Growing up, my family tried to be health conscious. When it was possible, we’d buy organic produce, grass-fed meat, and hormone-free milk. But if you had asked me if I could go vegan back then, I would have said “No way, I love cheeseburgers too much.”
In 2011, my mom convinced the whole family to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. It details the power of a plant-based diet based on the studies of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn. Their research led them to the conclusion that “degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms of cancer, could almost always be prevented—and in many cases reversed—by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet.” The documentary debunks myths around protein and dairy, and chronicles several transformations of people switching to plant-based diets. It was super eye-opening and inspiring.
My whole family, including Zachary (my then-boyfriend / now husband), made the switch. We ate a lot of whole grains and starches like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oats and potatoes. We had very little oil or sugar, and tons of fruits and veggies. All of us noticed a jump in our energy, better skin and hair, and a drop in weight. I lost 15 pounds without much effort, and Zachary lost 45! I felt completely amazing, and others around me noticed it too.
I was attending a small college and got a lot of comments about my food choices, including, “You need milk for calcium” and “Animals are here on earth so we can eat them.” I did my best to ignore them. At the time, I was afraid to label myself a vegan. Many people reacted strongly to that word, and immediately assumed I was judging them. I would explain that I didn’t eat animal products, but it was only for health reasons. I didn’t want to be associated with those crazy animal-rights activists that everyone seemed so alarmed by.
Around the 10-month mark, I started getting bored with food. We had limited options in the school cafeteria, and I was pretty lazy when it came to cooking. I would whine to my roommates about how much I wanted cheese, and stare longingly when they ate snacks I couldn’t have. My mindset was that this plant-based diet was just that, a “diet.”
After our wedding in 2012, Zach and I started having “cheat days.” We landed in Hawaii for our honeymoon and all I wanted was a big fat burger to celebrate. It quickly spiraled out of control and we were back to eating all our old favorites. And of course, we felt horrible. I was tired, my skin flared up, but none of that mattered because CHEESEBURGERS.
Then came my 21st birthday, the day we adopted Casserole (Cassie) from Pacific Pug Rescue. No joke, she completely changed our life. At first she was timid. She would cower and roll onto her back when we approached her with her leash, which broke my heart. But after a while, she started to trust us. Now she’s got this goofy personality, and all she wants in life is to snuggle. She’s always resting her chin on me, looking into my eyes and asking for a good head scratch.
It’s hard to explain, but after some time with Cassie, it was hard to differentiate her from other animals. We saw her when she was stressed, fearful, happy and playful. If she could feel all those things, what made her any different than a pig, chicken, or cow? Zachary almost immediately went vegetarian, and I followed (with a little resistance). At least being vegetarian meant I could enjoy cheese! But like most people, I was majorly lactose intolerant. I had to take Lactaid pills with most meals so I wouldn’t get a stomachache. Even though I knew that dairy causes a lot of health problems, I chose to ignore it. I figured I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself.
Then one day I was on Pinterest when an article about milk popped up. It explained what happens to female cows in the dairy industry: being forcibly inseminated, giving birth in terrible conditions, having their newborns immediately taken away (often to be slaughtered for veal), being milked on a machine for months, and then starting the cycle again. The article was pretty graphic, and I was completely shocked and disgusted. I used to think that milk and cheese was okay, because no one was getting killed or harmed, but I was wrong. The more I researched, the more I realized I had to make a change. Zachary jumped on board and we never looked back.
Round 2 of going vegan has been 100 times easier. It’s not just some restrictive diet for me anymore, there’s a bigger purpose in mind and it’s actually really freeing! It feels amazing knowing that the choices I make every day cause the least amount of harm to others and the environment. The health benefits that go along with it are just a bonus! I also no longer crave cheese or animal products, because I honestly want nothing to do with them. Plus, it turns out there are tons of vegan cheeses that actually taste amazing. Veganizing my favorite meals is easy, and I’m finding delicious new foods all the time.
The more I learn about the vegan lifestyle, the more I love it. There are huge benefits for the planet, health, and animals. I can’t imagine living another way.
P.S. I’ll be blogging more on this subject, so let me know if you have any questions!