By Veronica Chavez
At the time I stopped eating meat, back in 2002, most people were becoming vegan for one reason: to save the animals.
Just the slight mention of a vegan or vegetarian diet and you were instantly labeled as a crunchy granola hippy who liked cows and chickens a little too much, probably had an animal rights monologue memorized, and might even have a PETA pamphlet in your backpack.
Fast forward to 2020 and the vegan scene is completely different. Nowadays, the idea of “cutting back” on meat and dairy is commended as a particularly dedicated environmental effort, the appropriate response to watching What the Health, or at the very least, a form of solidarity with Beyoncé.
I’m ecstatic that there are now so many different roads of thinking that lead to plant-forward eating. I’m glad that social media exists and has connected people to inspiring vegans who demonstrate how easy and delicious eating plants can be. At the same time, with so many different “ways” of being vegan, it becomes easy to feel pressured into being the perfect poster child for plant based eating. After all, aren’t all the reasons to go plant based important?
I felt it first from the self-proclaimed nutritionists. “Where are you getting your protein from? How about your iron? Are you monitoring your calcium levels?” The message was clear: If I was going to leave meat and dairy off my plate, I should be the picture of health in every other way. I was expected to rattle off health stats like a professional athlete and not like the regular, yoga three-times-a-week, sometimes-indulges-in-Taco-Bell type of person I was.
Health and nutrition is a valid concern of any diet, and so I spent a considerable amount of time researching to make sure that I wouldn’t become anemic on my new plant based regimen. I bought supplements and protein powders, daily vitamins, and probiotics. While I’ve kept some of these things in my routine, I eventually learned that as long as you eat a varied and colorful array of foods, you can get all of the nutrients you need fairly easily.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after this discovery that I had my sights on another plateau of plant based perfectionism. This time, I fell deep into the environmental side of vegan living. I learned about how humans over consume palm oil and its ubiquity in our consumer goods (even vegan ones) is destroying the rainforest homes of our dear animal friends and ravaging our planet in general. Then I discovered that not all plant milks are created equal and that to drink almond milk was to waste an incredible amount of precious water. The list of issues went on and on.
After a few months of obsessing about how I could take my already environmentally-conscious diet and make it even more so, I came to terms with the fact that I was holding myself to standards that were too high. Instead, I compromised and decided I would be as conscientious as possible in terms of knowing a company’s stance on fair trade labor, sustainability, and other issues of the sort, without driving myself crazy, either. This “cruelty-free” lifestyle may not always live up to its name but that doesn’t mean I should be cruel to myself about it.
Unfortunately, the perfectionist pattern didn’t end there. The toxic idea that took the biggest mental toll on me was the problematic notion that I, as a vegan, should be in the fittest shape of my life. Otherwise, what was the point of following this way of eating? I heard this primarily from the gym rats and heavy lifters that already prided themselves on “eating clean.” In their minds: why switch to plant based eating when they were already making gains on their grilled-chicken-and-steamed-vegetables-every-day routine?
An even worse jab to my ego was that this statement usually came after panning my curvy body up and down a few times and deducing that my loose fitting blouse probably wasn’t covering a six-pack. Since this was happening at a time before Serena Williams became a vegan icon and prior to the movie Game Changers, the conclusion was that if I, the only vegan in many of my social circles, didn’t have a perfectly chiseled body, then the same could probably be said about the majority of vegans.
I probably could have gotten over this body-shaming ideology if it was only coming from an omnivore audience. Surprisingly, I was hearing similar rhetoric from my own vegan community. The argument was that it was my duty, in the name of spreading veganism, that I reach and remain in the fittest shape I am capable of as proof that the vegan diet is clearly the best for your physique.
While the message may be well-intentioned (“show non-vegans how amazing the vegan diet can be for your body!”), it pressures people that may already have a hard time with weight gain, disordered eating, or a myriad of other issues, to “do whatever it takes” to transform their body into one seen as fit by society. A dangerous game, in my opinion. It took everything in me not to fall back into restrictive eating patterns from my past.
I’m proud to say that even as a person with perfectionist tendencies, I was able to look past all of this noise and discern what was important, realistic, and beneficial for my own life. It’s impossible to hold yourself to a perfect standard in an imperfect world.
This thought freed me from myself.
Nowadays, I’m a plant based eater with enough reusable tote bags, metal straws, and mason jars to start my own zero-waste store. I shop in my neighborhood grocery stores to support local farmers and business owners and am even lucky enough to have a package-free grocery store mere minutes from my home. At the same time, sometimes I forget my reusable thermos and get my morning iced coffee in a plastic to-go cup. I don’t compost. And every once in a while I’m in the mood for a decked out Beyond Burger, fries, and some processed and packaged vegan dessert.
I’m not perfect and I don’t beat myself up for it. I stopped eating meat because I stumbled upon a slaughterhouse video and knew that I needed to do something, anything, to help animals. I still feel the same today. I’m glad that there are many other benefits to eating plant based, but at the end of the day, if all my diet accomplished was helping the beings that we share this planet with, that would still be perfect to me. As with anything in life, you really only need one compelling reason to stay motivated for a cause. Once you find that why hold onto it, and everything else will fall into place.
You can follow Veronica on Instagram @veronica_vtv
Simple Miso Soup
Simple Miso Soup (Oil-Free)
- 1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, peeled and left whole
- 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (130 g)
- 4 cups water
- ¼ cup miso paste (white or yellow) (65 g)
- ¼ cup green onions, sliced (20 g)
- 1 tablespoon wakame seaweed, cut into wide strips
Heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and the mushrooms and saute for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until the mushrooms are soft. Add a splash of water if the mushrooms stick to the pot.
Add the water and bring to a boil.
When the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and add the miso and the green onions and place a lid on the pot. Let sit for 10 minutes just like this.
After 10 minutes stir / whisk until the miso is totally dissolved.
Add the wakame and cover the pot with a lid. Wait 5 minutes for the seaweed to soften before eating.
You can leave the ginger in the soup and it will continue to add flavor. Just don’t eat the ginger, it is meant to add flavor, not for eating whole.
If you want a more hearty soup, add some cooked soba noodles to your bowl before you ladle in some warm soup.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with imperfection.