, with each passing year I was cutting out more and more animal products. This is due to the fact that I became more and more intrigued with the inner workings of the animal industry, educating myself on food production and building a desire to stray away from this lifestyle that, in my eyes, seemed so cruel. Throughout this journey, I was slowly learning more and more about not only the ethics that come into play with the food we eat, but I was also learning about my health in the process, modifying it to find myself going from the unhealthiest to, currently, the healthiest I have been.
Four years ago, I decided to make a huge change in my life; I decided to cut out all meat from my diet. Coincidentally, I officially made this decision randomly as I was eating a chicken salad from Chick fil a. I remember thinking to myself, “that’s it, this is my last piece of meat ever.” This seemingly sudden decision really was not really as sudden. I had been thinking about the idea of vegetarianism for a while, I just could never push myself to take the step of leaving my favorite foods behind. The idea of vegetarianism stemmed from a conversation I had with my cousin, who had recently taken on a vegetarian diet. She explained to me that she had made this decision because she became aware of the animal cruelty within the meat production industry. She told me the final straw for her was watching a video of a chicken get its head cut off. The thought of that was gruesome to me. I loved animals way too much to imagine the ruthless killing of an innocent animal. Of course, I was aware that an animal must die in order for us to eat it, but I had never really thought about it when eating meat, until this day. After this conversation, my perspective had changed; every time I would eat meat, I’d think about the cute little animal that was killed. I was interested in the idea of cutting out meat, although I had no idea how I would live without it. I was still in the mindset of weighing my desires for meat over the cruelty of animals.
My interests in the matter began to grow and I started researching more about it on my own. Rather than following solely the words of my cousin, I could get an in-depth perspective on the world of food production factories. After looking into it, my eyes were open to the cruelty that goes on behind closed doors of the factories. Although the idea of eating a killed animal began to disgust me, that was not the true issue of eating meat. I was aware that it is a natural part of life for animals to eat other animals- and trust me, I have heard that argument countless times before. The issue is how the animals are treated before being killed. I read many stories of the horrid conditions the animals were kept in, cramped up in gross pens, shot up with steroids, abused by workers, living for the sole purpose to be killed without stepping into the natural world once. Imagining such situations completely appalled me, the idea of it made me sick to my stomach. It is safe to assume automatically that the animals would not be treated very well, as they are seen as food and only that. But reading it with my own eyes made this horrible treatment painfully apparent. As sickening as it was to become so aware of the issue, it created the sympathy I needed to push me to follow through and pursue a vegetarian diet. I increasingly became more and more of an advocate for the ethical issues surrounding meat production until it reached the point where I finally was able to make that first step and declare my vegetarianism, beginning the journey that has shaped me today.
Starting off with my new diet was definitely tough; it was a complete 360 from what I was used to. I had to sit and watch my friends and family eat the things I used to love as I sat there with a seemingly flavorless dinner. I was so tempted to reach for some meat at the dinner table, but I knew I had to force myself to resist for the sake of my newly found morals. I am unable to fully recall, but I would not be surprised if I, sadly, cheated at least a few times within the first months. The hard part was finding alternatives that could satisfy me the same way that meat used to. Luckily, I was introduced to the wonderful concept of fake meat, which made the transition a lot easier. I now had options for me at home if I was craving chicken nuggets, for example. It was still difficult at restaurants, as there were little to no options that were not salads, a food I hated at the time, but have began to found a love for. I did not know too much about health back then and I was not the healthiest eater, so a vegetable based dish was not my first choice.
The biggest struggle with beginning a vegetarian diet was dealing with all the arguments you get dragged into by people who cannot grasp the reasoning for it. Trust me- I have heard every argument against going vegan. The most common one is “animals were put on this earth to be eaten,” a concept I completely disagreed with. People could not understand that I was aware it is natural to eat animals, I simply choose not to because I did not feel comfortable eating an animal. I also heard many jokes from my friends, pushing me to “just take a bite” or just taunting me. It was funny at first, but after the repetition of jokes, it got old quickly. I vividly recall going to the mall with my friend, and when I turned down a chicken sample in the food court, she went on a tangent about how the bible states animals are put on this planet by God specifically for the purpose of getting eaten by humans. The arguments never shifted my choice to go vegetarian, it was just extremely annoying to constantly hear when I was around food I could not eat. Surprisingly, I did get support from my mom about my choices, but it was short lived as soon as I chose to pursue a vegan diet, something she was not too crazy about.
Almost exactly a year after my choice to go vegetarian, I decided to take it a step further and go vegan. I had seen many articles on the treatment of not only animals with the intention to be killed, but also those used for dairy and egg purposes. I had seen many pictures of steroid filled chickens cooped up with no room to move, just shooting out eggs. The turning point for me was this one picture in particular- it was of some cows hooked up to machines all day, looks of distress clearly on their faces. It almost seemed worse than the animals that were getting killed, because as sad as it was, they were granted the release from the horrible treatment. The animals used for non-meat purposes had to live through the suffering a concept they did not even understand. At this time I was also becoming more aware of the clothes and fabric I was purchasing; leather was definitely a fabric I would never touch again.
If I had thought a year ago going vegetarian was going to be extremely difficult, veganism definitely topped that. When I was a vegetarian, I at least had options with cheese or egg based dishes; these options were now limited to virtually nothing. With my love for animals and my newfound knowledge on the treatment of these animals, I knew I had to do this for not only myself but for the animals. And yes- I am aware they will still be eaten and not eating them will do nothing for the cause, I personally could no longer bring myself to eat a living creature knowing the pain it has been through (this is also a very popular argument I have heard too many times). I truly do not think I have gone into something with as much determination for as long as this; I genuinely have surprised myself with how much I stuck to an animal-less diet.
When I first transitioned to veganism, I had no idea about health when it came to food. I did not think about which foods contain which nutrients I needed, as long as I was not eating too much. Because my options were so limited in what I could eat, it was harder to make myself meals, and ultimately turned to snacks rather than meals. My diet consisted of basically pasta, bagels, and oreos (which are surprisingly vegan). I had to have blood work done to make sure I was not nutrient deficient, especially when it came to iron and B-11, which was typically found in dairy. If I was out a restaurant, there were not very many options, so I would opt for a side of fries for my entire meal. I was more than likely not eating enough calories. I was also playing three different school sports at the time, so I was constantly working out, yet I was not feeding my body the right fuel it needed; therefore, I was not gaining as much muscle as I should have been, nor did I have energy.
As I got older and I learned more about nutrition, I began to use the internet to help me find healthy, flavorful vegan recipes. Youtube and Instagram were the easiest to find such recipes, as veganism had became a popular “fad” onsocial media. I began to make sure to incorporate fruits and vegetables, making meals for myself that were both filling and healthy. The biggest nutrient I lost with veganism was a source of protein, which i started paying attention to and began eating more, such as incorporating chickpeas into my diet. My parents, as much as they hated my dietary choice, would still help me by buying vegan items that I may like. Educating myself on what to eat to efficiently maintain a vegan diet was a beneficial factor in my journey.
When it came time for college, I was set back with maintaining a vegan diet. With only access to a microwave and a fridge in my dorm, there was not much room for me to make the homemade meals I was used to making at home. Coming here, I was excited to see the dining halls showed nutritional facts on all foods, even having a specific vegan symbol! I came here thinking I had many options, so I would not have to worry, but I quickly learned that was not the case. The dining halls rarely have a good assortment of vegan options as they used to. Although, once in a while I get lucky to find good vegan options, I am typically left with basic vegetables and fries. This left me with limited options when I came to the dining hall, which is one of the few options I have for meals as a freshman living on campus. As the dining halls did not satisfy me, I wanted to try buying groceries to make meals at home, even if it had to microwaved or a ready-to-eat meal. It was difficult because there is not much I could make in a dorm room, and on top of that, vegan food is expensive. On a college budget, spending money on specifically vegan substitutes, such as vegan meat and cheese, was not plausible. Going out to restaurants is already expensive as it is, but since veganism is seen as a “new trend,” specifically vegan restaurants have over the top prices.
Veganism has also somewhat hindered my social life with my friends. When meeting new people it is awkward to tell them about my veganism because of the arguments and jokes that I have known from my friends back home. I have grown tired of the “ so… why are you a vegan?” question I receive from every person I meet. Once I bring up the ethical issues that concern me, I received yet another lecture on why I am incorrect for my decision, because the animals “don’t even get killed” argument. I have become hesitant about going out to dinner with friends because I have to check the menu beforehand to make sure they have at least one vegan. On top of this, I have the dreaded interaction with the waiters, asking if an item is vegan or what items are vegan. The nerve wracking idea of feeling like I am wasting everyone’s time and annoying the waiter. There are certain activities I cannot join in as well. Sometimes my friends want to go to Talley and get ice cream, or bake cookies. Both of these foods require dairy, an ingredient I cannot eat. I still am able to join and hangout with my friends, but standing by is a lot less fun than sharing the anticipation of cookies coming out of the oven. At home, I have access to a lot more options, such as the ingredients to make vegan substitutes and far more variety for food places that serve vegan versions of certain beloved foods, something that is very unlikely on campus.
I once went out to a mexican restaurant with my current friends, in which we had the same debate I have seen many times before, but this one was especially long. My options were very limited, as most dishes are cheese or meat based, but I was able to get a bean substitute with rice, with the special request of an exclusion of cheese of course. I had the awkward conversation of asking the waiter for no meat or dairy, and checking if anything I ordered had animal products in it. I wanted to solely converse with my friends, but, per usual, the dreaded vegan discussion was brought up. It started as a simple question of my motivations for pursuing a vegan diet, but slowly turned into an ongoing debate over my dietary choices. After having this discussion countless time, I already had my counterarguments prepared. Having to explain that I don’t care when people eat meat around me, so I don’t want people to judge me when I don’t, gets really tiring. Coincidentally, a stigma surrounding vegans is that we push people to turn vegan and yell at people for eating meat, yet in reality, we tend to get a lot of judgment for not eating like a “normal person.” Although I want to have a good time with my friends, having to deal with these situations hinder my ability to have fun around them with constant judgment for dietary choices.
My dietary journey was a long one, from a mainly meat diet, to vegetarianism, an unhealthy vegan diet, a healthy vegan diet, to a “college student” diet, I have finally found a perfect balance in being healthy and happy with the food I eat. After years of a non-meat diet, I have completely forgotten what meat tastes like, which helped to make eating meat substitutes a lot better tasting, even if my non-vegan friends do not agree. Although it can be difficult in a college setting, I have learned how to get the right nutrients through the foods I choose. Contrary to what my 14 year old self thought, I now enjoy vegetables a lot more, eating big salads frequently. A vegan diet can easily become extremely restrictive, but with the right education on food nutrition, it is possibleto get a full diet through mainly fruits and vegetables. My vegan diet has had its ups and downs, but I am happy with my decision 4 years ago to stop eating meat. Dealing with the constant judgment from people about my veganism has been annoying, but it has taught me to hold true to my own morals and regardless of others opinions. It has truly made me a stronger person as well because I was able to stick to something I am passionate about for a long time without giving in to temptations and persuasions. Overall, I have bettered my mindset and my morals.
(me eating non-dairy vegan ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s)