I was raised in a traditional home where our evening family dinners consisted of meat, poultry or fish, a vegetable and a starch, all swished down by a cold glass of cow’s milk. Keep in mind that in the 1980s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) considered this a complete meal as outlined by their Food Wheel.
In 1992, the wheel was replaced with the Food Guide Pyramid. The pyramid was then replaced in 2005 by the MyPyramid, which was replaced a short six years later by MyPlate.
It’s obvious that we’re listening to a governing body about what’s nutritionally best for our own bodies. The problem is, they keep changing their mind.
So, my vegan journey began at the age of seventeen.
Goodbye, Red Meat
Though I never actually enjoyed red meat — the color, texture, flavor, etc. — I was programmed with a story about survival that said animal protein was required to live.
But I was an adult now and ready to make my own choices. The day I set out in my white Toyota Celica to attend the University of Arizona was the last day I consumed red meat. You can imagine the shock to my family when I chose a diet that would challenge the USDA’s 1980s Food Wheel.
I’d like to tell you I felt better, but I didn’t. By getting my protein from other animal sources — poultry, fish and dairy — I was just substituting red meat with other antibiotics and hormones.
After college, I started questioning every food item I was ingesting. I asked myself, “If I eliminate the condiments, do I really enjoy what remains?” The answer was a resounding no. Chicken sandwiches were nothing without those embellishments, so I eighty-sixed poultry.
Up until this point, I savored cheese, but never cared for milk. I was often fatigued and bloated, especially after eating dairy. Years later, I underwent a food allergy test that revealed I was completely allergic to casein (the protein in cow’s milk) and egg whites. That day, I said goodbye to everything in the coop and on the farm.
My parents thought I would die — but I didn’t.
(Hello and) Goodbye, Soy
I began replacing cow’s milk with soy milk. My morning mucus and sinus issues vanished almost instantly. I found my new BFF, the soybean. I could savor burgers, ice cream — even hot dogs — all made from soy.
Life was good. Until it wasn’t.
I was enjoying a cornucopia of soy entrees, until one day I stopped menstruating. I was 30 years old. I visited countless doctors with no answers. It took me a full year and a slew of research to discover that the abundance of soy in my diet had created estrogen dominance. Turns out, this little green bean is a phytoestrogen that contains isoflavones, a compound similar in structure to estrogen, and excess estrogen can create a lot of really negative side effects.
Well, at least I had fish left in my diet.
Aware of the dangers of heavy metals in fish, and some pretty gruesome facts about farm-raised fish and the antibiotics given to them, I stuck with wild caught whenever available. Then, I stumbled upon an article by the Associated Press citing the vast number of pharmaceutical drugs that were showing up in water and tainting wildlife, including seafood. That was it. I’d had enough.
The Plant-Based Plunge
On Feb. 26, 2016, I made the decision to be vegan. I’ve never felt better, stronger or more energetic. Yes, I get enough protein. I also take no medications, have seen a noticeable improvement in my skin and enjoy a clean bill of health.
Today, I enjoy all sorts of delicious foods including plant-based pizza, casseroles, sweet treats and even vegan sushi.
Doing the Math
As you can see, going vegan is a journey — one in which my husband and I lost a combined total of over fifty-five pounds. But what we’ve gained is more impressive. Over the past two years, we’ve saved over $4,000 dollars by choosing a vegan lifestyle, eating out less and cooking in more.
Real Meal Examples
To give you an idea, we used to eat California or crab hand rolls when dining out for sushi which cost about $10 each. With two people eating three rolls each, the cost typically came out to $60. Now, we make our own brown rice sushi using nori wraps, vegetables and some soy sauce, and the cost for each homemade roll is approximately $4.50. This means $27 per meal, for a total savings of $33.
Similarly, we used to make our own crab cakes, each one costing about $5 to make. We’d make about six of them — so $30 a meal. Now, we make vegan crab cakes from hearts of palm and garbanzo beans, and each one costs about $2 to make — so $12 for six of them. That is a savings of $18 a meal.
Keep in mind, we were eating seafood about twice a week. This means an average savings of $40 a week, multiplied by 104 weeks (two years of being vegan) comes out to $4,160.
Beyond the Numbers: the Spiritual Secret
There’s something no one really addresses about a plant-based diet and it’s the spiritual clarity and peace of mind that comes with knowing that your lifestyle doesn’t contribute to the exploitation of the vulnerable. While the cruelty of factory farms and inhumane treatment of animals still exists, we sleep more soundly knowing our choices, in a small way, are reducing this harm to living beings that have feelings, friends and families. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”