Notes from an Incidental Vegan

“I’m a vegan.” Though you are seeing those words on the internet, I am fairly certain you have a mental image of the girl you ascribe them to. She probably has long hair, perhaps in dreadlocks, and there’s not a doubt that she drives her Prius to Omega for summer vacation, right?

Wrong.

I have never fit that description but for 6 months I somehow adhered to veganism, an experience that proved to be much different than I ever thought it would be. So how did I transition from a lifestyle wrought with skim milk and Hamburger Helper to one without any foods from animal sources? Well, by now we all know that college has some very strange effects on the mind . . .

Just before I started college, I cleaned up my eating habits quite a bit. Once there, I stood in line with my plastic tray in hand, standing on tiptoes to see what was waiting behind the sneeze protectors. It dawned on me that I didn’t want to touch any of the meat in the dining hall. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing tastier than a well-stuffed pork chop, but where in the world was this meat coming from? Were the animals coming from a place that would gross me out if I had seen it in person? I couldn’t be sure, and so I decided to bypass traveling tacos and mystery meat until further notice.

Around the same time, I was (unfairly) blaming the dining hall food for the terrible cramps and bloating I had begun experiencing. I talked to a good friend and health food guru about it. “I don’t think it’s the food that’s bothering you,” she insisted. “It’s dairy. You know that stuff’s no good for you. Don’t have any for 2 weeks and see how you feel.”

What? My parents practically poured milk down my throat as a child because of how essential it is to “strong bones and teeth.” Surely, you’ve heard the same as me. Not to mention that everyone insists drinking skim milk promotes weight loss.  How could this wonder drink be bad? I was startled to realize that a huge debate is brewing that says milk might not be healthy at all.  After hearing so many horror stories about dairy, I decided that it might be the cause of my indigestion after all. So I ditched it for the recommended 2 weeks. No soft serve (!!), no yogurt parfaits, no milk and cereal. More than that, any baked goods, soups, breads, or anything else that contained milk or eggs was out of the picture. I just about went into withdrawals, literally.

You see, I’m certainly not a chemistry major, so I had to learn from experience that milk contains some proteins that give it an addictive quality (Which must be why I guiltlessly annihilate half-gallons of ice cream with a spoon). For those 2 weeks, I felt anything but better. All I did was crave everything I couldn’t eat. But after those 14 days, I had defeated my demon and my tummy was considerably happier without milk.

It was time to make a decision about whether or not to actually live life as a vegan.

Disgusting factory farms produce meat.
Dairy is pretty much riddled with opioids and can actually cause calcium deprivation.

My head was spinning. If animal-based foods are this gross, should I be vegan?
After much deliberation, I realized the answer for me was no.

Even though I have met many happy vegans, I suspended my foray into veganism after half a  year. Though lightening up on dairy products made my stomach troubles cease, my energy was completely zapped; I didn’t feel as robust and alert as before. My verve was missing, and for me it was no coincidence that my yogurt cups were, too. I let a moderate amount of dairy back into my life, and I felt whole again.

So what now? I eat meat, but I try to do so consciously. I aim for certified organic meat, and I love when I am able to find good meat close to home. Basically, I want to know the animals I am eating lived a good life and were handled by knowledgeable people. I still pass by meat entrees in the dining hall, and when I pay $8 a pack for respectable hot dogs you know I’m not grilling too many this summer. But it works for me. I still drink milk in moderation, and that too is organic.

The war is still waging about whether or not there is any benefit to dairy. While I can’t offer any concrete scientific evidence that milk is healthy, I know it’s healthy for me because of what it gives to me. I can’t say that it works for everyone. The most important message I got out of my eating experiments is that everyone has to find their own food philosophy. We all can’t be omnivores. We all can’t be vegetarians. We can only do what works for our bodies and minds. At this stage of my life, I am turning veganism down. I’m still deciding, though, if I would turn down a Prius or not . . .

The 5 Questions We Ask Everyone: Dietician, Melanie Jatsek
The 5 Questions We Ask Everyone: Dietician, Melanie Jatsek
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