Okay everyone, let’s get real. Maximally real. I’ve been putting this off for the longest time because to be honest, I’ve been so afraid of opening up about it even though I know that this will transform my platforms in a relatively drastic way. It may not look like it because the majority of the content I now post regularly caters towards this whole spectrum of life. In fact, most of my audience is actually part of this lifestyle.
I’ve touched on going plant-based at a very gradual pace countless times on the blog. I’ve uploaded vegan and plant-based content so many times that I was mistakenly called vegan during the times that I wasn’t. A handful of people knew I wasn’t vegan, but that I was transitioning and making more plant-based choices. Luckily, that was good enough for them, but I am aware that it isn’t for many, many others, if not the majority.
Before I delve into the reasons why I chose veganism, let me recap on how I first became enlightened on this lifestyle: during my early “health and fitness fanatic” years, I came across FullyRawKristina, the first vegan social media icon I’ve ever seen, through a smoothie recipe and was brought a little more awareness of the vegan lifestyle. However, caught up in the Paleo, gluten-free and low carb diet trends, I admired Kristina’s choices of eating but didn’t bat an eye towards it as I’d inhale my omelets, Quest bars, Greek yogurt parfaits, roasted chicken plates and salmon salads.
I was reminded again of veganism two years later when I posted one of my first vegan food photos on Instagram and it got a shocking amount of likes. Okay, I thought, it must be the popularity of Vinh Loi Tofu. Repeated with Cafe Gratitude and it got even more likes. With time, the amounts of likes on my pictures of smoothie bowls, fruit, meatless salads and vegan restaurant food porn gave me the impression that this lifestyle was booming. I carried on with my conventional way of eating–definitely much healthier than the Standard American Diet. I consumed primarily eggs, egg whites, Greek yogurt, seafood, poultry, little to no red meat along with fresh and mostly organic fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. In order to maintain the Insta-like influx, I continued to post more and more vegan Instagram photos. Eventually, I started to research about the vegan perspective of health, nutrition, lifestyle, ethics, morals and philosophies as the vegan movement became more apparent on social media.
Vegan and plant-based Instagrammers as well as YouTubers shared their gorgeous recipes online, revealing that veganism is so easy, so cheap, so abundant and so rewarding. They glorified their holy books such as The China Study, documentaries such as Vegucated, Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy and Earthlings, and other sources such as TED Talks videos and “101 Reasons to Go Vegan”. Some presented their vegan lifestyles in a very aggressive, hostile, bitter or immature manner, while others were more practical, creative, understanding or optimistic (of course, I was more attracted to the latter). Regardless of their differences, all of them had the same core message: humans don’t need to take another life to survive, whether in the form of captivity, food, clothing, science and entertainment.
All while absorbing these mantras of how life-changing veganism is, it was important for me to look at this lifestyle with a very objective eye, just as it is for everything else. I made sure to read everything that went against veganism: stories of people who reverted from a vegan life, studies as to why a plant-based diet is an unhealthy one, reports of how eating herbivorous can actually do more harm to the environment than eating omnivorously, and even essays arguing that meat consumption is ethical. I needed both sides of the argument in order to make a wholehearted decision as to whether or not I wanted to listen to statements justifying my then-present way of eating or to open the doors to this “matrix”. And I understood everything. I just didn’t bother to agree or disagree; I could defend for both sides.
Here’s the thing: the fact that I was already so knowledgeable about health and nutrition for someone my age made the change that much harder. A lot of the nutrition sites and platforms I followed regularly promotes a diet full of the foods I used to eat on such a regular basis: eggs, seafood, Greek yogurt, Quest bars, turkey, chicken, and organic beef on special occasions. I needed to belong in the norms to make sure my platform grew and that I could be reachable to more companies. To be completely honest, I loved eating the way I did. I was always satiated with filling, splendidly tasty food that was easy to turn to at home and at restaurants. The battle between my mind and my palette intensified the more I exposed myself to veganism.
As for ethics, making the connection was easy, but its intensity came in increments. I always knew as a child that what I was eating was a dead animal, but of course, like many others, I was raised with the notion that eating other animals was part of the circle of life and it was a necessity to our survival. But like the majority of other people, I was disgusted with the unfortunate facts of using animals in the clothing industry, the entertainment industry and animal testing in the science industry. On the other hand, even as a kid, I’d question why our society regularly consumes meat, eggs and dairy from cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, basically only farm animals. Why would society be appalled if they discovered another culture eating cats and dogs? And even if one species was simply raised to be eaten and the other was raised to be man’s best friend, wouldn’t that make no difference because they are all still living creatures? But at the end of the day, I’d always figure that all countries around the world consume animals, and our Western civilization happened to choose what we domesticated during the birth of agriculture. Some countries use dogs, snakes and crocodiles as a staple in their diets!
After Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives, I finally mustered up the courage to watch the intense Earthlings documentary one night. I came with the knowledge that this would be the deal-breaker between me and veganism–either this film would convert me overnight or my heart would be unshaped from, as skeptics call it: “an hour of meaningless gore”. The images of the unethical treatment of animals were finally ingrained into my mind, all while I had to continue with my present lifestyle since I still needed to research on how to live veganism in the best way.
As iterated before, making the actual changes was a whole different story. A lot of the vegan social media icons I follow just made it look so easy to become vegan in a snap: “Watch Earthlings, and boom, you’ll go vegan like that”. Unfortunately, I thought the same thing until I opened the fridge the next morning and saw a full tub of Fage 0% that my parents bought at Costco the previous day. The very idea of me throwing away something that my parents bought for me and my sisters to survive disgusted me more. I couldn’t imagine causing such a so-called burden to my family that does not support the elimination of a whole food pyramid group.
With that being said, I decided to transition very slowly with the knowledge of everything about veganism and what I could do to swap out my current sources of animal proteins, how to eat plant-based on a budget and the truth behind carbohydrates and fat. The goal in June was one vegan meal a day–that was it. Most of the time, it was a mission accomplished and I felt that much better tackling on that easy goal. July was then two vegan meals, which was quite harder for me given that many times I’d be taken out to lunch with the family where vegan options were limited, so I’d have to go with the flow and eat my meat and eggs in silence and in some awareness of the truth.
It wasn’t until closer to the end of July when I started to really feel the cognitive dissonance between my food and I. When my Panang curry salmon dish arrived at our dinner table, all I could think about was the fact that my salmon fillet was once a living, breathing creature in a polluted world whose life was stolen just to be part of a meal. As I’d eat my egg white omelet for lunch, the memories of dirty, feeble and cluttered hens fearing for their lives would cloud my head. Advertisements of Greek yogurt kefir drinks screamed the visions of cows being artificially inseminated as they’d watch their baby calves await their executions. I felt so guilty consuming these foods that the horrific recaps of what I knew about behind the meat and dairy industries took away the precious tastes of everything.
I will be dead honest when I say that I’ve let myself down so, so many times. In the midst of my transition, I still craved animal products. Yes, even with the awareness of the slaughter process. Sometimes I’d chose the non-vegan option even if there were alternatives. And I felt like shit because of the stress right after consuming them, which would affect me physically and mentally. My standard diet consisted of so many animal proteins that it was as if my body was begging me to consume more and more because it wouldn’t know what to do with anything else. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I wanted to abandon veganism all together.
One day, I was so determined to eat completely vegan. Breakfast was successful. I never failed to crush my sweet potato kabocha puddings with a bang. For lunch, I finished a large kale and quinoa salad, but shortly after my stomach was so unsatisfied and grumbly after half an hour that my physical cues overpowered my mental determination in that moment. I knew that I could just put off the hunger until later or consume what I thought would make sense, but my stomach told me otherwise. Immediately after I satiated my stomach’s demands, I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry myself to dehydration. After my private meltdown, I gave up, ate a lot of meat at dinner and fell asleep. I failed, all because of an egg white.
Another reason why I considered abandoning veganism was because of certain representatives I knew I wouldn’t be proud of attributing my knowledge of this lifestyle towards. I am not going to name any names in this section, but a lot of vegan individuals have caused a lot of controversies in the public media that not only give veganism a terrible name, but they’d target other vegans for making mistakes, for eating a different way, for disagreeing with them, or for supposedly not making enough of an effort to promote veganism just because they aren’t as militant as them. A lot of these attacks were also very personal, from fat shaming, false accusations and even death threats. Ultimately that is unacceptable, and I couldn’t fathom associating myself with such negativity.
And I’m not going to be the typical “high carb”, “low fat”, “oil free”, “low protein”, “high sugar”, “fruit” or “rice/potato” vegan that you see on Tumblr and Instagram–heck, I’m not even going to start as a strict vegan! I just loooooooooove my soy, my vegan protein powders and my nut butters, PLUS I’m not going to worry about eating honey if it’s in a pre-prepared dish or packaged product (obviously I would never voluntarily purchase it or consume it in its pure form. I will be more than happy to talk about honey in a separate post so I can elaborate more on this subject!). I don’t feel the best if I overload on carbs, but that obviously goes to say that I don’t feel the best if I overload on anything. I don’t eat liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup and agave on a regular basis. I need to have at least one source of protein at every meal since it’s hard for me to maintain muscle mass. I don’t believe in eating up to +2000 calories a day because following a standard number goes against bodily intuition. Oh yeah, I don’t bike up mountains and I can’t perform a yoga headstand to save my life–trust me, when I attended my first yoga class, I was getting crazy migraines from all of the stretching and bending I had to attempt! I wasn’t at all sure where I’d fit in. I’d be too different that no one could relate. If I was my true self, people wouldn’t accept me. It was pointless.
This is where I spill one of the most important parts of this entire process: meetups. Communication. Attending all of these vegan meetups and creating relationships seriously saved my journey. Hanging out with vegan Instagrammers I met via social media, whether in big groups or in small get-togethers, gave me the motivation and encouragement to keep going despite all of my setbacks. These individuals were so empathetic, so understanding and loving. There were so many challenges I could escape from NOT being vegan, but all it would do was leave a black hole in my heart.
I couldn’t help but think of giving up veganism as suicide: in the moment, it would solve EVERYTHING, but in the aftermath, it would eat me from inside. I knew everything that went into the food, the clothing, the makeup, the shampoo, the study, and what happened all before, yet I’d be conforming to it because it was easy. But living with yourself all whilst knowing that you’re making these conscious decisions that you know are wrong is so much more terrifying than going out to eat and only finding that all you can eat is rice and lettuce.
Essentially, I figured out that I had to choose everything for myself and for my future. To eat animal products for the sake of satiating a major part of society, all with with the knowledge of the cruelty I was supporting, or not to eat animal foods, but live as an outsider with the knowledge of the compassion I chose. That was the question. I already felt like enough of an outsider because I support healthy and mindful living that involves daily exercise and clean eating. But I could deal with that. I have a whole community of people to share my beliefs with, and I have a loving family and group of friends who may not always agree with my decisions but at least accept them. I have nothing to lose and all to gain with this.
To sum everything all up, I chose veganism for a mix of ethical, environmental, health and psychological reasons. I couldn’t withstand taking part in something that I know will contribute to the suffering of many creatures who have as much of a right to live and be with their families as we do. I don’t agree with having to waste so much energy, land and water just to eat a serving of eggs, fish or Greek yogurt. Most nutrients from animal foods can be found from plant foods that don’t require any lives or excess energy, plus animal meats and their byproducts in general don’t really digest in my system very properly mainly due to the stress of the lives that were previously found in those foods; there is always the option to supplement if necessary. Lastly, if we live in a society advanced enough to suffice our nutrient needs while we can live on a plant-based diet that benefits from the other three reasons, why not take that initiative?
Now this post is solely here to give you the lowdown on why I chose this lifestyle. It’s not here to impose my own choices on you or make you feel lesser of a person. Everybody is different, and I am here to embrace the uniquities of all of you. It is my goal to unite as much fracture in this world as I personally can–I will continue to comment on non-vegan recipes, and if there are some people who still want to continue to eat meat/dairy/eggs even after reading this post, I will recommend them the non-vegan brands that have supported me from the very beginning. I have countless non-vegan friends and family members that are so close to my heart and I would never, ever think of them any less than my friends who are vegan or vegetarian. Everything takes time. The whole world is going to take its time.
Sometimes I can’t speak for the future as well. Maybe in a few months I’ll read this post and ask myself why I didn’t watch my honey intake enough. I might look at this post a few years from now as a returned omnivore, asking myself what in the world I was thinking. Because of this possibility, I won’t ever change my whole social media platform. I will never, ever be that one dogmatic and aggressive vegan who hates the world for supporting animal slaughterer and environmental exploitation, as much as I am against both of these sad realities. At the end of the day, this is my life. I don’t care if I’m going to be more of an outsider than I really am. All I know is that I’m going to be doing so much good for myself and for the rest of the world with my decisions. We are all on a journey to self-actualization, and this is just another step forward to mine.