The first vegan I had ever (knowingly) met was my college dorm neighbor. That year was my freshman year; my first year away from home by myself, so my little world was exploded and expanded in many ways. My college dorm neighbor was head of the university’s environmental committee and started the on-campus recycling program, so I viewed her as the quintessential “tree hugger”. When she mentioned that she was vegan, I remember having no clue as to why a person would do such a thing to themselves. I ignorantly asked her “What’s a vegan?” and “What do you eat?’. Her response to the latter question was so unappetizing to me that it only perplexed me further. “Bread…fruits…”. “Do you eat pizza?” “Yeah- but I just remove the cheese.” “What? Pizza with no cheese?!” “I can’t live without eating meat” was how I remember ending that conversation.
Step #1: I began to consider what I ate.
Like a devout vegan disciple, she later give me some PETA literature and I was very moved by the atrocities that occur for the sake of slaughtering meat. I didn’t have an ethical problem with consuming meat but I was deeply disturbed by their unfair and unjust treatment. I remember later sending PETA literature to my mom too. However, as we all know too well, sometimes our actions lag behind our consciousness. I didn’t make any dietary changes just then but I did try eating a meat-less meal. I simply removed the meat from my pasta and sauce and found that I was still very hungry and ate twice the volume to compensate for my hunger. After that experiment, I decided that I couldn’t not eat meat. I had all the empirical data I needed to leave the diet conversion aside but I did become more conscious of my diet and tried to categorize what my vegan friend could or could not eat.
Step #2: I stopped eating pork.
My dietary diet was intertwined with my spiritual journey and at around this time I was convinced that there was no good reason to consume pork. Though my dad still disagrees with me on this matter until today, I was convinced to “leave the swine behind”. All of my major influences at that time were very clear about not eating pork- the Bible, Judaism, Islam, Rastafarianism, Pan-Africanism; so that was my next step.
Step #3: I put my money where my mouth was.
When I moved off-campus for my sophomore year, I was eager to have more control of my diet and make some changes. However, the constraints of my budget led to certain compromises. I started buying my own food and only bought vegetarian food. I remember that my first accomplished vegan meal was a can of black beans and white rice. I don’t even think I added any veggies to that meal because I wasn’t a big veggie-eater at the time.
Step #4: I put the veg- in vegetarian.
That year had its ups and downs. I was trying to learn how to cook vegetarian meals while eating most other foods given to me, even if they included meat. I also found that I was tired and without much energy. Was there something missing from my new and improved diet? Yup. I wasn’t really eating much fresh fruits and veggies. After the first year with my primarily vegetarian diet, I learned to eat veggies and have a balanced diet. For whatever reason, I was very anti-vitamin supplements. I was “anti” a lot of things back then, so I’m not surprised. However, after my husband’s convincing, I am now a vitamin–supplement taker and I would advise others to do the same. You never know what mineral or vitamin your diet lacks or that you might be overlooking.
Step #5: I connected my diet to its impact on the world.
I think it was at some point during my sophomore or junior year that I attended a Hunger Banquet event. I was really struck by how insane the disparity between the rich and poor is in the world today. This awakening was accompanied by my exposure to different human rights struggles, world poverty, etc. That’s a whole other story; however, the point that refers to my testimony here is when the moderator read the following statistic, “If every American consumed 10% less meat, there would be enough grain to feed the world’s poor for a year”. This was very shocking for me. I’m taking a greater share of the earth by eating an animal than if I were eating produce from the earth directly. At this point, I finally decided to permanently change my diet; no more dibbling and dabbling. When I learned that eating less meat provided more grain to feed the world’s poor, I felt moved to do something. I didn’t believe that my single diet would change the world but I at least thought I should eat and live more simply, to better remain aware of my suffering global family.
Step #6: I ate a consistently vegetarian diet with occasional fish.
I occasionally ate fish because there were not as many vegan menu options some eight years ago, as there are now. The other ultra-important reason that I ate fish was that my grandma makes a wicked Escoveitched Fish. Her fish transcends time and space and is made with so much grandmotherly-love that I reconciled eating this dish as a purely spiritually experience- so it didn’t qualify as “cheating”. 😉 Please note that fish is a great source of omega fatty acids, so supplement that loss by incorporating flax seed and walnuts into your diet.
Step#7: I reduced and eventually eliminated eggs and dairy products from my diet.
This following section may be too much information for some, so proceed if you are brave. A friend of my mom gave her a book written by Queen Afua entitled Heal Thyself. I read this book and was very convinced by the correlation she draws between animal product consumption and health. She (along with others) proposes that eating animal products, which includes meat and its byproducts like cheese, milk, etc. stimulates the production of mucus in the body. When this mucus accumulation occurs in various parts of the body, the result is dis-ease. For example, asthma is exacerbated by mucus in the bronchioles. The author herself was a chronic asthmatic before starting a citrus cleanse followed by a vegan, primarily raw foods diet and her asthma has not resurfaced since. Also, the accumulation of mucus in the womb is attributed to tumors, lengthy menstrual cycles, heavy bleeding, and intense cramping. I can attest to the relief of the latter three conditions upon my transition to vegetarianism and it was one of the reasons that had me hooked. When I ate a well-balanced vegetarian diet, I noticed that I had more energy, slept less, and did not get sick as often. This was another huge motivation for me to continue in this path.
To conclude, I want to very clearly state and reiterate that your diet is not everything but your diet is very impacting and important. I say this because it disturbs me that some people look to food and their diets as their end all, be all, sole means to liberation, ascension, or peace/harmony in life. The foods we eat can be our healing or our detriment. So, choose your diet wisely and consciously. However, don’t look to food alone as your means of self-purification. I’m not convinced that green smoothies will rid your heart of arrogance, nor that eating vegan ribs will teach you humility. I’m also not convinced that one of the things Jesus (peace be upon him) would’ve done is get down on some ham hocks!
For myself, I can honestly say that my diet transition taught me a lot about myself. I learned that I can exercise more control of my body, actions, and thoughts than I thought possible. I learned to be patient with cravings and to offer and receive healing through food. I learned to appreciate the true flavor of fruits and veggies, which expanded my palate significantly. However, the food alone didn’t teach me this on a material level. I learned that the state that I receive food in impacts the way I receive food and my diet change was a catalyst to my spiritual growth, so the two are intertwined, in my opinion. Remember the Fruit Substitute post?
As has been said before: I don’t believe that veganism alone will save the world, but I do believe that a proper vegan whole foods diet, balanced with fasting and prayer, can allow people to think clearly and attain a higher level of consciousness that will facilitate the birth of ideas, intentions and actions that are powerful enough to save something. We all have a responsibility to make the best choices given our circumstances. Some living conditions make certain diets very difficult to achieve, but if we do our best, given the tools available to us, we can reform our bodies, minds and spirits in very meaningful ways that will enhance our quality of life, despite our individual circumstances.
What’s my Step #8?
I am no authority on what the “best diet” is for others. I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. As I am a firm believer that every new day is an opportunity for growth and development, I will share with you all that I would really like to incorporate more raw foods into my diet. The morning fruit smoothies and evening salads have been a start, but I’m currently aiming for more consistency in the two. Today, I was adventurous and added raw spinach to my morning smoothie. Gladly, the spinach was made more aware by the color of the smoothie versus the taste. 😉
Any vegan cookbooks that I would recommend?
Ironically, I’m still very anti-cookbooks. I’m all about tasting someone else’s cooking and trying to recreate it, while making it your own. I do peak in a cookbook occasionally but prefer to look at what’s ingredients are laid before me and be creative. I’m also not big on spending hours preparing a single dish or cooking extravagant meals on a daily basis. Too much extravagance numbs the soul. However, I must admit that I recently bought a cookbook of my very own, with my very own money. I try to avoid buying as much as possible, but I am pleased with this purchase and don’t anticipate a need to buy any other cookbooks in the foreseeable future. Admittedly, I haven’t cooked a single recipe from it yet but I have happily read it and look forward to using it when I’m ready to bust out some “extravagant recipes” on our future dinner guests. I appreciate the ethic that the cookbook was written with and it has some very empowering reads. Urbndervish and I don’t consume or cook with alcohol, so I’m not wholesale endorsing the entire body from cover to cover, but it has good tools and encouragement for those who want to ignite change in their kitchens. The title, you ask? Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
As Urbndervish likes to clarify, “We are not vegans- we are Muslims with plant-based diets!” That being said, veganism is our conscious dietary choice. Sometimes I feel as if some make veganism their identity, their politics, their philosophy or ideology. Veganism is a part of us but not all of us, based on concern for our health and the planet.
Insha’Allah (God willing), the sacred month of fasting in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, will be upon us this weekend. So, if you see us at an iftar (fast-breaking meal) with some Curried Chickpeas, hopefully now you’ll understand why. 😉
Ramadan Mubarak! (Blessed Ramadan!)