I Was A Teenage Vegan

It was my senior year in high school and I vividly recall pulling my bagged lunch out onto the cafeteria table I shared with seven of my classmates.  Patrick noticed it first.  I had salad and rice and beans.  I believe the ensuing conversation went something like this:

“Where the $#%@ is the meat in your lunch?  That’s not a meal.”

“I’ve decided to go vegan.”

“WHHHAAAATTTT?  You are $#%&#$% crazy.  The only good kinda food is meat and potatoes!  Meat and potatoes!!!”  He is holding his knife and fork at this point and making wild movements with his eyes and arms.  (Keep in mind that Pat was known to be a very dramatic class clown.  He would get really excited when there was mayonnaise with the school meal and make a show of asking for everyone’s packets and then squeeze them into his mouth all at once.)

“I have been studying up on nutrition and decided I would give it a try,  see if it really is better for you.”

“What are you going to eat?  Leaves?  You just picked those leaves you’re eating off a tree in your yard.  What are you thinkin’?”

At the end of this conversation, I simply smiled sheepishly and dug into my greens.  I imagine I was embarassed, maybe even mortified, but I had made a decision and I stuck to it.

I had decided to be vegan in response to several stimuli in my life.  My parents had separated at the end of my junior year.  I recall my mother giving me advice that went something like this:

“I know you are going through a hard time but remember when you are dealing with it, don’t hurt yourself.  There are a lot of behaviors you could fall into that could hurt you physically or mentally and remember criminal activity goes on record.  If you want to act out, do something that bothers me or your father–but don’t hurt yourself.”

That statement meant a great deal to my life.  I truly believe that my mother’s advice put the psychology of the situation into a whole new perspective.  That year I started working out on my own, reading everything I could about nutrition and managed to keep away from a good bit of potential teenage trouble.  In my nutrition studies, I found that whole grains, fruits and vegetables were the staples to healthy eating.  There were also many articles on protein alternatives–tofu, tempeh, rice and beans, nuts.  I had never really been a meat lover.  I always thought I didn’t like the texture.  (Turned out later I realized I didn’t like the texture of low quality meat.  Gnawing on a sirloin is not the best example of eating steak.)  I took the leap and decided to do my own research on the benefits of vegetarianism/veganism.  I did go all the way–no animal products.  (I didn’t give up leather though.)   

It was an interesting life lesson to say the least.  I did my best to eat healthy, making sure to get a balance of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  I don’t think I noticed much of a change physically.  I’d always been at an “average” weight and played sports so it wasn’t as if I was trying to diet.  I did notice one huge perk though–it drove my dad absolutely nuts.

I will assert that I did not go vegan to get to my dad.  However, it was a pretty neat side effect.  In retrospect, it was a subconscious joy and triumph to see him suffering in the kitchen as he tried to cook on the nights he had my brother and me. 

“Well, I can make quiche.  You can eat that, right?”

“Dad, I don’t eat eggs or cheese.”

“What do you eat?”

“Lots of stuff.  Don’t worry about me.  I’ll make my own.”

Of all the ways I could have dealt with the separation and then divorce, I believe this one was a positive, enlightening journey.  For dad–I didn’t end up pregnant or in jail so just count your blessings.

Eventually, I retired from veganism.  I maintained it for just over two years.  The end of it came when I took an internship in Brussels, Belgium.  I wanted to learn as much about the culture I was living amongst as I could without culinary boundaries (not to mention I didn’t always understand the menu).  Of course, I didn’t seek out meat but I began to incorporate it back into my diet and when I returned to the states after three months, I was no longer a vegan.

 The rest of the story goes something like this:

  • Dad took me out for my first steak when I returned from Brussels–it was a filet and he seemed so happy.
  • In college I took a livestock evaluation course and learned about meat processing.
  • After graduating college, starting in the work force,  and dating various meat eaters, I began dating a cattle rancher!
  • Said cattle rancher educated me further on beef quality and I realized that a really good steak is hard to beat.
  • I married the cattle rancher, and we now raise Angus cows.  We process one or two a year for our own consumption and enjoy being fit, healthy and energetic along with the rest of our family.
  • My mom says I have turned into a “meat snob.”

So in conclusion, I have nothing bad to say about vegans or veganism.  To each his own.  I know that at that time in my life it worked for me.  I also have nothing bad to say about eating meat.  I believe that is a right that God has given us and I encourage you not to waste your time (and calories) on flavorless, low quality meat.  Enjoy the good stuff–maybe that’s the advice I’ll give my daughter one day.

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