My MoFo enthusiasm has dwindled to almost nothing over the past 48 hours, and for good reason. As it turns out, family drama, oppressive heatwaves, and bare cupboards do not a creatively conducive environment make. I’ve been lucky to make it out of bed these past two mornings, let alone budget any amount of energy towards kitchen-puttering and blog-post-composing. As it is, I’m doing my best to carry on.
First off, I feel a little naked writing without the interspersal of my usual giant photographs, but I’ll do my best to hold your attention without the aid of brightly colored pictorial representations of food. This may mean resorting to periodic bursts of ALL CAPS EXCLAMATIONS, so be warned.
As you’re no doubt aware, it’s still very early in our collective MoFo journey, so I wanted to start the month by taking a little more in-depth look at my timid foray into veganism. People who have only just recently met me tend to assume that I have always been a foodie — one of those in-the-kitchen-with-mom-since-I-was-knee-high-to-a-kitchenaid-mixer types. The truth is, I didn’t grow up cooking or even having the remotest interest in cooking (and my mother spent most of her time in the office, not the kitchen!). In fact, not a whole lot of cooking even went down at our house until I was 15, when my father’s heart condition forced us to clean up our act and stop relying on sodium-laden boxed meals and takeout.
All that to say, when I first decided to teach myself to cook a little over a year ago, my culinary skills were limited to boiling pasta and flipping a grilled cheese. I wish this statement were hyperbole, but it’s not. This complete and utter inexperience in the kitchen made me apprehensive of tackling that looming, amorphous idea of LEARNING TO COOK. I remedied this by deciding to focus on teaching myself one particular style of cooking — vegetarian at first, because I hated the idea of handling raw meat, but I kept on finding so many vegan recipes I wanted to try that I went ahead and narrowed it down even further. That summer, I resolved, I was going to become a master vegan chef.
I learned to cook and learned to cook vegan at the same time, so for me, vegan cooking came to be very intuitive. Despite not following a completely vegan diet during the time I was first learning my way around the kitchen, I was still slowly gravitating away from animal-based ingredients, out of newly formed habit more than anything. I never had the opportunity to miss ingredients like dairy or eggs because recipes never called for them. And although Andy is an omnivore, to this day I can’t pan-sear chicken, fry an egg, or whip cream to save my life. Even vegan baking comes more naturally to me than traditional egg-and-butter baking, since the only pre-vegan baking I ever did involved a cardboard box featuring a certain doughboy.
I am, of course, leaving out a pivotal factor in my vegan journey. One of the things that most appealed to me about vegan cooking, and about veganism in general, was the huge, active online community that came built in with it. I started reading vegan blogs and, shortly afterwards, started writing my own. I creeped on forum threads and read recaps of conferences in an attempt to simulate feelings of belonging to that community — mainly because I was still very much omnivorous and felt a little ashamed of it in the presence of so many passionate and dedicated purists.
In fact, during those first several months of discovery, I often felt a desire to go completely vegan for no other reason than to finally be a part of some sort of community. After having left the church only a year or two earlier, I was plagued with feelings of isolation, otherness, and a general despair of ever finding my place in a group — feelings I often find myself still struggling with today, even though I’ve been vegan (not to mention gluten and soy-free) for about a month now. And although I’ve sorted out my motivations for going vegan since those first few experimental months, I do still get those nagging voices in my head telling me I’m not vegan enough. In a way, it’s good to know those voices are still there even after I’ve gone vegan, because it means they didn’t have any rational basis in the first place.
Will I be vegan forever? Or will I one day renounce this lifestyle? I can’t definitively say what the future holds; if I could, I would be making a LOT more money right now. For now, I take it one meal at a time. I don’t beat myself up when I slip. I don’t keep a running count of how many days it’s been since I ate something wrong. I do my best to try new things and keep the process of preparing and eating food fun. But more than anything, I focus on my burgeoning love of cooking, choosing to view my new restrictions as an exciting challenge, an opportunity for creativity, and, ultimately, a way of healing my mind and my body rather than punishing them.
My reservations don’t make me any less of a vegan, but at the same time, my veganism doesn’t encompass my entire identity. At the end of the day, I’m just a human being trying to lead a peaceful life, do good by others, and meet my quota of blog posts for Vegan MoFo. Can you really ask much more of me than that?