Sitting on my couch eating Ben & Jerrys Dairy Free ice cream, I think back to the day three years ago when I decided I would try to go vegetarian. Honestly, I don’t remember much of my thinking behind the decision to cut out meat, but I do remember slowly becoming more and more grossed out whenever I was presented with the option to eat it. I also remember feeling guilty when I saw the animals I had eaten all my life in person and alive.
There’s a family dairy farm in Sicamous, B.C. called D Dutchman Dairy that my family has visited every summer for over ten years. The farm has cows, horses, chickens and other birds that you can visit with while you eat your ice cream. Calves walk up to the edge of their pen to be pet by wandering humans and chickens roam freely, clucking and bobbing about with the other birds. In recent years of visiting the farm or seeing these animals anywhere else it became increasingly difficult for me to separate them from the ones on my plate. That’s when I had to get honest with myself; I couldn’t separate a cow from beef and a chicken from the chicken breast in my sandwich because they are the same thing, obviously. And then I asked myself: Why I do I need to separate the two anyways? If eating a certain thing both grossed me out and caused me to feel guilt, then why did I need to eat it? There are so many other things I could eat that cause zero emotional trauma. So I decided then and there that I would cut out meat cold turkey. Pun intended.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t plan on being vegetarian forever. It was something I felt inclined to try at the time but I had a feeling I would give up on it at some point. It seemed like an enormous sacrifice to me, and although I knew I cared about the cause (otherwise I wouldn’t have even considered not eating meat), I didn’t know how much I cared. I felt strange refusing meat at first, even in little ways like not adding chicken to my burrito (if you know me, you know burritos are very important to me), ordering a teriyaki bowl with only vegetables, not eating turkey at Christmas Dinner and giving up ham & pineapple pizza (pineapple haters back offff). I often felt like I was missing out on something, but for some reason I felt inclined to stick with it. Now I’m celebrating three years of not eating meat. Key word: Celebrating! I never looked back after that day. I never cheated, though I was tempted to in those first couple months. In the last 8 months I’ve also gone completely vegan (I was slowly going vegan for about a year before I made the commitment). I’ve learned a lot in the past three years and as funny as it sounds I’ve had some significant experiences and realizations as a result of a change in diet. There are lots of well known results of a plant based diet like increased energy levels for example, and these are things I have experienced, but I’d like to share a few of the unexpected things that happened as a result of choosing a plant based diet.
1. My love for animals grew so much deeper
After I stopped eating meat, I felt like I had released a hold on my love for animals. I’m aware of how enormously cheesy that sounds but hear me out. Remember the guilt I explained earlier? I had started to feel this with all animals, even the ones we don’t eat in North American culture. When I saw horses, dogs, cats etc. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to love them as much as I did because I ate their friends. Now I don’t know if cats and cows would ever be friends but the two just started to feel less different to me. I remember seeing cows at the farm and thinking they were the sweetest, most innocent and calm creatures and I felt the need to convince myself not to feel for them so I could go home and eat them. This all stopped when I decided to stop eating them.
2. I became a more conscious consumer
In my opinion, choosing not to eat meat is a form of conscious consumption in itself, but this attitude towards what I would purchase at the grocery store percolated into my purchasing habits everywhere. I started to think about the leather I owned, and how that didn’t make me feel good. I started to think about the environmental impact of the cleaning products I use, the companies I was supporting when I purchased cheap, mass produced clothing and the animal testing I supported through the beauty products I clung to. I started to seek out companies that didn’t kill or harm animals to produce their products and this spiraled into a passion for making a daily difference through any purchase. I found companies that made vegan “down” winter jackets, faux leather goods that also used recycled materials and beauty products that were not tested on animals. I realized how much of an impact a single person can make through the every day items they purchase and it became a new passion of mine.
3. I became more creative with food
The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, said it best: “Necessity if the mother of invention”. Something tells me he wasn’t referring to plant based cooking when he said this, but the sentiment still applies. The necessity for creativity in my diet increased dramatically when I went fully plant based. I started to notice how many things became incredibly plain once you removed the things that were not vegan, usually: cheese and sauces. Once you are required to remove these things, you realize how many items rely on them for flavour. This sparked a desire to discover how you can flavour your food in a healthy and plant based way. I discovered how amazing (and FUN) spices can be to flavour your food. Playing with different spices, creating spice blends and trying different vegetables with these flavours became one of the most enjoyable part of cooking. Now I have also discovered many vegan cheeses and sauces that work in addition to my already flavourful food.
4. I started to eat way healthier
I noticed this the most when I would eat out at restaurants or when I had to grab something on the go. Most regular restaurants have vegan options, but they are usually something healthier like a salad or rice bowl or something along those lines. I mean you can go to vegan restaurants now that can serve you a Big Mac, chilli mac & cheese and fully loaded nachos (ahem, Doomies) and you could literally eat exclusively potato chips and Oreos and drink Coca-Cola and be completely plant based. But I think it’s safe to say most of us won’t do that all the time. So when you’re out and about and need to eat, the plant based option is usually lower in calories (not that I promote calorie restriction but restaurant calorie portions are often much higher than we need) and actually offer some nutritional value.
5. I stopped missing animal products and found joy in new things
People ask me all the time if I miss meat, or cheese, or eggs, or being able to eat whatever was put in front of me. Well the answer, honestly, is no and yes. After three years of discovering all of the other amazing food there is to eat and finding joy in that, I can honestly say I don’t often find myself missing any animal products. Do I like the taste of meat? Or cheese? Or egg benny? Yes. But I’m still 100% happy with my choice not to consume them. I had a very hard time giving up cheese. That was the hardest thing for me and it’s often the thing people tell me they just couldn’t give up when I tell them I’m vegan. But now, it actually kind of grosses me out. Once I went a while without these things and became more educated on where they came from and what can replace them, I didn’t miss them. Being vegan does not feel like a sacrifice to me, I’ve simply found other things to love.
It’s crazy how what seemed like a small choice three years ago has turned into such a deep passion. My love for food and nutrition has grown to be such a positive and exciting thing in my life and has quickly turned into one of my most cherished creative outlets. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me three more years from now and how this choice continues to impact my life.
Now I’m gonna go finish that vegan ice cream…