I went vegan when I was 16. It was August 2003, the month of my 17th birthday, the summer after graduating from high school, and a month after getting my wisdom teeth out and subsisting on Jell-O, pudding, and ice cream–all of which were of the non-vegan variety, of course. Vegetarianism, let alone veganism, was not even on the radar. And if it had been, I’d’ve scofffed at it vehemently. I lived off convenience foods and Italian foods, the latter of which was not necessarily bad: coming from an Italian-Canadian household, I ate food that was fresh and flavourful, with Nonna’s stamp of approval by way of my mother and father. However, I certainly wasn’t indulging in Italian veggies: pasta and loads of any kind of cheese you could place in front of me, along with Italian meatballs, sausages, and sliced meats, were huge parts of my diet. I ate fast food several times a week, and if it weren’t for my teenage metabolism and my not being old enough to have a driver’s license, and thus having to take the bus and walk everywhere, I probably would not have been as small as I was.
In August of 2003, I attended the Vans Warped Tour, the touring punk rock show that visits outdoor venues across North America every summer. Some friends and I were visiting the merchandise booths at the venue when, all of a sudden, this gentleman from none other than the PETA merchandise booth pointed at me–me, not any of my friends, but me in particular, it seemed–from several metres away. Curious sixteen-year-olds that we were, seeing that a guy was beckoning to us, we trotted over without a second thought. He invited us to sign up for PETA2’s newsletter, offered us stickers and pamphlets, and informed us on what PETA does. No sooner than we’d trotted over, we were skipping away, armed with leaflets that we shoved into our bags without a second glance at them. I remember getting mildly heated about how I believed it inappropriate to impose one’s own views on those of others. I thought the PETA2 guy had a lot of nerve, and I went off to eat my prosciutto sandwich I had packed for the day.
A few days later, I emptied my bag of my Warped paraphernalia and discovered the PETA pamphlets. I disregarded them but didn’t dispose of them. More days later, while cleaning my room, I sat down and actually read the pamphlets–less out of interest than of a desire to delay the room-cleaning process by dilly-dallying. I was instantly horrified. I read simply of the treatment and living conditions of farmed animals in factory farms. Those pamphlets did it: I didn’t even go vegetarian first–I went vegan, then and there. There was no way around it. The girl who would easily shun steak but who would have cheese in every meal of the day decided to give up all animal products. I was alone; I wasn’t believed; I was lost. None of my friends who’d also received the pamphlets were fazed. But I knew what I had to do. My stomach wouldn’t stomach another piece of consumed flesh.
It’s seven years later and people can’t even remember me as a non-vegan. Since high school, I’ve lost about twenty pounds. I was never a big girl, but going vegan slimmed me down, cleared my skin, increased my energy, and strengthened my immune system. If I do catch a cold, it is mild and disappears within days. Though I now have my license and sometimes miss a day of working out, I don’t have a hard time managing my weight. I eat a whole-foods diet and few processed foods since, let’s face it, vegan processed foods are expensive (though, I admit, delicious). I do have a mean sweet tooth and confess to having at least one sweet a day, but I can’t say I feel guilty for doing so, since my diet is virtually cholesterol and trans-fat free. Everything in moderation, though, right?
In short: Veganism has changed my life. It’s made me healthier, happier, and more conscious of every thing I put into and onto my body. I read labels like it’s coming out of style and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Diabetes; high blood pressure and cholesterol; cardiovascular issues; and weight issues run in my family. I’m confident, and hoping, that in choosing this lifestyle, I am not only saving myself from suffering these chronic health problems, but I am sparing animals horrific, unnecessary cruelty and lending a hand to curb environmental havoc caused by factory farming. The bonus in all of this, too, is that, though I thought I appreciated food before, going vegan has made me a veritable foodie: by going vegan, I didn’t feel deprived of food but, instead, the veil was lifted from my eyes, and I was exposed to foods I didn’t know existed, tastes that went beyond my comprehension. Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Japanese, Lebanese–these were ethnicities whose foods had never crossed my plate. I was in love. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Check out Christina’s Blog Vegan in Suburbia.
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