One year ago today, I went vegan. So, essentially, this is my first vegan birthday. As strange as that might seem t some people, it has been a truly amazing year.
One year ago today, I planned on only trying veganism for one week. I had been vegetarian on and off for many years and I thought being vegan, though it seemed quite extreme, couldn’t be that much different than being lacto-ovo vegetarian. To say the least, I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Mind you, I am not saying it was an easy year. In no way was it easy. But it was a good decision to make for myself. And for that, I am grateful.
Here are some of the benefits I’ve discovered in being vegan:
Within that first week, I noticed that for the time in my life, my allergies were gone. This was the most surprising and most amazing aspects for me. I had suffered with allergies ever since I was very young. Those first few days waking up without a clogged nose or a sore throat were wonderful. I was, at first, a bit apprehensive in giving up my allergy meds, but soon I really didn’t them. The real test came in August, when my allergies were the worst. This usually was a very miserable time for me, especially during harvest time. Although I felt a bit of a tightness in my nose at times, I had no real symptoms during the time, though I had meds ready in case it got too bad.
I have been amazed by the fact that I have barely been sick with anything, not even a cold.
My energy levels have been better than ever. I sleep better at night than I ever have in my entire life. I awake in the morning feeling refreshed and clear-headed and I actually have the energy to do the work that needs to be done in a day.
This was the most surprising for me. For the better part of this year, I had lost no weight. In fact, I actually gained a few pounds here and there. Only in the last month and half have I started to lose weight—as in losing 20+ pounds. There are two reasons for the lack of weight loss: one, I found myself eating much more as a vegan than I ever did as an omnivore or a lacto-ovo vegetarian. The food tasted so much better as a vegan and there were so many more varieties of food. Plus, it was fun exploring all the vegan foods I could eat. That phase is pretty much over. I have learned that, like any food one eats, one needs to eat in moderation and, even for vegans, the old maxim of “eating less and moving more” really is best. The second issue I discovered regarding weight was that there were one or two contributing factors that were hijacking the whole thing, namely, alcohol. I like to have drinks on occasion, but I have discovered that cutting back on alcohol has most definitely helped with eh weight loss.
This is an issue I have not discussed too often with people, partly because I did not want to sound like some bleeding heart. But I have discovered that both the meat and dairy industries are industries based on much suffering. Those animals who produce the meat and dairy we eat suffer. There’s no way around that, of course. For any living thing to die, it has to die somewhat violently. I grew up in a world where this was a fact we simply accepted. I’ve remember vividly my grandmother and aunts cutting the heads of the chickens they raised. I remember seeing cows slaughtered. We always knew this and accepted it.
But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to accept kind of Christian karma in life, namely that there are consequences to every action we make. Or, as I always like to quote, “the chickens always come home to roost.” That thinking can certainly be applied to the food we eat. There is violence involved in meat and dairy, and I can’t help but believe that many of the health issues we have come from eating food gained by violent means. That violence, at least on a spiritual level, can, I believe, be ingested by eating food gained by violent means.
For me (and I only speak for myself on this issue), a decision to not eat meat and dairy is as much a moral issue as it is a health issue. As a Christian, I really strongly believe in non-violence as much as possible, and that conviction carries over to the very food I eat.
The apologetic vegan
One important lesson I learned this year was to be (borrowing a term from pop star, Moby) an “apologetic vegan.” I realize how threatening veganism seems to people who have never even considered it before. I can say that it used to seem very daunting to me in my pre-vegan days (and even during my first month or so).
I have found that people are much more open to discuss and ask questions if I gently and apologetically inform them I’m vegan rather than wave it in their faces. Restaurant servers, friends and family hosting meals and dining partners all seem to appreciate this approach. And, more importantly, feel more comfortable engaging me in conversations about why and how I’m vegan.
Saying all that, I will stress that I was not, however, a spineless vegan. If something I ordered came with cheese on it, I sent it back with a respectful but firm explanation. I wasn’t willing to make compromises so I could be nice.
Yes, although I am a priest, I’ve never been good at proselytizing about my faith and I am certainly no good as doing so about what I eat. I realize that being vegan is not for everybody. Yes, ideally, it would be great if people could eat compassionately and healthy. But food is a sacred matter to people, I’ve discovered, and as such it, like religion, becomes a very passionate issue for some people.
It has been frustrating having people tell me I should not be vegan because it is unhealthy (people who, ironically, have had health issue which were probably due to their own eating habits). It has been frustrating having people not being as respectful of my diet as I have been of theirs. But, as apologetic as I may be to some people, I have not backed down nor compromised my convictions on this issue.
Like my faith, I have found that probably the loudest thing I can say about being vegan isn’t at all what I say, but the life I live. And I can say that my life as a vegan, has most definitely been a good and healthy one.
I made many mistakes this year. Who knew that animal products were in so many different things? I certainly never had a clue that even things like some guacamole, my white soy latte at Starbuck’s or some of the wine I enjoyed had animal products in them (and don’t even get me started on sugar).
Sadly, I realized, that it is almost impossible to be 100% vegan. Sometimes I had to learn that that delicious cheeseless pizza was made with a dough that had animal product in it. Or that burger bun I ordered at the pub had dairy in it (after I ordered it).
Probably the biggest lesson I learned was this: I learned to forgive myself. And I learned that being vegan meant more than being a purist. Being vegan meant making the best choices I could in a particularly situation and ultimately to remain true to my convictions.