My Journey Back To A Plant-Based Diet
“There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.” — Charles Darwin
Note: This article isn’t aimed at changing anyone’s mind. There are plenty of resources out there for that. This is aimed at those that want to be vegan, but fear they can’t due to the choices they’ve made for their health.
“Daddy, I don’t want you to eat piggies anymore,” my some pleaded with me as we walked out of the petting zoo. We were at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire and had just pet a beautiful plump pig. The petting zoo had a little wooden backscratcher next to this pig’s stall, and when my son and used it on this beautiful creature she rolled over offering her belly, requesting more scratches. It was one of the most endearing moments I’d ever experienced with an animal and it moved my son in a big way. In only an instant, I promised to honor my son’s wish, and it started a snowball effect on how I regarded my food choices from that moment on.
Years ago, I became a vegan because I wanted to improve my health and to do my part to reduce the catastrophic impact on our planet that animal food production causes. I was also concerned by the fact that even the most cruelty-free meat farms still cause pain to animals, because suffering is suffering regardless to how quick the death is and how “pasture-raised” animals are. It was difficult as the online resources were not as accessible as they are now, and smart phones didn’t exist yet to find out which menu items at a particular restaurant were animal free. Despite feeling better eating a plant-based diet, I acquiesced to eating animal products, initiated on a date with a woman who felt uncomfortable with my eating choices.
Years later, I attempted again, largely to help reduce my weight as I was morbidly obese. My eating choices proved complicated for my then wife as it limited the restaurants we could go to, and in general annoyed her. I again gave up on being a vegan despite wishing to remain one.
A couple years ago I underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost a tremendous amount of weight at a record pace. It completely transformed my life in ways that still amaze me. Soon after, I found myself single again, and I strongly considered trying to become vegan again. Unfortunately, protein consumption was so critical for me, even years after the surgery. Gastric bypass surgery incurs a higher risk of malabsorption of critical nutrients, so making sure I didn’t develop malnutrition issues was a huge concern. I did a lot of online research and I found an overwhelming consensus that my body’s new digestive configuration would not take well to completely plant-based diet. Some forum posts seemed positive on the idea, but most nutritionists disagreed. I gave up on being able to become a vegan ever again, and simply focused on limiting animal protein, opting for as cruelty-free options as I could find yet still consumed what I felt was too much of it.
This brings me back to the time of my promise to my son. I had decided to remove pork products from my life. I wasn’t big on eating bacon to begin with, since chewing it to a sufficient level to be able to swallow it was often impossible, as my stomach was largely non-functioning, and my stomach pouch could become blocked quite easily with inadequately chewed food. My entire digestive system is shorter than most people as a result of the surgery, akin more to a true carnivore. Food I eat doesn’t digest for four hours in my stomach and another two in my duodenum. It’s straight into the intestines for me. I did enjoy eating things like slow roasted carnitas, pork dumplings, etc., but how could I ever look my son in the eye if I went back on my promise to him?
The next animal protein to fall from my diet was read meat collectively. I’ve never been a huge red meat carnivore, preferring chicken, fish or turkey, and I would often always choose turkey burgers to beef, but he realization of how much damage to the environment that the production of a single beef burger patty wreaks made me swear off red meat all together. Again it was an outing with my son, to the Aquarium of the Pacific’s new Pacific Visions exhibit that helped me make this decision. I know the topic of public aquariums is a bit of a controversial topic among animal rights advocates, but this aquarium is a true non-profit and promoting protection of our environment and saving animals. Who would care about saving many of these amazing sea creatures if you didn’t see them in real life?
A bit over a year ago, I’d been on a first, and last, date with an interesting woman who was vegan. At the time I was on a high milk whey diet for my protein needs, and she had expressed no issue with my being a non-vegan. We went out to dinner and were having a very delicious meal at a local vegan bistro. However, in the course of our dinner conversation, she blurted out,“Guys that eat a lot of dairy don’t taste good… is that inappropriate to say?” After needing a second glass of wine to finish that evening, I got to thinking about what she’d said. Soon after, I switched my protein powder / shake choices over to pea isolate protein and greatly reduced my dairy content considering the impact that dairy was having on my overall health. I almost immediately felt better and healthier. After having dropped red meat, I now dropped dairy completely.
The last thing was eggs, fowl and seafood. I stumbled on a video of a man returning to a farm where the turkey he’d raised a couple years prior came running up to him and actually hugging him. I remembered my grandmother had had a number of chickens in her backyard, which ate food waste and grain but produced amazing eggs — which I grew up eating. She also had a turkey when I was in college. As part of my familial duties, I would help tend to these birds and I’d grown quite fond of that turkey. On weekends I would often eat my lunch out back with this turkey sitting next to me, cuddling like a dog or cat would. Chickens and turkeys are amazingly warm and loving creatures when they learn to trust a human. They will recognize you and show true signs of affection. I couldn’t imagine eating that beautiful turkey hen my grandmother had had anymore than consuming one of her cats.
Remembering all of this, I decided to go vegan completely, eschewing any animal products. No more meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, honey or any related animal byproducts. I donated almost everything I had made from leather or feathers to a fellow vegan artist friend who re-purposes these materials for her business. I replaced personal care products with plant-based cruelty-free ones. I still have some shoes and boots with leather in them, and as soon as they wear out they will be replaced with vegan alternatives.
But my nutritional needs required changes from conventional vegan options. Grains, rice and pasta can be tricky when you have a gastric pouch instead of a working stomach. As a gastric bypass vegan I have to focus more on legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts for the required protein. Chopping vegetables very finely allows me to eat more fibrous vegetables as well. I already was taking more than thrice the required vitamins, with iron, calcium, vitamin D and B12, so I switched to non-gelatin vegan supplements for those. I also added in the addition of crushed flax seeds to my morning breakfast protein shake to get those much needed omega fatty acids.
Honestly, I’ve never felt better. By researching out meals, and looking for vegan options on my phone at restaurants, I’ve been able to find some very delicious food options and maintain a social life. I’ve also been blessed with a number of close vegan friends that I can go out to eat with, as well as cook for. Nobody can beat my veggie pizzas and vegan dinners… just ask my son. He is not a vegan, so I do prepare food with dairy and eggs for him. I only ask him to try out vegan foods when I make them. He’s moving closer to being a vegetarian with me, but I will leave it to be his choice, ultimately.
I am now a practical ethical vegan. I’ve even given up alcohol and most caffeine, now making me a vegan straight edge. I’ve noticed my sense of intuition is off the charts now, and my energy level is so much better. Every aspect of my life feels sharper, clearer and happier. Our species evolved as mostly vegetarian, according to newer discovered science. Even the common belief that vegan diets are harmful due to a lack of vitamin B12 is largely attributed to the fact that we wash our food and don’t get our ancestral source of B12 from bacteria-laden soil on our food. I truly enjoy my food and when people ask me what the heck I eat, if not meat and cheese, I state that there are over 20,000 different edible plants and I am far from being hungry or missing out.
The simple truth is that eating animal products is exceptionally harmful to the environment, incredibly bad for our health and unarguably cruel to the animals themselves. I know some may read this, or see me, and claim I’m not a true vegan for this reason or that. In truth, removing all animal products from your life is nearly impossible, as even car tires have some animal derived products. I simply strive never eat or apply to my body anything that has components that come from an animal. I’m not preaching anything here, but I am testifying to how happy this has made me.
I am a vegan because I love this planet. I am a vegan because I love animals. I am a vegan because I take my own personal health very seriously. I am a vegan so I can look at animals and know that I am no longer part of the problem that causes them pain… I’m part of the solution that saves our shared planet.