I’m not exactly sure what day I became a vegan, but it was around this time last year that I realized I was a vegan. An accidental vegan, for sure, because I never intended it to happen. I use the term less as a badge of my identity and more as a short-hand for what I eat. But the journey has been interesting all the same.
As I’ve said before, this is not a philosophical or political move. Becoming a vegan really was an accident for me. I was dealing with a chronic health issue — mainly IBS — that seemed to be helped by eliminating fats, meat, and eggs from my diet. I am already lactose intolerant and allergic to honey. So there you go! All the sudden, I’m a vegan!
But being an accidental vegan is not without its pitfalls. For one, as soon as you say the word “vegan” it sets off waves of near-fatal eye-rolling. It reminds me of a joke: How can you tell who is vegan at a party? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Indeed, to a large portion of our society, vegans get a bad wrap. And it’s not all-together undeserved, in my opinion. As a former vegetarian (for 10 years), I have often found myself rolling my eyes at the vegan in the room who was bitching about something touching his/her food or other such annoying behavior. The problem with vegans, as anyone will tell you, is that they manage to make problems out of almost any situation. Well, a certain vocal (and let’s just say it, militant) sect of vegans sure can be annoying. I agree! So, I’ve tried hard to be reasonable as I negotiate a vegan diet (with an insane amount of allergy restrictions on top of it) in an all-you-can-eat-buffet kind of world.
It ain’t easy being vegan in America!
This is not to say it can’t be done. Or that you can’t live a life satiated and even eating delicious food. Because you can have delicious things as a vegan. (I highly recommend Whole Food’s vegan chocolate chip cookies as one example.) In fact, I make a point to find food and recipes that I genuinely enjoy and would eat regardless of being a vegan. (To that end, I highly recommend The 30-Minute Vegan as an excellent source of delicious and easy recipes.)
But I’m not going to lie to you. If you want a steak, you will not be satiated by any faux-steak option. I was never a big meat eater and have never been much of a red meat fan, so this has not been much of an issue for me. I don’t disdain meat. I just prefer cake. So, that part of the equation is certainly a factor. And if you are not a very adventurous person, the vegan world can seem a strange place. Quinoa. Amaranth. Bulger. And those are just some grains! But it’s like the old Green Eggs and Ham story says, “Try it. Try it. You will see!”
And the reality is, if I could eat anything I wanted without health consequences, I would eat fish and dairy. Who doesn’t love ice cream? And having grown up in Alaska, I can’t help missing salmon, or my (Midwest) family’s fried catfish recipe. But my digestive issues won’t allow those dietary dalliances. So it makes the idea of will power or even choice, moot. That’s the “accidental” part of my vegan experience.
What I will say is that my cholesterol, blood pressure, and many other health factors have never been better. So the health benefits of a vegan diet are real. And it has helped me lose some of the 90 pounds I lost after having my baby two years ago (and keeping it off). Of course, you don’t have to go, shall we say, whole-hog. There are benefits to simply eating less meat in favor of more fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods (which we can all use), such as the Meatless Mondays trend. And it’s not just good for your waistline and your vitals, going meatless has a huge (positive) impact on the environment, among other things.
Is that a pitch for veganism? Maybe. But more than worrying about what label to put on what or how you eat, I think it is always important to be eating with your eyes (and mind) open. Whether you eat meat or not, it’s still worth knowing how you feel about genetically modified foods, pesticide loads in fruits and vegetables, and what it takes to get that steak from the farm to your table. Maybe the cost is worth it to you. Maybe not. What I do know, after my year of veganism, is that it doesn’t matter to me if my food is political. It matters to me how my food makes me feel. And that should be everyone’s measure, no matter what they choose.