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Lifelong vegan shares perspective on the growing meatless diet trend

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Originally published on May 22, 2015

Ellen DeGeneres. Ariana Grande. Beyonce and Jay-Z’s new vegan meal service. Veganism is around every corner, everywhere you turn. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is going vegan, a diet that abstains from the consumption of all animal products — dairy, eggs and meat included. Google Trends show drastic increase in the public’s interest in veganism, and the percentage of U.S. citizens identifying as vegan has increased by 150 percent over the past five years. Unlike some people who go vegan to follow celebrity trends, I was born into it.

Growing up, I had no choice about whether or not I was vegan. My family has been vegan for almost 20 years, so I was born into it. No, we are not hipsters, and no, we are not Buddhists. My parents chose to become vegetarians for a healthier lifestyle, and no one in the family has eaten meat since.

My meals consisted of almost the exact same dishes as everyone else’s, without whatever meat was originally in the recipe, and with a side of loneliness.

When I was young, I felt like an outcast because of my different eating habits. While everyone on my kindergarten field trip to Chinatown had barbecued ribs or pork spring rolls on their plates, I sat there with nothing in front of me, refusing as politely as my five-year-old self could. Even eight years later, on my school’s big trip to China, I had to eat at a separate vegetarian table for all three meals a day over the course of two weeks. My meals consisted of almost the exact same dishes as everyone else’s, without whatever meat was originally in the recipe, and with a side of loneliness. Once, the restaurant my class went to in a city called Xi’An completely forgot to prepare a vegetarian table altogether because it was so rare for them to have customers who did not eat meat, so I ended up not eating. I needed to constantly remind myself that I was not sitting separately because I did not have friends, but rather that I needed different treatment for my own good.

Of course, with the loneliness also came benefits. Being so strictly vegetarian has immensely improved my patience with others, considering the number of people to which I have had to explain my dietary habits. My diet has also led me to reflect upon my identity as I was growing up, and I can genuinely say that it has made me a more independent person. I am more expressive, speak up for myself more and do not mind going out to eat or shop by myself. I still dislike being lonely, but now I am more comfortable with being alone than I used to be.

However, the growing acceptance for my lifestyle has not always been positive. As I have come to terms with my vegetarianism, I have become disappointed by the new culture of cutting out meat from one’s diet just to fit in socially. It seems as though a lot of people are going vegan because it is the new “trend,” but I do not think that is what veganism should be about. Going vegan is a big commitment and can be extremely hard on people who have eaten meat and animal products all of their lives. Being vegan should be about becoming a healthier person and helping the environment — not about fitting in with some arbitrary fad. After all, vegan diets have been found to minimize [or completely eliminate] people’s genetic propensity to develop chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes type 2, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, choosing a vegan diet can dramatically reduce the amount of land, water, and oil resources an individual consumes and the amount of pollution he or she otherwise might cause. But if you become vegan not for the lifestyle but rather to fit in with a “trendy new diet,” then it is probably not the best choice for you. It can end up being much harder than you expected to stay committed, especially since you are completely changing your eating routine with no intrinsic motivation.

Being vegan should be about becoming a healthier person and helping the environment — not about fitting in with some arbitrary fad.

Thankfully, times have changed since I was younger and I constantly felt like the odd one out. I still remember a time during freshman year when a girl I had just met in my PE class found out about my eating habits, and thought that my inherited vegetarianism was “cool.” That was a pretty big turning point in the way I saw myself because I no longer felt as self-conscious about people disapproving of my veganism. The fact that someone admired me for my dedication to my lifestyle and described it as unique was both different and special to me. Now that I have stopped being so anxious about people judging me, and started to accept myself as I am, I no longer mind my parents’ decision to be vegan — in fact, I truly enjoy it and would not mind following it forever.

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Lifelong vegan shares perspective on the growing meatless diet trend