The water’s fine

I think I was a sophomore in college when I finally spoke up and asked why the school newspaper staff always ordered at least one pizza topped only with sauce and pineapple.

It was because one of the editors didn’t eat cheese.

I turned to him.

“You don’t eat cheese?!” I exclaimed.

This was Washington State University, home of Cougar Gold Cheese, the best cheese in the world, in my opinion.

“What are you, a terrorist?” I went on incredulously.

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“I’m a vegan,” he replied.

I felt really bad. I didn’t get why anyone would give up cheese, but I felt like a jerk.

It’s funny, because people for years have mistaken me for being vegetarian. I joked that I just put out a vegetarian aura. I grew up in a hippie town and wore lots of second-hand clothing, so that wasn’t a leap of an assumption for anyone to make about me.

Thing is, I’d always loved vegetarian food. As a kid, put me in front of a salad bar and I’d be in heaven. Especially from college on, I grew to love tofu, eggplant and lots of other things that often make meat unnecessary in a dish.

And the thing is, I think I’ve always had a vegan inside me because of the vegan values. But I didn’t have the cajones to just do it. I always said, “I can see myself going vegetarian maybe, but never vegan.”

I mean, cheese, you guys. Bleu cheese, the above-mentioned Cougar Gold, ricotta, feta, sharp cheddar, soft, herby goat cheese. ICE CREAM. CHEESECAKE. An occasional nod to my semester in France with a pain au chocolat.

Even though I love seafood and my dad’s burgers on the grill and chicken teriyaki and pork gyozas, I thought cutting dairy was the most insurmountable obstacle to a vegan lifestyle.

And also, how would I deal with social situations or family gatherings as a vegan? I don’t like putting people out. That’s another thing.

But last year, I started cutting meat out of my diet, mostly because I was poor and it was just more expensive to make chicken or fish tacos than chickpea tacos. Then I got super into Happy Herbivore and learned how easy, and just right, it was to cook plant-based meals.

This process for me has been like wading into the Puget Sound or Pacific Northwest ocean. It’s cold. I had to dip my toes in, then roll my jeans up a bit to step in deeper, one pace at a time.

I made my kitchen vegan. Then I decided to stay vegan at home and vegetarian “on the outside.”

I could have just gone vegetarian to make it easy for myself, but over time I’ve learned that dairy is even more dangerous to your health than meat. If you cut one thing out of your diet, it’s dairy, I’ve read. (Likely more posts on this another time.)

So I thought it was hypocritical to go vegetarian for my health and still let myself eat what is most dangerous to me. I couldn’t do that.

So I’m doing it. I’m going plant-based.

Sure, being “vegan” means I could just eat Oreos all day, but I say “plant-based” to emphasize my intent to remain as close to whole, unprocessed foods as possible.

I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to be plant-based when I have control over a situation, but also didn’t fully realize how ubiquitous meat and dairy are in our culture. Just seeing TV commercials show the power of the dairy lobby. So, though I feel square with myself about my own lifestyle choices, it’s hard to make that fit with society at large.

Here’s my journey. I’ll fuck up. I’ll be confronted about my choices and fail to articulate them.

But I’m also pumped for all the deliciousness.

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