Dairy-Free: My Journey to Veganism

Given that I plan to post a lot about vegan food, I figured I should share how I went vegan in the first place.  I wish I had a grand, soulful, inspiring story to tell, but in truth my dietary shift was a long and gradual process.

Growing up I had a typical Western diet, plus a little Italian flair from my mother’s side of the family.  Dairy and meat abounded in my diet.  Though we cooked most of our own meals and desserts, packaged cookies and chips, as well as processed sugary breakfast cereals, were not strangers to our shelves.  And we weren’t above the occasional swing through a McDonald’s drive-thru.

As a kid, of course, I saw nothing wrong with this.  Oreos and Doritos were awesome treats; McDonald’s fries even more so.  I loved lasagna, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that I made next to no effort to incorporate fresh, whole foods into my daily diet.  I enjoyed fruits and vegetables, but never considered them a staple.

Milk first turned against me when I was ten.  But even with all the symptoms of lactose intolerance staring me in the face like a flashing neon sign, it took thirteen more years for me to seriously consider eliminating dairy from my diet for good.

During that time, I began to realize that I didn’t really like meat any more.  The texture and flavor were no longer as enjoyable to me as they had been when I was younger, and I gradually ate less and less of it until only the occasional sausage or order of General Tso’s chicken crossed my plate.  (Fellow vegetarians/vegans may recognize this as the dreaded “flexitarianism”!)

Finally, enough was enough.  I had my last helping of meat in August of 2008, and began a serious phasing out of diary in October of the same year after an incident involving a can of yogurt and a lack of Lactaid pills, the results of which are unbloggable.

I had heard of veganism but, like most people, didn’t know much about it.  However, when I found myself at the point where I didn’t like meat and could no longer eat dairy, it seemed the logical dietary choice.  Eggs were pretty much a moot point, as I barely ate them to begin with.  And so began my quest to find recipes that were fun and flavorful, while at the same time fulfilled my nutritional needs.

It’s been almost a year since I went vegan.  (Yes, I admit that some dairy products and eggs snuck their way in over the course of the first several months of 2009.)  Now that I’ve tried a variety of new recipes, as well as veganized versions of foods I used to love, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t go back to my former diet even if I could.  I’ve learned a lot about the health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet, and can feel the difference in my own health.  No more lethargy after meals!  No more dairy-related digestive discomfort!  And, best of all, I’m continually trying new foods and cuisine styles that I never considered before.

There’s a lot more to my lifestyle–and yours!–than just food, but what you eat and how your body feels can dictate a lot about what you’re able to do.  Watch for more posts in vegan food, health, and fitness!