Hello world, my name is Jessica and I am vegan, but I’m not the poster child of plant based eating 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 fresh fruit, I don’t tan very easily, I’m not blonde… and worst of all, I’ve never even instagrammed a photo of my smoothie bowl (shocking, I know). Instead I grew up in rural Canada surrounded by grain farms, Ford F150’s and cows… pretty much.
My mom was raised on a cattle farm and my dad and sister hunted what we ate, and everyone around me ate meat and never questioned why, so I didn’t either. I questioned a lot of things (like, basically everything), but for some reason eating animals was never one of them. I knew that I loved animals, but I was happy to eat them.
When I did finally learn about the vegan lifestyle as a teenager, (no meat, dairy, eggs, or animal products of any kind) 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 do that to yourself? Did these people hate food???
These vegans must be crazy I thought, and 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 when I was 20 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, so I agreed to try it out alongside her. I had absolutely no intentions of sticking with this lifestyle after the 30 days was up, but I was willing to give it a try for my friend.
I don’t remember much about those first few weeks of eating vegan except for that I was very, very hungry. I didn’t do any research before I started and had low expectations, therefore 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 actually vegan, 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.
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 this massive bowl of creamy, delicious pasta… and feeling so 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 thought to myself “What is going on here?”
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 learning about the ethics and why people choose not to eat animal products. I watched Cowspiracy, (a documentary about the environmental impacts of eating animal products) and my life was immediately changed. All of the sudden it clicked for me on this wider, global scale and everything became clear. I hadn’t before considered the ways in which food was affecting the planet, or anything else for that matter. It finally clicked that food is a large expense for people, and food corporations are all vying for our precious dollars by convincing us we need certain foods we don’t with marketing campaigns and lobbying – food that is actually destroying our planet – 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 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 body – 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 needed some cheese pizza… so I ate some. 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 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 eat them, and move on without guilt. Eventually dairy started to make me feel really sick and I just didn’t want to eat it anymore, so I stopped.
Finally quitting diary wasn’t hard because it was my choice and something I decided 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, eating tofu sausages, dairy-free kraft dinner, and Cliff bars like the vegan queen I was, living my best life. These were my eating habits – a lot of oatmeal, bananas, burritos, and processed energy bars got me through the day, and I felt better than I ever had up until that point.
Then a year later I quit my job to start traveling, and became obsessed with learning about nutrition in my spare time. I read tons of different books and listened to podcasts nonstop in that second year, making sure everything I took in was written by scientists, doctors, and informed professionals – information based on science, not opinions. I read everything I could, and formed my views from there… and Oh. My. God… My life was changed.
I learned that the foods we eat and the nutrients they provide us with are so extremely important because they are the foundation and building blocks of everything we are – our mood, our heath, the diseases we manifest in our bodies, and our quality of life. I realised that I actually had control over my health, my future, and how I felt day to day , and it was empowering information.
So from then on I put what I learned into practice and started to eat a predominately whole foods, plant based diet, consisting of mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Once I cut out most of the processed foods and started filling my body with whole foods, my body healed and transformed in ways that I never imagined was 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 yet never realised, 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 once I changed how I ate; 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.
food is not the enemy:
Something that absolutely breaks my heart nowadays is that we have framed food as the enemy and our bodies as the problem, when that could not be further from the truth.
Food is not the enemy, our bodies are not the enemy, and 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. In fact, our bodies are pure love and light and they love us unconditionally and work tirelessly to be healthy, we just keep getting in their way.
Food is health and healing. Food is energy. Food is vitality. Food is privilege. Food is medicine. Food is life itself. Food can heal us give us the energy to thrive, or food can kill us – it’s that simple.
Today we have an unhealthy emotional attachment to food because it’s designed to be addictive and keep us feeling gross and always craving more. Processed food has us all on a rollercoaster of very high peaks and extremely low crashes where we feel desperate and in need our next quick fix; We are addicts.
With whole plants this rollercoaster doesn’t exist. There is no intense cravings, no highs leading to a crash, no guilt, shame, or remorse from overindulging – only beautiful, healing foods. Personally, after eating 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 or craving more food in the same way I used to anymore. I get hungry, but I don’t crash and need a quick fix.
I love food on a whole new level – I respect it.
I recognise now that food is a blessing and 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-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 because perfection isn’t health and definitely isn’t happiness.
Some weeks of eating (or months or years) 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 big ol piece of fruit and a massive salad… so I eat fruit and a massive salad. I listen to what my body is telling me and I respect that (+ I understand my privilege to be able to eat what I feel like eating, and I am intensely grateful for 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 ridiculous.
A whole foods plant based diet is the foundation of what I eat, but I allow myself freedom to do whatever I want because I can, and I know that my worthiness is not dependant on my eating habits. 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 and feel holier-than-thou. It’s not about the label, it’s just that labels make it easier for people to understand. I’m making the choice to eat these foods because I want to and they make me feel good, not because I’m tied down into any label.
I often hear people say things like “I would go vegan, but I can’t give up my grandmas lasagne,” and to that I say “then don’t!” Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, but don’t let the vegan label hold you back either. 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 you, and 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 than what we do only occasionally.
It’s the guilt and shame that holds us back, not the tiny missteps. The world will not crumble to the ground because we made a mistake or chose different boundaries for ourselves than what the status quo suggested. It’s up to us to decide what we’re comfortable with and what works for us, and then keep moving forward.
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 a highly personal one at that. I’m not on the internet to tell anyone what to do, 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. Open your mind to new information and new lifestyles. 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. 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…
and eat more plants!
Wishing you nothing but heath and happiness,