Why I Will No Longer Be Mocking Vegans

Okay, okay, I admit it: I used to notoriously make fun of vegans. Whenever I heard about veganism, I’d roll my eyes and do my best impersonation of a snobby, high-maintenance Californian actress talking about her quinoa addiction and passion for Whole Foods. I’d joke about my vegan friends eating grass or rocks (as long as they were laughing with me, of course) and purposely shun eating anything labeled “vegan” out of fear it would taste disgusting.

Things started to change when I came to UMass and had the liberty of making my own food decisions. There were so many vegetarian options that I decided to go vegetarian; it was something I had wanted to do for years out of my love for animals but had a hard time committing to in a home of Portuguese meat-lovers. I’ve never been a huge fan of meat to begin with (besides chicken tenders — a picky eater’s best friend), so going vegetarian was relatively easy for me. I learned to try a lot of new vegetables and discovered a love for tofu. Although I initially craved meat, now when I look at meat it repulses me and I have no desire to eat it. After about a month or two of eating a vegetarian diet, people started commenting that my skin was clearing up and brightening somewhat. I didn’t necessarily feel healthier, but I did feel better about myself because the guilt I had after eating meat was no longer weighing me down.

One day I found myself crying after watching a video about the dairy and egg industry, seeing all those animals cooped up and suffering, and I realized these industries were just as bad as the meat industry. I decided to challenge myself and go vegan for a week. What was the worst that could happen?

During this week, I ate plenty of oatmeal, peanut butter, fruit, vegetables, tofu, beans and rice — way more carbs and fiber than I was used to. At the beginning of the week, I felt bloated and hungry even though I had eaten plenty of food — probably way more calories than my body needed, in retrospect. But by the end of the week, my body had gotten accustomed to eating this way. I had plenty of energy, my skin had cleared up even more, and my conscience felt a whole lot lighter. While I don’t think I can maintain a full-blown vegan lifestyle now (because ice cream and pizza still exist), I am still a vegetarian and I try to eat vegan for two meals a day.

I realized my preconceived notions about veganism stemmed from my own ignorant attribution to veganism with superficiality. I assumed that people who went vegan did it to look good or to stand out, but now I understand that commitment to a vegan lifestyle involves being truly connected to your own morals, empathetic to other living beings, and deeply in tune to the health of your body. I realized that my previous tendency to make fun of vegans was rooted in jealousy and some twisted form of admiration — if I couldn’t do it (and I so wanted to do it), I needed to make myself feel better about it in some way.

From now on, I’m going to try my hardest to stop judging the food decisions that other people make. Someone else’s body is not my body and someone else’s life is not my life. Unless other people’s food habits are inherently dangerous or disordered, I am going to try and refrain from criticizing them out loud and even in my head. It’s not going to help anyone and it’s none of my business.

If you’re looking for the extra push to go vegan or vegetarian, here it is! Instead of thinking about what you’re giving up, think about what you’re adding: more opportunities to try new foods, more vitamins, more color to your plate, and even an increased awareness to the ethics around you. You don’t have to label the way you eat or follow strict guidelines, and even small changes can make a huge difference in the way you look and feel. Plus, you get to save some cute, innocent animals in the process.

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