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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I've Come A Long Way, Baby

I stopped eating all meat in November of 1995. For several years, I never, ever thought I'd go vegan. Back then I thought, What's the harm in cheese? There's no blood or flesh in ice cream. It's harmless! But toward the end of my high school years, I learned about the nastiness that is milk (pus?! WHAT?!) and started phasing out dairy products.

Still, it was 2003-2004 that hosted the bulk of my true transition to a cruelty-free diet. I learned more and more online, not just about the yuck factor of dairy, but also how horrible it was for cows. I hated all of the soy-based alternatives that were on the market back then, but I kept plugging along. Several months had passed where I ate little to no dairy. Then one night I went out for ice cream sundaes with friends. It was the first time I had eaten dairy for a long time, and it didn't take long for me to realize I had made a mistake. I became SO SICK shortly after eating the ice cream that, after a long night of stomach cramps and other unpleasantness, I went vegan. I declared Valentine's Day of 2004 my official start of being vegan, as it was the first V-Day that I didn't eat Hershey's (another weakness of mine).

So there I was: a young, freshly-vegan woman, the only vegan in her family or circle of friends, someone who never spent much time in the kitchen. 2004-2005 was one hell of a learning experience.

I've heard many people say that they lost "so much weight" when they first went vegan. This was true for me, too, but not because I was healthy -- it was because I was hardly eating anything. I knew for sure what I did NOT want to eat, but that left me feeling lost and confused about what was left. Because I was intimidated by cooking, I depended on overpriced, prepackaged food items (Enter: Amy's products) and crap like veggie subs from Quizno's or flavorless pizzas with no cheese from the pizza place near our house (this was long before I realized wheat products didn't sit well with me and was the cause of some other health maladies during that time). I hated most of the food I was eating and hated how many of those foods (wheat) made me feel, so I ate very little. Looking back at pictures of me during that time, I looked incredibly pale and very thin.

I found heaps of information and support in online vegan communities. Right from the beginning, I am thankful for all of the vegan people around the country with whom I connected. We commiserated, we swapped recipes, we referred each other to different websites and books and events. Without that support system online, I probably would not have survived!

And then I ended up moving to a very small town in Missouri, with no health food store in sight, and not even a full-size supermarket the first year I was there. I was forced to overcome my hesitations with cooking, and this is when things started looking up. I figured out how to cook rice, got creative with tofu, and experimented with different ways to prepare vegetables. It was still very basic cooking for a couple of years, but I wasn't scared anymore. As time passed, I fully embraced beans, loved leafy greens, and explored different grains. I read cookbooks like novels, lingering over the photos, marking the recipes I would (eventually, some day) cook. I finally started listening to my body and, through an elimination diet, discovered that wheat products destroy my insides.

I haven't been a size 5 since those early days as a sickly new vegan. While I would love to be that small again, I wouldn't trade in the way I felt back then to the way I feel now. I am NOT a perfect vegan. I do not eat balanced meals that include all colors of the rainbow every single day. I wish I had the time and resources to create beautiful meals each day, but I'm too busy to make edible works of art. I eat pretty well, though, and much better than in the beginning.

I've come a long way, baby.


  1. Good for you! I think it's a process for most of us. I was a "junk food" vegetarian for many years, and then when I got sick, I went on a strict raw food diet for about a year. Now I drink a lot of green smoothies, eat pretty healthy, and allow myself the occasional local cheese or whatever. I'm also a sucker for ice cream, but the new coconut based ice creams are AMAZING and helping with that.

  2. This is a great post! Kudos to you for evolving your vegan style and sticking with it. I also totally agree with you about the overwhelming nature of Vegan Mofo. I also had planned to post much more often but realized that quality for sure overrides quantity. It's been such an awesome experience to get exposed to so many vegan blogs that I never knew existed before, though!