Veganism is something that I’ve always known I’d head towards. I had stints of vegetarianism throughout my youth and by the time I went fully gluten and dairy free, I knew I was slowly preparing myself for a life of meal accommodations, annoying social outings and ridiculous inconvenience.
And I wasn’t wrong.
The next few years were all about mastering how to ask a waitress/waiter/host/hostess/friend/co-worker/PORTUGUESE MOTHER whether or not the food I was about to eat had any dairy or gluten in it. Difficult when most people have no real idea how to tell and/or how to find the hidden ingredients in a standard ingredient list. It took some getting used to, but slowly, even my Portuguese mother learned how to accommodate my meal restrictions at Sunday dinner.
Cutting dairy and gluten out of my life was life changing. Truly and completely. I had recently been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, Vitiligo and Celiac, all in the matter of a year. My skin was breaking out and my digestive system and metabolism had almost shut down. Essentially, my body was attacking itself and no one could explain why. Suddenly, my new diet began to ease the symptoms; my skin was clearing and I was finally getting some relief for my severe constipation and irritable bowel – because it was one or the other. I was finally able to lose the weight from my 2nd and 3rd back to back children and life was finally getting back to a new normal.
Nutrition literally became my medicine.
Having to restrict so many things already tends to give the illusion that the transition to becoming vegan would be an easy one. WRONG! Having to give up so many of my favourite comfort foods, actually made me hold on tighter to the things I had left; meat and eggs!
Still, I toyed with the idea of veganism, each time dismissing the overwhelming thought of losing more of my identity. After all, who was Sandra without burgers and bacon? Seriously though, I LOVE burgers and bacon!
In my life, I pride myself on making the impossible, possible. I have yet to encounter a challenge I haven’t been able to overcome. But how would my pizza loving, egg snacking, weekly chicken wing eating self EVER be ok with going completely vegan?!?! I had my doubts about even MY ability to make this happen!
Instead, I set the goal for veganish. Almost vegan. Vegan, but not.
And even though the decision had been made to go veganish, it took a long time before I could bring myself to set a start date for this lifestyle – years, actually. The main reason for that delay was, well, vegans.
Almost every vegan I met in the course of my life, and I met a lot of them, had this air of judgement towards meat eaters that really bothered me. Personally and professionally, I try to accept the choices people make for themselves with as little judgement as possible and I’ve never been a fan of those that feel their way is the only way. I never wanted to be that vegan. You know, like the former smokers that have become the annoying non-smokers? Same idea – different poison.
Besides the judgement I often felt, I had not yet met a vegan who was really into physical fitness; more specifically strength training. I knew they had to exist but the only ones I knew personally were fairly thin and wanted nothing to do with lifting weights. Yes, maybe I left this out of my research and shouldn’t have, but again, I was finding it difficult to see myself as a traditional vegan. Don’t get me wrong, I clearly stopped heavy lifting a while ago, but the gym is a very important part of my life and being physically strong is another part of my identity I didn’t want to have to give up.
And then the Veg Fest in Toronto happened this summer!!!
My girlfriend asked if I was free on the weekend to attend with her, and I happened to be. When we got there, the first person I met was Dominick Thompson – owner of “Crazies and Weirdos”, an animal activist, and a vegan multi-athlete. A former gang member and drug dealer, Dom became vegan while in prison and never looked back.
This was NOT my idea of a typical vegan.
Next, we went to watch John Lewis (and one of Dom’s best friends) speak. John is the founder of “Bad Ass Vegan” and Vegan Smart. He is a well renowned fitness expert and he’s sarcastic as hell and funny as F***. Suddenly I found myself sitting there thinking “hey, I can be THIS kind of vegan!” There was no judgement, no pushing, just a couple of individuals living their lives the best way they knew how and sharing their knowledge. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
By the end of the evening, I had made the decision to do a 30 day vegan challenge.
A couple days later, I watched “Cowspiracy” and everything changed.
Now, most vegans hate me when I say this but it’s my blog and I’m going to honest – I’ve never much cared for animal rights. Sure, it bothered me enough to make me uncomfortable and I would sign the occasional petition if caught at the right time, but no one would have ever been able to convince me to be vegan with a discussion about animals.
I have spent my life fighting for human rights, but I had never felt that way about animals. I enjoy them, but I didn’t much care about the animals I was raised to eat. I remember living in Portugal and helping to feed the animals in my grandparent’s backyard. I remember the rabbits they would raise, in order to eat, and the chicken coop where we picked fresh eggs in the morning. I had never known life without knowing that certain animals and animal products, were eaten. The end.
Environmental concerns were similar. I turned my lights off, tried not to waste water, handed out energy efficient bulbs at community events, I did the things I heard I should do but unfortunately, I didn’t do much of my own research. I honestly had no idea what the real impact of animal diets was on the environment, on our planet.
So here I was…thinking about veganism…having learned much from a couple vegans I could actually relate to…and then I sat down on my couch and decided to watch this documentary.
I was completely overwhelmed.
My mind was overflowing with a guilt I had never experienced. I sat with that for a couple days, processing.
Then I watched “What the Health” and I was lost.
Before anything else, I had studied fitness and nutrition. Years of working in the fitness industry, I had made a living teaching people how to eat, supplements that would assist them in their goals, how to train to be bigger, better, faster, stronger, healthier, etc. All of that was centered around an animal based diet.
I was suddenly uncomfortable with everything I thought I knew and everything I now needed to learn. The impossible now HAD to be possible. I didn’t want to go another day without taking action, veganism suddenly became less of a choice than a need.
And suddenly, I was vegan.
The 30 day challenge became more of a lifetime lifestyle goal and there was no going back.
Ignorance cannot be bliss.