Today is a really special day. It’s my one year “veganniversary!” That means that 365 days have passed since I intentionally consumed animal products. Of course, mistakes were made along the way, and I will likely continue to make them in year two. But being vegan isn’t about being perfect and 100% pure. It is about trying, choosing kindness, and dedicating yourself to making the world a better place.

JB, my incredible partner (who also boarded the vegan train with me), and I celebrated by making a morning run to Capital City Bakery for kolaches. I couldn’t leave without getting a confetti cupcake. It seemed fitting to mark the day with what was essentially a mini-birthday cake. Going vegan does feel like a metaphoric rebirth, so it’s important to celebrate it!

It’s also important to reflect. This year has been a great first step towards how I want to live the rest of my life. I’ve compiled a list of eleven things that I’ve learned over the course of my past trip around the sun.

Eleven Things I’ve Learned from Being Vegan

  1. Eating vegan is easy
    Even when I was vegetarian, I remember believing that eschewing animal products completely would be impossible. I could not wrap my mind around how people did it. And yet, not once this year did I think to myself, “this is too hard.” I’ve been in situations where my food options were severely limited, but those moments are few and far between. Also, let’s be honest with ourselves: having a lackluster meal is far from a purely vegan experience. Sure, some days involve extra planning, but I like that I now take the time to consider how I’ll be eating each day.
  2. Some people will try to tear you down
    There’s an old joke that goes, “How do you know if someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” I find this joke puzzling because I know very few vegans that actively like to shout their lifestyle from the rooftops. In fact, the vegans in my life are very cautious about alerting people to the fact that they’re vegan because then it opens up the floor to discussion, which is always a mixed bag. The consumption of animal products is so intricately woven into Western, and particularly American, culture. As such, people are quick to defend it, and sometimes they try to do this by openly mocking you. I’ve had people tell me that I’m too sensitive, that my diet is not natural, that one person can’t make a difference. Some have waved meat products in my face and others made animal sounds as they bit into their meals. This type of behavior is really difficult to stomach, but it’s important to remember that people react this way because they feel that the way they live their life is being called into question. Whether or not that is an excuse is up for debate, but preparing yourself for such childish behavior makes it easier to handle when it happens.
  3. Other people will generally surprise you
    For every person that said something rude and ignorant to me about eating animals, another has asked for advice for how to move forward preparing vegan meals, purchasing vegan products, and living compassionately. I’ve had people from all walks of my life reach out with genuine interest, and many have started making more plant-based meals. I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it again: most people, when given the facts, choose kindness.
  4. The way you eat can, and does, have a direct impact on the world around you
    I discussed the negative impacts of large scale agriculture in my post about Cowspiracy, but long story short: if you’re eating a vegan diet, you are making a huge environmental difference. You’re also making a difference to the millions of animals that are currently imprisoned in our food system. Whenever someone tells me that my lifestyle isn’t “really doing anything” I think of the Starfish Story. If you’ve never heard the parable, it goes like this: An old man, while strolling down the beach, notices a young boy picking up starfish from the sandy shore and throwing them back into the ocean before the tide recedes and leaves them stranded. The man laughs at the boy and says, “Don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference.” The boy listens politely, then picks up another starfish and returns it to the waves. He then turns to the old man, smiling, and responds, “I made a difference to that one.” Being vegan is like saving starfish one-by-one. And who knows? If enough people join in, perhaps collectively, we can save them all.
  5. Eating vegan does not equal eating healthy
    When I decided to go vegan, I thought that I would instantly lose 15 pounds and would never have to worry about gaining weight again. This was definitely not the case. It turns out that there is just as much deliciously-bad-for you vegan food as there was before I switched my lifestyle. I’ve had to be conscious to make sure that I’m getting all the nutrients that I need and, just like before, that I’m eating in a healthy and balanced way (with a reasonable amount of sweets thrown in!).
  6. Propaganda is everywhere – because interest is growing in us!
    There is no question that interest in animal-free products is growing. Ben & Jerry’s announced that a vegan ice cream is in the works, new vegan restaurants are popping up all over the country (Like Native Foods, Veggie Grill, and Amy’s), and several documentaries about animal rights and the food production have been released over the past few years. The meat, dairy, and egg industries have taken notice, and in response, have really escalated their anti-vegetarian/vegan advertisement machine. Remember the Budweiser commercial from the super bowl last year where the main actor eats a quinoa burger to ensure his team’s victory? “It tastes like a dirty old tree branch,”  the man thinks to himself, and a narrator closes the commercial with the statement “To the fans that do whatever it takes.” Both sentences are laughably heavy-handed, as if eating a quinoa burger is the worst fate that could befall a man on game day. To be 100% clear: I have never seen a veggie burger that looked that revolting. I have seen plenty of frozen meat patties that do. Another notable example is the Almond Milk vs. Dairy Milk spelling bee commercial which implies that the use of lecithin makes the almond milk inferior to dairy milk. I’m not sure how the second child dodged having to spell “recombinant bovine growth hormone.” Although it’s really frustrating to see ads like these spreading misinformation, their existence means that the animal agriculture is worried. And why shouldn’t they be? Interest in veganism and vegetarianism is at an all time high, and for the first time in decades, information for consumers is more easily accessible. When people can actively see where there food is coming from, many of us decide to opt-out.
  7. How to cook unique meals
    This one is probably obvious since the majority of this blog centers around what foods I’m making, but being vegan forces you to get creative in the kitchen. Since adopting a more plant-based lifestyle, I’ve purchased more spices and kitchen gadgets, I’ve dabbled with more cuisines, and I’ve played around with ingredients I’d never heard of before (seitan, I’m looking at you!).
  8. It can make your heart hurt
    Colleen Patrick-Gourdreau has several podcasts around the ten stages people go through when they stop eating animals. Two of them are guilt and grief. Deciding to go vegan means you can stop participating in the largest form of mechanized violence in the history of humanity, but it forces you to confront the fact that you were previously participating. When I walk through the grocery store and see aisles of dairy and egg products, my heart still catches in my throat, and I don’t think that feeling ever truly goes away. I believe it’s important to carry that sadness with us though. It serves as a constant reminder as to why we’ve chosen this lifestyle and the importance of maintaining it.
  9. I became more conscious about what goes into my body
    Before going vegan, I never read an ingredients label. Not a single time. I had no idea what was in any of the foods that I was eating. Now I do! I’ve gotten really good at scanning labels for animal by-products. Over time, I’ve found that JB and I use less and less processed foods because a lot of them do have animal additives. It’s been fun to watch the amount of produce grow in our grocery trips, and we’ve had cashiers tell us more than once that our grocery haul was the healthiest they’d seen that day, which always feels amazing.
  10. I’ve learned to speak up for, and be proud of, myself and my decisions
    Something about my Midwestern upbringing always makes me very anxious about putting other people in difficult situations or making them uncomfortable. For example, if a waiter brought me the incorrect dish at a restaurant, I used to swear up and down, no no no! It’s no problem! I can definitely eat this instead, because I didn’t want the server to get into trouble and I didn’t want the people I was eating with to feel like they had to wait for me to get the correct dish. Silly, right? As a vegan, I don’t have that luxury – if my meal comes out with cheese on it, the dish now gets sent back to the kitchen. I’ve learned to ask questions about how the food is made (Are these vegetables sauteed in oil or butter? Does the veggie patty have eggs in it?), which is something I never would have had the courage to do before.
  11. We are not alone! 
    It’s easy to feel singled out as a vegan, but there are so many of us if you know where to look! Most cities have a vegan group, and if yours does not, there are plenty of online communities. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve searched for advice or thoughts on a variety of topics and have found really in-depth, meaningful answers from other vegans all around the country and the world!

It isn’t decorum to give gifts on a veganniversary, but I would appreciate donations to my Walk For Farm Animals fundraising page. I’m only $5.00 away from reaching my goal. If you’ve never heard about Farm Sanctuary, you can read about them here. They’re amazing.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!