Four years ago, I stumbled upon a vegan milkshake that changed my life. A rich, creamy, coconut-y milkshake that didn’t make me feel sick. Since that milkshake, not a single day has gone by without me repeating my tagline: “No thanks, I’m a vegan.”
I would repeat the same script day after day after day so that virtually every single person who came into contact with me knew my dietary preferences after 10 seconds of casual conversation.
That old joke: “How do you know if someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you,” was the story of my life.
I became the girl with the vegan tattoo.
There was just something so calming and so comforting about announcing to the world that I was a vegan.
It helped me control myself from eating foods that damaged my sensitive digestive system (like dairy and french fries and hamburgers). It helped me restrict myself from my tumultuous pattern of starve-and-binge.
Because, above anything else, repeating “I’m a vegan,” 10 million times served me the way I imagine a serenity prayer tattoo serves a recovering addict — as a reminder to myself to NOT go back to my old painful, destructive ways.
AND IT WORKED! Four years on plants changed my body, my mind, my spirit, my mood, my energy, my weight, my digestion, my eating habits ... my LIFE.
So when, many months ago, I started eyeballing my boyfriend’s eggs at breakfast and fish at dinners, I didn’t know what to do. I repeated my little mantra “I’m a vegan, I’m a vegan, I’m a vegan,” hoping those three words would act as magic, keeping me in control. But the urge to steal a bite of his omelet or a forkful of his black cod wouldn’t let up.
I went to my doctor and got tested to see if my animal craving was due to some sort of deficiency, something found in animals for which I could just take a supplement, stay on my plants and be “fixed” of these unwanted cravings. But I wasn’t deficient in anything.
After my doctor visit, I tried putting it out of my mind. I simply wouldn’t let myself admit that I was craving animal food. Instead, I forced myself to focus on the plant-based deliciousness that was on my own plate.
I would yell at myself, “YOU’RE A VEGAN, DAMMIT! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING CRAVING EGGS?! SNAP OUT OF IT!”
I was so ashamed. I felt like I’d failed. Talia the vegan wanted meat. It couldn’t be.
After months, (seriously — MONTHS) of beating myself up, I did the seemingly impossible — I ate a delicious gnocchi dish that was made with (GASP) egg whites.
We were at a restaurant, and there was the usual — “Is there dairy or any animal products in the gnocchi? I’m a vegan.” To which the server replied, “It’s made with egg whites.” My boyfriend asked me, “OK, so what’s your backup?” and I said, “It’s OK. I’ll have it,” at which point my boyfriend’s jaw dropped.
I'm well aware that this might sound ludicrous: acting like allowing a bit of egg whites in a yummy meal was as monumental as signing a lease on a new house or handing in a thesis paper or asking someone for her hand in marriage. But for me, someone who paraded around the world with her “vegan tattoo” on her forehead, someone who SO emotionally RELIED on that label to keep her “controlled,” someone whose whole IDENTITY revolved around her DIET, “OK-ing” those egg whites WAS monumental.
I had LET GO.
And guess what? THE WORLD DIDN’T END. (I was shocked ... truly).
I ate my gnocchi, drank my glass of wine and went home, just the same as “Talia, the vegan” would have done.
My point is this: things change, we change, I changed ... and it was OK.
Is my four years of teaching myself how to cook without butter, how to make ice cream without dairy, how to enjoy pizza without cheese, how to get protein without meat, how to like sushi without fish, how to love kale, chia and mushrooms ... how to be “Talia the vegan,” all in vain? NO.
Because that’s what I needed then. And this is what I need now. And finally I’ve learned that it’s not about the label, it’s not about rules, it’s about listening to your body. It’s about doing what’s best for your body. It’s about experimenting with your body. But mostly, it’s about loving your body.