By Jamie Weiss, HoneyColony
I was not always the lettuce-loving nutritional yeast addict I am today. In fact, that’s a picture of me as my former self plowing into a brittle stalk of good old beef jerky. There was a not-so-far-off time when I looked forward to my monthly bill, knowing I would sink my teeth into a bloody burger fixed with every item that could fit under the bun. I would relish in its salty iron taste and complement the meal with heart failure-causing fries. Luckily for me, you cannot get free refills on fries because I surely would’ve been finished.
Growing up in Brooklyn I had never even heard the term “vegan,” and I definitely never knew one. I knew a couple of trendy vegetarians, most of whom were so young that I found their convictions on animal rights annoying. Yes, it’s true — I grew up among sausage-eating guidos and guidettes, Italians who loved meat so much they might as well have had dead family members on their plates.
Sometimes I would go to the illustrious Sunday dinners hosted by my first love’s uncle. There with the cousins Nikki, Vinnie, Joey, and Anthony, I would watch as my boyfriend ripped off his shirt and dove into the piles of food. The sweat from his endeavor was so great that he would literally eat with his bare chest exposed, just so his shirt wouldn’t interfere with his feast. From chicken parmigiana and veal scaloppini, to prosciutto-wrapped sea scallops and clams in white wine sauce, the smorgasbord of meat seemed endless. Of course we can’t forget staples like meatballs or sausage and peppers that have made there way into every Italian feast known to man. It was like the Feast of San Gennaros, which still draws crowds by the thousands today.
As a kid my mom worked nights, so she would leave me $10 and the task of feeding myself. First choice: Mickey D’s. That’s right, I would run downstairs to the McDonald’s under the elevated train and stuff myself to satisfaction with a perfect No. 7. Two cheeseburgers, a large fries, and, just for good measure, a diet Coke. I would ask for sweet and sour dipping sauce, so I could drench my crunchy fries in its sweet and savory deliciousness.
On other nights, I would get Chinese food. Nothing like a good portion of deep-fried General Tso’s chicken to end the night right. Naturally there were the nights when I wanted nothing other than a chicken parm hero from the pizza place in our shopping center. Whatever it was, I satisfied the urge — never for a moment questioning the so-called “food” I’d grown such affection for.
For starters these eating habits made it very hard to have a hot body. And anybody from Brooklyn can tell you that having a hot body is pretty much a Brooklyn prerequisite. I was lucky to have a young metabolism and a forgiving digestive system. In truth it was vanity that first drove me to explore physical fitness. By 19 I was a compulsive dieter and an on-again off-again exerciser. I was looking for a way to keep my old eating habits, at least part time, and still have a hot body. So I would go on a diet, get real fit, and then when it was over I would be up to no good again. Same thing with exercise. I would run seven miles a day and lift weights until my fingers blistered, and then not step foot in a gym for months.
Cut to: Brooklyn Jamie meets California vegan. Well, sort of. My journey to veganism took me over 10 years. I became vegan similar to the way I became a non-smoker. No one convinced me. It wasn’t a book I read (although there are amazing and life-shaking books out there) or a movie I watched (although there are revelation-causing and mind-blowing movies out there). It was the growing awareness of my physical being that finally did it.
I had tried to quit smoking so many times it was crazy. A few times I had managed success, and one of those times I stayed off cigarettes for three whole years. But alas, when the pieces of my life fell apart I went straight to 7-11 and lit up without giving it another thought. I hadn’t really changed. Although at the time I was convinced I would never smoke again.
When I finally quit for good, it was different because I wasn’t actually quitting anything. Yes, I was physically stopping, but the shift in me was not one of “I’m quitting something” or “I’m giving something up.” I was actually awakening. I was moving from a different place entirely. My paradigm had shifted, and I had no choice but to stop smoking. The mental connection with what I had been doing to my body for all those years finally hit me, and I never took another drag — not one.
I now view smoking as the ultimate unconsciousness, and in the same way I would never poison a child or inhale poisonous gas, I will never smoke again. It’s a no-brainer. It’s doesn’t make any sense to willingly poison myself. But even the path from non-smoker to vegan took almost six years. But I was on to myself. I was waiting, hoping, praying even, that the day would come when I felt so connected to my body, that just like with cigarettes, I simply couldn’t bare to eat shit anymore. And eventually that day came. After hoards of yoga, mediation, and honest self-reflection, I knew I couldn’t continue to dump garbage into my body, which had been so good to me.
In retrospect, my body had been trying to talk to me for years. I just hadn’t been listening. I have been allergic to dairy since childhood (among like every other thing under the sun), and had been routinely getting allergy shots. I suffered from mild asthma and was severely allergic to cats and dogs. I woke up with a congested runny nose every day and suffered from chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal issues. I had psoriasis on my ankles and wrists and practically died from pain every month when I got my period. The list of my symptoms goes on.
At the end of my pre-vegan era, I began to have trouble sleeping, which had never been an issue of mine, and I was starting to get what felt like arthritis in my wrists. Symptom after symptom, I attributed them all to obscure things like my jobs or my genetics. At 25 I had a goiter in my throat the size of an egg and was diagnosed with a weird thyroid disease. Refusing to remove my thyroid, I read a book that made some dietary suggestions, all of which I took. They erased any and all traces of disease-causing antibodies in my blood. Still I never once stopped to think about my diet. I couldn’t connect the dots, like the way I soared to a mountaintop every time I drank a cup of coffee, feeling infinite invincibility and then crashed an hour later feeling like death was at my door. My poor adrenal glands had been shot to hell from years of habitual coffee drinking, yet I just kept on drinking it. Totally unconscious.
I had been collecting little bits and pieces of health-related information over the years. I just hadn’t put them all together yet. When someone I love the most became sick, I went to work educating myself on the effects of food and diet on health. In essence I had jumped into the rabbit hole. I discovered so much evidence that held food accountable for the majority of epidemic diseases. Article after article and book after book, I was astounded by the number of doctors who had dedicated their lives to spreading this news and had been silenced by big-business food conglomerates and pharmaceutical companies. Once I had learned the truth about the relationship between diet and disease my path became clear. It was time to say goodbye to animal products and that’s exactly what I did. I also said goodbye to all of the newly piled on ailments I’d developed.
I think most of us take our doctor’s word as law, never questioning their methods or approach. I know for me personally, I was under the guise that if curing disease were as simple as diet, surely we would all know by now. Surely our doctors would’ve told us so. I was not able to believe that doctors and drug companies would place the value of money over people’s lives, but I had to face reality. Most of us are so caught up in the way we’ve always lived that we rely heavily on the word of our doctors, lawyers, and so on.
I am here to tell you that we have given them too much power in determining the state of our health. It does take time and tremendous effort to educate ourselves, but that education will save you thousands of dollars on future medical bills. It will also save you from thousands of moments of sickness and pain, and restore thousands of hours of your life. It is so worth the time it takes. Pay now or pay later.
And that is how I became the Brooklyn vegan. My eyes had been opened so wide that there was no turning back. I could not go back to unconsciousness. Being vegan is so special to me now. It’s new and exciting. I continue to learn more about healthy food, and my world expands. It makes my life interesting and rewarding. I now eat real food. It’s been years since I’ve eaten a meal that only resembles real food, like my old faithful No. 7. This is the choice I’ve made. The choice is always ours. Choose wisely.