Sometime in middle school I decided I wanted to become vegetarian. I honestly can’t remember what specifically led me there. I just knew it felt wrong to be eating animals. I grew up in a very typical Midwest house-meals were some kind of meat, a potato or pasta dish, and a small serving of frozen vegetables covered in butter or cheese or both. When I declared I was vegetarian, my parents replaced all the meat on my plate with extra dairy, eggs, or a processed fake meat. They never tried to talk me out of it but I could tell they were very uncomfortable with it. Other family members weren’t so supportive a lot of mocking, telling me meat was essential for survival, yada yada, the same things most of us have heard. During high school I went back and forth between being a vegetarian and eating meat. Sometimes I was strong enough to stand by my beliefs and sometimes I wasn’t.
Once I got to college and away from the ridicule, vegetarianism stuck. Still though, dairy, eggs, and fake meats were the foundations of my diet. I didn’t really know how to cook anything besides pasta, scrambled eggs, and sandwiches (sandwiches count as cooking, right?) I hardly ate vegetables besides lettuce and tomatoes on cheese sandwiches. Sometimes I would cook ramen noodles (minus the flavor packet) and add frozen vegetables. Fancy, I know.
After college I still relied heavily on dairy, eggs, and fake meats for protein. Of course I knew about beans and tofu as protein options. But they seemed difficult. Throwing some fake meat in the microwave or grabbing a cheese stick was so much easier. I was finally however, starting to incorporate significantly more vegetables and fruits into my diet.
Chronic headaches and migraines have been an issue on and off since middle school and for the most part I just dealt with the pain. I tried lots of prevention medication but never found one that worked. I tried more natural remedies-herbs and oils, yoga and relaxation techniques, acupuncture, massage, but nothing seemed to help. One thing I never tried, but my doctors strongly encouraged me to do, was cut dairy out of my diet. That seemed totally unrealistic for me, but I finally decided to give it a try.
I decided I would give it three months. If my head was still in pain I’d go back to eating dairy and find another option. But then, I started to do some research. What on Earth was I supposed to eat now that I had no dairy in my life? It’s almost impossible to research “dairy free vegetarian recipes” without finding lots of information on veganism. The cruelty in the dairy and egg industries were no shock to me. I knew about it but I had blinders on because I loved cheese. Except I couldn’t keep the blinders on anymore. It was like when I had first become a vegetarian and looking at meat made me think of animals suffering. Now when I would see dairy or eggs I couldn’t help but think of the images of suffering dairy cows and hens. The fact that my headaches and migraines were far less frequent and severe was just a perk. The real benefit for me was knowing that nothing on my plate was causing harm to animals.
This is when I became really interested in cooking. People in my life knew how to handle vegetarian-instead of meat, they fed me cheese. But vegan, they were beyond lost. This meant that if I ever wanted to eat at a family party again, I’d have to bring my own food. I started gathering more recipes than I had time to make. I had never really learned to cook so there was a lot of trial and error. The more recipes I tried, the healthier they seemed to become and the more I craved healthy foods. I immersed myself in vegan cooking blogs and cookbooks and soon being vegan was second nature to me- and I haven’t looked back since!