When I adopted a plant-based lifestyle (again) in 2014, I didn’t want to tell anyone about it. There were several reasons for this:
Uncertainty: It was my first time following an exclusive plant-based diet since becoming a Dietitian. I wasn't confident in my ability to answer questions with the professionalism someone in my area of expertise was expected to possess. I simply didn’t want to humiliate myself.
Insecurity: To be frank, I often felt attacked by the questions: “why?” and “where do you get your protein?” and “so all you eat is salads then?”. I just wanted to eat normally like everyone else instead of having to defend or explain my lifestyle choice every time I ate with others. Even if no one asked questions, I often felt judged or scrutinized. I grew tired of having to be on guard.
Non-confrontational personality: I don’t feel it's my place to give advice or information unless I'm specifically consulted, but even if I was asked, “why are you a vegan?” I felt like I was preaching when providing my justifications, particularly because of my title as a Dietitian. I didn’t want to come across like I was in some way better or morally superior, but no matter how I phrased it I felt I was putting peoples’ practices into question.
Instability: I was nervous my transition to a plant-based lifestyle wouldn’t stick, because I had wavered in the past. I could think of nothing worse than declaring my lifestyle choice, only to change my mind months later. Who would ever be able to take me seriously after that?
Unready: I wanted to wait until the right time to announce my lifestyle choice. The right time wasn’t based on ‘x’ number months vegan, or ‘x’ number of books read on the topic… rather, I was waiting for a feeling that would arise from deep within whispering, “now is your time, Sadia.”
Answering the "Why Plant-based?" Question
They say you always know when someone is a vegan. Why? They’ll tell you within the first few sentences of a conversation. Some people find this obnoxious and annoying. Some feel uncomfortable and defensive. Some are curious and want to know more about the lifestyle.
I don’t judge any response. Not even the most critical ones. Everyone’s opinions on any given matter are the sum of their previous experiences. If you felt it was obnoxious, maybe someone you came across in the past was overwhelming in their conviction. If you felt defensive, maybe you were attacked at some point by someone following the lifestyle. It’s natural, then, to react in a similar way when exposed to a similar stimulus. For any negative encounter you may have had, I'm truly sorry (true Canadian here: apologizing for everything). I hope you can find space for compassion when reading my personal journey below. This is just my story, and meant in no way to pass judgement on others or to pressure others to follow a similar path. Here we go:
For the curious folk: I'm commonly asked the question, “why vegan?” The conversation that follows includes a discussion related to: 1) ethics and animal rights, 2) environment, and/or 3) personal health. As you’ll come to learn, my answer to this "why vegan?" question has shifted over time and I’m okay with that… it’s all part of the journey.
In the months that followed, I felt isolated and more unready than ever to tell anyone I was vegan. That one word, "vegan", arouses so much emotion and opinion. I was considering giving up at the expense of my beliefs on the matter. It was too overwhelming.
Luckily, I met with a fellow vegan dietitian and author, Vesanto Melina, who encouraged me to find my voice and courage, even if I didn't feel ready. Here's some food for thought from one of her books:
"Vegan is about widening our circle of compassion to include those who are commonly excluded, whether they're humans or non-human animals. It's about understanding that our choices have consequences for ourselves and beyond ourselves. It's about recognizing that eating animals and animal products are both unnecessary and potentially harmful." ~ Brenda David, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD in the book Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition
Weeks after meeting Vesanto I developed Pick Up Limes, and I couldn't be happier I took the plunge. But I'll have you know I was standing on the edge of the diving board for 8 years before I took this plunge. Let me delve into the evolution of my lifestyle choice. You'll come to notice it was all but straight forward...
High School: I first tried the plant-based lifestyle at 15 years of age because of the hype and purported health claims of aiding with weight loss, helping clear skin, and improving digestion. I was a desperate teen in search of quick results. Needless to say this eating practice didn’t last long.
University – Year 1 and 2: After high school I lived on campus at the University of British Columbia. I tried to be at least vegetarian my diet was by no means healthy. My daily cafeteria meals were predominantly: deep-fried hash browns, eggs, bagels, cream cheese, pizza, fries, burgers, ice cream, chips, chocolates, pastries, tons of coffee with cream and sugar and energy drinks to keep me up during late-night study sessions. This is no exaggeration, and if I wasn’t eating cafeteria food, I was exploring the different fast food dives on campus.
University – Year 3 and 4: My fruit and vegetable consumption gradually improved when I was accepted into the Dietetics Major, but I still used the being-too-busy-with-school-and-life excuse for not committing to a more healthy way of eating.
University – Year 5: Internship was a difficult time. Not only because of all the hands-on learning and studying which accompanied it, but also because of several unexpected life curve-balls. I was a bit of a wreck and completely ignored taking care of myself. I yo-yoed in and out of the vegan lifestyle while also resorting to heavily processed food that made me feel sluggish and more emotionally distressed. This was the first time in my life I recognized emotional eating behaviours: both under- and over-eating due to various life stressors.
Life After University: Life began to settle a couple months after internship. I started to make time for self-care. In mid-October 2014 one of my favorite TV shows about zombies was starting back up again. Believe it or not, it was an episode from this show that brought me complete clarity and is the reason my answer to “why vegan?” changed; the focus was no longer personal health but, rather, animal welfare. How could a horror show about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world trigger a change in my diet? Let me explain...
My Obscure Catalyst
Spoiler Alert & Graphic Subject Matter:
The show in question is The Walking Dead's Season 5 Episode 1, called The Sanctuary. For a short clip, click here (warning: extremely disturbing video clip).
In this season premiere the main cast finds refuge in a camp only to find out the camp's members have resorted to cannibalism in order to survive in a world devoid of resources and over-taken by zombies. Gagged and bound at the hands and feet, members of the main cast are made to kneel in a row for slaughter. Similar to the slaughter of cattle, they are hit over the head with a blunt object and then have their throats slit to allow the blood to drain. Awaiting their turn in terror, the main characters are graced by a surprise attack on the camp that allows their escape. As they run to find an exit in the factory they come across a room with hanging human body parts, skin removed. The main characters stop dead in their tracks in dismay and disgust, almost as if to say, "What kind of animal would do something like this?" This is what prompted the change in my answer to "Why Vegan?"
Unlike humans trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, humans in today's society don't require animal meat or animal by-products to survive. We desire these things due to habit, routine, taste, flavour, etc. The argument on ethical treatment through free-range living conditions or organic feeds is moot, as are the discussions on their inferior cognitive capabilities. All that matters is that the animals feel pain. There is no such thing as humane slaughter. Slaughter is just that: slaughter. That was all the realization I needed to make the switch to veganism a permanent one. And it helped to know that humans not only survive on plant-based foods, but they thrive on it. Seemed like a win-win scenario to me.
An Important Note on Compassion
For me, compassion doesn't only apply to animals and the environment, but also to our friends, family, acquaintances... and even total strangers.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of judgement and criticism in the world of plant-based nutrition. For example you might hear or read,"If you eat fish then you should really call yourself a vegetarian," or, "if you eat honey then you aren't a vegan."
Drop the strict guidelines.
Just do your best.
I identify as plant-based instead of "vegan" (although I consider myself one also) for two reasons:
Plant-based implies a more wholesome way of eating and living. Veganism is viewed more as an all-around lifestyle choice which also includes the exclusion of purchasing animal products, but when it comes to nutrition a dietary vegan can drink cola and eat potato chips all day and still be" vegan".
The term "plant-based" offers more compassion, especially to those newly transitioning. It's more inclusive. If you want honey but you've just cut out meat and milk, awesome! If you want cheese for now but you can exclude the other animal products, then great! Perhaps you can revisit the cheese later if you feel up to it. The point is: you eat plant-based most of the time, and that's commendable.
Following a plant-based lifestyle the majority of the time is a clear win compared to nothing at all.
For those already following a plant-based lifestyle: I encourage you to offer compassion to all individuals, plant-based or not. Be open and honest to answering questions, and do not judge the choices of others. Lead by example, and those that are inspired will be more likely to follow suit.
Lifestyle changes are not quick fixes. My transition to a plant-based lifestyle took years, plenty of trial and error, and lots of doubt and uncertainty. My reason for becoming a vegan changed from health-driven to equality-driven. From me-driven to them-driven. I still choose to eat a plant-based diet for health, but there’s more to it now; my focus shifted more towards ethics and the environment. It has become difficult to unlearn and ignore the powerful information I’ve come across when researching veganism. Food that was once so appealing has become appalling.
As I write this article my cousin is sitting across from me enjoying a fried egg. Had I been in my ‘vegan phase’ in university I would have craved a bite thinking, “one bite won’t harm my health in the grand scheme of things.” Today? I have no desire for it. I won’t judge my cousin’s lifestyle choice just as I appreciate that she respects mine. I'm simply sharing my reason for re-considering my dietary choices in hopes that it may inspire others that seek to improve the welfare of animals and planet, while reaping in some pretty desirable health benefits for themselves in the process. I hope with this site you’ll see that simple and satisfying dietary substitutes can change the world by one simple action: eating.
Don’t underestimate the power of voting with your fork.
In love and gratitude, always,