Barry: Vegan is more than choice — it’s a lifestyle

Published 9:00 am Friday, October 5, 2012

Last Saturday, I participated in Chicago Vegan Mania — an all-vegan tradeshow celebrating and educating vegans, vegetarians and curious omnivores. It was extremely exhilarating to be surrounded by thousands of people who understand the beauty of dedication to a plant-based diet.  By the end of the day, I felt more confident than ever that “being vegan” was becoming less and less weird.

That night, my friend and I went out to toast the success of the day. We started chatting with the guys seated next to us, and, as soon as they found out I was in town for a vegan event, one of them proceeded to tell me several stories about all his friends who used to be vegetarian. Each of the friends fell off the veg wagon in a social setting where they felt there were no other options, and, thus, their convictions weakened. A classic willpower battle lost.

It really got me thinking about the social power of food. It is intertwined in the culture, experiences and traditions.

When people find out I eat a vegan diet, they almost always ask if it’s hard. I think what they mean is, am I satisfied by the food I eat? Don’t I miss the taste of animal products? But those things aren’t difficult because of how I feel physically and what I know about food. Like any less-mainstream lifestyle choice, the social aspect of plant-based eating is what’s difficult.

Anyone who’s ever been on a diet, tried to stop drinking or quit smoking can relate. Everything is fine at home where you can follow your routine, but, when you’re at a party and everyone else is loading up, you can doubt the necessity of these “restrictions” you’ve placed on yourself. Let’s face it: Even if your doctor or loved one asked you to make the change, only you can make it.

So, you can cave in and think of your health choices as restrictions. Or, you can be empowered by how much better you feel when  sticking to your health regimen. Eat a little snack before going out, drink sparkling water with a lemon wedge and smile from ear-to-ear as friends and colleagues compliment you on how great your skin looks since you started drinking green smoothies every morning.

As we move in to colder weather and comfort food season, I encourage you to shift your mindset from one that focuses on the limits and restrictions of a healthy, plant-heavy diet, and start to think of the excitement of feeling great and experimenting with new foods. According to Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals:” “Americans choose to eat less than 0.25 percent of the known edible food on the planet.”

Discovering more of those is one of my favorite things about being a health foodie. The other is how great the food tastes.

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