Back in the day, when I first began subbing, the question, “What’s a vegan?” and “Why are you a vegan?” would often come up. If my kids noticed I wasn’t eating meat, I would share my dietary choices, but not always in great detail, especially if there weren’t any other vegetarians or vegans in the classroom and I was met with judgment and criticism.
Nowadays, I sub at schools that openly advertise a fully vegan menu for their students with a new dish for every day of the week, which is simply incredible. Additionally, I am finding more vegans and vegetarians or even students who call themselves “pescatarians” in my classrooms. This fills me with joy because I see that more and more Americans are developing the courage to step outside of the comfort zone, listen to their bodies, and embrace a plant-based lifestyle. Even more documentaries are popping up, inspiring more Americans to witness both the health and environmental consequences of consuming animals. Tons of accounts on social media are proudly advertising a vegan lifestyle, and many Hollywood celebrities and other public figures are claiming veganism for their dietary preference. Vegan life is currently trending.
But not every vegan’s journey is the same. Not every vegan has had the luxury of enjoying a time where there were tons of options available as far as good, creative eating goes. Not every vegan even had a tribe of other vegans to turn to when times got hard. We all have different stories. Here’s mine.
I first heard about veganism when I was in the 8th grade. I was an Honors kid, a “Gate” aka Gifted and Talented student, and my teacher at the time, Mr. Roper, was talking with his colleague, Mr. Hill, about college. I had told them that I was interested in attending UC Berkeley.
“What’s that college like?” I asked.
“It’s not all that great. Just a bunch of hippies and vegans there.”
“What are vegans?” I followed.
“Just weird people that eat weird food.” He finished.
Not a lot of information, right?
The next time I was exposed to vegan lifestyle was, “dicho y hecho,” like my mother would say, while I was attending UCLA.
It was my last quarter, I had signed up for a (not kidding) “Pornography and Evolution” Women’s Studies class, and with my fiancée-at-the-time sitting beside me as we waited for class to begin, I watched Vida Jafari come in.
It makes so much sense now why I was immediately drawn to her. Vibes never lie, and her energy was magnetic, pure and completely distinguishable from everyone else’s.
After class I introduced myself and it was during the course of this class that we became friends.
She was the first person I had a completely vegan meal with.
We sat together at Shamshiri, a Persian restaurant (she was half Japanese, half Persian and I had expressed my interest in trying Persian food for the first time with her) where I left her, the expert, in charge of ordering on behalf of the two of us.
“You don’t have to eat vegan if you don’t want to,” she assured me. “I won’t be offended.”
“No, I want to try it! I’m sure I will like it.” I answered confidently, and sure enough, everything was delicious and I didn’t miss meat at all.
The next vegan meal we had together was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Little Ethiopia where we all ate with our hands, and she took the time to explain just how easy it was to “veganize” her favorite foods, and that she loved being vegan so much she had become a glutton because of the ease she felt at no longer feeling guilty about anything she ate.
“Did you know that Oreos are vegan, too?” she excitedly asked me.
“No way! Seriously?” I answered, matching her enthusiasm.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine was offering me advice about helping my daughter commit to a vegan diet.
“You gotta make being vegan cool.”
That’s what Vida did for me. She was so cool, her energy was amazing, and her voice was simply so fabulous that I was completely receptive to the things she taught me about embracing a plant-based lifestyle.
“So, how do you do it? How do you go vegan?” I asked her.
“If you really want to do it,” she answered frankly, “I suggest you start slowly. Give up one thing at a time.
That summer, after she and I both graduated with our degrees in Women’s Studies from UCLA, I made my first move to become vegan.
I began with the Master Cleanse.
For those of you whom have never heard of it, it’s a diet specifically geared towards detoxing the body from the effects of harmful foods like processed meats, fast food, sugar and other forms of dietary junk. Later, I learned more about the diet and discovered that its intention is also to help individuals ease into a plant-based lifestyle. The gist of it is drinking lemonade made of water, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup for ten days straight without having anything else except for more water and herbal teas.
Sounds kinda intense, right?
I went for it, and I went HAM.
This was a time in my life where I had already successfully committed to completing a double major Bachelor’s Degree, and had also jumped full-fledged into motherhood…I wasn’t about to fall off the wagon over ten days of technical starvation, no matter what kind of criticism I endured for it.
Oh, did the criticism arrive, too.
Shortly before graduation, I got homesick all of a sudden. So my ex-fiancee and I decided to move back home to Norwalk. His dad needed help with paying the bills and his old room was empty, so they welcomed all three of us with open arms. Just around the corner from his parents’ house was my mom’s house, so we knew we could count on plenty of support with my daughter while he went to work and I found a job.
In the meantime, I busied myself with reading tons of feminist books, excercising to get my pre-mommy body back, and, the latest, experimenting with diets.
My stepmom and dad were the ones who recommended the Master Cleanse. They felt it would benefit me to detox my body and they also mentioned I’d lose a lot of weight with it.
Ten days and ten pounds later I felt like a new woman. I had somehow gotten past the “You are too skinny! Why are you starving yourself! Eat something!” complaints from my ex’s mom and followed through on my commitment. I had developed a very strong level of self-discipline, and had also learned to see food differently.
Everything was going great until I decided to hit up the In N Out Drive Thru to satisfy my craving for a strawberry milkshake.
I was so bloated within 15 minutes of its consumption that I looked like I was in my second trimester again.
Here’s the thing, guys. I was COMPLETELY unaware that The Master Cleanse would legitimately FORCE me to transition from eating animals to giving them up entirely. I was merely looking to feel better emotionally, physically and spiritually and, because I am an Aries living in LA, I welcomed the challenge of denying food to myself for ten days straight in the name of wellness.
However, several attempts at consuming milk, cheese and ice cream made it PAINFULLY clear that I had become lactose intolerant.
I had to roll with the punches, and after doing a little bit of research, I learned that tons of people in the world can’t digest dairy and its frankly unnatural for a human to be drinking another animal’s milk after they’ve been weaned from their own mother’s milk. Moreover, further research later in life showed me just how devastating and abusive the dairy industry is to cows for the purpose of satisfying the average American consumer whose addiction to dairy stems from the mother cow’s biologically perfected, opiate-laced, dopamine-releasing baby cow-feeding fluid, which the average American is also conditioned to believe he NEEDS in order to satisfy his daily calcium and protein requirements, which is pure bullshit, by the way. For Pete’s sake, there’s even a separate, albeit unnecessary food group for dairy.
Shortly after giving up milk and its plethora of related products for the sake of no longer enduring abdominal pain, my overly enthused trips to Famous Dave’s, Johnny Rebb’s and Lucille’s for their full racks of pork ribs ended in a sudden halt. I was simply not interested in eating what my “woke” friends called “swine.” They had educated me about the dangers of eating pork, even reminding me that Muslims abstained from eating it for several good reasons which are still pertinent today. According to The National, Muslims consider pork to be “impure, unhealthy and harmful for humans due to the fats, toxins and bacteria it contains and the way the pig spends its life rolling around in mud and its own excrement. The specific aspect that pork is unhealthy has even been proven by scientists, such as Hans-Heinrich Reckeweg, who argued that western populations who eat pork carry more diseases than other populations who do not eat pork.” With that in mind, while being surrounded by many healthy, creative individuals, I gave up pork and never looked back.
This was frankly pretty hard to do in the house I lived in at the time. I could no longer eat half of the things that were cooked there, and had to make a great effort to prepare my own foods. I suddenly realized that most of the food I was eating contained pork and was even able to discern whether or not food was made with pork by simply smelling it.
As difficult as it was for me at first, I no longer moved towards the sausages, bacon, egg rolls, cabbage rolls and other delicious Hmong dishes that my fiancee’s family lovingly prepared which I used to enjoy so much.
Beef took me a bit longer. How was I really going to avoid burgers and carne asada without feeling majorly inconvenienced?
What helped me stop was dating a half Puerto Rican, half British guy who LOVED to eat meat. He lived in the Jewish part of West LA and worked for CAA, and I was signed to AMG at the time, so I was constantly spending tons of late nights out in Hollywood and the Hills making music and networking, even somehow finding myself in gigantic celebrity homes out in DTLA, the Hollywood Hills and Mullholland Drive, as well as frequenting some of the most relevant LA and Hollywood hotspots with him by my side. But our late night eating not only resulted in my rapid weight gain, but also an energetic shift in me that left me feeling slow, lazy, unmotivated, guilty and, for lack of a better word, unconscious. It was as if my addiction to meat matched my addiction to human flesh and other addictions which had materialized in this beautiful European man whom I lusted for but didn’t truly love and whom I felt completely distracted with. I ended up leaving him because I simply didn’t feel good around him and his many Hollywood vices and shortly thereafter started dating someone who’s mom was a pescatarian and who had given up meat for spiritual reasons. She described to me the ways that she felt slowed down by eating meat, and because I resonated with her story, I developed the courage to give it up, too. It helped to experience dating someone who’s diet was so stubbornly attached to eating meat because when I witnessed individuals who had given up meat and was able to energetically feel what they were like around me, I felt a rush of motivation. Beef suddenly disappeared from my menu and so did some of the associated feelings of guilt, sluggishness and heaviness.
Chicken, seafood and eggs were the last to go. By the time I dumped the British guy, I had gained so much weight I felt insecure, and I was desperate to change my habits. I began working for Sensa, a weight loss company that specialized in products meant to suppress one’s appetite, and with the money I made from that company I was able to move into my own place in Downey. It was there that I made the move to completely turn my habits around.
Because it was my first time living in my own place since my apartment at UCLA, I felt excited about all the control I had as far as what I put into my fridge and in my pantry.
The last dish with an animal I made was a gigantic batch of shrimp and fish ceviche that I prepared with my brother, Angel, and I even brought some over to the studio of the guy I was dating at the time so he could try it. The next day, I started making completely vegan food every day at home or being careful to only order vegan options at restaurants.
My first official day eating a completely plant-based diet was September 13th, 2012.
I’ve been a vegan for over 6 years.
After that, the weight came off with ease. I lost about 30 pounds, to be honest. I had already transitioned away from beef burgers to veggie burgers, from scrambled eggs to tofu scramble, from regular cheese to vegan cheese, and even from ceviche to mango salad. I shopped at Trader Joe’s, Fresh and Easy and Whole Foods. I read labels carefully, ate more fruit, drank more water and asked lots of questions at restaurants. My vegan friends policed me anytime I ate something I thought was vegan but really wasn’t. More than anything, my energy shifted from negative to positive, simply by being more mindful about what I put into my body.
Today, I am sitting here typing in my dad’s living room in Aurora, Colorado, and I’ll be enjoying a completely vegan Thanksgiving feast prepared by my brother Pancho, who was formerly the most resistant to vegan cuisine, and whom is now the strongest advocate for my plant-based lifestyle.
The truth is, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and many other fatal health conditions have reached epidemic proportions here in America simply because humans won’t quit eating animals. While many are beginning to wake up to the fact that the sources of these diseases lie in what they have been consuming and especially how what they consume has been raised and produced, many are still dying in ignorance. Meanwhile, my vegan friends and me don’t even catch seasonal colds and leave our annual checkups with the doctors reinforcing what we already know---that we are in perfect health.
Don’t sleep, folks. Do you research. Just because we have been eating meat for generations doesn’t mean it was something we were meant to do, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s the healthy thing to do, ESPECIALLY nowadays.
Recently, I taught an entire two days’ worth of nutrition to my health students in the Special Ed class I was recently assigned to, and while I did teach them the expected standards of nutrition, I also included that if they were interested in not eating meat, or if their families or religions prevented them from eating meat, they should not feel that they have to consume meat or dairy to receive their essential sources of calcium and protein. I provided them with alternatives for acquiring calcium and protein in their diets via coloring pages and other printable handbooks. Lastly, we watched What the Health on Netflix which was extremely eye-opening for the high functioning of the bunch, and especially for the instructional aides. For those of you who haven’t seen it, please do. It talks a lot about why there’s so much disease in America and how it’s linked to partnerships between the meat and dairy industries along with non-profit organizations and the pharmaceutical industry. It’s scary to think about, but these companies are making more money from sick Americans than from healthy ones…and it is therefore our responsibility to educate ourselves about what is truly good for our bodies.
Since I adopted a plant-based lifestyle, I have noticed changes in my body, mind, soul and energy levels. It doesn’t end with giving up animal products for the sake of health, either. While at first, my mission to become vegan was to strengthen my spirit and to lose weight, over time I have also developed compassion and love for the animals who are sacrificed daily for the sake of the human diet, and expanded that compassion to all animals. I look back with sadness at all the ways that I neglected my pets when I was a child, because I didn’t truly view them as equals. I feel like eating meat made it difficult to authentically relate to them.
A few days ago, while on my way to Colorado with my family for the holidays, my daughter began sharing what she was reading at school with all of us. It was a story about a gorilla named Ivan who lived in a cage at the mall, whose only friends were an elephant and a dog. As she retold the story with a voice filled with honesty and innocence, my eyes filled with tears and I could not help but weep silently while staring straight ahead at the road from the passenger seat while my mom drove us down highway 70 towards Denver. I didn’t want her to see me crying because I wanted her to continue retelling the story, and while my mom asked her questions in order to keep her from noticing that I was an emotional mess, I reflected on how and why I was so profoundly affected by this tale.
Animals are people, too.
I recently adopted pets for the first time since I moved out of my childhood home at the age of 22. The last pets I had were two rabbits that starved to death because after I moved out of my mom’s and into my aunt’s, no one bothered to feed them, and I didn’t bother to check up on them, either. I didn’t realize how wrong I was for leaving them in a home where every animal that I’d ever owned prior to that age had been neglected…and neglect is just as horrific an abuse as anything else. I should have found them a new home, instead.
It took me a long time to trust myself with a pet again, and when I moved into my new place last year, I realized my daughter, an only child, needed a companion. So I got her a cat. Unfortunately, this cat also mysteriously passed away after a few months, and I felt a surge of guilt and grief upon his passing—something I had never been able to feel prior to that. And trust me: I have owned TONS of pets.
My daughter, on the other hand, feels an overwhelming amount of compassion for animals and treated her pet cat as if he were her child. She showered him with love, affection and made sure he was provided for. It hit her just as hard as it hit me and when I told her that he passed, I had to relive the same level of grief that I felt upon finding him lifeless in my home.
It took a little bit of time, but after a few months of traveling and grieving we ended up adopting a pair of siblings from the same friend who we adopted our last cat from—we couldn’t bear the idea of separating them, since they’d been raised together since birth and we worried their emotional and spiritual health would suffer if we chose to only adopt one. A few happy months later we got a call from my ex’s sister asking if we would be willing to foster a kitten who’d been abandoned by his mother on Halloween and I reluctantly took him in (3 cats in one home is quite a lot, don’t you agree?). The first thing I did was text my friend who was forced to give up the cats we now have at home due to an unexpected pregnancy (having cats at home while pregnant increases the risk of contracting a virus called toxoplasmosis, which can result in birth defects):
“Doreen, do you want this kitty? He’s tiny and I can foster him until you have your baby and are ready to receive him!” I wrote, and included a picture.
And just like that, I found a home for the tiny kitten.
In the meantime, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching the little kitten go from being extremely defensive and hissing at us, as well as suffering rejection from the two older cats, to becoming part of the family and freely roaming through the upstairs and downstairs of our home, stopping to engage with us playfully and sleeping nightly with my daughter with a quiet purr throughout. Moreover, the older female cat has adopted him, allowing him to cuddle with her, play with her and sleep with her as well as follow her around the house. The older male cat has also taken a liking to him and it’s adorable to watch them interact as a family, despite not being related to him.
Every day, my daughter and I witness the level of compassion the older cats have for the tiny kitten and it teaches us that animals have gigantic, pure loving spirits and deserve to be respected and loved by us the way they respect and love one another.
I truly don’t believe I would have ever developed this much love and compassion for animals, or any real desire to care for one had I not given up eating them. I feel a stronger energetic, spiritual connection to them now that I don’t consume them. I feel like when I ate meat, I was more apathetic, unconscious, and selfish. I was driven by my ego instead of my soul. I was more impulsive, impatient and scattered in my thinking. I feel like by adopting a plant-based lifestyle, my entire aura has grown purer.
As a sub, this has helped me be more patient, kind, compassionate and understanding towards my students. As a vegan sub, I am also more present and aware. I am more intuitive. I can serve my students better than I would be able to if I ate in an unhealthy fashion. My diet supports my spiritual growth. Like many monks and other spiritual teachers, I ultimately chose to give up meat to raise my vibration and to better serve my purpose as a creator of light and love in my universe, and to help others ascend. And I am grateful for the journey that brought me here and all of the ways that the Universe continues to support this decision.