Hey there, I’m Heather. I often get a lot of questions about how I became vegan… so I’m finally sharing my full story. Thanks for taking the time to follow along!
It all started back in 2009, when I was a freshman in undergrad. My boyfriend and I were searching for something to watch on Netflix and we came across a documentary, Food Inc. I had always felt a little funny thinking about eating animals, but I didn’t let that stop me from eating steak, bacon (lots of bacon), boat loads of cheese, eggs, wings, you name it. I just always put those thoughts out of my head and thought, “I could never be a vegetarian… this stuff is too delicious and that would just be pointless.” Regardless, we watched the documentary and I was surprised at how I responded. I had a hard time even finishing the film, and will admit that I often covered my eyes or left the room. I vividly remember going to campus for Chick-Fil-A that night and ordering my favorite: chicken sandwich with pickles and extra ranch dressing. However, something was different this time. I remember we were discussing the film we had just watched, and mid bite into my sandwich I declared that I was going vegetarian. That was it. Super dramatic, right? Fortunately my boyfriend was super supportive and even offered to go vegetarian with me. As expected, many friends and family – although generally kind about it – felt that this was some phase or a fad that I was going through, and that I would soon return to eating “normally”. Spoiler alert: I never ate meat again.
As the years went by, I continued to dive into all things vegetarian and for a period of time, was very consumed with learning as much as I could about the impact of factory farming on the environment and my health, as well as the ethical complications. Still, throughout all of this, I always said “yeah I am vegetarian but I could never be vegan“. My excuse was always that I loved cheese and eggs too much, or that I felt being vegan was too much of an extreme. To be honest, the cheese and eggs part was real… but saying that going vegan was “too extreme” was really my way of downplaying my own commitment to being a vegetarian in order to make myself sound “less offensive” to others. I think this just comes with caring way too much about what other people think of me, and if they are comfortable with my decisions.
To be honest, as the years went on and I learned more about the benefits of a plant-based diet, I really did want to go full vegan. One of the biggest influences on my decision to finally commit was that of a close family friend, Sarah, who is also vegan. I have always looked up to her, and I thought that if she could do it, so could I. I started by eliminating all dairy from my diet and replacing it with a variety of milk alternatives – primarily almond milk because it was the most readily available. I stopped eating eggs, and started to decrease my cheese consumption. It was around this same time that I was having lots of GI issues and was being seen by a gastroenterologist. After testing for celiac and undergoing an upper endoscopy, he reported that I may have symptoms of IBS and also have a sensitivity to gluten. He suggested that I keep a food diary for a week and attempt a gluten free diet. I was eventually placed on Omeprazole 40 to control acid reflux.
That week was one of the hardest, and I remember it vividly.
The year was 2015 – I had just decided that I was going vegan before this appointment. Since I had already made my decision, I not only ate vegan but also gluten free that week. Let me tell you… living in a small, rural town in 2015 with very limited support for plant based options, let alone plant based gluten free options, was extremely difficult. The trip to the grocery store that week took us at least two hours because we were reading the labels on everything. I was frustrated. I felt defeated. I only ate gluten free for 3 days before I decided to say FORGET IT because gluten is delicious and all the substitutes were nasty!! (yes, I know that they have come a LONG way since that time!)
Cheese was hard. The substitutes all tasted like cardboard with feet smell, no matter how many different ways I tried to prepare it. I decided to cut cheese out entirely and didn’t touch another substitute for at least 6 months. When I finally did reintroduce cheese, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my taste buds really did change in their preference (also, I tried some different varieties!) and I actually began to crave the plant based varieties. As time went on, my GI symptoms dissolved and I self-discontinued my Omeprazole medication. I realized that eating a fully plant-based diet actually managed my symptoms and I was feeling better than ever.
Over the last few years, I’ve grown so much in my knowledge and understanding of veganism and the impact it has not only on the animals and the environment, but also on human health. I started sharing my recipes on my personal instagram page, and realized that I began to attract a following of individuals who were interested in learning, sharing, and connecting over this topic. I realized that I had the incredible opportunity to create a space where I can share my personal journey, information that I find helpful, and recipes that I enjoy in order to inspire others. I realize that so often vegan “propaganda” includes graphic scenes of animal cruelty. While I feel that these are important to recognize, I do not feel that you need to continue watching these over and over. Once you see this and are aware of what goes on, it is then on you to decide if it bothers you or not. I often hear from people that they recognize that the cruelty is wrong and that eating plant based is incredibly healthy, but they are not ready to fully commit. Maybe they just want to incorporate some vegan options into their daily routine and never fully commit. That is their decision to make, and I am not here to harass people over their choices. What I am here to do is be a friend, listener, and resource. I want to provide a safe space where anyone can ask questions about the vegan lifestyle and share their experiences.
So what else do I do besides eat vegan food? 2020 was one heck of a year, despite living through a pandemic. I finished grad school and obtained my master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology, then completed my clinical fellowship year. I also got married to my best friend (ya know, that boy from 2009 who watched Food Inc. with me) on September 6th , 2020. Recently, I accepted a new job to further grow my career as a speech pathologist while also working as a research scientist at Temple University. I’m surrounded by the most wonderful friends and family, and I strive to live every day with a heart full of love and joy for all of my blessings. I absolutely love the beautiful city I live in, and you can catch me on a run | in a yoga class | tapping back in soul cycle, stuffing my face with plant based goodies, blasting Taylor Swift music, obsessing over my cats, or spending time with those who bring me joy.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story 🌱 🌎✨ I look forward to connecting with you!
💌 Please feel free to reach out via email or Instagram
Heather | @PhillyVegalGal