A learning experience

It’s been over six months. It started with a documentary and a general interest in baking, and it continued through a dedication to a pure sense of eating. When I contemplated becoming vegan last May, it seemed like everything was pointing in that direction. I started to get interested in food, living environmentally conscious, gardening, and having more energy and a connection to my food. I saw the logical reasoning behind it, too; the same amount of space used for raising livestock can be used to produce WAY more plant-materials to feed more people and sustain the space for future planting. And I generally didn’t like what I heard about what happens to farmed animals…

And I still feel that way. But I’ve had a change in perspective. I was finally honest with myself: veganism hasn’t made a large difference on my health. One of the main – MAIN – reasons for me making the switch was because of the wonderful stories of the bursts of energy people received after plant-based eating, the decrease/cessation of symptoms after switching, reversals of diseases like diabetes, and the other numerous health benefits. I – more than anything, more than saving animals, saving the environment, or saving money – wanted to feel the best that I could. Since I can remember, I’ve been taught to value my mind/body/spiritual health, so it only made sense.

I’ve eaten well, though. That’s another fact I’ve been ignoring. I’ve eaten so well, enough that people have remarked to me, “Sam, you eat so healthy!”, yet almost no change in my health was made. I realize now a glaring fact I’ve turned away from, too: most of the stories I read are by people who were really sick – overweight, diabetic, constantly tired or ill, allergic, or just plain worn out and older than me. No wonder a huge change was made – because they went from eating virtually only meat, dairy, sugar, and processed foods to eating cleaner, with veggies, fruits, protein-rich grains, and other natural foods. I went from eating well – thanks to my mom – to eating well without meat and dairy…Not too much of a difference, there.

Plus, I’m YOUNG. And since I have no medical conditions preventing eating certain foods, an athletic build, and a fairly quick metabolism, I still have a reactive and strong system inside. I’m fine. If anything, my health may have stuttered a bit because of the stress of having to reject food from virtually everyone and having to do so much planning ahead of time.

…So what am I saying?

I’m saying that I’m not vegan anymore. Which translates to: I am removing that label from myself. I don’t like what it entails, and that is something that I have learned over these six-plus months. And I can’t stand labels. (It’s just not in my nature to be predictable.) It also means that I’m allowing myself to be more lenient. A lot more lenient. I love the idea of a plant-based diet, and I truly love the food I’ve been eating, but it’s not fun to not be able to eat a lot of things. I have a lot of vegetarian friends, but no vegan friends, so it’s very hard to have a condition-free meal with anyone.

Since I believe food is a social thing as well, it does hurt to have to reject it so much with friends and family. It’s lonely and it’s restrictive. And I’m a wild thing. Restrictions are no good.

However, I do firmly believe in what I call “the power of food.” After my researching and experimenting with food/cooking/eating, I think food is more than energy. It holds tradition, nutrition, healing power, and more. Plus, it pleasures more than one sense; it deals with taste, but also smell, touch, sight and even hearing. Cooking it yourself strengthens the experience. Making it a social thing also strengthens the experience. Food can hold so much more than just the label of its mealtime, and that is what I love about it.

So I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m dissing veganism. It has benefited me in countless ways and taught me a great deal, but it’s not for me specifically. I’ve honed a passion of mine. By restricting my diet, I, in essence, forced myself to figure things out for myself and learn a lot about cooking, baking, and eating. It’s like learning a language – the best way is to live with mother-tonguers, because you’re forced to practice naturally. Because I usually could not eat at social functions or the main course at dinner sometimes, I learned quickly what was easy to make, what was the best ways to make it, what I liked to eat, what went with what, what DID NOT work, etc. I learned that I actually really like mushrooms, artichokes, coconut products, beans, avocados, squash, quinoa, millet, ground flax seeds, and sunflower seed butter. My diet has expanded, which was the cardinal rule about going vegan: the diet is not restriction, but expansion. But overtime it has ebbed over to the restriction side, and I want to right that.

By circumstance, I also picked up how to substitute or experiment, what does what in baking, the art of sandwich-making, and the true meaning of practice. There’s nothing like doing something everyday, three times a day, to get better at it. I learned what’s really IN food…or how much I didn’t know/ignored/didn’t really think about what’s in food. And finally, I’ve acquired some new, good habits:

– to consciously incorporate more protein and less carbs (which used to be MAJOR in my diet. Hey, I was a swimmer once…)
– to think before eating.
– I actually don’t eat gum anymore. I don’t know if that’s vegan or not, but I just stopped doing it. It’s not for me.
– I honor dessert. Since I usually had to make it myself – or my mom did – I valued it a whole lot more. Plus, no candy. Pretty much everything but some dark chocolates had milk in it, and I never really dug the fruity candy or caramel or nuts.
– I home-make a LOT.
– I incorporate veggies in EVERYTHING.
– and I am always inspired to try new things. I don’t have a Facebook, so my hours spent on the web are either on blogs, listening to music, or searching for new foods/recipes. (you don’t know how enjoyable that is until you do it. I LOVE looking up recipes.)

I will continue to err on the side of vegan-style. I am quite sure I won’t be returning to meat anytime soon…I’ve just lost my taste for it. It’s not appealing, and I can’t help but think every time I see it, “That is flesh.” (Gross, sorry.) And I was never a huge fan of cheese. (Sorry lasagna.) But I was always a dessert lunatic. And most people make that with dairy.

In my own cooking, I see no reason to stray from vegan-style. I am usually personally capable of making my food vegan, so why not? Just yesterday I made a large batch of brownies with avocado and olive oil in them – and they are DELICIOUS: I’m not giving that up!! But I will be expanding my horizons; if it’s not possible to do it without certain ingredients – or it tastes bad with substitutes – I won’t kick myself for it. (Unless, of course, it doesn’t make me feel good…then I’ll avoid it.) And now that I think on it, there is a small list of things I miss since veganizing:

– going out for ice cream. More the act than the dessert itself…but since there isn’t a vegan ice cream parlor around, I miss the convenience.
– bakeries. I flaming love bakeries, I think they are so cute. (I would be a baker, if only part-time.) I miss being able to look at cute little fluffy creations and think “I want that.” I also feel bad rejecting people’s offers of homemade goods. A lot of my friends bake and I am bad at saying no. But I do. And their disappointment is not well-hidden.
– The ease of being able to go get pizza. I do like pizza. I think the cheese might be overwhelming to me after over six months of not eating it, and I don’t like pizza for the cheese anyway; I like it holistically – for everything altogether. The chewiness and saltiness of the cheese plus the sweet and savory sauce and the filling, doughy yet crispy crust.
– sleep-overs. It’s been difficult staying over people’s houses and rejecting the adorable, groggy, friend-made waffles when we roll out of bed. I mean, I have a great dairy-free waffle recipe, but I’m not going to tote a recipe book and almond milk everywhere I go.

This is not “giving-up” though. Don’t leave this webpage thinking I “quit.” This was not “too hard.” I will be insulted and offended if you think that’s what happened. It was not too hard; it was a challenge that I accepted and will continue to accept in the right situations for me. I’ve learned so much about healthful eating and taking care of my body that I am not returning to eating everything. I’ve since learned that diet isn’t something to be labeled – it’s something to be shaped to suit your specific needs and wants. I have grown from this experience and will take everything I got from it with me as I continue to eat, but I will also be eating what I please.

I had a good run at veganism – I can say I tried and still try – but I will not say I failed. I can just say it was not for me. Because I’m not a “vegan.” I’m Sam, and I eat what makes me feel good and what tastes good to me. I don’t think I sound much like a 17-year-old girl right now, but when you have a mind like mine, you tend to never sound like high-schooler sounds on the Internet.

And now that I’ve had my spiel, I can start discussing interesting things now, like “onion snow.”

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