It started with a cold sweat and then a painful stab in my abdomen.
I was in my community college math class at 8 a.m., doubled over at my desk in pain.
I made a mad dash for the door, convinced I was going to throw up in front of the whole class. As I made it out the door I felt a gas bubble move down my intestines and was immediately relieved.
At first I thought, “I can’t believe how stupid I am. It was just gas.”
But then it happened the next day, and the next.
It became apparent to me that something was up. What that something was, I couldn’t tell.
At the time I worked for LUSH Cosmetics, yes — the bath bomb store. The brand prides itself on using organic and fresh ingredients and catered to the vegan community. This meant a lot of my coworkers were vegans and shared their adventures of trying recipes and attempts at replicating “normal” foods.
I became a vegetarian at 12 because I was convinced that cutting meat out of my diet would help me lose weight and keep it off. Concern for animal well-being and the environmental impacts came second.
Although meat had not been in my diet for 10 years at that point, dairy and cheese helped fill the gaps. Not going to have a chicken taco? Why not have a cheese enchilada.
It wasn’t until I brought up my recent digestive issues to my coworkers that they helped me realize: it was the dairy.
I looked back at what I had eaten every morning and they all had one thing in common: lactose. Whether it was coffee creamer or cream cheese, it was everywhere in my daily diet.
That’s when I began exploring non-dairy options. I didn’t consider myself a vegan because, well, I was still eating dairy pretty regularly, but I was subbing out here and there and the difference was measurable.
The pain had stopped.
Over the next two years, I returned to eating meat and dairy on a regular basis. I was in a relationship at the time where it was easier to just eat everything and anything than to try and find vegan or even vegetarian options.
But five months ago I decided to change all that. I went cold turkey — or should I say Tofurky — and cut out all meat, dairy and animal byproducts.
Like many others, during this pandemic I gained weight. A lot of it. My eating habits turned to shit and I began to feel terrible, inside and out.
I was having symptoms of IBS, and I finally decided that the only person stopping me from being healthy was me. So, I went vegan.
According to Healthline, a vegan diet tends to be higher in nutrients, is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and can help you lose excess weight.
Veganism is also extremely beneficial for the environment.
On average, you could save the same amount of money not showering for six months as you would by not eating a pound of meat, according to CulinarySchools.org.
But I understand that veganism isn’t accessible for everyone.
Meat replacement products are often times more expensive than their real-life counterparts, and restaurants still mark up the price of vegan options. Most coffee shops still charge a fee for non-dairy milks.
There are also cultural connections to dishes that involve meat and other animal byproducts that play hugely important roles in the lives and celebrations of different people.
And to be completely honest, I’m not the perfect vegan. Does eating cheese pizza cause me immense pain? Yes. Do you just need a slice of cheese pizza sometimes? Also, yes.
I think what’s important to remember when making changes to your diet, whether it be for health, moral or ethical reasons, is that you do it for you. Not to jump on some trendy bandwagon or to try and get some guy on Bumble to like you (because that totally had nothing to do with why I recently went vegan again), but because you want to do it.
And it doesn’t have to be totally cold turkey, again — pun intended. It can be one meal a week that you swap your carne asada for marinated jackfruit or your regular coffee creamer for oat milk.
If each American stopped eating chicken once a week, the reduction in CO2 emissions in the air would be the equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the road, according to CulinarySchools.org.
So head to your local grocery store and try that tofu. I promise it only tastes slightly as weird as it looks.