I grew up in a relatively small town in Idaho and in a family that upheld the standard meat and potatoes type of diet when it came to meal times. My father and multiple other family members are extremely active outdoorsmen, spending practically half of their time in the mountains fishing and hunting. I grew up eating wild game, usually killed with a bow and arrow, vegetables grown from our massive gardens, and drinking glasses of whole milk with my cheese sandwiches. I don’t resent my upbringing at all – and I respect that I grew up knowing that these animals weren’t dying just to be tacked to the wall, they were our food.
I have vivid memories of my father showing me how to clean fish and larger animals like deer and elk. I’ve been inside taxidermy workshops and on more than one occasion during hunting season, I walked outside to find an elk or a deer hanging up in the garage.
I know to some reading this, it sounds horrific – and hunting definitely isn’t something that I agree with – but I do think in some strange way I developed a respect for animals and their part in this world through my dad and the way he hunts. My dad is a terrific artist, and though he draws as a hobby his work is almost always centered around wildlife. He always slows the truck down to show the passengers something their eyes have missed on the side of the road – usually a grazing deer or sometimes a moose and her calf – if you’re lucky. He despises poachers, and is more himself sitting in a tree stand or hiking in the mountains than he is walking around in a department store in suburban america. Growing up in this environment shaped my respect for animals, especially the wild ones.
At a young age I decided I wanted to be a veterinarian, as most children at some point do. Eventually the dream faded as my love for the performing arts grew, but I’ve always had a deep love for animals – even though the larger ones scare me (I’m lookin’ at you horses.)
I remember the first time I decided to go vegetarian I kept it a secret because I knew that it was something that went against the grain during that time. I peeled the pepperonis off my pizza at lunch, and said that I just didn’t like the taste – I cut my steak into tiny pieces at dinner with my dad and scooted them around the plate so it looked like I was eating them, until one day I finally caved and ate some orange chicken. I was always very picky about textures and smells when it came to food – especially when it came to meat.
I would say by the time I finally decided to go completely vegetarian in 2014 the process for me was easy. I made the decision while doing a show at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Our music director was a vegetarian, and I watched as she ate just as well as the rest of us on that trip, and I felt so inspired that when I returned home I promptly gave up meat.
Some of the most amazing benefits of going vegetarian or vegan is it limits your fast food options – and that is the first thing I had to detox from. It really made me aware of how much fast food I was eating on a regular basis – and though this can be one of the most frustrating things about being a new hangry vegetarian, it is one of the most beneficial parts of your new diet. I started to cook at home more. I sought out healthier fast food options and *gasp* walked inside grocery stores to buy items that fit my diet. (In my eyes the best vegetarian fast food option is a sofritas burrito bowl at Chipotle)
For the first few years I was definitely not eating as healthily as I could have – but that wasn’t the point. You really can eat a lot of junk food as a vegetarian, mostly in fried potato and cheese form. I finally got fed up with my weight gain after I stopped dancing for three hours a day after college, and I hit the gym and ate more salad.
I started toying with the idea of giving up my beloved cheese when I first found my way into the fitness industry. Finally, in 2016 I did my first two month stretch of being a full vegan. Unfortunately it was a time when I was severely depressed, and I attributed it at the time to my veganism, thinking I was probably missing out on some vital nutrients that I was getting from cheese (HA) – so I switched back.
Ever since then I have been flip flopping back and forth in an aggravating cycle, vegetarian to vegan, vegan to vegetarian – until finally in October of 2017 I decided that I was done caving into the animal products and committed to one full month of vegan eating.
I don’t know why that first month of being a strict vegan was difficult. It was the little things that really got me. Things like cookies people would bring to work or the fact that the bread I bought had milk in it and I hadn’t thought to even check the label. It’s times like that where I had to really dig deep and remember that it wasn’t just about my health anymore, it was for the animals – and the fact that I wanted to prove that I had the freaking will power to say no to a cookie or a cube of cheese.
I survived a month of pure veganism…. well aside from a few bites of pie here and there. I think some of the best tips I can give someone starting out in veganism is to let yourself eat the junk for the first month. Eat the vegan cheese, the cinnamon rolls, the vegan pizza! It will help you feel less deprived. ALSO… be prepared for the hanger, that is when I almost always cave and eat dairy or eggs. Aways try to have something on hand that you can eat quickly so you won’t let the hanger run your life! Once I got through the first month of veganism it got immensely easier, and I have continued with this vegan diet into 2018 as well without breaking a cheesy sweat!
There are so many AMAZING vegan options out there nowadays that switching to vegetarianism or veganism is a freaking breeze. It makes my heart so happy to see so many new vegan restaurants and products popping up left and right!
If you’ve read this far I hope that this helps you on your vegan journey and gives you a little insight on why I chose this lifestyle and diet. 💕 I never want anyone to feel that I judge them for eating differently than me. I believe people should eat whatever makes them feel best, and this is the diet that feels best for me.