Monday, November 4, 2013

A Decade Under the Influence of Veganism

Greetings and salutations, dear friends,

It's 10:43 a.m. on November 4—three days after World Vegan Day, approximately 60 days since I last wrote, two months and four days since my boyfriend went vegan, and just over ten years since I went vegan myself.

Oh, and I've written two research papers and prepared one oral presentation since I last posted here, and my boyfriend and I have been dating for seven months. Aaah... to measure life in numbers. How arbitrary—yet somehow meaningful.

I'm sitting in the library on campus, using a computer for strictly non-academic purposes (whoopseedoodles. Sorry, guys. Hey: when the urge/need to write strikes, I'll take it!). I accompanied Dane (the boyfriend) to work, zipped on over to the gym, kicked the elliptical trainer's butt (that sounds more violent than it ought to. Keep in mind that said trainer is a machine and that I stepped on it more than kicked), and, whilst cooling down and stretching, I was overcome by the desire to write and share and summarize and review. So, instead of walking straight home, I took a short detour east and plopped down into this chair--not without borrowing three books first, though (the PhD life never sees pauses).


So, hey! How are ya? As you may recall, the last time that I checked in was after a looong, unintentional hiatus. I recapped a whole shiteload of events and experiences, notably my return to Canada after living abroad for seven months. I won't bore you to pieces here with another recap; you deserve better than that. I did, however, conclude my last post with the recognition that there was a life event that I needed to mark, and I have hinted at it in my obsessive number-ranking at the beginning of this post: I went vegan ten years ago. 

Have I told you the story? At the risk of appearing self-centred and boastful, I have to admit that I really like to tell it, especially because it begins, without exaggeration, with "punk rock changed my life," or, more specifically, "punk rock made me vegan."

It's safe to say that I'm assuming the demeanour of a CBC fangirl more than a punk rock chick.

That really is the story, though. The seeds of veganism were planted just before bidding farewell to age 16, and I was 17 by the time that I went completely vegan. Now, people often ask me if I "went vegan overnight" or if there was a transition from vegetarian to vegan first. Well, I did go vegan overnight, namely because, sure, like most people, I'd always been somewhat aware of how meat made it to my plate, but I'd been blissfully ignorant to the experiences of dairy cows and egg-laying hens, amongst the horrid lives of other farmed animals, on factory farms. So, it's when I read about the dairy industry that I was absolutely horrified and I switched abruptly from omnivore to herbivore in my heart and, soon after, in my actions and eating habits.

But I went completely vegan only about a month after this switch in my heart and mind happened. Why is that? Well, as you probably know--given that it's likely that you, dear reader, are older than 17—17-year-olds can make some pretty silly and rash decisions, and I was no exception (maybe that's why a lot of my family and friends thought that this "vegan thing" was "just a phase." Then again, I have a very hard head, have "go big or go home" tendencies [thanks, Dad], and am not easily swayed when my convictions are set, notably when it comes to passions...). Anyway, my decision to go vegan coincided with my starting a new academic phase in CEGEP (Quebec's version of college, which follows grade 11 and precedes university; a teenager cannot enroll in university right after high school without completing a two- or three-year programme in CEGEP). I had seven courses per semester, many of which were at 8 a.m. following slumbers of five or six hours. 

Basically, I needed coffee.

There may be no sound more beautiful than that of a Moka caffettiera creating the divine beverage that we call espresso.

I'd never drunk caffeine in my life, as I was averse to soft drinks (I dislike the taste, or feeling, of carbonation), and I'd never liked tea or coffee. I wasn't about to start drinking Coke, so coffee seemed like the next best option--but it tasted awful. How could I remedy that?

Enter Tim Horton's Iced Cappuccino. There you have it, my friends: for my first month of "veganism," I was a victim to one of Canada's addictions. I was a vegan except I drank Iced Capps (note: I've contacted Tim Horton's on several occasions, asking the nationwide chain to start carrying soymilk. I've received only generic replies. I'll take my business elsewhere, but thanks anyway!). I felt that it was a necessary sacrifice. I needed to stay awake, but I also needed to stand up for animals--so 17-year-old Christina said, "Hey! It's all good. Forgo the cheese on your Subway Veggie Delite, but don't sweat the milk in your Iced Capp; you need it, man, and the animals'll understand."

I shake my head at 17-year-old Christina.

Hahahahahaha. I was fifteen in this shot, I think, but I beg you to laugh with me.

It was the night of the Nightwish concert (admittedly very not punk rock) that I was attending in mid-September with my best friend, Maritsa. We were at Lionel-Groulx station in Montreal, steps away from the Tim Horton's at the gas station. I needed coffee. We obtained coffee. And then I looked at it, I looked at her, and I looked into my soul and shook my head at it: I recognized my hypocrisy.

From then on, the Second Cup in the Alexis-Nihon mall across from Dawson College got a lot of my hard-earned cash obtained from working at Chapters. See, Second Cup (and the Starbucks at Chapters, I discovered) has soymilk and vanilla flavour syrup, so they made my life infinitely better and added about 200 calories to my daily caloric intake, but my teenage metabolism could handle it. Seventeen-year-old Christina was an unstoppable, glucose-filled, caffeinated vegan beast.

This was the day that I wrote an entire presentation in 20 hours and took advantage of one of the last days when it wasn't bitterly cold to sit on a patio. I rarely go to Second Cup these days, favouring the Green Beanery, for the most part, but I yearned for sun on this day, and the GB lacks a patio.

The Green Beanery makes my favourite soy cappuccino in all of Toronto—and they have killer vegan peanut-butter–banana muffins. Holy camoly.

And she hasn't turned back since. Ten years, baby, and I'm feeling fantastic (there's the "boastful"about which I warned you). No, I'm not pale or sallow or left wanting. Yes, vegan cheese has made tremendous leaps since I first bit into a piece of casein-filled rice cheese (yeah, I made that mistake for a few months). And it's made even more significant strides since I first bit into a piece of (to put it lightly) revolting vegan cheese. I feel like one of those vegan veterans of whom I felt utter awe when I was a vegan newbie, now when I talk to my newly-vegan boyfriend: "You have NO IDEA what it was like to live in a PRE-DAIYA WORLD. It was a dark place." And I lean in closer, whispering, "vegan cheese didn't even melt." He gasps in horror, and I cackle.

Well, not really, but you get the point.

GLORIOUS MELTY DAIYA!!! *loses her mind and runs out of the room yelling her obscene devotion to these beatific shreds*

Anyway, what I want to say is that I'm happy that, ten years down from when I told my Italian family that I was not going to eat Nonna's meatballs or fettine or "smooshies" or cheese or cannelloni anymore, preconceptions and misconceptions about veganism have changed dramatically--and for the better, of course. Sure, there are mistrusting vagrants that believe that we vegans are cranky, malnourished, and self-righteous creatures, but when I confront this stereotype, I point to myself and say, "Hey, I'm standing in front of you, am I not? I'm not dead and I've been vegan for a decade." And then I flex my biceps for maximum dramatic effect. And then I drop the mic, step off my soapbox, and walk away. Boom. ("Self-righteous" is sometimes an adequate adjective, it appears...)

I bet that I look extra threatening when I'm wearing apparel that's meant to protect me.

Where was I going with this again? Oh, yeeeah: punk rock changed my life. I don't really listen to punk rock anymore, but that's besides the point. Allow me to make a long story short, if you please: I was sixteen. I went to the Vans Warped Tour in Montreal in August 2003, two months after graduating from high school, with my buddies. We were there to see bands like Brand New and All-American Rejects and a few others whose names escape me. Merchandise booths dotted the landscape of Parc Jean-Drapeau, where the festival was held, and one of them was a PETA booth (I know what you're thinking, but despite how I may feel about their outreach tactics, I cannot deny that it's because of them that I went vegan). A dreamy older dude beckoned to me and my friends, and our adolescent selves obeyed, swooning as we cavorted over to him. He handed us brochures and we got free stickers (free stickers! Yeah!) and we went on our merry way afterwards, unaware of how one of us would be irrevocably changed from that day forward, just because of that short interaction.

Me, at the Warped Tour, two years later

I remember bristling at his "shoving his ideals down our throats" (all he did was offer free shit, really, and invite us to sign up for mailing lists). I remember feeling self-righteous (there it is again) and upset about the experience, despite how dreamy the skater dude was. I remember not thinking twice before I took a bite from my prosciutto sandwiches that I'd packed the night before. I'd shoved the brochures away into my bag and never gave them another moment of thought... until I re-discovered them a few days later while cleaning my room and emptying out my sand-covered bag.

And that's when I went vegan overnight.


So, that's my story, dear friends. This blog exists (hahaha. Wow. Re-reading that first blog post is humbling, to say the least) because of that experience that I had ten years ago at a punk rock concert. It's exciting to mark ten years of anything, but I have to admit that what makes this ten-year celebration most special and dear to me is that, on the month marking my decade-old decision to go completely plant-based, my boyfriend decided that he would give veganism a shot, just to see what it was like and if he could pull it off (he even started a blog to document his journey; it's funny, sweet, sincere, and full of wit, and you can check it out here). It helped that his choice serendipitously overlapped with the annual Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival on the first weekend of September--and what better way to witness the joys and delicacies of cruelty-free living and loving than through freely devouring vegan doughnuts and mothafrakkin Dunkaroos?!

Vegan Dunkaroos, man! I let Dane have a bite or two, and then I warned him that I was going to be a little bit selfish and have the rest to myself. He yielded to my gluttony, and yielded my soul to the charms of APieCalypse Now! for eternity.

It was unexpected to me, since I had never urged him to go vegan, nor had I anticipated that such a drastic change would be undertaken, even though he had expressed his thoughtful and compassionate desire to "eat vegan" whenever we were sharing meals and hanging out. His goal was to go vegan for 30 days, but he hadn't decided what would happen at the end of the two fortnights. He was just going to go with it. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this superstar has been vegan for two months. Pretty cool, huh?

I have a joke with myself (you know that you spend too much time alone/with books when you have inside jokes with yourself): I don't know whether I consider it a greater victory that I had a hand in turning Dane into an espresso-drinker or that, by my example, he decided to go vegan. (The espresso conversion [he had never been a coffee-drinker before meeting me] was definitely active and intentional on my part, I will readily admit; I never asked him to go vegan, though, nor did I ever push tofu on him in exchange for kisses. [I swear].) Suffice it to say that those—his drinking coffee and his observing a vegan lifestyle—are both extraordinary joys in my life.

I fell in love with an open-minded omnivore that I didn't seek to change, but when he decided to try veganism on his own, I fell even more in love with him ("aaaawwwwww!" Vegan cheeeeeese!). Truly, though, the supreme excitement of all of this is that, while I rediscovered food ten years ago when I chose to abstain from the consumption of animal products, I have had the privilege and honour of rediscovering food all over again with him, as he adapts and thrives amidst his cruelty-free lifestyle.

And we are so caffeinated when we do this. Muahahaha.

We are beasts. We were also probably fairly caffeinated when we fought over this taquito from Hot Beans at the Vegetarian Food Festival. (No, wait! We hadn't succeeded in finding coffee! We fought over sustenance because our lifeblood was lacking!)

Ten's a good number. Here's to ten more years, for me, for him, for us, and for all of you who have chosen to make more healthful, ethical, intentional choices for yourselves and your loved ones, whatever those choices may be. Be sure to celebrate the large as well as the small victories, as the latter as just as important, and be patient with yourself and others. Change and the impetus for change can arise from the most unexpected of places. Just be sure to keep your arms, your heart, and your mind wide open when transformation chooses to strike.

With love, gratitude, and endless wishes to you of bountiful health and joy,

Vegan in Suburbia

P.S. As an ode to the music and lifestyle that brought me to veganism, the title of this blog post is a reference to a song called "A Decade Under the Influence," by Taking Back Sunday. Ten points for you if you picked that up before my rendering it explicit. :) Also, as you probably already know, the title of this blog was inspired by Green Day's "Jesus of Suburbia" (fast-forward to 1:52 if you want to skip the NSFW language at the beginning).