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15 Years Vegan, and Counting

In 2006, I thought I was a vegetarian who didn’t eat dairy or eggs. Vegans didn’t become mainstream in the US until the 2010’s. The year is now 2021, and to most people, it seems that being vegan is the new fad. Restaurants are heavily expanding on their ‘plant based’ options to accommodate the booming market (like Burger King’s debut of the Impossible Whopper in 2020).

I was born in 1994 with a severe dairy allergy. As an infant, I was unable to keep my mother’s milk down, which led to me being hospitalized because I was projectile vomiting my foods and lost a dramatic amount of weight. Unfortunate for my young parents, they were forced to buy a (comparatively) expensive Soy based formula, named Carnation Goodstart. I was always particularly picky growing up.

Aside from ‘mac and cheese’ and hot dogs, I tended to eat mainly fruits and vegetables. so it was not a total shock to my family when I claimed at the young age of eleven that “I would never eat meat again!” Of course some thought it was a part of the pre-teen phase, however I knew I would uphold this promise to myself.

Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, I had seen Tyson trucks driving down the road with all of the chickens squished into metal cages. The smell driving past those buildings will forever be stuck in my brain. I felt it was a Holocaust for animals, and I couldn’t live with myself for contributing to this massive genocide. As humans, we are taught the purpose of life is to be happy… and in my opinion, I wanted that same happiness for the animals, but they didn’t get that choice.

I never particularly cared for the texture of meats, and would push it to the side of my plate, with hopes no one would notice. I remember one night my step-mother made meatloaf and lima beans for dinner; lima beans are still one of my least favorite veggies. I kind of poked around at my plate until everyone else was done eating, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I had gotten some protein in my belly. I will always remember this meal, because I was absolutely miserable trying to force myself to eat a few bites.

At eleven, my parents agreed to try and accommodate my new ‘vegan’ diet, which at the time was very unheard of. Being such a picky eater my whole life, my parents were concerned about my health- what the heck was I supposed to eat? They bought some books on vegetarian diets that included information about protein substitutes and recipes for family dinners. We also discovered the brand MorningStar, which at the time only had a few flavors of ch’kn nuggets in the frozen section in the grocery stores.

Year by year, it seemed the world was becoming more open to the idea of meat and dairy alternatives. I am a travel guru, and I absolutely love to eat! So, every time I travel to a new city, I would research and uncover the best dairy free and meat free options. Having such a rare diet, my friends always suggested I keep a diary of the places I had been and what options they had for me to indulge.

I never judge anyone for the lifestyle they chose to live, and have always hoped that in return, my vegan diet would be socially accepted. What a time to be alive! Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell, Starbucks, MorningStar, Burger King, and many other large companies are hopping on the plant-based bandwagon, and I couldn’t be happier at how normal this has become.

Accustomed to such a boring diet growing up, I hope you can see why I am so excited about finding all the best vegan options around Orlando. Over the past year or so (even pre-COVID) I had started ‘cheffing’ it up in the kitchen to create some of my own vegan creations. If you are vegan yourself, dairy free, meat free, or even just curious about this whole plant based idea, I hope you can learn from my journey in and around Orlando!

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