Tomorrow (29th April) happens to be one year since I went vegan. This is the perfect occasion to share my story of how I became vegan and what I learned in a year.
Yes, we are vegan.
No, we don’t eat animals.
Yes, we only eat plants.
No, we don’t just eat salad.
Yes, there’s plenty of protein in plants.
No, we don’t miss cheese.
Yes, we feel amazing.
The Christmas and Easter lent are both important elements of the Orthodox religion and an annual tradition for me and my parents. We don’t make that big of an effort; usually starting 2-3 weeks in and sometimes cheating a little bit. Actually, up until last year I never did the strict lent. I would easily give up meat, but it was unthinkable to go without dairy. I was vegetarian, not vegan (although veganism and lent aren’t exactly the same).
Last year (Easter 2017) I decided to dedicate myself and to do strict lent for 14 days. It worked… Yes, I did want to hide and eat a tub of yogurt, but by the end of the second week the feeling was gone. In my head I had the rule to not eat dairy until Easter and that was enough to stop the cravings.
Meanwhile in the beginning of lent I started following some vegans on YouTube around some topics like minimalism. At first I wasn’t paying attention to their vegan comments, but bit by bit the information started piling up and at one point I decided to actively learn more, following people like High Carb Hannah and Mic. The Vegan.
On Easter I was feeling wonderful – a visible difference in my energy levels and stomach processes. But on Easter the lent finished and I happily went back to meat and dairy. However, in a few days my physical wellbeing completely changed. I was felling heavy and unwell: symptoms that I could explain with all the information I had learned in the last month.
All of a sudden I knew I wanted to try veganism for real. Knowing myself, I was sure there was no point of going vegetarian first – all or nothing! On 28th April we had Dominoe’s take out. On the 29th I started a 30 day vegan challenge. I got myself some nutritional yeast and soy yogurt and began. Every day I put what I ate on Instagram to keep myself responsible and to not give up.
In the middle of the first week Nic and I watched “Forks Over Knives” – a documentary about the connection between the standard western diet and the many health issues of the population. At the end of the week we watched another documentary “Cowspiracy” about the implications of animal agriculture on our planet. There was no discussion after the first film. After the second I asked Nic what he thought of it. He went vegan then and there. Of course our decision wasn’t only based on those two documentaries, but they were the turning point after plenty of research.
Watching these films and getting that information defied us to argue with our own logic. The voice that used to say: “Yeah, maybe, but I don’t believe it” was silent. Somehow it now believed.
The first month was amazing – we tried out many recipes which I had seen online and it was so good and tasty. Nic’s family was a bit shocked at first but they accepted it – what choice did they have. My family still have issues with the decision to this day. Their arguments aren’t about health but about the socio-philosophical aspects. But I don’t give up that easily, because I truly believe in what I am doing.
At first Nic was thinking of allowing meat and dairy for special occasions. I also didn’t have the intention of being too strict with myself. I knew that if I truly wanted something, I wouldn’t force myself against it. But the truth is that with so many alternatives on offer these days and especially with the information that we now know, we’ve never actually wanted to go back. And now we have been successful and happy vegans for a year.
What we have learned
I don’t know whether because of the diet itself or the holistic idea of a healthy life, my feelings for sports and getting up early have completely changed. I started waking up early, running by the sea and doing yoga under the cherry tree: activities, which otherwise I would happily have avoided.
Because of everything I read and watch I have a better understanding of the human body and the food we need. Naturally, I am very far from any professional capacity, but I understand some concepts – protein and estrogen or illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Diabetes. The basic knowledge of key elements helps me make logical assessments of the information I receive and allows me to personally evaluate its accuracy. And most importantly I learnt that prevention is by far better than treatment.
Inside veganism hide plenty of diets – raw, high carb and low fat, whole food plant based, or what we do which is a if-it’s-vegan-we-can-eat-it. Of course this type of diet doesn’t guarantee the zero waste and health benefits as the others, but for the time being this is what we eat. Additionally, we take vitamin B12 and D3, which are recommended for vegans and non-vegan alike. For me personally it is interesting to see what results the more holistic vegan diets would have and that is probably our next challenge.
Out and About
First, and for me surprising, it is very difficult t be vegan in Bulgarian restaurants. Although we have great traditions for meat and dairy free meals, our restaurants are so westernised, there are almost no options. The salads are flavourless and calorically poor, pizzas (ordered without cheese) are dry, and there is no bean soup on the ski slopes of Bansko. This is upsetting in many cases because it means we always have to be prepared either menatlly that we will eat when we get back or physically with sandwiches and nuts. The other problem in Bulgaria is the prices. Somehow although veganism uses some of the cheapest foods like potatoes, rice and lentils, the prices in Bulgaria are suited for 5 star restaurants even if you’re at a festival in the forest. Don’t get me wrong, when you do get vegan food, either specifically or accidentally, it can usually be delicious. It is just quite difficult.
In England, on the other hand, things are opposite. More and more pubs and restaurant have vegan options or whole vegan menus. This makes social occasions so much easier and problem free – everyone can eat whatever they want. They also try and offer interesting options which are always delicious and similarly priced to non vegan alternatives.
Overall our food budget hasn’t changed since a year ago. We allow ourselves to buy the new vegan stuff on the market, which aren’t exactly cheap. Additionally, we buy many organic products now, which are often double the non-organic prices
Mistakes and Compromises
Mistakes often occur when you’re out and about and that’s why we’re always ready to compromise. Often there is bad communication in restaurants. Waiters are busy and in a hurry and maybe bring you egg fried noodles with your Chinese. Or maybe you forget to order specifically from the vegan menu and although the burger is vegan the salad has mayo in it. We are very careful and try to ask questions when we are unsure but sometimes you have to choose your battles, accept it and move on. We aren’t 100% perfect but we try our best.
With the risk to sound really bad – the moral reasons behind veganism didn’t have that big of a sway over my decision. I love animals incredibly a lot and throughout my childhood I have collected homeless kittens, had kittens born in my bed, stubborn dogs, colourful parrots and quiet fish. But like many people the idea that farm animals feel what pets do, wasn’t obvious to me. Maybe I was just brought up that way. (And even so I refuse to watch Earthlings. I don’t think I can mentally take the scenes in that film.)
In just weeks those feelings completely changed. The fact that I survive and thrive without animals in my diet led me to completely rethink my opinion. My stomach turns when I see the sheep by the motorway, the elephants in the zoo or the ostriches in the Rodopa Mountains. Before, I took their existence for granted; now it hurts that they have to feel all that pain.
Maybe because we don’t have a very social life, we have faced very little negativity. Usually it is either light hearted jokes or genuine interest. In order to be prepared for the potentially negative situations, I believe that it is really important to be well educated on the topic as it always shows that my decision has real scientific arguments. So far I have always managed to defend myself and even pass on some information.
When I say always I don’t include my family. As I mentioned they have a big problem with my decisions and some members maybe even refuse to listen to my arguments. But the truth is that we live together and love each other just as well and just believe we will eventually get used to this. I know that they only want what’s best for me and therefore I believe that the problem isn’t actually a problem.
What I like best about being vegan is that I am forced to plan more, as with being zero waste. I always have to be one step ahead in order to avoid mistakes and not starve (figuratively). Maybe for some it sounds limiting, but for me this is freedom; freedom from the status quo. Right now I don’t think we will ever go back to our old eating habits. We will experiment but only within veganism.