2019 marks my 10-year veganniversary! To be honest, I don’t remember the exact date I became fully vegan as I was in college and it took me awhile to eat up the dairy-containing snacks I had stashed in my dorm room.
When I went vegan, there weren’t a million plant-based milk choices, the only widely available cheese I remember was Tofutti American singles (which I haven’t seen in years) and the only chickn I remember was Boca chickn patties (which I still love!). When Daiya was first founded, a group of vegan friends and I would order it in bulk straight from the company in Canada, divy it up and freeze it. Now Daiya is in most mainstream grocery stores! I also remember trying Gardein for the first time, which was only available at restaurants when it first came out, and it terrified me because it was the meatiest vegan food at the time. Now we have soooo many plant-based meat, milk, cheese and egg options! (Confession: I’ve never tried any of the vegan egg alternatives — I love tofu so much and have always been satisfied with tofu scramble or making egg patties out of silken tofu for breakfast sandwiches).
Quick story about my journey to veganism: I became vegan in 2009 after a few months of vegetarianism, totally for ethical reasons. I didn’t like meat and so looked up what it meant to be a “vegetarian” and from there started researching animal agriculture. I joined my university’s animal rights group and when I learned about the atrocities of the egg and dairy industries, as well as those exploiting animals for clothing, entertainment and testing, I knew I wanted to live a vegan lifestyle. I went to college with Michelle Cehn, founder of worldofvegan.com, who started our uni’s animal rights club and was a huge part of my lifestyle shift! We’re still friends today and I regularly write about vegan nutrition for World of Vegan.
I also had some periods of disordered eating, compulsive exercise and body dysmorphia during these last 10 years, much of it tied to the growing plant-based movement, and you can read more about my body acceptance and intuitive eating journey here.
A lot has happened in my life during the last 10 years. I changed my college major (from pre-med and biology to pre-med and nutritional biochemistry to just nutrition, on the track to become an RDN rather than an MD), I was a summer camp counselor, I moved from the dorms to an off-campus apartment with a friend, I worked in both bench and clinical research, I lived with a boyfriend, I lived on my own, I was in a long-distance relationship, I got matched to a dietetic internship, I graduated from college, I moved “back home” to Illinois, I taught summer school, I substitute taught middle and high schoolers, I earned my master’s degree, I completed my dietetic internship, I got my first job as a dietitian (long-term care), I left that job to come to the city to work in research, I started my side hustle private practice, I met my now-husband, I started my blog, I switched jobs within the same company (from research to communications), I got married… those are some of the big things that happened.
Throughout these experiences, changes and milestones, veganism has been a constant in my life. How I eat, how I move my body and how I advocate for animals has changed. I’ve met so many wonderful vegan activists, dietitians and friends. While I’ve learned a ton, I attempted to boil it down to just 10 lessons.
1. Activism is more than protests, demonstrations and marches
When the lightbulb first went off for me that all animals are sentient and deserve free lives without exploitation, abuse or murder, I felt really strongly about it. I find this is common for most ethical vegans. Because I was involved in my uni’s AR group as well as my city’s AR group, I participated in lots of hands-on activism including protests, leafleting, speaking events, free community dinners, etc. When I moved and was in grad school, I wasn’t connected to AR groups and I didn’t participate in these kinds of activism. One time, I went to a farmers market alone and handed out leaflets to people in small-town Wisconsin. I didn’t enjoy it and it wasn’t well-received. I felt hopeless and disconnected but after some time I realized that there were many other forms of activism, such as social media, blogging, writing to restaurants and food manufacturers, donating to farm animal sanctuaries, etc.
2. Leading by example can have a significant impact
Speaking of other forms of activism, one of the most underrated ways to inspire others is to lead a more compassionate life is by being a happy, healthy vegan. I don’t mean healthy as in only eating green things and losing weight, I mean healthy as in not having your health suffer as a result of becoming vegan. Which means eating in a balanced way and taking any necessary supplements. I’ve had so many people say, “Wait, you’re vegan? But you’re so normal.” Talk about a backhanded compliment. I know about all the vegan stereotypes. While I may fulfill some of them, I’d like to think I demonstrate how one can participate in our society in a productive and joyful way while minimizing their use of animals. I’ve learned that it’s best not to push your views on others, but to be there to answer questions and offer information when asked. And don’t underestimate the power of tasty food! Find a few solid vegan recipes and share with family friends.
3. I don’t need to see graphic videos and photos
I’ve spent more time than I care to admit crying over horrifying footage of animal farms. I’m getting a sick feeling in my stomach writing this right now. While this type of media can be motivating for some people (which is debatable), once you’re vegan, I don’t think this kind of stuff is helpful. It makes me incredibly sad, makes me angry at all the non-vegans in my life and generally leaves me feeling pretty awful. I’ve had to unfollow many vegans on social media who post this stuff. No thanks. I love animals and don’t need to see them tortured and killed. I know what goes on on farms, which is why I’m vegan. That’s not changing.
4. A “whole foods plant-based” diet is not required to be a “good” vegan or “healthy” vegan.
Boy did I learn this the hard way. I’ve watched the documentaries. I’ve read the books. I’ve met the Esselstyns. I’ve done the cleanses. Been there, done that. This sh!t led me down a disordered path and also led me to look down on people who didn’t eat that way. Superiorism is rampant in the WFPB community and I don’t have any tolerance for that. There is no evidence to suggest including processed foods in a vegan diet is a death sentence or surefire way to get diabetes or heart disease. In fact, it makes veganism more approachable, accessible, inclusive and enjoyable. And decreases the chance that veganism will lead to disordered eating or an eating disorder.
5. I absolutely need to take a vitamin D supplement
Dietitian confession: I’m not the best at taking supplements! I used to be terrible. But I’ve gotten way better! I get my annual physical and bloodwork done in late winter or early spring so I can see how things are looking after the long, dark Midwestern winter and inconsistent supplementation has led me to vitamin D deficiency more than once. This isn’t just a vegan thing, mind you. Anyone living north of 37°N needs to take a vitamin D supplement during the fall, winter and spring. But it’s something I became serious about since becoming vegan.
6. Living a kinder life is about more than veganism
Getting animal products out of my life was my priority for the first couple years of my vegan journey. I was living off student loans and aside from being vegan, I didn’t take much action, beyond the standard recycling and using a reusable water bottle, to reduce the environmental impact of my consumer choices and I certainly didn’t have the funds to purchase fair trade items. I was applying for SNAP and petitioning financial independence with my university so I could get grants in addition to loans. Many vegan personal care and cleaning products also happened to be eco-friendly which was great but it wasn’t until the last few years that I got serious about sustainable packaging, ethical business practices, fair labor, etc. I’m committed to treating everyone with fairness and compassion and I now prioritize eco-friendly and ethically-produced goods, which I can afford thanks to my full-time job.
7. Healthism, fat phobia and body shaming are hurting the movement
The notion that one need to be a “healthy,” thin vegan to be a good activist is not only not true, it’s actually backfiring. There are many vegans in larger bodies or with health conditions who feel ostracized by the vegan community and avoid advocacy activities for fear of being shamed. Sometimes we treat animals with more compassion than we do other humans. Diversity within the vegan community is a good thing. We need to be inclusive and welcoming of all. Veganism is attainable for so many people, not just thin, rich, white, healthy people who drink green juice. Not only can we save more animals this way, it’s just the right thing to do.
8. There is no such thing as a perfect vegan
Vegan policing and infighting are awful. One on hand, it’s neat that there are so many vegans that they are splitting into different camps, but on the other hand, people can be terribly judgmental, narrow-minded, cruel and hurtful. Perfect veganism is not a thing. It’s literally impossible to live in mainstream society and not use any sort of animal product. They’re everywhere. What we can do is avoid them to the best of our abilities and support companies that offer vegan alternatives and organizations that work to save animals. I personally don’t consume honey, wear wool, use beeswax, ride horses or go to zoos. Some people who consider themselves vegan might do or use these things. And some people might occasionally eat some animal products, knowingly or accidentally, especially when dining out and especially when with non-vegans. I used to be pretty militant and abolitionist in my vegan views but with the big picture in mind, I realize it’s better for someone to go 98% than 0%. And yes, I feed my cats meat food because they’re obligate carnivores and they need it to survive. Complicated topic.
9. There is a ton of misinformation about vegan nutrition
Holy moly is there a lot of confusion out there. I’m so thankful for experts including Ginny Messina and Jack Norris who have done the research and provide evidence-based recommendations for vegan nutrition. No, you can’t get vitamin B12 from mushrooms, seaweed or fermented foods. Yes, olive oil is OK. No, broccoli does not contain more protein than steak. Yes, soy is OK. No, avocados do not contain omega-3 essential fatty acids. Yes, you should be using iodized salt at home. My fave book on vegan nutrition is Vegan for Life and highly recommend you read it!
10. Everyone is on their own journey
The culmination of these 10 years is respect. Respect for animals, respect for myself, respect for other vegans, respect for non-vegans. How we live is a personal choice. I’m not here to judge other people. While I truly believe most people don’t want to harm animals, I no longer feel so much resentment toward people who aren’t vegan. Part of what has helped with this is my career as a dietitian. I work with all sorts of people, not just vegans. My focus now is more on helping vegans stay vegan by getting the nutrients they need to letting go of food rules, than on convincing people to go vegan. There are loads of people and organizations out there helping people go vegan. My skills are aligned with helping vegans lead healthful, balanced lives. And if I inspire some people along the way to go vegan, that’s wonderful.