My favorite food used to be spaghetti and meatballs with lots of mozzarella cheese. I also liked lasagna, pepperoni pizza—basically anything with lots of meat and cheese. So when my parents told me that I was going to be a vegan, I was annoyed.
Last year, my parents had a barbecue for Easter. As we all piled our plates high with thick steaks, we noticed that my aunt had only rice and beans on her plate. She said, “I’m not eating meat anymore.” We were all astonished. “Why not?” we asked.
She explained to us that she had become a vegan. I’d heard this word before, but I didn’t know what it meant. My aunt explained that vegans don’t eat anything that comes from animals, like meat, fish, dairy and eggs, unlike vegetarians, who don’t eat meat or fish but do eat eggs and dairy.
My aunt said being vegan had health benefits. Later that day, my aunt gave my mom some books explaining the benefits of the vegan diet. They must have made some good points because a few days later, my mom told my dad and me that we should become vegan. She said it could strengthen our immune systems, which could help our body defend against health problems like diabetes and prevent heart attacks. My dad is always ready to try new things, so he joined my mom.
I wanted to keep eating all kinds of great tasting meat, like crispy fried chicken and big juicy steaks. I ate healthy most of the time and I exercised too, so I didn’t worry about health problems. I kept this to myself though, because I doubted I could get my parents to change their minds. They said we would try it for only a few months, but I was still not looking forward to it.
There are two types of vegans: ones who don’t eat animal products and ones who also stop using animal products, like wool and leather. We were only changing our diets.
My first day as a vegan was terrible. For lunch I threw together a sandwich with lots of lettuce, tomatoes and some mustard. It didn’t have that same meaty smell or taste. Without ham, it tasted like cardboard. Our first vegan dinner was bland rice and vegetables. Afterward, I rummaged through our fridge looking for leftover meat, but my parents had given all of it away to friends and family.
The following week was much better. My mom bought a vegan cookbook and learned how to cook with tofu. I had never tried tofu before. It looked like a chunk of white slime. But when my mom served dinner, the tofu looked like scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables. And it tasted just like egg! I gobbled my food up in minutes and got seconds.
After that day, my mom’s recipes got more complex. She made pancakes with soy milk and an egg substitute, vegan pasta that she bought from Trader Joe’s with soy “meat” balls, and tofu “chicken” sandwiches. Everything tasted just like its non-vegan equivalent, so I never missed meat anymore.
For lunch at school I took leftovers or a Tofurky sandwich, which is vegan turkey made of tofu. At first, my friends asked me why I was vegan, what I could and couldn’t eat, and what I ate as meat substitutes. One day one of my friends asked me if I wanted some chicken. “No, I’m fine,” I said. I didn’t crave chicken anymore. It didn’t even feel like real food to me. “Come on! You know you want some,” he said, as he waved it in front of my face.
“It’s not going to work,” I said, laughing. “You can’t convince me!”
He tried for a few more minutes, but he couldn’t make me eat it. My other friends just watched and laughed at him. So he gave up and went back to eating.
I started feeling healthier
One day, a few months after we became vegan, I weighed myself and noticed that I had lost about five pounds. I needed to wear a belt for pants that were too small just a few months ago. I usually went to bed at 9 p.m. but I could stay up an extra hour because I had more energy, and I could still wake up the next day at 6 a.m. feeling rested. I could focus in school better and didn’t fall asleep in class anymore.
I thought this sudden onset of effects was pretty weird, so I asked my parents about this. They said they felt it too. “I feel more energized,” my dad said. His cholesterol levels have also gone down.
The only thing that is a bit of a problem is eating out. Whenever I go to a friend’s party, most of the food is not vegan. When I go to the movies, I can’t eat popcorn because of the butter, or most of the candy because it either has milk or gelatin, which is made of a protein found in animal skins and tendons. At my school dance at the end of eighth grade I was told that I would get something vegan. But I never got anything so I picked at some salad and fruit. For the rest of the night I felt kind of sleepy. Now I’ve learned my lesson. I eat before I go somewhere and then I have no problems.
A few years ago if you’d asked me to try being vegan, I would have called you crazy. But now I believe that this diet is great because it’s made me feel healthier. And even though people sometimes call me crazy for giving up meat, I don’t listen to them. I’ve been vegan for more than a year now, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
What’s the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
Vegetarians don’t eat meat or fish. Vegans don’t eat any foods that come from animals, such as meat, fish, dairy or eggs. Some vegans also don’t wear clothes or shoes made from materials that come from animals, such as leather, wool, silk or fur.
To learn more about veganism, go to vegan.org.