I was never a fan of meat. I dreaded dinner whenever my mom cooked filet mignon. At summer BBQs, I stayed away from hot dogs. In eighth grade, my close friend’s family and I ate at a steakhouse, and I protested the menu. (Luckily, her dad knew the chef personally, so he requested a plate of pasta from the Italian restaurant next door.)
Growing up, I toyed with vegetarianism. I loved animals and wanted to do everything I could to support them. Unfortunately, my parents were never thrilled with the idea since I’d always been a picky eater. In hindsight, I may have been a picky eater because I never enjoyed food that originated from an animal.
However, I loved my bacon cheeseburgers. They kept me hanging onto my carnivorous identity. For so long, they were the reason I didn’t give up meat entirely.
During the first week of college, a new friend introduced me to the book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. In a half-memoir, half-investigative report, Foer combats both pro- and anti-vegetarian arguments, alongside personal experiences and scientific research. Although I entertained the possibility of changing my dietary habits, I wasn’t convinced the book would change my mind. After all, I still adored my bacon cheeseburgers.
Despite my preconceived notions, the text persuaded me to remove meat entirely from my diet. Yes, even the bacon cheeseburgers I loved so dearly. “Eating Animals” helped me understand how the meat industry used hormones and antibiotics in livestock. If I kept consuming meat filled with these chemicals, my long-term health might suffer. This was my first time living on my own away from my parents, and I was committed to incorporating healthy habits.
Navigating this newly-adopted diet was tricky at first. Like many other college students, I relied heavily on the cafeteria. I didn’t have access to a kitchen and just had a microwave in my dorm room. I attended a small liberal arts school, so the campus dining options were limited.
Of course, this meant no more bacon cheeseburgers, but not entirely. I found out you can make bacon cheeseburgers without meat! I wasn’t actually sacrificing anything after all.
During my sophomore year of college, I weaned myself off the campus meal plan to cook for myself. I lived in an apartment with a kitchen. I gradually noticed myself replacing junk food with fruits, vegetables and nuts. I slowly learned how to fry kale, steam quinoa, roast Brussels sprouts. I accomplished this on a college student’s budget, too.
By this point, my parents were supportive of my decision. They saw how this new diet changed my life for the better.
‘Forks Over Knives’
After being meat-free for two and a half years, I had (another) revelation. I watched the documentary “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix. In the film, several doctors stress the importance of replacing processed food with a plant-based (or likewise, vegan) diet. This dietary shift will help you dodge life-threatening illnesses and other medical conditions. Similarly to my reaction to “Eating Animals,” I didn’t expect to be so compelled to eat differently after watching “Forks Over Knives.”
The following week, I celebrated my first animal-free Thanksgiving. It also happened to be the first holiday I ever cooked a feast for myself. I prepared, from scratch: kale and carrot salad, cranberry sauce with apples, steamed Brussels sprouts, sliced tomatoes, fluffy quinoa, and black beans topped with soy cheese.
However, after a quick eight-day streak, I wasn’t able to stick with a vegan diet because I thought it was too difficult. At the time, I couldn’t afford it. (It turned out I could afford it, but I wasn’t buying the right foods from the right places.) I wasn’t living in an apartment with a kitchen anymore since I was a resident assistant in a dorm. Over the following year, I’d try this over and over, only to cave in to an omelet. (It happens.)
During the last week of December 2014, I tried again, but this time, it was a New Year’s Resolution. And I’ve been vegan ever since!
The following January, I left to study abroad in Bangalore, India, for four months. Out of anywhere in the world, I knew that was the place to practice veganism. To this day, I drool over Masala dosa, a crepe made from rice and lentil flour filled with spiced potatoes, and Gobi Manchurian, a savory fried cauliflower dish.
‘The Sexual Politics of Meat’
While abroad, I read “The Sexual Politics of Meat” for the first time and started following Carol J. Adams’ work. Her writing explores the connection between patriarchal values and meat eating. Soon enough, I started noticing feminist critiques of meat-eating aren’t always intersectional, or inclusive to other identities beyond gender.
Although I’ve made the transition, there is still so much to learn about the movement. I’m still self-educating myself as I engage in vegan activism. Particularly, I am aware of the whitewashing of veganism and admit I will never truly understand my privilege as a white woman. That’s why I search for educational resources, like Black Vegans Rock and the Racist Sandwich Podcast, that speak about oppression I don’t personally identify with. (Likewise, I know I’ll make mistakes, so it’s important to admit and correct those mistakes along the way. Listen, listen, listen.)
Today, some of my favorite meals include smoked cauliflower with chilli powder and a side of vegan ranch dressing; the BBQ hot dog from Fauxmaha Hot Dogs in Omaha; and (you guessed it) any vegan-ized bacon cheeseburger I can get my hands on. I frequently write about veganism as a freelance writer. I’m still learning, and you can, too — yes, even if you’re already vegan.