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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

The Selfish Vegan: A Personal Essay On Why I Switched To A Plant-Based Diet

Kristen Siefert |
February 11, 2015 | 2:15 p.m. PST

Staff Contributor

Baked chicken breast with broccoli and roasted potatoes, and a spinach salad with walnuts and feta—it was quite a solid meal, and one that was far more symbolic than a cursory glance might indicate. This was my metaphorical Last Supper, and I tasted it slowly and deliberately with a mixture of bittersweet nostalgia and educated reluctance. Chicken and cheese are comfort foods for many people, myself included. But is comfort alone an acceptable reason to delay change? I can’t argue that it is.

Vegan meals consist largely of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. (Kristen Siefert/Neon Tommy)
Vegan meals consist largely of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. (Kristen Siefert/Neon Tommy)

This was the last time that I ate meat. In fact, it was the last time that I ate meat, dairy, eggs, or anything produced from or by an animal. I proudly call myself a vegan, and while that fact alone makes me a bit unusual, I also did something that most people don’t even dream of doing: I transitioned from your basic bacon-crunching, fro-yo-guzzling omnivore to a vegan overnight.

Such a heavy decision is not made without consideration, and I had been keeping my thoughts and concerns about my diet safely tucked away in the back of my mind for years and years. Gestation had occurred, and I was suddenly and unexpectedly reborn as a full-blown veg-head with a confusingly limited shopping list and a lot of doubt about the concept of putting tofu into my mouth. 

Veganism is more than just a diet—it’s a complete shift in perspective and lifestyle. However, my decision to become vegan was at first only dietary in scope because it was initiated by my passion for nutrition.

Nutrition is one of the easiest things to become invested in, simply because it means being passionate about yourself—your physical health and wellbeing in both the present and the future. I’ve found that the more you learn about your food, the more you want to learn about your food and the more you want to eat foods that heal and nourish your body.

When I pick up a banana in the produce section at Ralph’s I don’t just see a piece of food. I see tryptophan, vitamin B-6, fiber, iron, pectin and potassium. I view the grocery store as my own personal medicine cabinet filled with fruits and vegetables that are ready and willing to combat a headache or stomach pain or the sniffles or just a really long day.

According to The China Study, the largest comprehensive study of human nutrition conducted by a partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine, a whole foods, plant-based diet has shown to reduce rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and even mental afflictions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

(Kristen Siefert/Neon Tommy)
(Kristen Siefert/Neon Tommy)

This way of eating is nutritionally ideal (yes, I can see you wagging your fingers at me—I promise I get enough protein!) and has allowed me to live more vibrantly and healthfully than I ever have before. Perhaps even more importantly, it continuously builds a foundation from which I hope to continue living comfortably, capably and free of illness for a very long time.

That is because in reality, a banana is not just food. Chicken and cheese are more than just comforting ritual. What you eat is a statement about what you care about and what kind of life you want for yourself.  

What you choose to feed yourself today will physically become the fibers of your muscles, the very cells that make up your body. You are what you eat—and I want to be the best version of myself that I can physically be. As the adage goes, you’ve got to look out for number one!

Contact Staff Contributor Kristen Siefert here and follow her on Instagram here



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