I am not a vegan, but i eat a mostly vegan diet. I like to say that I am 95% vegan, 98% vegetarian and 2% whatever I want. Becoming “more vegan” has been a gradual — very gradual — process. When I was in my 20s I was what I like to call a junk-food vegetarian. I didn’t eat meat, but I wasn’t very strict about it, and I ate very little in the way of plant-based foods. In fact, I think my diet consisted mostly of pasta, pizza and chocolate chip cookie dough. I also didn’t have a very clear idea about why I was a vegetarian. Health was only a weak motivator since I had little regard for my well-being. I had a vague understanding of the environmental impacts and societal consequences of industrialized farming, but I wouldn’t have been able to speak very clearly about it. In short, my motivations were a mystery, even to me.
After I moved to New York City in my late 20s I adopted a diet consisting largely of takeout food. I switched back to eating meat because I was sick and I didn’t know why and I hypothesized that perhaps I wasn’t getting enough protein from my junk-food diet. (In fact I was sick because I had an undiagnosed medical condition, but I’ll save that story for another post). My weight (and my self-esteem along with it) yo-yo’d. Periodically I would embrace a diet or lifestyle craze. Fit For Life helped me lose 30 pounds though I gained it back because I couldn’t maintain its strict combining rules. I tried Atkins, consuming mostly hamburgers and cottage cheese but it didn’t work for me. I would periodically get into juicing, then burn out, or get really into working out at the gym, then stop abruptly.
Eventually…and I’m really jumping ahead here, like 10 years ahead, I started to adopt a healthier way of life. I use the phrase “way of life” very intentionally, because I stopped dieting altogether and just began to embrace foods and styles of cooking I had shunned previously. Last summer (the summer of 2012) I decided I would experiment with going completely vegan from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and it was a revelation. I discovered exciting kitchen appliances like the Vitamix which I used to make non-dairy rice milk and salad dressings, in addition to a wide variety of green (and other-colored) smoothies. I found quinoa to be an excellent substitute for pasta and a wonderful companion to lentils and other beans and legumes. I learned it is possible to make cookies — delicious cookies — without using milk or eggs. And most importantly, I learned that a vegan diet is not in any way austere or ascetic, and that I could live this way without feeling even the slightest bit deprived. In fact, I felt more fulfilled than ever, and I lost 15 pounds effortlessly.
At the end of that summer my nephew got married and I used the opportunity to take a week off to travel to Virginia for the wedding and some vacation time. Of course, I rewarded myself for surviving my vegan summer by eating anything I wanted while I was away — and I got sick. Very sick. When I returned I went to a gastroenterologist convinced that I had stomach cancer. Several months later – after an endoscopy, a CAT scan and lots of blood work that provided no explanation for my deterioriating condition, it occurred to me that maybe I needed to go back to the vegan diet I’d embraced, and felt good on, over the summer. I did, and I began to feel better immediately. Bye-bye gastroenterologist.
Examples of times when I am not vegan include the following:
Also, i can’t imagine a life completely devoid of pizza. Not yet, anyway. Progress, not perfection.