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I don't know if my story is all that much different from others that have gone vegan. Well, that's not fully true. I initially tired it to impress a girl. Yes, I tried to stop eating meat to impress a girl. Now, I know that's not the best reason to do anything in life, but like most guys courting a beautiful young lady, I wanted to put my best foot forward to stimulate her interest in me. I met her online and one of the first things I found out was that she identified as vegan. At the time, I had a basic understanding of what being vegan meant. They don't consume any animal products, they love animals, blah blah blah. I even looked up the definition of the word which said: a vegetarian who omits all animal products from their diet and a person who does not use any animal products such as leather and wool. Okay, that's good, but I'm the type of person who "goes hard or goes home" and since I really wanted an opportunity to date this girl I dove deep into the world of veganism and got a lot more then I bargained for.
I read articles, picked up books, watched documentaries, and did general research. I was truly blown away with what I found. Instead of just impressing a girl, I found an absolute ton of benefits to switching to a plant based diet. I mean, I tried vegetarianism a few times. Lasted a week or two at the most. I never really had the knowledge or a proper support system to continue with it. The lure of meat always brought me back. After all this research though, this time it switched from just being about trying to feel a little better to completely changing my entire health. I was 35, extremely overweight, was always tired, sore, bloated and was taking four prescriptions a day, one of which I had been told numerous times that I was much to young to be on. It was at this point I said it was time for a change, a real change. I finished eating the bacon in my fridge, (I'm too cheap to waste food) and set out on a plant based adventure.
I started out by going vegetarian. Like most people, I just loved eggs and cheese too much (especially cheese) to give them up and never thought I would. I added a ton of fruits and veggies to my diet, cut down my pop consumption and gave it the old college try. As these new eating habits continued, I started to notice some exciting changes. I wasn't as bloated anymore, wasn't craving fast food, had more energy and in general just started feeling better. In those first couple of weeks, I dropped 40 lbs. I kid you not! 40 lbs from those little changes. I wasn't even going to the gym or doing anything else different except eating better. Things were going good. But then I started to plateau. The weight stopped coming off and I was getting bored with the food. Like most people, I thought vegans just ate salads, fruits, raw or steamed veggies and some beans. I mean, my ultimate goal was to be completely plant based but I started to question whether I could maintain this. To add more stress and doubt to the situation, I started working at a grocery store around this time and all I could smell was delicious roast chickens cooking every day. The meat cravings were really starting to get to me. I wanted my old foods, the things I was used to, my comforts. I knew they weren't healthy, but I wanted them. So, with the help and support of my new girlfriend (yes the vegan one from online), I set out on a new challenge. I wanted to make vegan foods look and taste as close as possible to the meat-based meals I used to eat.
Now, I must confess, I may have had a trump card going into this new challenge. You see, I have a culinary background. I used to be a Chef. Not some cook flipping pans on a line, but an actual Chef running the show. I even ended up getting my Red Seal Certification in cooking to prove to myself that I knew what I was doing. But, I had left that industry a long time ago from burn out. (Another story for another time) And to be honest, they don't teach you a lot about plant-based cooking in culinary school. There's a huge focus on meat. So what did I do? I hopped back on the internet and restarted my research. I followed vegans on Instagram, read vegan recipes, picked up a few vegan cookbooks, and watched full meals being made on YouTube. When I was out grocery shopping, I was reading packages, labels, ingredient lists, and picking up vegetables I had never even seen before. I was determined to make vegan food as similar and hearty as the foods I grew up on, minus any animal products. At 1st I assumed it never would be the same, but after some trial and error things started coming together. I ditched eggs after making things like tofu scramble and eggless egg salad sandwiches. Cheese didn't survive much longer after that when I found vegan cheese alternatives, and even started making my own plant based cheese. I was getting really confident at this point but somewhere deep inside me I still had that faint craving for meat. So one morning, while walking through the mall, I decided to give into that craving and bought myself a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich. It was the worst decision ever. My body had been animal free for sometime now so that it instantly rejected the sandwich. Next thing I knew, I was fleeing for the nearest bathroom. That test was more then enough to prove to me that I didn't need meat. No animals have entered my body since.
Things were going amazing at this point. I was now vegan, my repertoire of plant based meals was ever growing, I lost a little more weight, got off three of my medications and had a stunning relationship with a gorgeous vegan girl who had be supporting me every step of the way. Then one night I started to think about that word "vegan." Was I a true vegan? I mean, I stopped eating anything that came from an animal. That's all it is, right? Don't eat animals and you can call yourself a vegan? That didn't seem right. I mean, being vegan is about more then just diet. It's a whole lifestyle and it seemed like I had only embraced the diet part. What was the definition of vegan again? Someone who doesn't eat anything animal based AND doesn't use any animal products such as leather and wool.
Hmmm. Why not wool? They're just shaving an animal, right? They're not killing it. Not fully understanding, this I was back to studying. I read, I watched, I listened, and I was starting to get it. Then I came across a movie that completely pushed me over the edge, Earthlings. My girl and I sat there watching this, with tears in our eyes, shock on our faces, jaws completely in awe and anger starting to build up inside us. That's when it clicked. I mean, I was horrified with how people treated the animals that we ate, but this went far beyond that. Enough was enough. This was no way to treat our fellow creatures. I was ashamed at our species. It was at that moment that I started to go into vegan overdrive. I shunned products that were tested on animals, I switched to natural cleaners and soaps that were made from things like avocado and aloe. I cancelled my plans to visit the zoo and aquarium, because I coundn't, in my right mind, support anything or anyone that makes a profit from the exploitation of animals. I searched out animal sanctuaries, we hopped in the car, and for the first time I started to feel like a real and true vegan in every sense of the word.
As of today, it's only been about seven months since I've fully embraced the world of veganism but it feels like a lifetime ago since I ate meat and supported that lifestyle. I'm happy and healthy and feel like I'm making a real change in this world. Almost every day I get asked why I'm vegan, told that it's not healthy, that humans were meant to eat animals, yadda yadda yadda. At first, these things used to get to me and I would get very defensive and want to argue. But now, I have so much knowledge to backup my choices that when someone does want to start an argument, I have ten times the fire power they ever will and I have yet to lose an argument with a meat eater. I've also learned there's no point in getting mad at people who want to question your choices. If anything, I feel sorry for them because they just haven't opened their eyes to the realities and impact that consuming flesh has on our health, on the animals and on our environment. I know my journey is far from over, and I was going to stop my story here, but a funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago.....
My girlfriend and myself were at a veg festival walking around when the top vegan chef in the city passed by us. She's a huge fan of his but was too nervous to say hi, so I took her over and we introduced ourselves. After a quick chat and him finding out about my culinary background, he suggested that if I wanted to get back into the industry to send him my resume. My girl was absolutely floored that this huge vegan chef had said this. I kinda brushed it off as I had done my time in the kitchen and didn't really want to go back. I was doing retail up to this point and wasn't exactly happy, but the thought of cooking professionally again had never really crossed my mind. The girlfriend and I had a few chats and I figured, ok, what the heck, I'll send him my resume for fun. What's the worst that could happen? I received a call not long after from his assistant informing me that there was an opening at his restaurant and was adamant I come in for an interview. Again, I hesitated but figured there's no harm in having a chat. Plus I had yet to visit his restaurant, so I came in for an interview.
The chef and I had a chat and he informed me that he had just hired someone for the open position in his kitchen. I was kinda bummed out but at the same time I got to meet this amazing fellow vegan and we got to talk about our culinary roots, where we came from and our journey to veganism. Just when I thought the interview was over and we were about to say our goodbyes he started mentioning how he was in the process of opening a new organic vegan restaurant, one that would blow his current one away, and how with my experience I'd be perfect for it. I was completely taken aback. He told me to go home, think about it and email him in a few days. This again led to another round of chats with the girlfriend (who of course wanted me to take it) and some deep soul searching. I mean, I left the industry in the first place cause I wasn't happy anymore and was utterly burned out. How was this going to be any different? The fact that I wasn't going to be cooking anything animal-based was a great start, and the knowledge I'd gain from working under this chef would be invaluable, but I still wasn't feeling it. Then one morning it was announced that this chef was named the top chef in the entire city — not the top vegan chef, but THE top chef. Right after that, I got a call from him, then an email, then another call. The top chef in the entire metropolitan area was trying hard to entice me to come work at his new restaurant. I'd have to be a fool to not see the signs. I still had some hesitation, I mean, I haven't been in a kitchen in about five years now. I'm not a young buck anymore. Could I even do this? I expressed these to the Chef, who didn't seem to care because he knew my background, that I had my Red Seal and saw that I had a passion for vegan food but he did give me some advice. He said, "Nervous is good. The stuff that makes you grow is never easy. Work hard, kick ass and I promise you will go far with me!"
That was exactly what I needed to hear. I was sold. It was time to take the next step on this journey. I'll be donning the white coat again, only this time I'll be feeding people food that is organic, cruelty free and is good for the soul.