My freshman year of college, I was given an easy assignment for my ecology and values course: do something “environmental” for a week and document the experience in a short paper. I opted to cut meat out of my diet for a week, which was easy given how little meat I wanted to eat off the school dining hall menus. When the assignment was finished, I just sort of… continued cutting it out. I was vegetarian for the majority of my college experience, then relapsed to meat-eating, then started working at a vegan cafe and slid comfortably back into vegetarianism.
Despite being exposed to several delicious and sustainable substitutions for dairy while working at the cafe, I continued to eat cheese and butter and eggs. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I went vegan because the most important thing was that I would never eat meat again.
Since moving to Rhode Island last March, I’ve learned more and more about the impact of animal husbandry and dairy farming on Earth’s ecosystems. I’ve also learned more and more about how these practices exploit both humans and animals. I’ve considered going vegan for many months, but one obstacle stood in my way: I didn’t know if I could handle cutting cheese out of my diet.
In December, a few days before 2014 was to end and 2015 was to begin, AR and I went to the grocery store to get some basics from our weekly list and to get some supplies for a small get-together we were planning to have for New Year’s Eve. The 2lb block of cheese we normally purchased wasn’t available. There wasn’t even a hole on the shelf for it, nor a tag. We impulsively made the decision, then and there, to go full vegan. We decided we’d at least test it out for the month of January and see how we felt. (Later, I found out about Veganuary, which is actually a pretty cool way to challenge yourself to try veganism. If you’re anything like me, it will stick. You won’t go back.)
The thing is, I’ve told myself for years that my chronic illness — which is intestinal — wasn’t aggravated by the presence of dairy in my diet. Once I cut it out completely, though, the difference was noticeable immediately. I feel significantly better and more energetic, less bogged down by acid reflux and stomach pain.
On an even better note, I’m learning tons about cooking and baking, a hobby I’ve picked up over the last couple years and gotten really into since moving in with AR. We’ve discovered that vegan cheese substitutes, while tasty in some recipes, just don’t work in several others. It’s forced me to learn more about flavor profiles and how to re-create old favorites without any kind of cheese or cheese substitute, making me a better and more informed chef. (I’ve every intention of sharing some of those recipes in future posts, because it’s been a super fun process and I definitely want to write about it. I’m learning more all the time.)
I think the thing that surprises me most about the decision to go vegan is that once I made it, I didn’t feel any desire to take it back. We’re a week into February and I haven’t once thought about skimping out on this accidental resolution. (Some others have sort of… fallen by the wayside, but I’m trying to get back on track with them.) 2015 has so far been pretty damn good to me and I feel as though a lot of that positivity started with the decision to be better to my body. Forcing it to process dairy wasn’t doing me or the environment or the animal kingdom any favors.