The road that has led me to follow a plant-based diet has been a long one...one with many twists and turns, various ethical conflicts, and more truths than I would have ever wanted to know.
My current diet is ~95% plant-based. I've worked really hard over the past year to achieve this level of dedication, but truthfully, I'm not yet 100% committed. I'll get more into the details of this later, but the simple fact is that I still eat cheese a couple times a month, so this makes up ~5% of my diet.
Transitioning to a plant-based diet hasn't been easy or simple by any means. Every day I work on improving my dedication and making better decisions so that I can dwindle this remaining 5% down to 0%. I'm happy and proud of where I am right now, even with knowing that I still have improvements to make.
So, here I am to share my story of how I transitioned my diet to be mostly plant-based and to discuss a few challenges that I faced along my way.
I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of why I choose to follow a plant-based diet. I'll just say that this is a very personal decision and I feel my best when I eat plant-based foods.
Since I was 16 I’ve bounced back and forth between vegetarian, vegan, and “normal” diets. I struggled to stay strong in any particular diet because 1. It was weird to be 16 and be the only vegetarian or vegan amongst your family and friends, 2. I love cheese, and 3. I’ve never liked defining myself as any one such thing.
When I was younger I felt weird and pretentious calling myself a “vegetarian” or a “vegan”. At this age it was also difficult for me to clearly express and defend my choices. I just wanted to feel normal, so eating “normally” made this easier. I struggled with these issues for a while (...like 10 years), until I finally decided that the right decision for me was to finally commit to not eating meat.
At the start of 2018, I decided to once and for all cut meat out of my diet.
Throughout college I had significantly cut down on my meat intake. I wasn't eating meat more than once a month, and when I did it was always in a group setting. I found it most challenging to say no to meat when I was around other people. I didn’t want to be the one person who needed my diet to be worked around. It wasn’t even like I really enjoyed eating meat, but it was just easier to eat it than to suggest alternatives and hope that people don't judge my choices. Which, by the way, no one is doing!
During this time, I knew that my decrease in meat intake was impactful, but in the back of my mind I still constantly questioned my ethics. I kept landing on the same question that I had asked myself years before: Why am I still eating meat? I honestly didn’t even know anymore. Was I afraid that people would judge me? Was I so convinced that my life would be easier as a meat-eater? Was I in fear that I might miss out on something truly delicious? I mean sure, bacon on a pizza can be tasty, but are these seriously the only reasons I'm still eating meat? This seemed so silly!
I was fed up with my self-doubt. I wanted to stop eating meat and I wanted my decision to be permanent.
This was when my mindset truly began to change. Making meat free dinners was easy for me. I’ve always loved beans, quinoa, and vegetables, so there wasn’t a big change needed there. I even started expanding my horizons and cooking with tofu and tempeh. These items were a bit daunting for me at first because I had only eaten them in restaurants, but as I learned how to cook them they became Go-Tos for easy and satisfying weeknight dinners.
When it came to eating out and group gatherings, I would always make it clear that we needed one veggie option. Of course, no one ever minded, and when we ordered the cheese pizza with veggie toppings it was always the first one to be devoured 😉 Also, luckily for me, the Impossible Burger came into the spotlight at this time and there were SO many restaurants around the Bay Area offering it. When we would go out for burgers, I’d do my research and suggest a restaurant that had the Impossible Burger. Everyone was able to eat what they wanted, and my decision to remove meat from my diet was proving to be completely sustainable.
During the first 6 months of going meat free, I once again found myself questioning my ethics. Though, this time, after reading many articles and watching various documentaries, I questioned my consumption of egg and dairy products. I had an overwhelmingly strong desire to remove these foods from my diet. I had been drinking almond milk since my college days, simply because I hated the taste of dairy milk, so no changes were needed there. But, dairy also includes cheese, and cheese is one of my favorite foods! I thought about all of the foods I love that use cheese as a CRITICAL component: pizza, grilled cheese, quesadilla, mac n’cheese… and the list goes on! Then, I thought about butter and eggs. These two ingredients are staples in baking.
How can I bake without butter and eggs!?
So, I began with baby steps. I slowly started transforming all of my favorite bakery recipes to be free of dairy butter and eggs. This obviously came with numerous failures. It took some time for me to find the right vegan butter, i.e. one that doesn’t taste oxidized and rancid once it’s baked. I wanted to find a butter that had a good flavor with similar melting and creaming properties of dairy butter. After much trial and error, I discovered Miyoko’s Kitchen vegan butter and I haven’t looked back since.
Now that I had found my substitute for dairy butter I was on a quest to find my best egg substitute. I had been using flax eggs since I was in high school, and quite honestly, I didn’t care for them. The appearance of the flax meal in some of my baked products bothered me, and occasionally I could taste the flax in the final product. Functionally, it worked really well, but I wasn't convinced that this was the best option.
I started experimenting with Aquafaba. Aquafaba basically means "bean water." It's the carbohydrate rich liquid that results from cooking beans in water. While the beans cook, their starches leach into the water and gelatinize. This gelatinization is what gives aquafaba its binding property, similar to that of an egg. Any can of beans is full of aquafaba, and after all, I was eating A LOT of beans, so I was not low on aquafaba! After much experimentation, I found the proper Aquafaba usage for various baking applications and I felt really comfortable using this as an egg replacement.
By the late summer of 2018, I was baking only vegan products and I was really happy with my recipes! I was able to work through the daunting challenges of vegan baking and I could continue eating my favorite desserts.
Baking plant-based desserts was a critical step for me to feel comfortable in truly transitioning to vegan.
In order to complete my transition to a plant-based diet, my final (and current) step is to entirely stop eating cheese.
In the summer of 2018, I decided to stop eating cheese cold turkey. I endured two months with absolutely no cheese. To compensate, I became a nut butter and avocado addict. These foods helped to satisfy the fat cravings that cheese would normally satiate. For a while, it worked. When I would have really intense cravings I would try various cheese alternatives on the market, and though they tasted okay, they just didn’t do the job for me. After a couple of months with no cheese I developed EXTREMELY strong cravings. Sometimes, I just couldn’t get my mind off of cheese and I would literally salivate as my family and friends would eat it. It got weird. So, I decided that instead of going cold turkey I should take baby steps and attempt to "wean" myself off of cheese. I'm currently doing this by allowing cheese into my diet ~ twice a month in hopes that I will soon no longer have cheese cravings.
When I do treat myself to cheese, I try to purchase locally from nearby dairies and farms. Some nearby farms have their cows living on a beautiful mountain cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
For myself, maintaining a 95% plant-based diet is a huge accomplishment, and right now this is sustainable for me. I’ll continue chugging away to turn that 95% into 100%, but for the moment I'm happy, I feel good, and I'm making an impact. I hope to have an update to this page in 2020 where I share my secret to cutting out cheese.
The most critical tool that I've learned in transitioning to a plant-based diet is sustainability. My diet needs to provide me with nourishment and affectively satisfy by mind, body, and soul for me to be able to maintain it.
At the end of the day, my food needs to be filling, satisfying, and tasty!
It’s been a roller coaster over the past 10 years! I hope that if you're considering going vegan my story gives you the motivation, inspiration, and optimism to get started and/or persevere on this amazing journey!