Why I Went Vegan: From “Too Extreme” to “Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?”

Once upon a time, I ate meat.

I happily scarfed down cheeseburgers, chicken fingers and turkey bacon, without a care in the world. I also loved animals. Ever since I was old enough to have a favourite animal, I was obsessed with cats. I drew them on all of my school work. I had an imaginary cat-friend. I was a little weird. (Full disclosure, I still chase stray cats down the street in an attempt to befriend them). But weird obsessions aside, I always had a soft spot for animals and grew up in a house that was always filled with pets.

So why did I eat animals then?

Well, for one thing, I was still a kid. As much compassion as I had for our furry friends, I just didn’t make that connection between the steak on my plate and the living, breathing, moo-ing creature that It once was. Or if I did — it was way too easy to conveniently ignore. Meat was everywhere. It was the main feature of our weeknight dinners. It was the centrepiece of holiday feasts. It was tied to fond memories like grilling burgers and hot dogs at the cottage on a hot July afternoon.

But somewhere along the line, something changed.

Most people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet can probably cite some sort of ‘aha’ moment, something that made them question their current eating habits. Something powerful enough to spark an actual, tangible change in their identity. For me, it was a school project in Grade 8. What started as a self-chosen research project on animal rights turned into a week long experiment with vegetarianism — as part of the project. A week turned into two, two weeks turned into a month, and before I knew it, I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten meat.

Fast-forward to a couple years ago. Having happily turned down meat for the better part of a decade, I felt pretty content that I had figured out this vegetarian thing. However, I was still of the school of thought that vegans were “too extreme” and that I could never live without cheesecake.

Enter ‘aha moment’ part two. Only, it was less of a moment and more of a long, hot summer living in a big house by myself and working from home. Somewhere over the course of this summer, I watched the documentary Forks over Knives, mostly out of boredom. But my interest in plant-based nutrition was sparked, and soon I was reading “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition” by Colin T. Campbell. You can say what you want about the validity of these particular sources, but for me at the time, they were eye-opening. “How do people not know about this?” I thought.

I started experimenting with cutting out dairy and eggs from my diet, which was easy when I lived by myself. I think that there is a weird stigma associated with veganism — as if not eating meat and cheese suddenly turns you into a pretentious hipster who is a little too obsessed with kale and yoga (okay, I do yoga and enjoy the odd kale smoothie but that’s beside the point). With nobody around to judge me, or to witness my potential failure, I started replacing my milk with almond milk and my cheese with Daiya.

I would like to emphasize that at this point, I was NOT A ‘PERFECT VEGAN’. At home, I could easily avoid dairy and eggs. Except for when my baking-obsessed housemates moved back in for the school year and offered me some of their latest creation. Or when I was out and didn’t feel like asking if something was vegan. Yes, I would choose the vegan option where it was available. But I didn’t obsess over it. And you know what? I was happy with my ‘veganish’ lifestyle. Hardcore vegans may not approve of this, but I was doing what was realistic for me at the time. To me, that’s much more sustainable than jumping in over my head into something that I wasn’t totally comfortable with yet.

Let’s fast forward one more time to today. I have moved from Toronto and am currently living in Bristol, England. In Bristol, I rarely have to worry about finding a vegan option. I could rattle off a list of dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants in this wonderful city. But that’s not to say it has been easy to completely avoid animal products. I work as a teacher, and the staff-room is a minefield of biscuits and cake. Also, I travel often, and let’s just say it’s not easy to be vegan in Paris — or realistically, anywhere that’s unfamiliar.

I’m still not perfect. But I’m publicly stating my intention to try to do just a little bit better, to stop eating the cookies in the damn break room, and to fully cut out dairy and eggs everywhere — not just at home. Because it doesn’t feel right to talk the talk if I can’t walk the walk.

So this is my journey. I am still learning how to navigate a plant-based diet, and I invite you to come along for the ride. I’m not here to tell you what to eat, or how to live your life. But I am here to show you that eating more plants and less animal products can be easier and less intimidating than you think!  So whether you’re omni, vegetarian, vegan-ish, vegan, or otherwise — you are welcome here. The important part is that you’re open to making a change — even a small one!

So let’s learn, share, and stuff our faces together! I promise there will still be cookies.

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