Why I Became Vegan

Pure, old-fashioned competitive drive.

Honestly, that was one of the initial reasons I started down the road of plant-based diets. Now, this was not my first foray into removing entire food groups from my life.

A Little History

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away (totally watched some “Return of the Jedi” last night), I was quite a picky eater growing up. The vast majority of meals consisted of buttered noodles, a dollop of peanut butter (on the side, of course), and pineapple. Sometimes, there would be a pickle thrown in as another delicious side item or some vegetables. I did love me some McDonald’s Happy Meals (“chicken nuggets” baby) and all cheese, all the time. I did hot dogs, steak, hamburgers, and turkey – the whole gamut. And then, at age 12, I read somewhere in print that red meat was bad for your heart. If I recall, it was near the end of the year and it was time to make New Year’s resolutions. So, to lead a healthy lifestyle, I decided to give up red meat and pork in middle school. No bacon. No pork chops. No burgers.

And, I did it. I kept the “flexitarian” diet up through college (I do have a distinct memory eating one hamburger during Family Weekend at college and getting INCREDIBLY sick afterward). But, the tides changed again, thanks to a new life opportunity. Let’s call it: moving to the South, specifically the land of pulled pork BBQ.

Moving to North Carolina began my crawl back to the land of all things meat. Between cookouts and learning what whole hog had to offer, I went – pun intended – hog wild and jumped back into the bandwagon. My meat consumption only increased due to a relationship in which the gentleman viewed meat as a MUST HAVE at every meal. There should have been red flags raised when he ordered a Kobe burger on the first date [stay away – meat-tastrophy ahead!]

Let’s fast-forward to the last few years. Even before Aaron and I started dating, I had toned down my red meat and pork eating considerably.  I will fully admit: bacon still remained a prized item on the table and in my beer. But, the more we read, the more we evaluated our family/personal medical histories, we cut out more and more animal products. I recall chuckling at the idea of ever becoming vegan – how could I give up cheese and yogurt? Those were daily staples (hello calcium!).

In the spring of 2013, several friends of ours went on various challenges regarding their diets. One couple went completely vegan for one month; another went vegetarian (and gave up alcohol!) for 30 days. Aaron and I had dinner with the couple who went vegan, and that began the process of opening my eyes to what life could be like sans cheese (not as bad as I imagined). We also watched “Forks Over Knives” and I became a voracious reader of online vegan blogs, from recipes to ethical stances to the personal journeys of others.

Competitive drive.

Oh, if they can be vegan, I can be vegan. Not even kidding – that thought went through my head (a huge component of my running drive as well). That thought lasted for less than 24 hours because at first, it was hard to be vegan! Well, it’s still hard at times, but in different ways. I craved cheese the first few days. I mean – salivia-inducing, pass me the Brie right now or someone is going to get hurt, craving. Interestingly, Aaron and I had essentially weaned ourselves off cheese prior to our 30 day trial. But, the total deprivation of all dairy had a major effect on my system.

It went away quickly, and then it became easier to imagine life meat and dairy free. Now, I do still eat honey on occasion (from Durham, of course), and as I’ve blogged about before, I’m continuing my vegan journey into the non-food related aspects of life: from beauty products to clothing and more. Now, I’m still not giving up beer, even though I know far and few between are vegan. Consider that part of the work in progress (i.e. I hope someone will discover more efficient methods to use in fermentation/brewing that don’t involve animal byproduct!)

Will I go back to not being vegan? I’ve had this question asked of me, and my thought is: why would I? I feel GREAT – I mean just marvelous. I’ve lost those pockets of body fat that hung around for years, even after dedicating hours at the gym. I have not fallen prey to the same bouts of sickness that had marked the various changes in season years prior. My energy levels remain high. My endurance, speed, and strength have all improved drastically. I’m happy and (I hope?) less moody than I was. I used to have about a headache a month, and those have all but disappeared.

So, if you are on the fence, give a try. One week. Two weeks. One month. You’re not the first to try. And, you may fall down a bit. But, keep at it. It’s worth it for your body, your mind, and your spirit. It’s worth it for the greater good of our planet, our species, and our humanity.

ImageRock on, vegans in training.

New dips to impress your friends (and yourself!) in 2014

We’re beginning that slow crawl time of year where the cold weather settles down after teasing us with 60 and 70 degree days in December. There are no holidays looming on the horizon. The sun remains hidden upon waking and leaving work. You’ll hear: “I can’t wait until spring…” a dozen or so times in daily interactions.

Even with the doom and gloom (that might be a BIT dramatic), there is still hope, and it comes in the form of a Moroccan Pumpkin Hummus:

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I purchased Quick-Fix Vegan before I had launched into a plant-based lifestyle (whimsical Amazon purchase, undoubtedly), and I finally cracked it open on New Year’s Day to find something fun to bring to a Rose Bowl watch party. This recipe immediately stuck out for its spice factor and vibrant pop of color. The best news? Not only does it look good, but it’s extremely flavorful. With some homemade pita chips and veggies, I have been gobbling up the leftovers for days (so much so that I failed to take a picture of my own dish and hence had to use a picture from the author, Robin Robertson.)

I also tried another hummus recipe from her: Spicy Black Bean Hummus with Orange. It lived up to both promises: spicy and refreshing orange notes peaking through. Going super old school, here is the recipe:

Spicy Black Bean Hummus With Orange (via Quick-Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson)

Makes 1.5 cups

1 to 2 jalapeno or serrano chiles, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, shopped

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups home-cooked black beans, or 1 (15-ounce) can, drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons sesame tahini

1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley or cilantro

Combine the chiles, garlic and salt in a food processor and process until finely minced. Add the beans, orange juice, tahini, orange zest, and cumin, and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a small bowl. Spring the pistachios on top of the hummus and around the edge of the bowl. Serve at once or cover and refrigerate until needed.

Again, I inhaled this dip without snapping its mug first, but trust me: it’s really freaking good. I only used one jalapeno, and it was plenty spicy for this girl. I also used cilantro, because it is the far superior herb. I’m not a huge fan of parsley – so overused, so underwhelming.

Goals/Values to Espouse in 2014

Happy New Year! No, I’m not going to use the “R” word for this post. Even with discussions amongst friends last night to ring in the New Year, we avoided articulating our “resolutions” for 2014 and instead focused on what initiatives and visions we wanted to see in ourselves moving forward. There seemed to be a more general focus on processes rather than outcomes, which I definitely adhere to in my own list below. I had created a list last year for 2013 on some old school paper (with an INK pen!) Alas, during the move this summer, that list disappeared in transition. I do recall a few items: run two half-marathons (check!); do not purchase any Ziplock bags (check check!); visit two new states (half-check: I made it to Indiana in 2013); visit the Farmer’s Market monthly (not even close); host a monthly dinner event (ambitious and unachieved); see all the movies nominated for Oscar’s Best Picture in 2012 (I think I saw two).

The outlook for 2014 (and sticking with my thematic numerical associations, there are 14 goals and visions thus far) has some similar elements but some departures, again reflecting back to the idea of improving life processes (i.e. PUTTING DOWN MY MOBILE PHONE!) Without further ado…

1) Visit a new state and/or country (This makes the cut again to further my passion for exploration and travel. My sights are set on adding North Dakota to my “visited” list this June).

2) Add practicing yoga back into my life. I departed from this greatly, and I miss it. While I could blame the fact that my favorite YMCA yoga instructor left teaching the 6am class, I would only be making an excuse. I’m good at that.

3) Read, on average, one book a month. As a lifelong voracious reader, I find cracking open the spine of a new book one of the most pleasurable activities imaginable. Instead of spending time with electronics in the evenings, I want to spend more time under soft reading lights and letting my imagination soar.

4) Take a one-time class, whether for cooking, crafting, etc. Learning is good. Learning with friends is better.

5) Take advantage of an evening adventure one night, Monday – Thursday. As someone who works from home, I have discovered that it is very easy to stay at home throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening. This seems to conflict with my extreme extroversion, but it has become a habit. Granted, I know and recognize that some nights are meant to be enjoyed in pajamas. However, there are always dozens of incredible offerings in the community, from free lectures to movies to music, that I want to experience and further enrich my life. It takes some planning, some flexibility, and some willingness to compromise. I’m all in for 2014.

6) Plant an herb garden. I have been talking about this for years, and since Santa brought me my own kit, it’s going to happen!

7) Attend a festival in North Carolina. One of the items on my 2013 goals list was to attend a sweet potato or ramp festival. Since I was unable to fulfill that vision in 2013, it’s going back on the list for 2014. The sights are set on the Mount Olive Pickle Festival that takes place in April. Sweet. (Or, I should say, dill. Who likes sweet pickles?? Blargh.)

8) Hide the phone! Seriously. Hide the phone. I spend too much time on my phone, and it has become a bad habit. Instead of pulling out my phone on the couch, in the car, at restaurants, etc., I want to be present in the moment, even if it means sitting quietly and taking in my surroundings. There is nothing that urgent on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/email that I need to check. The world will go on, even if it means people won’t know what I’m drinking via Untappd until much, much later.

9) Be more responsive to personal emails. Speaking of technology, I have a tendency to read emails from family and friends and then….star them in my Gmail…and then…let them sit. For days. Sometimes even more than a week. While I do recognize that I experience email burnout from work, I also need to be respectful of those who took the time to email me and respond within 24 – 48 hours.

10) Continue to grow in my relationship with Aaron. This might seem like a silly vision or goal to have on a start of the year list, but what is more important than renewing one’s focus to the most important person in one’s life? This year offers some challenges for us: from building a new house, selling the townhome, moving into newly built house, and getting married. And those are just the big ticket items. The ebb and flow of relationships is constant, as we continue to learn about each other, our desires, our quirks, our needs, our fears, our hopes, and our goals. I feel that I’ve made great strides this year in growing as a partner, becoming more in-tune with Aaron and those items list above. Again, it’s a process, and I want to be mindful of that each and every day. Thus far, it has been one heck of a fun, loving process!

engagement2

11) More foam rolling. I live by the foam roller, yet I have drifted away (similar to yoga) from using it daily. So…instead of spending the time waiting for the cats to finish eating by flipping through my Pinterest boards (which, arguably, is highly enjoyable), I want to be more proactive in using that time to roll out. Roll out.

12) More Farmer’s Market visits.  Yes, it’s getting back on the list! I think of the challenges of me going to the market isn’t so much the time – it’s using cash. I never, ever carry cash. I need to figure out a system that works for me to acquire said cash and have it on hand for Saturday mornings. It will be so worth it, both in the quality of food and aligning to my desire to lead a more locally-sourced lifestyle.

13) See more live music. ‘Nuff said.

14) More dance parties. Probably also enough said, but this used to be one of my favorite activities to do in the living room: crank up some hot jams and rock out, whether solo or with AT. It has been far too long, and what a great way to end the day.

What are your goals for the new year? How will you hold yourself accountable?