Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy, Healthy Vegan

Throughout The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone talks about these crazy surges of energy and rushes of ecstasy you start to get when you sustain yourself only on plant sources. She talks about feeling giddy and head over heels in love with life all the time. And to be honest, she can be a little corny about it. She uses phrases like "groovy" and "peace out," and, in the section on dairy cows, she refers to them "our cow girlfriends." But as much as I sometimes roll my eyes at her word choices, she's so positive and sunny about the whole thing that my heart can't help but feel warmed. Come to think of it, that's probably why she uses such language in the first place: to help balance out the grim and graphic nature of some of her more gruesome subject matter.

On page 10 of The Kind Diet, Alicia talks about the beginning of her own journey into veganism: "I noticed that my whole body felt lighter. I was more vibrant and spunky. I felt like my heart had sort of opened a bit and my shoulders could relax, as if an overall softening had taken place. I no longer carried heavy animal protein in my body, which takes tons of energy to digest. Plus, I didn't have the heaviness of the suffering in me; frightened animals produce lots of cortisol and adrenaline right before slaughter, and we can become stressed from eating their meat.

"Something seemed to be happening on a deeper level as well. The decision to be vegan was one I made purely for me, an expression of my truest self and deepest beliefs. It was the first time I'd stood up and said a definitive "NO!" My real self began to emerge. It was powerful."

When I first read this passage, I found it completely inspiring. I often thought about these words of hers during times when being vegan just seemed really hard and depressing, like, say, when I had a craving for a milkshake or something. (No Shamrock Shakes for me this St. Patty's Day season.) I liked believing that I had the good feelings she described coming to me by sticking with the vegan diet, although, to be honest, it was hard for me to picture actually feeling that good about myself, since I never have before. 

Then, when I was sick last week, I felt really down in the dumps, both physically and mentally. I was exhausted and felt like five kinds of shit no matter how much I rested. I couldn't laugh or talk without going into a major coughing fit. All this physical discomfort made me depressed as well. And having to stay home from school for a week, on doctor's orders, really got to me.

Being sick for an extended period of time like that always gets me down. And even though I know that it always happens, I can never seem to prevent it from happening. So last week, I was, as beloved cartoon cat Garfield would say, in a deep blue funk, and I knew I could expect to stay there for at least as long as my illness lasted. I just had to wait it out until my antibiotics kicked in and did their job.

When they did and I finally returned to health (which, for the record, took place approximately two days ago), the happiness and relief I felt was awesome. I mean, I feel really good. The positive attitude that I beat myself up all the time for not having is finally just there without me having to work so hard at it, and it feels great! It's never been so easy for me to feel this hopeful. This change in me has been so profound, I have become convinced that it has to do with the way I've been eating for the past month, and not just due to the absence of my respiratory infection.

I honestly feel as if there has been a huge weight lifted off of me, both physically and metaphysically. Like Alicia said, I'm no longer lugging animal protein around in my body, tiring out my natural mechanisms. Trying to digest animal flesh and by-products is notoriously hard on one's body, and contributes to many health problems such as premature aging, cancer and heart disease. Studies have shown over and over that when you switch to a plant-based diet, your risk of suffering from these health problems decreases significantly and dramatically. I do honestly feel lighter now that I am free from the grip of "nasty foods," which is Alicia's term for meat, dairy, and white sugar and flour. She says right on page one of The Kind Diet, "When you begin to eat whole grains and abstain from crazy-making foods like white sugar, you will see how amazing and joyous and peaceful life really is." And corny as it may sound, I'm discovering that it really is true.

And, I'm not eating pain anymore. As Alicia says, animals secrete stress hormones when they are slaughtered, which make us stressed and anxious when we eat them. At one point in The Kind Diet, Alicia muses, "Maybe it's time to ask the questions: Is consuming all this pain and terror hurting us on levels we can't perceive? Is it cutting us off from the compassion deep within us? By not only condoning cruelty but literally consuming it, have we become desensitized to violence--against not only animals but ourselves and one another?" I definitely feel that abstaining from eating poor animals' pain, suffering and fear has changed my life for the better. After all, you are what you eat.

I feel genuinely good about life for the first time in, I think, ever. I'm not trying to sound dramatic. My anxiety level has drastically decreased, my energy is up. I feel good about myself, my life and what I'm doing with it. And a lot of the credit for these positive changes in my life goes to not eating animal protein. I know it does. Because I've never felt myself operating at this level of positive mental health before, and I have never completely cut animal protein and products out of my life before, until now. I feel there has to be a connection. If I were a detective or a scientist, I would definitely latch onto that as the answer.

I'm treating myself well and this results in me expecting the same from others, as well as me treating them the way I want to be treated. This includes animals. It might sound funny, but I do feel an improved relationship and closer bond with my pet animals now that I am not eating any other animals. And I can honestly say that the compassion that comes from practicing veganism has helped me in my relationships with my fellow humans.I feel like we on this planet, both humans and animals (humans are animals too, of course, but we tend to separate ourselves from them in our heads), are all one big happy family, and I feel better as a family member by not eating any other members of my family. (Now who's being corny?)

You hear it all the time: Happiness is a choice. I've learned that for me, it is a choice that is easier to remember to make while vegan. I want to use today's blog post to commemorate this sentiment. I don't want to ever forget how good I feel on this day, or how alive abstaining from dead flesh has made me feel.


  1. I love this. I am so happy you have found such a big change in yourself, and for the better. Obviously, this was a great project for you because it sounds like it changed your life. My boyfriend is SO paranoid about food, chemicals, and pesticides...I think it would be a good idea if we checked into this and became vegan. We both want to be healthier and it sounds like it could be working for you. I know it must be hard though, especially with being sick. Feel better and have a good spring break!

  2. Thank you so much, Michelle! You're so sweet. I hope you have a wonderful spring break as well! :D

  3. I doubt there's any actual milk in a Shamrock Shake. Though that doesn't mean it'd be good for you. :)

    Love your blog, love the project. The idea of feeling like everyone's a part of your family is something we could all benefit from, vegan or not.