The Growth of a Plant Eater: My Vegan Journey

photo of vegetable salad in bowls

By The Very Vivacious Vegan

It’s been over three years since I first decided to not only have a meat-free diet, but to eliminate eggs and dairy too. To many, this sounds like an absolute nightmare, and people wonder why I would ever willingly put such a burden on myself. The questions I most often get asked are: “What can you even eat?!” “Is it hard?” and “How could you give up cheeeeese?”

You may be wondering how one can deal with so many self-imposed dietary restrictions, and, well, I’ll tell you exactly how I got to this point – it all started on a Friday afternoon in a lobby at my former college.

I was just leaving one of my classes as I noticed a table with a sign that said “Watch this video and we’ll give you $1” So, I said to myself – “Free money? Of course!”

I approached the table and saw tons of pamphlets about animal rights and vegetarian/vegan eating. I gathered that the video would be related to this topic, maybe an informative piece. I’m an open-minded person so I was down to learn more. To my surprise, it was reminiscent of a gut-wrenching horror movie. It exposed the horrible practices of the meat and dairy industry in the rawest way.

I’ve always been an animal lover. Seeing that video really made me feel for all the creatures harmed in the process of getting to our plates. So, from that moment, I decided that I would at least start out with not eating any meat. Right after the video was over, I chatted with the head of the vegan club, which sponsored this mini screening. We exchanged numbers as she offered to give any needed advice as I embarked on this journey. Then, I headed to the dining hall to try a black bean veggie burger to see if I could really do this thing. I enjoyed the meat-less burger, which was enough confirmation for me to try out vegetarianism.

Before giving up meat all together, I decided to “binge” my cravings. Probably not recommended, but it worked for me. I didn’t want to feel like “Oh, if I could just have [x] one last time…” and end up reverting back to eating meat, breaking my commitment to myself, and going against my new-found morals. Anyway, I spent the weekend eating things like sausages for breakfast and chicken sandwiches for lunch. I knew this was necessary for me to be successful at being a vegetarian in the long run, and not just a week-long fad. My last meaty meal was a Philly cheesesteak (I was actually in Philly!) After I was satisfied that I ate everything I wanted, I was ready to give up meat for good.

Since I was living on campus when I first decided to stop eating meat, I mostly got all my meals from the dining hall. Luckily, they always had at least one vegetarian or vegan option that was on the menu for the day. Black bean veggie burgers and cheese quesadillas also became my go-to. There’s surprisingly a lot of “junk food” out there that is vegetarian – most potato chips, cookies, and pretzels to name a few. On the days that I wasn’t sure about what to eat, I snacked a lot.

I had little awareness of how to eat healthy, balanced meals (even before giving up meat), so I ended up visiting a nutritionist who informed me that eliminating meat from my diet meant that I had to make extra efforts to *meet* the necessary protein intake for my body. Although I tried to keep this in mind, I wasn’t that health conscious, I only really cared that I wasn’t consuming any meat.

mixed exotic salad served with sauce in summer cafe

Although I never purposely went back to eating meat, I made a few mistakes when I was first exploring what I still could and could not eat. It’s easy to avoid having an outright slab of steak on your plate but I got tripped up by the hidden animal ingredients in some of my favorite dishes. For example, I loved Pad Thai, but was horrified to find out that I accidentally consumed fish sauce, which is a key component that makes it so flavorful. I was also a big fan of Panera’s French onion soup, but I ate it without knowing that it’s made with beef broth. I would get really upset and grossed out but I learned to just make note of the mistake and move on.

After about six months of being vegetarian, I came to terms with the fact that if I stopped eating meat for the animals, it only makes sense to refrain from consuming their byproduct too, especially since animals like cows and chickens are continuously abused by humans to sustain their operation of obtaining milk and eggs at a high volume.

Just like when I first prepared to cutout meat and indulged in my cravings, I did the same before going vegan. This was an even bigger step because almost EVERYTHING has some trace milk and/or eggs. I made a huge list of everything that I loved like ice cream, mozzarella sticks, cheese quesadillas, Doritos, milkshakes, etc., etc., and I tried to have it all within like a week (once again, probably not the best thing to do but it worked for me).

Figuring out what I could eat when I first started as a vegan definitely had a bit of a learning curve. As mentioned earlier, almost everything has milk or eggs in the ingredients. Luckily, there are tons of products out there that I was able to try, and fall in love with. Similar to my time as a vegetarian, I initially snacked a lot. I wasn’t much of a cook when I first started out either, so I did lots of research about what to order at common restaurants. I would get awesome tofu and vegetable dishes from Chinese food places; at Mexican restaurants, I would usually order nachos and substitute guac instead of cheese; Indian restaurants are great too – Chana Masala is my usual order, I love getting vegetable samosas as well.

As time went on, I became more health conscious. I was honest with myself and realized I wasn’t eating that great, so I wanted to take care of my body better. I was like “Yes, it’s great to care about animals, but I need to care about myself too.” I became more diligent about hitting my protein intake goals, I paid closer attention to the nutrition labels on products, I reduced the amount of carbs and sugar that I would consume daily, and I was more intentional about having balanced meals. Even with those changes, I was still able to enjoy delicious food.

flat lay photography of three tray of foods

I dabbled in meal prep from time to time, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I really got into cooking and baking. I graduated in May and when I wasn’t applying for jobs, I kept myself busy by making food. I was also motivated by having a limited amount of funds to frequently order delivery (it really adds up!). Cooking my own food helped me save so much money and keep my mind off the anxiety-inducing job hunt.

I started with what I already had in the house and used those things to make a meal. I got into ordering groceries whenever I realized I was missing an ingredient to complete what I wanted to make, then I would end up making grocery lists based on new recipes that I wanted to try (this was more cost-effective than ordering in all the time). By cooking my own meals, I became even more conscious of having a nutritious, balanced plate that acted as fuel for my body.

Since I was cooking so much and quite proud of my creations, I took lots of pictures. A few years ago, I tried running a vegan Instagram to document my dining adventures, but never found the time to keep up with it. During a pandemic, I had nothing but time, so I started it up again. In August 2020, I had 60 followers from the last time I was active on my page. After posting daily and making connections in a lovely online vegan community, I grew my account to over 880 followers as of June 2021 (not bad, right?!)

Now that I have a full-time job and COVID related restrictions are lifting, I don’t have much time to cook new meals every day, so I mostly meal prep on the weekends and share the process on my Story, then I usually post the final product on my page.

It’s been over three years since I first made one of the biggest decisions of my life, and I haven’t looked back since. Although it may not be for everyone, I really love being vegan. Figuring out what I can eat has become second nature to me. I love visiting different vegan restaurants, and most importantly, I’m really grateful for the time I had to explore my inner chef.

Interested in veganism or checking out my daily meals? Follow me @veryvivaciousvegan and feel free to send me a DM if you have any questions!

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