Sorry this is my first post back in a while! I've been so busy I haven't made the time to photograph all of the beautiful food I've been cooking! But don't worry - I'm still at it!
A lot of you who regularly read or have read my blog before know that my boyfriend hasn't always been vegan. In fact, the first time he tried to take me out, I got in the car and the first words out of his mouth were (and this is in Eugene, OR mind you): "umm...I'm not really sure where to take you..."
I have never been one to push veganism on to people who resist it or who have their own personal reasons for not giving it a shot but I do believe that I, and other vegans, can be an inspiration for people who want to make positive changes in their lives. There is no better testament to that than your significant other adopting those lifestyle changes and the two of you growing and learning (and hopefully inspiring others!) together.
That is why I am so unbelievably excited to share this post with you. After two years of dating, including several short bouts of living together for various reasons, my SO has decided to commit to veganism. He has, to put it plainly, evolved vegan and I could not be more happy.
He wanted to write this post to share about his journey and I will tell you, it made me tear up a little bit seeing someone I love write about how far we've both come. But hopefully you can take something away from it to make your own life a little happier and, heck, maybe if I haven't inspired you to give this vegan thing a shot, he will :)
Colin's Journey to Veganism
By Colin Jensen
I was more or less introduced to the concept of veganism a little over two years ago, when I started dating my girlfriend Taylor, who has been vegan for over 4 years now. It's not that I wasn't educated (at least on a cursory level) about the subject - I understood what a vegan was, what they did and didn't eat, etc. I even had a pretty good idea of which meals, and restaurants were vegan and which weren't. I simply didn't have anyone in my close circle who prescribed to the idea. Like many people, I lacked exposure to the lifestyle, and as a result, was never given pause to think about whether or not it would ever be for me.
Over time, I started noticing things about vegans, especially Taylor. Things like the fact that I have never seen her sick. Ever. Not even when I brought home the most sinister illnesses that only a packed architecture studio, full of sleep deprived and malnourished grad students in the height of finals, could muster. And other things, too. Like a complete lack of injury despite her rigourous marathon training schedule. Or no headaches, ever.
I'm an open minded person and from the beginning of our relationship I always entertained her dietary proclivities, and was more than happy to try myself, sometimes forgoing animal products for days at a time. Things culminated when I decided to go fully vegan for three months. It was part dare - a bet with myself - and partly due to the fact that I was beginning to be convinced this was a healthy way for me to live.
The three months were a valuable experience for me. There was no brutal adjustment period, no crippling cravings for cheese or meat. I simply ate vegetables, fruit, and grains, and I felt pretty darn good. I was admittedly hungry more often - and this was primarily due to my naturally fast metabolism coupled with a sometimes crippling laziness in the kitchen. Needless to say, I didn't stay vegan at that point, or this post might be a lot shorter. I was still unconvinced that I could get the protein that society has ingrained on me to need in order to build a strong, healthy body. I was convinced that, despite my own best intentions, I was doomed to have a body that would forever require animal protein as its source of muscle building fuel. Compound that with the challenges of hanging out with buddies ("Bro, you gotta try this new BBQ place. What, you're vegan? What the hell does THAT mean?") or visiting home in Hood River for family gatherings ("Honey, I made your favorite Christmas ham, and OH you HAVE to see the salmon we caught for you in Alaska - we're sending you home a care package!") The temptation and influences were simply too great for me at that time. But despite all that, a seed was born, in my brain, my heart, and my belly.
Shortly after my stint as a vegan, Taylor started running - and being a dutiful boyfriend, so did I. Working out together has always been a central facet of our relationship, but for the majority of our relationship up until that point, I had held the reins in that department, and that meant interval training, lifting, and Crossfit. I had never much liked running, nor had I been very good at it. I ran cross-country in highschool, to mediocre results, and what little enjoyment I got from the sport was entirely eradicated by my time at West Point, where running equated to mind-numbingly dull cadence runs in the height of upstate New York summer (or winter - equally awful).
But Taylor started getting GOOD at running. And getting good FAST. And strangely enough, the more I joined her, the more I did too - and I started enjoying it too. Those of you who know Taylor and her blog know that over the last year and a half, she has lost 40 lbs and become a marathon runner and all around self-taught fitness and nutrition guru. My transformation has not been nearly the same, but I can say this: at this point in my life, when my diet had become about 80% vegan, running felt different than ever before. As a child, I had asthma, and later in life, my knees started giving me trouble (chalk it up to a combination of genetics, West Point,and working in retail). Now, on a primarily plant based diet, I was having almost none of the problems that I used to have. No more wheezing after runs, much less joint pain, and my recovery time became next to nothing. In high school, I raced 5ks, and I remember that distance being an almost cripplingly daunting concept. Soon, I was running 10k's, even racing them. In May, I had the opportunity to run the Eugene Half Marathon. I had not trained for it, let alone ran further than 6 miles at that point - but I felt confident in my ability to complete it, with this newfound vigor on my side. Taylor PR'd that race to the tune of 25 minutes, and I shocked her and myself by finishing 2 minutes behind her. To date that was still the best run I have ever had in my life.
What I am getting to is the point of this post. That race, along with a handful of other formative events, has led me to the realization that I would like to eat a vegan diet - and not for three months, or 6, or a year - but for life. I have spent the last month in Phoenix, AZ - needless to say, not a hotbed of vegan culture - but I have chosen this place to be the launching point for this decision of mine. I started crafting the idea before I left, because I wanted the challenge of it. Frankly, being vegan in Portland, with Taylor to support me, is easy. It feels like cheating. I have this wonderland of restaurants, lifestyle options, and this amazing woman to cook amazing food for me on a daily basis. I think that was part of the reason why it never stuck with me before - because I was never forced to think critically about this decision I was making, or to personally and individually bear the challenges and rewards associated with it. Now, alone in Phoenix, I am embracing that journey, and educating myself on it, and the more I learn and experience the more I am becoming convinced. The excitement I now have surrounding the topic is vastly greater than I had ever anticipated.
I have begun to explain why the health aspects of a plant based diet make sense for me. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all diseases that plague my family. My father had a heart attack in law school, in his early 40's. My grandfather has had more bypasses and surgeries than I can count on both hands. Both are now carefully, and successfully, watching their diets and have eliminated a significant amount of animal products from their diets. The way I see it, at age 26, I can either wait until it's a problem, or I can take measures now to see that it won't be.
Secondly, I feel that it's high time that I take measures to drastically curb my own impact on the environment. It's one thing to drive a Prius or sport a bumper sticker decrying my environmental sensibilities to all passers by. Well, I can't afford a Prius, but I can feel good knowing that my dietary choices are singlehandedly more effective in curbing and correcting our environmental excesses. Combine this with the fact that I commute by bike, grow my own vegetables, and am constantly exploring new ways to live greener and smarter - and I feel pretty damn happy that I'm part of the solution, not the problem.
Lastly, animal ethics and animals themselves are becoming an increasingly important part of my life. Our dog Wyatt is a part of our family. I'm not ashamed to admit that I have Skype dates with him. Our chickens have some of the most hilarious and developed personalities of any BEING I know and I consider them my friends, not my servants. I have never been an animal person the way Taylor has, or my brother has - but I can tell you that I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that animals have enriched my life, and I want to return the favor, whether it's members of my own (growing!) animal family, or those that live in the wild or captivity.
I'll leave it at this. I have been vegan for about a month now, in a solo context, and I feel great about it. I feel healthy, strong, fast, and happy, and have no intention of stopping. I am lifting as much, or more, than I ever did on an omnivore diet. I am running faster than I ever have, over distances 2-3 times as long. I am considering running a full marathon, a feat that used to be akin to climbing Everest in the pipe-dream category. Actually, I'm thinking climbing Everest might be in order some day. I am emotionally and mentally stronger - I feel optimistic, upbeat and positive much more than I used to. I am enjoying simple pleasures more than I can ever remember, and I'm more empathetic and open-minded than ever before. More than anything, there is this underlying feeling of a new beginning, that's hard to describe without sounding totally new-agey. But hell, call it what you will - I'm feeling better than ever before on so many levels that I don't mind a little teasing - in fact, bring it - and when you're ready to change your own life, I promise I won't even say "I told you so."