Like most plant-based eaters, I did not eat a plant-based diet. In fact, I didn’t even like most vegetables. Growing up in Texas, my exposure to vegetables was limited to creamed corn, fried okra, canned green beans, cheese potatoes, and pinto beans cooked with salt pork. The main focus of the entree was always some cut of animal: fried chicken or fish, steak, pork chops, roast beef, or turkey.
Gradually, I refused to eat certain things, much to the chagrin of my family, who found it inconvenient that “That kid just won’t eat anything!” I hated the flavorless, greasy taste of hamburgers and the heavy feeling they left in my stomach. As I got older, “red meat” dropped out altogether, and as a teenager I eliminated pork after hearing about all it’s disgusting properties.
I was eating only poultry and fish when I started college. Then one day, the poultry made my stomach turn. The sensation of sticky, chewy muscle fibers clinging to my molars was what did it. I never ate poultry again.
Fish was another story. I loved all seafood. Pan-seared, blackened, raw. Sushi was especially a favorite. Then one day I had a tilapia fillet. As I was chewing, I recalled that same bizarre meaty sensation I got from poultry. The texture was all too similar. After that day, fish was off the menu for good.
I was truly vegetarian for my last year of college. I complained for years that dairy made me feel sick, yet I was still eating it for convenience’s sake. I did not think I could go fully vegan. Where would I get my protein? How could I ever enjoy pizza again? How would I fit in at social gatherings? Even though it made me sick, I couldn’t give up cheese. Increasingly, my lactose intolerance got worse, and finally, at 23, I gave up dairy.
I struggled with whether or not I should call myself vegan, and why I should become one in the first place. While dairy made me sick, I didn’t see a problem with honey or free-range eggs, so wouldn’t there be some hypocrisy in it all?
A few weeks before my graduation, I told my mother was I vegan, and wouldn’t be able to eat dairy products at the party. “I don’t know how to cook for you anymore,” she said, “I don’t know how we will ever be able to have a sense of togetherness at family meals because of your diet.” I felt so bad about upsetting her that I caved. At the party, I ate cheese, and big surprise– I spent the entire evening sick and bloated. I realized that I shouldn’t be eating things that make me feel sick just for the sake of others. In time, I knew everyone would adjust, and in the months that followed, a beautiful transformation took place.
I began cooking whole foods and eliminated most processed foods. I realized that the problem with my vegetarian diet in college was that I did not cook, did not eat whole foods, and instead relied on the microwave. As a result, I frequently felt weak and sick. I discovered a whole new world of foods I didn’t know existed and didn’t expect to enjoy, and I joyfully look forward to creating meals that help my body flourish.
Best of all, my diet has taught me to notice the beauty in small things. I am delighted by the color and texture of heirloom tomatoes. I get excited when I find the perfect purple onion, or the brightest bunch of rainbow chard. I’m even happy to peel garlic cloves. It’s a beautiful feeling to really appreciate the wonderful bounty of nature for all variety and color.
My family has gradually gotten used to the idea, and I approach the topic with love, sharing dishes and recipes, and answering questions with an open-mind. I believe in the healing power of food, and hope to inspire others to make more thoughtful food choices.