When I became a vegan in June of 2016, I had never before imagined myself adopting a meatless, eggless, dairyless diet. After all, I grew up in a Mexican household where no holiday was complete without tamales, birria, menudo, posole, and pastel de tres leches. I grew up surrounded by delicious savory meat based dishes that were not just food, but dishes that celebrated the coming together of family. I had a notion that giving up meat and all animal products meant giving up part of my culture and participation in family gatherings. Not to mention that I absolutely LOVED all meats, eggs, and cheese. Of course, that was all before I discovered the implications that the consumption of animal products has on the environment and our health and decided to give up the unsustainable lifestyle.
Still, I had some fears when I became a vegan. The top two being: As a traveler, how would I enjoy the local culture if I did not eat meats or cheese or desserts? And more importantly, how offended would my family be when I refused their mole con pollo y arroz? Becoming a vegan however, was a lot easier than I had anticipated. I knew that in adopting a vegan diet I would decrease my carbon footprint, save animal lives, and become healthy. However, I never imagined that the changes I made would trickle down to my family!
Initially, my mom would cringe at my papaya, grape, spinach, lime, carrot smoothie. To me it was delicious but to her, it looked like and unsavory replacement for my usual eggs, bacon, and avocado toast breakfast. I had expected this to happen, so I had braced myself to explain the reasoning behind my decision to eliminate animal products from diet. And the best way to appeal to my mother was through the health reasons behind Veganism. Because my mother is a woman in her mid 40s, I focused the conversation on health issues that concern her. Namely, the links between dairy and osteoporosis and saturated animal fats and diabetes. After a few weeks on this topic, my mother began to also forgo her eggy breakfast and opt instead for a green smoothie. I could not believe my eyes last month when instead of buying milk she bought almond milk.
The feeling of seeing my mother’s grocery cart filled with soyrizo, tofu, almond milk, fruits, and vegetables is inexplicable. It’s not that my family did not eat vegetables or fruits before, but they were always cooked with butter and chicken broth. Now, they take vegetables steamed or raw, realizing that these foods taste delicious on their own.
My family is not vegan. Yet, in increasing their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and legumes and decreasing their intake of processed foods and meats, I find the greatest accomplishment of all in my vegan journey. Why? Because when my mother tells me that she attributes her newfound energy to the fruit/veggie smoothies that replaced her usual eggy breakfast I realize just how effective the small change of swapping out some processed animal products to plant-based whole foods is on the body!
Although my mother is not vegan, it is truly incredible to hear her tell her friends about the benefits of limiting dairy, eggs, and meat from their diet and increasing their fruit and vegetable intake! In making these small changes, they too contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions and animal cruelty. Of course I wish my mom was vegan, but it is the small changes that she has made and the word she spreads to others that gives me hope for a vegan future.
The changes my mom made based on the pieces of information that I have shared with her also allowed me to realize just how important it is to talk about veganism when questions arise. Although those listening may disagree, they are listening. Let’s not forget that planting the seeds of knowledge is the first step on the path towards understanding. In this understanding lies the hopes that one day they may make the change to a compassionate, healthy, and environmentally friendly lifestyle.
As vegans, it is important to keep in mind that many have not had the opportunity to learn about veganism from a vegan’s point of view. Vegans are often portrayed as the butt of jokes, memes, and rarely on a serious note. It is uncommon to hear praise for Vegans except within our own community. When I speak to my family members and friends, I keep in my mind that they may not have an understanding of what it means to be vegan outside of the narrow confines of stereotypes. Therefore, in explaining veganism, I take my defensive hat off and instead put myself in my pre-vegan shoes.
I don’t remember hearing the word “vegan” until I was 20 and in my third year of university. Even then I did not comprehend why others would forgo the standard Western diet of bacon, eggs, and butter for breakfast, or why anyone who ate birria would ever give it up. The way I understood veganism was simply “a person who did not eat food that came from animals” but more importantly, I did not understand WHY. It was not until I was 23 that I finally understood veganism and it’s benefits when I happened upon it.
I always like to use myself as an example: I did not grow up in a community where Vegetarianism, let alone Veganism was prominent. Growing up I knew one vegetarian and met one more before I went off to college at 18. This is not an uncommon story.
I have met many vegans that claim to have never liked meat (and there is nothing wrong with that) and so it is easy to see why non-vegans find that this lifestyle is not suitable to them because they steaks, omelettes, and cheese. Veganism thus becomes an unappealing pursuit to those who do not understand our rejection of the status quo. But here I stand, like many others, an ex-meat, dairy, egg, animal product lover gone vegan. We must share the stories of people like Dr. Colin Campbell, who grew up on a dairy ranch and went on to make groundbreaking discoveries in the links between animal products and chronic diseases, and became vegan himself. In doing so, others will understand that anyone can become a vegan despite of the internalized idea that we need meat/eggs/dairy to function as healthy members of society!
It is indeed important to answer questions when people are curious to learn the whys and hows we choose veganism in order for others to grasp the idea of veganism as doable. So the next time someone asks that pesky question, “where do you get your protein from” tell them proudly of the delicious and complete proteins that we vegans eat!