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The Vegan Lifestyle

November 25
by
Colleen Howell
in
Health
with
.

“Be the Change” – I had heard this quote when I was younger, but never did it resonate with me quite like it does now. It seems that Ghandi might have known a thing or two.


Growing up I was like any other kid when it came to eating. I may have been a bit picky when it came to items on my plate touching, but other than that, I was just the standard teeny-bopper.

Food was food.

It’s what my mom and dad served me. It’s what gave me energy to play. It’s what all my friends were eating. It was just part of life.

As I grew older, and went away to college, I began to take a greater interest in exactly what I was eating — for aesthetic purposes. I realized that since I was no longer on my family’s meal plan and no longer active with cheerleading, I needed to step it up and put forth my best foot to stay fit. There was no Freshman 15 being had by this chick. I knew that for sure.

I began to listen to what exactly society deemed healthy. This was a process that came in many stages. I call it my health evolution.

This evolution’s first stop was my freshman year of college, a time of heavily processed energy bars, sugar-doused granola, frozen preservative-loaded, “healthy” meals, lots of refined carbs and highly saturated fatty animal products.

%tags Health I then moved onto the stage of first-kitchen-cooking-excitement.

During my sophomore year of college, I lived in my very first apartment equipped with a full kitchen, where I cooked the heck out of it. I was experimenting with dishes, finding out what I could cook, but mostly trying my best to imitate the delicious meals my mom had made for me at home.

This was all very exciting for me and when I realized how simple and economical it was to cook for yourself. At this point, the term “clean eating” was bounced around in my head as I started following various healthy living blogs, but I didn’t truly understand this concept until much later.

Sophomore year consisted of a great deal of frozen chicken and fish that I would store up and thaw when needed. Since I no longer had my mom or dad to do the “gross” part of cooking, I realized how disturbed I was to work with these dead animal carcasses, touching their slimy, pale flesh, carving into their meek bones, muscles and tendons.

I would usually try to zone out and continue to reassure myself that the after effect would be worth my disgust. This feeling seems to be common with so many people–something I would later note.

Sophomore year was a turning point for my relationship with my body.

My reasons for eating well and exercising transformed from an aesthetic purpose to overall well-being inside and out. At this point in time, my diet consisted of heavy amounts of salmon, chicken, shrimp, cheese, eggs, Greek yogurt, super grains, nuts, and vegetables. I was living my life as healthy as I knew how.

In May 2013, I decided to start my own healthy living blog, entitled CHOWIDO. I had followed so many different blogs of the same sort for quite a while and figured it was my turn to give it a shot. From there on, I was so invested in presenting the best food, the best workouts, and the best lifestyle to my readers, I was head-deep in my own research.

I had come across this diet called “veganism” a few times, but brushed it off as extreme and unnecessary. How could a diet with no meat, cheese or eggs be healthy? LOL yeah right, let me just keep doing my thang.

It wasn’t until I met another blogger from Canada that my opinion was changed. She was just like me, roughly my age, a fitness fanatic, health-foodie chef that had made this vegan transformation on her journey to find her best self. She had me convinced that this lifestyle yielded top-notch health benefits. Still, I couldn’t imagine a life without chicken and fish, let alone cheese and eggs.

I finally decided to test the waters.

In effort to have an edgy blog topic, I decided to try this crazy diet out for myself. I did a trial “vegan week” starting July 5, 2013. During this time, I not only researched foods to buy and meals to make, but watched two life-changing documentaries.

“Forks Over Knives” and “Vegucated” had me question all the information I had grown to know true, the very information I found sacred. Was it really so that meat, dairy and eggs were unhealthy for you?

From discovering that the consumption of animal proteins and fats are directly linked to western world diseases like cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and realizing the repulsive, violent reality of factory farming today, and the detriment animal agriculture has on our environment, I knew I had to do something.

It’s crazy to think that this all started with my desire to dive into health and wellness research to become the best me I could be, but slowly transitioned into scattered ethical and environmental contemplation of my daily actions. Everything I had known to be kosher was now far from it.

I began to question…

  • Why is it that because us humans are more powerful than other species of this planet, we feel that we can exploit them as material products for our own personal gain?
  • Since when is it cool to steal bodies, babies, skin or shelter that is not our own?
  • Why is society so convinced that consuming dairy and meat is a means of survival when we can receive the same nutrients in a superior form from plants?
  • Why is the plant-based lifestyle not catching on like wildfire with all the information out there about it?

%tags Health I was puzzled now to define what it meant to carry out a healthy diet and by the meat and dairy industry that I had never thought twice about buying into.

Both the disease epidemic and animal welfare angles hit me hard.

I had seen other documentaries related to the food industry and knew it wasn’t pretty, but this was something else. And I could do something about it.

Meanwhile, I was genuinely enjoying the vegan foods I had been preparing. These foods were delicious and there was so much variety to choose from. I wasn’t hungry and I still had plenty of energy, if not more, to complete my workouts.

I got hit hard with criticism though, as I should have expected.

  • “You are going to look emaciated!”
  • “You won’t get your protein and calcium!”
  • “You won’t have enough energy to workout!”
  • “But it’s natural to eat animals…”
  • “What if you kill your own animal to eat?”
  • “What if it’s cage-free/humanely slaughtered?”

Nobody likes to be the odd man out, being criticized for the lifestyle they live. It definitely made me think about everything twice.

I decided to continue on until the end of the summer, as I imagined it would be too difficult upon my return back to college. When the end of summer arrived, the lifestyle had grown on me and I had invested my time into even more research. I wanted to push forward.

Of course when I got back to school, I got a whole other load of people who thought I was crazy, just as I would have if my life had been rewound a few months.

As the school months went on, it was evident that the most difficult part of being vegan was social scrutiny by people who had not done their research. It felt like I was spending all my time and energy convincing people that what I was doing was acceptable, that what I was doing should be okay in the eye’s of society, when in fact, it should be applauded.

There came a turning point about six months into my vegan transition that I realized I no longer needed to defend myself. I would merely give the facts to those who questioned and move on.

I began to recognize all of the incredible benefits I was experiencing.

I felt vibrant! I felt so mentally clear, calm and collected in my daily interactions. I felt so physically lean and was more energized than ever. I had never felt better. And the best part? I could eat as much as I want on this lifestyle of abundance! I made sure to document all of this on my blog.

I realized that the only way to effectively convince people of the positivity in this powerful shift in lifestyle was to lead by example — to be the change.

I, alone, was making a difference, in my own life, the lives of so many animals, and the very Earth we stand on. I felt absolutely empowered knowing the impact I was making. It was now time for people to realize this.

From then on, it was history. I have been vegan now for nearly two years and plan on continuing to do so for the rest of my life. I say with absolute confidence that going vegan was the single greatest decision I have ever made.

Since the beginning of my vegan journey, I have grown an unbelievable amount.

Aside from transforming into a healthier, more vibrant human being, I have grown into a more conscious, more compassionate, more worldly individual. It’s crazy how differently I see the world now than I did just a couple years ago.

Never would I have thought about the process my food endured from farm to plate. Never would I have thought about all the lives I am affecting by choosing which foods to consume. Never would I have thought about the environmental impact of my menu choice.

In effort to do my part, I founded The Veg Club of Virginia Tech in August 2014 to gather vegans, vegetarians and those who are simply interested in the lifestyle to get together to create positive change on campus and in the Blacksburg community. I also served this past year as a student advisory committee member of Virginia Tech Dining Services representing the vegan voice on campus.

I am a changed person. Not only do I live to be my best self, but live so that others may see a brighter tomorrow.

We have much more power and influence on the world than we think.

It’s time we acknowledge that and move forward with change.

Through my journey, I have learned a few important things…

  • Question everything. Do not be defined by the status quo. Do not let your life be determined by societal norms and expectations. Do your own research and formulate your own conclusions.
  • You count. Never discredit yourself because you are one human being. You can make all the difference in the world. Your dollar is your vote. You have the power to make a vast influence on society.
  • Dare to be different. People will always be judged for doing different than their neighbor. There is no right and wrong, just opinions on such. Different is good. Different is what keeps life interesting.

“Heres to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

To educate yourself further on this amazing plant-based lifestyle, I highly recommended watching Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, Food, Inc., Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, Food Matters, Earthlings, and Cowspiracy.


Be the Change. The most effective way to lead others is by example. Exemplify the type of change you want to see and you shall watch it happen. Since July 5, 2013, my life has been altered forever. It has led me to discover where my true calling lies. I aspire to spend the rest of my life changing the world, one plant-based diet at a time.

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