Hello world, my name is Jessica. I am vegan, and have been for three years, but I am not the poster child of veganism for many reasons- lets just start with that. First of all, my parents aren’t hippies, I wasn’t raised on an island surrounded by mango’s, I don’t tan very easily, I’m not blonde… and I’ve never even had an açai bowl (can I honestly call myself vegan if I’ve never instagrammed an açai bowl?). Nope, sadly this is not me. Instead, I grew up in rural Canada, surrounded by snow and cows… pretty much. My mom was raised on a cattle farm and my dad hunted most of the meat we ate. My sister and I spent a huge portion of our childhood on my uncle’s cattle farm with my extended family- feeding cows, running around on hay bails, playing with the barn kittens, and living our best lives.
Growing up, everyone around me ate meat and never questioned why (a running theme in Saskatchewan), so I didn’t either. I questioned a lot of things, but for some reason, eating animals was never one of them. I had a couple of friends who were vegetarian in high school, but changing my diet was never something I wanted for myself. I knew that I loved animals, but I was happy to eat them.
When I did finally learnt about veganism, I was genuinely concerned for these people- whoever they were! What type of person in their right mind would willingly choose to give up ice cream?… like, why would you ever, EVER do that to yourself? Did these people hate food? I had a cousin who was lactose intolerant and I always felt so sorry for her- living without ice cream and cheese was one of my biggest fears. I pitied those people! These vegans must be crazy I thought; living in another dimension. I remember I had a friend who decided to go vegan in college, and in response I told my boyfriend that “going vegan is so dumb… it’s like giving yourself a bunch of allergies that you don’t have for no reason. why would you do that to yourself?”. I was definitely not a fan of the idea.
trying it out:
My eating habits continued to stay the same throughout college, and it wasn’t until moving to Vancouver that I considered changing up my diet. My roommate wanted to try eating vegan for 30 days just to see what it was like, and she needed some emotional support. My other roommate at the time was Belgian, and the idea of giving up cheese was pretty much out of the question for her, so it was up to me to be that support. I said “I’ll try anything once”, and a few days later we started. I had absolutely no intentions of sticking with this diet after the 30 days was up, but I was willing to give it a fair try for my friend.
I don’t remember much about those first few vegan weeks except for that I was very, very hungry. I didn’t do any research before I started. I thought that the vegan lifestyle was a sad way to live and that vegans are probably sad too, and I most likely couldn’t eat anything but bland food and lettuce, so I didn’t– I had very low expectations. My food was tasteless and low in nutrition because that’s genuinely how I thought vegans ate! I distinctly remember eating lots of rice cakes covered in peanut butter because I was starving and didn’t think I could eat bread… what a life! (I don’t think I’ve eaten a rice cake since)
Then the halfway mark of our 30 day experiment hit, and I realised that if I was going to make it out of this alive, I had to make some changes, so I started doing a bit of research. I discovered that (most) bread IS in fact vegan (hallelujah!), and many other delicious foods too, so I visited a couple of vegan restaurants in my city and cooked some plant based recipes I found online. I have to say, I was pretty surprised at how much I liked these meals!
One of the major turning points for me that month was making an alfredo sauce out of cauliflower. It was a lot easier to make than I imagined it would be, and I just remember eating a massive bowl of this creamy, delicious pasta… and feeling so friggen good after! I proceeded to eat two more bowls, waiting for that heavy, yucky feeling I always had to set in… but it never did, and I was like “Holy crap, what is going on here? This is amazing!”. I felt light and full of energy- not lethargic and heavy like I would have with a regular dairy-based sauce.
Was this diet “maybe… kind of… healthy?” I wondered. Wasn’t I going to become anaemic or something? What about calcium? What about protein? FOR GOD’S SAKE WHAT ABOUT THE PROTIEN???? I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to find out.
My second turning point was realising that I should probably learn about why people go vegan in the first place, because other than some tree-huggers loving animals a whole lot, I had no idea. I proceeded to watch Cowspiracy, and my life was immediately changed. I couldn’t un-learn what I just learnt. All of the sudden it clicked for me on this wider, global scale- it made so much sense. I never considered the ways that food- something we must consume every day- was affecting the planet, or anything else for that matter. It never before clicked in my head that food costs money… like, a lot of money… every day… and that food companies are vying for our dollars- convincing us we need certain foods that we don’t, just so they can cash in. I realised that just because I am buying milk instead of a t-shirt doesn’t mean I’m not still a consumer and contributing to capitalism, and what I choose to spend my money on at the grocery store makes a difference. In fact, it makes a huge difference.
So, that was it for me. No more animals in this bod- ever.
sticking with it:
…And then, two months later I was roaming around Vancouver, having a particularly sad and weird day, and I decided that I just really, really, needed some cheese pizza- so I ate some. As I laid in a field of dead grass eating this pizza, I noticed that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it to be. I felt kind of weird about eating cheese, but not super guilty. I finished my pizza and that was it.…Then a month later I decided I really, really needed a milkshake, so I drank one. I felt gross afterwards, but it wasn’t a big deal. This pattern continued on for about 6 months, where I would periodically get cravings for dairy products, so I would just simply eat them, realise I didn’t actually enjoy it that much (and now my stomach was upset), and then move on with no guilt. Eventually dairy started to make me feel really gross and queasy, and I just didn’t want to eat it anymore, so I stopped. It wasn’t hard to do. It was my choice; something I wanted. I went vegan overnight, but I don’t think I would have stuck with it if I didn’t allow myself these periodic moments to indulge in food I wanted, until I just didn’t want it anymore, without any judgment.
So there I was, this vegan lady living it up in Vancouver, eating tofu sausages, dairy-free kraft dinner, and cliff bars like the queen that I was inside- once again, living my best life. These were my eating habits for the first year- a lot of oatmeal, bananas, burritos, and processed energy bars got me through the day. I tried a lot of new and delicious recipes, but these foods were the foundation of my diet. I felt better than I ever had up until that point.
Then I quit my job to start traveling and all of the sudden I found myself with a lot of spare time on my hands, so I read a lot, and I became obsessed with learning about nutrition. I read tons of different books and listened to podcasts nonstop in that second year. During this process I was very conscious about not reading vegan-only books. I made sure all of the books I read were written by people who actually knew what they were talking about. Books based on science- not opinions. I read everything I could, and formed my views from there.. and guys… all I have to say is why don’t they teach us about nutrition in school!? It is so important- the basis and foundation of everything we are. I became so passionate about health and nutrition, and I wanted to bring what I learnt into practice in my own life.
So then it happened, and from then on I started to eat a predominately whole foods, plant based diet– and all I have to say is- What! A! Game! Changer!… Plants, man!!! They are my friends. They heal. I was absolutely blown away.
Once I cut out most of the processed foods and started filling my body with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats, my body healed and transformed in ways that I never knew possible. How can we understand how sick we are if sickness is all we’ve ever known? Changing my diet lifted me out of the unhealthy, food-addicted fog I had always been in, and brought me back to myself. It’s kind of hard to describe my experience, and I’m certain that everyone is different, but my body, mind, and spirit began to feel so much more alive and calm- like my body was healing itself and finally able to relax. All the stress of processed food and animal products was gone, and my body was free to do what it does best- heal and thrive.
The sad thing is is that in todays society we have framed food as the enemy. Food is not the enemy- let’s say that again so the people in the back can hear– FOOD IS NOT THE ENEMY! And our bodies- our self control- is not the problem. Our bodies are not the problem; they are just doing the best they can with what we’re giving them. Our bodies love us unconditionally. Our bodies are trying so hard to be healthy- to give us what we need- we just keep getting in their way. Our bodies are always telling us what they need- we just need to listen. Food is medicine. Food is life itself. Food can heal you and give you the energy to thrive, or food can kill you- it’s that simple.
We have this very emotional attachment to food in today’s western society, because it’s designed and made to be addictive. The processed foods have us on a rollercoaster of very high peaks and very low crashes- and then we are desperate and in need our next fix to bring us back up to the high. We are addicts. Whole plants don’t do that. With plants, there is no intense cravings, no rollercoaster, no guilt or shame or remorse from overindulging- only beautiful, healing foods. Only nutrition. After a meal of whole plants, I am left feeling satisfied and satiated, and then I just move on with my day. I’m not addicted. I don’t crave food in the same way. I get hungry, but I don’t crash and need a quick fix. I love food on a whole new level- I respect it. It gives me life, but I’m not obsessed with what I’m eating (or not eating) anymore. I’m at peace.
Does this make me seem like a perfect vision of health and beauty? Because I am not, let’s just get that straight right now. Am I always consistent with eating nothing but whole foods every day? Hell-to-the-no! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t even be alive right now if it weren’t for 1kg tubs of hummus in Australia, oreos for breakfast in Asia, and french fries every weekend in Vancouver. “Perfection”, whatever that means, is not the goal. Perfection isn’t health. Perfection isn’t happiness.
Am I technically even vegan? Probably not. I sample non-vegan foods all the time- I’m curious. Let me give you some examples: If my friend made muffins, and I know there’s 1/8th of an egg in that muffin, but I really want to eat a muffin in that moment, will I eat it? Yes, yes I will. And I will feel no guilt or shame in doing that. Would I ever make muffins with eggs in them in my own home? No. Would I ever buy muffins with eggs in them at the store? No. Would I eat that muffin every day? Probably not. Did I try Tim-Tams in Australia when offered some by a friend, even though I knew they have milk in them? You bet I did. They weren’t nearly as good as everyone made them out to be, but I tried them- It’s part of the experience of traveling. There’s certain foods that I feel comfortable trying out of curioity, and certain foods that I don’t. It’s up to me to make this choice. It’s my body. Does this make me a hypocrite? Some may think so- that’s also their choice. I’ve found what works for me.
Some weeks (some months even) are “better” than others. Sometimes I have a fun weekend with friends where I drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of fries and after it’s over I find myself craving a massive salad, so I eat a massive salad. I listen to what my body is telling me and I respect that. I don’t feel guilt for the beers or shame for the junk food. I don’t go down into a spiral of hating myself and only eating junk food and drinking beer for the rest of my life- that’s just silly. A whole foods, plant based diet is the foundation- the basics, of what I eat. It’s what keeps me going, but I allow myself freedom to do whatever I want, really. I just know what makes me feel good- physically, spiritually, mentally, morally, and that is whole plants– so thats what I eat the vast majority of the time.
I’m not participating in this whole foods, plant based lifestyle so I can say that I’m vegan. It’s not about the label– it’s just that labels make it easier for people to understand. I often say “I’m not a vegan, I’m a Jessica.” Super lame, but true. I can and will do whatever I want, I’m free. I’m making the choice to eat these foods because I want to and they make me feel good, not because I’m obligated or tied down into any label.
I often have people say to me “I would go vegan, but I can’t give up my grandmas lasagne”, for example. I say “then don’t!”. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, but also don’t let the label hold you back. You can be a vegan who sometimes eat’s your grandmas lasagna, at least in my eyes. You can be whatever you want! Don’t let a small detail derail your entire lifestyle- don’t let the hater’s get you down, as the kids say. Don’t get so caught up in being “perfect” and doing everything “just right” that you stop yourself before you even start. What we do the majority of the time has far more influence over our health and happiness, and the health of the planet, than what we do only sometimes. It’s the guilt and shame that holds us back, not the tiny missteps. Our bodies are made to heal, it’s all good. It’s up to us to decide what we’re comfortable with.
If you take anything out of my story, I hope it’s that finding health and peace within our bodies is not linear- it’s a journey, and it’s highly personal. I’m not on the internet to tell anyone what to do- I have no right to do that. I only have my own story to share and the lessons I have learned from it.
If I could wish anything for the people reading this, it would be to stop the judgement, and release the shame and guilt surrounding our relationship with food. Learn to love foods that make you feel good- body, mind, and soul. Forgive yourself and forgive your body. Empower yourself by doing credible research on nutrition- seriously (if you don’t know where to start, start here). Eat what makes you feel good and at peace within your body. Eat what makes you feel happy to be alive. Say “enough”, and step off the rollercoaster that processed food has all of us on…
Make friends with plants!
Wishing you nothing but heath and happiness,