I’ve been what I would call an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for my entire existence in this modern life.
Around the age of 4, I made a realization: the frozen hunks of chicken nuggets on my dinner plate equated to the fuzzy little furballs I had seen hopping around in the petting zoo. That was enough to make my palms sweat, my stomach quench with uneasiness, and my mouth to run all chalky and dry.
No more, the voice inside my little body affirmed, no more meat for me.
But that realization wouldn’t become a reality until I was a legal adult, a fully capable, actualized adult, at 18 years of age.
Growing up in a family unfamiliar with the methodology of a dietary vegetarian — much less a dietary vegan — was emotionally difficult for a morally confused individual like myself. I wrestled with the voice inside my stomach every time I was served little cuts of meat or made to order chicken slices on my salad.
Eat it, they said. Don’t, I implored.
But who could blame them.
“Giving up meat for the rest of your life?” They asked, “Isn’t that what makes your brain grow? You can’t survive without meat.”
I spent those remaining 14-odd years researching, flocking to vegetarian blogs on the Internet and printing out vegetarian-protein meals from Pinterest. And much to my surprise, it was possible. Insane to give up meat? I no longer thought so. There were whole hosts of cookbooks and dietary guidelines with treasures untold, introducing me to cooked lentils, quinoa, and hearty grains like oats and rice, packed with proteins and filling fibers: All foods that our ancestors foraged and plowed for — and I think they turned out just fine (we’re here because of them, aren’t we?).
I didn’t have to sacrifice my chosen code of ethics for survival; I could be a vegetarian if I really wanted to be!
But something about my new-found freedom at 18 to fill my body with the foods I craved wasn’t registering, wasn’t aligning with the voice inside my head just yet.
The word was veganism rested quietly on the tip of my tongue. A way of life I didn’t even know existed until I was in high school. A choice that seemed un-choose-able until I entered college — to give up cheese, dairy and animal products, for all time?
Isn’t that impossible?
Back when I was still in middle school, I largely survived on grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza and ice cream. The idea of abandoning my two primary food groups — dairy and cheese (enough of a staple to stand alone) — was insurmountable.
And then I lost it all.
I lost control of my relatively simple dietary “special-ness” to anorexia at the age of 13. I lost everything — weight, hair, bone, confidence — to the point where eating more than a bag of 100 calories at a time was hurtful.
Nothing I could ever write about that time in my life would capture the immense distrust and self-loathing I propelled towards the food I consumed. And that was still at a time in my life in which I was heavily influenced to continue consuming meat.
I had competing voices in my head — eat this not that, or eat nothing at all.
This misalignment with my nutrition absolutely crippled my relationship with food. Eating was no longer pleasurable, but confusing. Cooking was no longer fulfilling, but terrifying.
But after turning 18, I took the ropes of my resistance and drove straight towards the promised path of veganism. I would begin as a vegetarian, like a sprinter in the starting blocks, largely to spark the process of bone re-growth with a daily allowance of milk protein and added nutrients. This commitment also involved me abandoning processed foods — a commitment I can proudly stand by for the last 2.5 years.
And once I moved gradually — ever so gradually — away from cheese sticks, yogurts, and processed ingredients, my stomach no longer resisted me. There was no longer this constant pang, this regret, this gummed-up feeling of dread. (I also made peace with my lactose-intolerance, a reality I stubbornly ignored all throughout my youth).
This week, I took on the next challenge to veganism: Let go of milk. For the last 2 years, I’ve relied upon a tall glass of milk, with some sprinkled protein powder, every day to initiate the process of bone regrowth. And combined with a daily effort at physical exertion — to stimulate muscle growth alongside bone growth — I now feel immensely powerful, a fortitude in my bones that I have never felt before.
And that — health, resolve, confidence — is such a glorious feeling.
To be clear, I still ingest a daily multivitamin to account for any micro-nutrient deficiency I may have as a result of my dietary choices. And I have repeatedly confirmed with my doctors on the progress of my health in these years since 13.
This is my choice.
This is my choice for dietary liberation. This is my choice to align the stomach with the soul. This is my choice to be a well-planned, dietary vegan and to still live a long, sustaining, and fulfilling life.
This is my choice.
And from here, I will move towards becoming an ethical vegan, otherwise known as an environmental vegan, in the hopes of maintaining mindfulness in the consumer products I use and purchase on a daily basis.
Is veganism right for everyone? Not necessarily. But it’s what’s right for this time in my life, for this period of soul-searching and happiness-seeking in myself.
And for this CHOICE, I couldn’t be more grateful. Life is beautiful with the choices we make, should we use our choices wisely. There is never an opportunity that we can’t take, never a dream we can’t make a reality.
In this truth, I am resolved.