Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Be or Not To Be (Vegan)

[Note: This is not my attempt to convert you. I just thought it was a funny picture.]

Originally I planned for this post to be via vlog, but when I sat down and thought about it, I realized it would probably be: (1) too long; and (2) not as thorough. So here we go!

A little over one month ago, I decided to attempt a vegan diet. I had just finished reading Eating Animals, and the reality of the food industry and my personal eating habits kept gnawing at my growing heart. I figured it was now or never, and so I took the plunge. Luckily, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was about to implement its 21-Day Vegan Kickstart, so I knew I'd have some sort of support along the way. I had a couple of mishaps during that first week (helloooo bread pudding a la mode), but once Day 1 of the Kickstart began, I adhered pretty strictly to a vegan diet (except for honey & sugar). Now that the 21 days are over, I want to sort of wrap up this whole "experiment" by answering some FAQ I've gotten along the way. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or to email me at carolyn.park@gmail.com, and I'll be happy to answer them (unless you're just trying to be an ass, in which case, bugger off).

But... why?

Gosh, what a loaded question, huh? The short answer is that I went vegan for both my health and the animals (and the environment, etc.). Eating Animals obviously opened my eyes even further to the realities of factory farming and the impact that they have on the environment, the workers, and of course, the animals. But Eating Animals also got me questioning whether it's ever okay to eat animals, and whether slaughter of any kind can be considered humane. I still don't have the answers to those questions, but I didn't think I needed those answers to do what I believed to be right at the time. And that was to stop.

I stopped eating animal flesh awhile ago after seeing Food, Inc. (you can read more about that here), but this time, I felt the need to do more. So I cut out all meat (incl. seafood), dairy, and eggs. And that was that.

Was it hard to give up cheese?

Not really. Do I miss cheese? Yes, I get the cheesies every now and then, and the idea of eating cheese (namely in Paris) does cross my mind now and then. But giving up cheese was much easier than I thought it would be. It's amazing how much you realize it doesn't need to be on top of and in every dish known to man. And I will say this - once you cut the cheese (and dairy, in general) from your diet, your tastebuds kind of... come alive. It's like there was once a layer of gunk preventing me from truly tasting my food, and now that layer is gone. It's kind of amazing.

Do you feel better?

Yes. And I look better, too. In fact, in the past few days, I've gotten several comments on my skin and my weight. I've always had fairly good skin (merci, Mom!), but as my pedicurist (is that a word?) said today, I'm glowing. To be honest, I didn't notice, but I sure am glad other people are! And as far as weight goes, well, I'm not going to say I dropped 20 lbs immediately (although wouldn't that be nice?) because I'm still eating my fair share of calorie-rich food, and I'm certainly not depriving myself (hellloooo cupcakes). But. I feel lighter, my clothes are bigger, and the number on the scale has definitely gone down. And considering I've done zero exercise, I'd say that's pretty good!

What foods do you miss most?

Honestly, the foods I miss most are the ones that are probably the worst for me: pork (namely bacon & sausage) and cheese. I highly doubt I'll ever eat pork again, especially now that I know how intelligent pigs are. If I'm not willing to eat Lola, I'm not willing to eat a pig.

How did your friends and family react?

My family reacted much better than I anticipated. The first time I went vegetarian (while I was living in London), my Mom was less than pleased to learn I was no longer eating meat when I got back to the States for Christmas. This time, however, she was perfectly okay with my decision! We brainstormed about what Korean dishes I could still eat, and she sent me back to Austin with loads of yummy food. My Dad was totally fine with it. Ma Soeur? She thinks I'm nuts, but she asks me loads of questions and is genuinely curious about how I'm doing. And she has always been supportive about my food choices.

My friends' reactions have been mixed, but for the most part, they have been great. (They better be! They're my friends, after all.) Last night I made a vegan mac 'n cheese, and my friend Jenny, who is a very picky eater (she doesn't like "green things") and a huge mac 'n cheese fan, was willing to try it. And she LIKED it! I even sent her home with some!! YAY! In a month, I'll be traveling to NYC to visit some friends, and they've happily agreed to try some vegan eateries with me, even though I said I'd totally understand if they weren't crazy about the idea. Don't my friends rock?

Are you going to eat cheese after the 21 days is up?

Ah... the big question. Now that I'm done with the Kickstart, am I going to go back to my dairy-filled days? This probably won't surprise many of you, but the answer as of right now is no. Eating vegan has changed my life in so many unexpected and wonderful ways. I'm truly a happier person now than I was one month ago. I'm living my truth. My values are aligning with my actions. I'm learning every day about the realities of the world. My compassion for all living beings has grown exponentially. It's painful and difficult to know the truth, but I truly believe that knowledge is power (and that ignorance is NOT bliss!!!). Why would I go back to the way I was before when it wasn't that hard to get here?

What about leather?

Sigh... this is a tough one. Many fellow bloggers have said they would never use the label "vegan" (or any label at all) to describe themselves even if they follow a vegan diet. Some vegans (like the authors of Vegan Freak) believe that you can't call yourself a vegan if you still eat honey or wear leather. Others believe the label does not matter. Leather is tough for me. 90% of my bags and shoes are made of leather. And I know that leather is a by-product of the dairy industry (actually, leather helps fuel the dairy industry b/c it's so profitable whereas the food products are not). But still, it's so much easier for me to stop drinking milk than to stop wearing my beloved Frye boots or toting my Louis Vuitton. You can call me a hypocrite, you can call me shallow, you can say whatever other awful things you want to say. But I want to be honest here, and the honest truth is that I'm not ready to give up my leather. (Now, that being said, I also have not purchased a single leather product since "going vegan.")

"Don't do nothing because you can't do everything."

- Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

One more thing...

I couldn't have done this with you. As great as my "real-life" friends were about my choice, you guys were nothing short of phenomenal. The emails, the tweets, and the comments I received blew my mind. I honestly didn't expect such a positive and supportive response, but I am oh so very grateful that I did. You supported me every step of the way, and I cannot thank you enough for it. Truly, I couldn't have done this without you. Vegan Tomato is here to stay!


  1. great post!! You raise important points. (and yes- your friends rock..:))..
    For me personally consciously giving up leather (quite a few years ago) was pretty easy because I never really used many leather products to begin with. I don't usually like leather (Except for one journal I bought which had a leather cover- but I felt sooo guilty afterward..lol). However my resolve was recently tested when I had to buy walking shoes for my trip to Italy. I tried very hard not to give in- I finally managed to find vegan shoes..yay!!
    I have also stopped buying silk stuff recently which was soooo much more difficult for me (I love silk). However like you- I think I will continue to wear stuff I already have but will not purchase more (i think throwing away stuff would be wasteful, don't you?.)..(Also just an FYI- many makeup/lip products contain carmine which is basically a dye made from crushed beetles..Just thought I'd let you in case you didn't already. Not trying to pressure you..lol)

    Cheese is probably the only thing that is stopping me from going completely vegan. But thanks to you and others I am beginning to explore alternatives. It's nice that so many of us struggle with so many similar questions and issues. I loved reading your posts and hope there will be many more on this blog!..hugs!!

    Lavanya (mayybeme on twitter)

  2. I just wanted to say thank you for all of your insightful and honest thoughts about this process. I was having the same thoughts about going vegan a few weeks ago and decided to do the 21 day challenge. I really appreciated your blog as a virtual support. I've also had many of the same thoughts about the whole challenge and have decided to stay vegan. I agree that it has truly changed me in so many positive ways. I hope that you'll continue to post about your journey because I love reading it!

  3. YAY!!! This post made my entire day! Seriously, this made me so happy. It's so doable and I think having people like you blog about their experience means that more people will see that it really isn't as tough as they think it will be. Loves!

  4. Yay for completing it!!! Thanks for being there! It's so great that you will stay vegan. I tried something with dairy in it for the first time today and I am sick as a dog, so I am thinking I might be headed in the same direction!!

  5. Well done on completing the challenge and sharing your experiences. It was fascinating to read your viewpoints and hear your progress. It has certainly made me more conscious about what I consume and purchase....

  6. I am a little late in congradulating you. And all your points are good and insightful. I'm right there with you on the leather; so many great designers are coming out with excellent non-leather options, but I'm not ready to give up my grandmother's Chanel bags or the Prada shoes I bought 5 years ago. I might feel totally different in a year, but I don't feel the need to give those up right now. Just looking for alternative materials going forward.

    As you may have noticed, I avoid wearing the label "vegan," and have received a bit of feedback on that. When I travel I will sometimes eat things that aren't keeping with a vegan plan. And in a pinch, I'll opt for a piece of wild fish over dairy. Those instances are becoming fewer and farther between. I do my best, and am forever surprised at how easy it is to keep 98% of my diet critter-free.

    Just love you, and love the energy and voice you bring to the world. Keep it up, girfriend. And be searching for a vegan tea-shop for us to get together when we're both in DFW next! Actually, ZaZa has vegan noshes AND great champagne!!!