By Morgan Breunle
“You’re a WHAT?!” “Don’t you miss bacon? “Where do you get your protein?” I’ve been asked these questions dozens of times since moving to Mississippi. Most of the people I’ve met since leaving Orlando haven’t met a vegan or even been exposed to veganism.
So what exactly is veganism?
By definition? Veg·an: / vēɡən / noun — a person who does not eat or use animal products.
But more importantly, veganism is a lifestyle choice. Deciding to avoid all forms of animal byproducts is not a resolution to make on the fly. Vegans abstain from consuming animals in any form in order to minimize cruelty to and exploitation of animals. This includes red meat, pork, poultry, fish, seafood and shellfish — not the mention all forms of dairy, eggs and even honey.
Eating out can be a huge challenge, and, at first, I dreaded it. Who wants to pay $8 for a salad with no meat, cheese, croutons or dressing? However, once you understand what you can eat, you’ll find that there are actually several restaurants with items that can be ordered vegan. For example, Glory Bound’s Veggie Gyro can be ordered without feta or tzatziki, making it vegan-friendly. McAlister’s Deli has an awesome Vegetarian Chili that is actually vegan, and, if you’re in the mood for Mexican, rest assured because beans, rice and veggies are all completely vegan (and so are the chips and salsa). For a cheap meal on the go, order a bean burrito al fresco style at Taco Bell and add potatoes. Although the price is a little high for lettuce, salads can be made vegan at any restaurant by omitting the cheese, croutons and dairy-based dressing. You can always add extra vegetables, nuts or fruit to make it worthwhile.
Let’s face it, though. Sometimes you just need junk food. Head to the grocery store and load up on what I like to call “accidentally vegan” food — items that weren’t intended to be vegan but thankfully are: Spicy Chili Doritos, Fritos, Airheads, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix and, yes, even Oreos. Ben and Jerry’s recently released a line of non-dairy ice cream — my personal favorite go-to junk food! Plus, the majority of AMC’s and Regal’s movie theater popcorn is vegan, too, including the “butter” topping, which is actually partially hydrogenated soybean oil.
Another crucial aspect of the vegan lifestyle is supporting companies that sell cruelty-free products. My shampoo, conditioner, dry shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, lotion and even makeup and makeup brushes are vegan and cruelty-free. As a broke college kid, I was happy to find most of these items at Walmart, no need to spend a fortune elsewhere. For clothing, check out sites like www.vickerey.com and www.veganessentials.com for cruelty-free apparel.
The question I’m most often asked is, “Why are you vegan?” My answer is simple. I learned what happens to animals before they are sold in grocery stores and the negative impact that animal agriculture has on the environment. The business of animal agriculture is the #1 cause of pollution to our planet, and 70% of U.S. grain is fed to farmed animals — that’s enough to feed 800 million people.
The purpose of veganism is to do what you can, when you can. Everything you do to sustain a vegan lifestyle helps, even if it’s only a little bit at a time.
Being vegan has prompted me to become more aware of what I put in my body. My skin has cleared up. I sleep more soundly every night. I feel more energized when I wake up. I no longer feel sluggish after eating. Veganism is better for my health, it’s better for the livelihood and quality of life for animals and it’s better for the environment. By contributing to the betterment of these things with something as simple as the food I eat or the clothes I wear, I get to be part of the change I want to see in this world.