What Does It Really Mean to Be Vegan?

September 12, 2018

It’s National Vegan Month, which got me to thinking, as these various month-long commemorations often do. Sometimes they evoke a rant from me and sometimes, I want to just ruminate.


What does it mean to be vegan in this modern time? Is it elitist to eschew meat, a cultural phenomenon reserved only for the wealthy? Is it for celebrities looking for their thigh gap? Is it just for people who are dysfunctional around food? Or just for puppy lovers?


Or can it be for all of us concerned about our collective wellness and that of our planet and every living being on it?


I hear the excuses all the time. I could never give up meat. What do you eat? And my all-time favorite: where would we get protein? Just when I think all the myths are gone and plant-based eating is coming into the light and having a moment in the sun, I am reminded that…oh, yeah, we are still not off the meat wagon yet.


I often wonder what it will take for us to collectively wake up. And before you go off the rails, I’m not meat-shaming or judging people for their choices. My mission in life is to meet people where they are and help guide them to the healthiest options for their lifestyles. I am also genuinely curious and more than a little concerned that we aren’t paying enough attention to what we eat and the impact it has on us.


Every expert from the scientists at the World Health Organization to medical doctors are advising us to eat less meat for our wellness, not to mention the health of the planet. 


I know we are heavily marketed to and I know that has a strong impact on us. I know we have been culturally conditioned to believe we can’t be physically strong without meat in our diet. I also know that some of us simply love meat.


So what does it mean to be vegan today?


It used to be that vegans were simply fringe, hardcore vegetarians who didn’t have any fun and would lecture you at every turn. While there’s still some of that in our culture, most vegans today are open, warm, compassionate, loving and inviting, eager for everyone to live a life of wellness and compassion for all living beings.


Some vegans promote the idea that any junk food can be “veganized” and thereby “legal” as long as there’s no animals involved in the process, but I am convinced that vegan nachos laden with processed “cheese”, giant sprinkle-covered cakes loaded with white sugar and flour, ginormous vegan burgers (that “bleed”…yuck) topped with fatty sauces and served on processed white flour buns are not much healthier for us than conventional junk food. Maybe healthier for the animals, but not for us.


I was one of those vegans until a health crisis (cancer, in fact) woke me up like a baseball bat to my skull. It turns out my mother was right. What we eat matters, so my vegan approach that included any and all vegan junk food was not serving me.


Enter vegan macrobiotics. Macrobiotics brought things into clear focus for me. It spurred me to study for my Masters in Food Science and Nutrition. It spurred my study of all things natural, from homeopathy to acupuncture and Ayurveda. It lifted a veil off my consciousness. And while some macrobiotic people choose not to live a vegan lifestyle for their personal reasons, for me, this new awakening left me no option. Gone was all the junk and on my plate were lush and luscious gifts from Mother Nature herself.


Living a macrobiotic lifestyle instilled in me a respect for all living things that exceeded my commitment in veganism. My commitment far exceeded my love of and compassion for animals. Macrobiotics opened me to the idea of all beings coming from and living in one energy, at different vibrations, so what we do to one of us, we do to all of us. If you can wrap your head around that, then it’s easy to commit to allowing all creatures to live as you would like to live.


The best illustration of this thinking came to me in a kindergarten class. Yup, 5-year-old little ones. I was teaching a class about healthy snacks and while I was setting up for the kids to make hummus wraps, the teacher came to me and said, “I’m so happy you’re here. We have a vegan student and the other kids give him a hard time.”


That was all I needed to hear. I started class and asked where my little vegan was. All the tousled heads turned to see a little redhead tentatively raise his hand. He asked if I was vegan to which I replied yes. He asked me if all redheads were vegan like his mom and me. I laughed and said that would be nice, but not all redheads were vegans.


At this point, another little boy, obviously one of my little vegan’s tormenters said sarcastically, “How come you’re a vegan, Sean? Cuz your mama says so?”


I was about to come to Sean’s defense when he said, “I don’t see how you can say you love your pets and eat animals.” Stopped the other kid in his tracks and all the snickers and twitters stopped.


Well done, I thought. I couldn’t have said it better.


Fast forward six weeks and the teacher emailed me that Sean and his former bully were best pals and the other child had not eaten meat since that day. Out of the mouths of babes…but something that has been on my mind for a long time. How can we love our pets, but eat other animals? Are some more…eat-able…than others?


For me, veganism is all-encompassing. It’s not just the food we choose but the impact we make on each other and the planet. Sure there are tons of vegan products out there from shoes to handbags, but we must carefully examine the impact of synthetic products on the planet just as we examine the impact of leather-making on the animal and the planet. It can be exhausting.


I realize that not all of us has the luxury of examining each choice we make. We’re busy, overscheduled with lots of life and work obligations. I get it. I have worked hard for many years to educate myself, run my businesses successfully and now I can allow myself the time to ruminate now and then.


It has to start somewhere with all of us. Maybe it’s just an awareness as we eat ribs that these were someone’s ribs…you know, ribs. Maybe it’s an awakening that the planet can’t sustain us as we live now. Maybe it’s a desire to live with more peace and compassion. Maybe it’s simply a bid to create wellness and get rid of all your aches, pains and disease.


I don’t care why you choose to dip your toe in the warm, welcoming waters of veganism, but I invite you to try it. Be gentle with yourself. Try a meatless meal a week, then two and on and on. See how you feel. Lean into it, as Kathy Freston famously says.


No judgement. This month, as we celebrate this compassionate lifestyle, give it a go. Of course, I would love to see you challenge yourself to eating a luscious vegan diet all month long. I think you’ll never look back.


To that end, let’s play a little, shall we? For this whole month of November, let’s really share our lovely vegan lives. Bring a friend to our little community and have them like my page and join in the fun of our plant-based lives. For each friend you tag to this post, we will enter your name in a drawing for a copy of my new book, Back to the Cutting Board. There will be 3 lucky winners. Your name is entered each time you tag a friend to this post…so the more you add, the better chance to win! The lucky winners will be announced on December 1.