WRITTEN BY: Sarah
For the last 9 years, since my Celiac diagnosis, I have been gluten-free.
For the last 10 years, on and off, I have been vegan/vegetarian, and am now completely vegan.
Why you ask, would I willingly give myself so many dietary restraints? Isn't life difficult enough without severely limiting my options when it comes to what I am eating? How does one find the time or money or self-discipline to eat that way?
For me, I have embraced this as a wonderful new way of living, one that makes me feel more alive and connected to life than I could have ever imagined. I do not focus on the things I cannot or will not eat, but instead, I focus my attention and gratitude on all that I can eat with a clean conscious. My body feels pristine from the inside out!
My journey into being a vegetarian began in high school with my sister as we dove deep into the PETA website, totally and completely unprompted by my parents. We grew up eating the standard American diet- cheeseburgers, lunch meats, pepperoni pizza, chicken nuggets, etc. My younger sister always valued the lives of animals in such a special way, and she began voicing her views and evidencing them through heart-wrenching PETA videos.
We can all say what we want about radical organizations like PETA, but the truth of the matter is, those things are all actually happening in the world whether we want to believe them (or see them) or not. That was the first time I started to actually think about where my food was coming from...not the grocery store. As a high school student, I didn't always take the liberties of shopping for my own food. When it came to eating out, it was easy to opt out of meat. Luckily, I have really amazing and supportive parents, and even though my sister and I only made up 1/3 of the mouths being fed in our house, my parents made great efforts to provide vegetarian options (portobello mushrooms on the grill instead of steaks).
My Celiac diagnoses came at age 19, when I was enrolled in my second year at UVa. As a second year, I had a job and no meal plan, so I was trying to balance my diet and budget with frankly no clue what I was doing. For a minute, vegetarian and gluten-free meant I was eating a lot of corn tortillas with peanut butter or cheese. That did wonders for my energy levels and overall well-being. I really didn't have a clue where to go from there.
So for years, I phased in and out of being vegetarian as it was convenient for me. There were times I added meat back in as a means of healing my digestive system (or so I thought), as a means of ingesting more protein, and as a means of making my life easier. Never once did I feel great about eating it; there was always a little voice inside me saying "this doesn't feel quite right," so I chose to listen.
I believe this choice may be different for everyone. It is not a part of my life mission to convert everyone to being vegan; this is a choice that must be made by those that feel it is right for them. For me, my body feels great and is in harmony with my beliefs. I feel as though my choices are making life better or easier for someone or something. I can eat knowing that I am not a part of the animal agriculture industry, I am not contributing to the huge carbon footprint from the cattle industry, I am not consuming products made from distressed animals, I am not contributing to the mass farming of grains to be fed to animals that do not even eat grains, I am not consuming antibiotics and stress hormones from meat, but I am living in alignment with what I hold to be valuable in my heart.
Now, I am so enthusiastic and optimistic about my choices. A few years have allowed me to really grow into myself and embrace, with confidence, the choices I am consciously making. I will never refer to myself as a "vegan", but I will say that I prefer to eat vegan. Confining myself to one word has rarely been liberating.
Gluten-free, vegan, and organic doesn't always make eating out or meal planning easy at first, but it is 100% possible. What a wonderful way for me to constantly stay in touch with my body and my needs but also the beautiful world of nature. Our food does not come from boxes or packages whose ingredients I do not understand, but it comes straight from the magical natural world. Finding ways to prepare whole fruits and vegetables gives us an outlet for creativity in the kitchen. Meal time is not a time that comes and we rush through by microwaving just anything to fill us up, it's a time where we joyously prepare nurturing, life-giving food together as a family.
Instead of trying to recreate or find substitutes for gluten or meat (gluten-free donuts or fake bacon), we experiment and discover for ourselves ways to prepare meals. We have found that we like to make some kind of latte for breakfast (cashew milk, coffee, matcha, turmeric), a raw meal for lunch (salad) with rice, and a warm meal for dinner (baked squash, sauteed vegetables). Keeping it simple has also helped my digestive issues tremendously!
Not only do I consciously choose not to eat meat or animal by-products, but I am also careful about what beauty and cleaning products come into our house. All brands that we support are not tested on animals, are cruelty free, and cannot harm those that come into contact with them.
All in all, these choices have brought such levity to my life. I do not feel constrained by them but rather enlightened and freed. I am so much more aware of all of the aspects in my life and also in a much deeper relationship with myself and the world around me. I choose to live in a way that honors and respects not only my body and my intuition, but in a way that honors and respects all living beings on this Earth and the Earth as a whole.