I used to eat cookies for breakfast, much to the chagrin of my roomates who seemed to think that was not suitable and I needed to eat better. I also used to eat poutine, French fries, and hamburgers at every cafeteria meal. That is until I became vegetarian before it was cool, only to discover how hard that was to be at Tyndale and so gave it up and continued to indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle. Yet today, if you were to meet me for the first time, this shadow side of my life would barely be noticeable. A simple walk around my apartment would make you come up almost empty handed in terms of junk food, and an invitation to my place for dinner would include a nice salad, a stir fry, and possibly some vegetarian pasta or a baked potato dish. Today, I consider myself an 80% vegetarian (which I will describe later), am thinking about becoming a vegan, and work out between 2-4 hours a day. For me, it is a lot more than just being hipster, though there is certainly an element of that as well. Why this change? You might ask. Before explaining why I am the way I am today, it is important for you to journey with me into who I was before and why eating healthy has all of a sudden become a huge passion of mine.
My first year of Tyndale was a time of freedom for me. Living away from my parents, who I no doubt inherited a sweet tooth from as they spend more money each month in junk food than they do in actual groceries, I began to think about what I really liked in the J&T cafeteria. I started out fairly strong, eating better than I did at home – mostly eating soup and peanut butter sandwiches, or veggie wraps which were dripping in grease. Occasionally, you might have even seen me get a salad, though their chicken Caesar which was my favourite was not really all that healthy either because of the amount of dressing. It was then that I settled for a few of my favourite options: waffles on Sunday with all the toppings and hamburgers every other day of the week. I became a vegetarian, but due to lack of good vegetarian options for those living on campus, gave it up after a little over a month, much of the time was spent with me not getting all of the nutrients that I needed. I am thankful to some of my good friends who forced me to eat a hard-boiled egg and some peanut butter every day so I could get my protein in.
In my second year at Tyndale, I received some not so shocking news from my doctor that I was on the verge of becoming a diabetic. When I learned this from her, I figured that it was not surprising because of how bad my diet was. My doctor insisted upon me eating more salads and vegetarian options. When I told her that my school did not really have many of these options, she was amazed, but I told her I would do what I could. I then spent a good two or three months very consciously trying to not eat so many sweets and thus trying to curb the fact that I was almost a diabetic, although admittedly I did not have the self-discipline and so often did eat things I wasn’t supposed to. At the next visit, about three months later, my doctor broke the news to me that I was hyper-glycemic. Upon hearing this news, rather than trying to continue to eat healthier, I decided that since my effort was in vain I would just eat whatever I felt like. This led to many problems in my life including decreased vision and sugar highs and sugar lows. Even today, it is important for me to eat meals at approximately the same time each day or else I will continue to suffer these types of effects.
In my final year of Tyndale, I became a rep for the Non-Governmental Organization Meal Exchange working with J&T to start offering more vegetarian options. I often found myself interested in the social justice side of things, but really not all that interested in healthy eating. I love advocacy type work so it seemed a natural fit for me in some way to have this position, though I often found myself continuing to eat badly. For me, simply hearing that my body was God’s Temple probably should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Simply hearing that my body was retaliating should have been enough, but it wasn’t.
It wasn’t until I started seminary that I really began to passionately pursue healthy eating, but it was for reasons other than what you might have guessed. I had one professor share with me one day about his journey from eating junk food all the time to being completely vegan. What he shared with me really made sense. He said that everyone needs something to peak their interest in healthy eating and it will be different for each person. Some people are drawn to animal rights, others to simply taking care of their bodies, others to social justice aspects. Once they are drawn into a certain lifestyle – for example vegetarianism or veganism, they will begin to see the benefits of all the other dimensions, but they need to get their foot into the door somehow. For me, I was drawn to vegetarianism not because of healthy eating, though it has become a bit of that, but because of social justice reasons. Learning that even free range organic animals are often mistreated, learning that many milk companies falsely impregnate cows so that they will produce more milk and that often cows have infected utters because they are not properly milked, and learning that there is a whole theology behind animal and human interactions is what drew me in. After I was drawn into it, I also begin experiencing the many wonderful benefits of healthy eating: feeling better about myself, happier, and even more feminine. I began feeling like I had more energy, and with healthier eating came a bigger desire to work out each night. Now I do almost all of my school reading while on the treadmill.
I don’t want to make all animal companies sound like monsters. There are a few companies out there that are more ethical when it comes to raising animals and producing milk than others, but the general rule of thumb I have been taught in seminary is that if it is in a supermarket, it is probably not ethically raised because it is almost impossible to produce that big of a quantity for that cheap of a price. I am not yet to the point of being completely vegetarian or vegan, though, in my day to day life in my apartment, I typically refrain from buying meat and I only drink almond milk. Being 80% vegetarian means I can eat meat on very rare occasions. I usually eat meat when I am at someone’s house and they offer it to me (since my goal is not to impose this lifestyle on others) and I still often eat meat when at restaurants unless they have good vegetarian options (many do not). In all things, I strive to eat vegetarian over meat whenever possible, but for me it is not about legalism.
For those of you who are considering the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but do not know where to begin, I would like to leave you with a few tips: 1) Unless you know 100% that you can be vegetarian all the time, become an 80% vegetarian. Your body needs meat at least twice a month to remember how to digest the enzymes in the meat. If your body forgets and you are offered meat where it is a social clause to accept you could get sick. This is something all of my vegetarian/vegan friends have warned me about.
2) It’s very important to find what you like. Being vegetarian is difficult until you learn to make things you like. Once you discover what you like, you will find that you hardly ever miss meat.
3) You need to learn how to be a “smart” vegetarian first – getting all the nutrients and proteins you need. That’s why in the initial stages occasionally eating meat is for the best until you learn how to do it right.
4) It really helps when you have friends who are vegetarian. Living in a seminary environment where many in our student body are vegetarian/vegan has really helped me to live this lifestyle while in school, for the most part. Having friends to compare and exchange recipes with, and having a cafeteria which serves amazing vegetarian options definitely helps. When tempted to eat meat, inviting vegetarian friends over for a dinner usually does the trick.
I wish you well in your journey of healthy eating!