In my book of life, the 3 1/2 years spent learning and living as a vegan were significant enough to compose a section as that experience affected everything, from my purchasing decisions to my community to the way my body functioned.
When factors, some beyond my control, led me to begin consuming animal products again, what had become a very important part of my life has now become distant enough for me to view with some perspective. Even though I am no longer living a vegan lifestyle, the significance of what I learned is still with me.
I have little regret for my journey. I was welcomed into a community that is based on values that I admire even now. I met people whose dedication to a cause is equal to the passion that has changed social structures. Lastly, I was empowered with a mission that gave a framework to my life and, hopefully, inspired others to think about their food and consumer choices.
The lessons I’ve taken from my experience are broad, and I anticipate that they will change as more time passes and I learn even more. For now, here are my lessons learned from veganism:
- How we treat animals matters. Reading The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone was when I learned about the atrocities of factory farming in its current form. I admire Alicia for the way she presented veganism as making the healthiest, kindest choices we can, and reading her book made me go vegan almost overnight. Even though I am not vegan, I feel grateful to have the consciousness to care about where my food comes from, especially animal products, and the ability to make other choices such as using personal care products that were not tested on animals.
- Eat more vegetables. It was only a few months after I went vegan that I was introduced to Dr. Fuhrman’s book, Eat to Live. At that time, I was suffering from chronic migraines. Reading his book inspired me to further transform my diet and that’s when I got rid of the processed foods and started focusing on adding more vegetables into my daily routine, especially the green leafy variety.
- Prepare your own food. One way or another, our fast-paced modern life has taken us away from one of the most basic joys in life: preparing food. From gathering the ingredients to chatting with others about various preparation techniques to sitting down with friends and/or family over a lovingly prepared meal, this process is essential to our well-being and can get easily sacrificed for convenience’s sake. Being vegan and a nutritarian put my cooking skills to the test and that’s when I learned so much about food and the traditions of how it is grown, harvested, prepared and served.
- Be part of a loving, supportive community. For various reasons, I’ve never felt part of a community before and it was awesome to immediately connect with diverse people from all over the world who shared my same values. It made me sad to not be part of that community once my needs changed, but I know realize how important to human emotional health it is to feel connected, and so I am taking care of myself that way, joining new social groups and building relationships with people who love me for me, vegan or not.
- Everyone has different needs. I’ve been learning about health and nutrition for over a decade now, but it was only when my health was suffering very seriously despite doing what worked for others within the vegan definition that I realized how different we all are.
- Food can unite or divide. Having declared myself a vegan and then having to back away from it, I’ve learned my lesson about judging other people’s food choices and recognize that it is a complex personal decision, similar to our spiritual or political beliefs. Each of us bears the responsibility to let our choices unite or divide us.
- There is more than one way to do good. Studying public health was overwhelming in the sense that there are no easy answers for the very serious problems that exist. The only way I could move forward in my studies was to recognize that it’s not my job to fix everything. It is my job, however, to use whatever time and talent I have to leave the world a better place. Obviously, promoting veganism was an important part of my journey, but it ended up being only one part of my life. I have more gifts to share and believe I can and will do good.
- Labels can be harmful. One of the negative aspects of veganism is that it is a very black and white definition, or at least it felt that way to me. I take responsibility for having tried to be vegan and promoting veganism in the way that I thought best, but now I see that labels or roles that have strict definitions can be harmful when they no longer fit your needs. As I move forward, I am taking care to not define the way I eat or live outside of what is balanced and healthy for me.
- Taking care of yourself is your most important duty. I can see now that there were clues that some of my health issues were diet related, but I refused to believe it for at least a year. Doing what needs to be done for my physical and emotional health is my top priority because nobody else will do it for me. My father died from severe physical and mental illness and I decided that will not be my fate. Since being 100% vegan was not sustaining my physical or emotional health, I had to make the decision to change my course based on what I thought was best for me.
- Kindness is everything. Part of being human is that we have our own opinions that may differ from others. It is natural to judge someone else for being different, it is a natural defense mechanism. But, just as it is vitally important to treat animals and our environment with respect, I believe it is equally important to do the same for our fellow human beings. When you feel the urge to judge or give someone a harsh word, imagine that you are speaking to someone you love and realize that you can’t possibly know what the other person is going through.
We’ve all gone through changes and overcome obstacles in our lives. Maybe you are currently experiencing a hardship that is more difficult than anything I could imagine. Or, perhaps you are blessed with good health, loving support, and incredible opportunities. Whatever the case, let’s take a moment to be thankful for our abilities to heal and grow and to feel gratitude for the experience of being wonderfully, imperfectly human.