When people find out that I’m a vegetarian, they usually ask me why and how I became one. In this post, I will share my journey with you. Four years ago, on January 2 2013, I decided to become a vegetarian. This was after eating meat and chicken my entire life while enjoying it throughout! At 24 years old, I consciously decided to stop eating meat due to multiple factors based on the fact that I wanted a healthier fulfilling lifestyle. I haven’t looked back since! Let me explain further.
Why & How I became a Vegetarian
Firstly, one must know that I’ve always had a loving relationship with food, which showed physically until my early 20’s. From the time I was born, I was a heavy baby who LOVED to eat, let my mom tell it. I was born and grew up in Senegal. It is known for its delicious varied local cuisine, with strong French and Lebanese cuisine influences given their settling there. Also having parents who both loved to cook and eat good food allowed me to grow up eating delicious foods made with fresh wild seafood, natural ingredients and wholesome grains like millet and fonio. In our garden at home, we had fruits and vegetables growing and also raised a few sheep in the backyard. We also owned a farm with fruit trees, chickens and sheep we raised and fed thus fresh well-fed meat was always part of the menu growing up.
We moved to Kenya after I turned 10 and it was a whole new world of food discovery. I discovered an abundance of fresh exotic tropical fruits and vegetables readily available, given the season. I’m talking about sweet passion fruits, papaya, watermelons (even the yellow kind!!), loquats, tree tomatoes aka tamarillo, and so many more! Because my dad travelled often, we had a family ritual whenever he was in town of going out for lunch on Sundays. We were regulars at Haandi– an amazing Indian restaurant, Furusato–a delicious Japanese restaurant, or the Intercontinental Hotel Buffet. The food cooked at home was also always on point. We had more access to grass-fed meat and grain-fed chickens who were free to roam on green pastures and you could taste the quality of life when eating them. Might sound barbaric but it’s the only way I can describe it. We had a butcher where we’d buy our meat from and my dad would have them select the best cuts of lamb ribs, steaks, veal shanks, chicken etc.
My experience in Kenya planted the seed for my deep appreciation for Nature and delicious pure foods that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. I was always surrounded by Natural beauty and well taken-care of naturally. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada, left the comfort of my own home and one-of-a-kind mom’s cooking that it really sunk in.
I was 18 when I moved to Canada to attend University. I lived on campus residence with no kitchen/kitchenette for my first year and had to eat what was available. My diet went from mainly natural wholesome foods to mostly processed, frozen, cafeteria food. If it wasn’t the predictable food from the cafe’, then I’d usually feast on cheese pizza AND chicken wings at this late-night joint on campus called Oasis. I was such a regular there that one guy working there nicknamed me “chicken wings”. It was during my first University year that my first mental shift began to occur. The taste and quality of meat and chicken I was used to was no longer available. I was eating pasty tasteless chicken and meat that tasted like just fibres and liquid. I had no idea where the meat was sourced from. I believed it was just “campus food” I was stuck with and couldn’t wait to move off campus the following year.
My good friend Sib and I found a spacious and sunny apartment to move into with a full kitchen where I tried to rekindle my love for proper food. I even found a butcher nearby where I felt more comfortable buying my meat & chicken. Yet every time I’d clean and prep the meat/chicken before cooking it, something inside me felt disgusting and nauseous. After it would be marinated and cooked however, I’d feel much better about eating it. This was a recurring theme for two years, where my body would have a strong negative reaction to dead meat but once marinated and cooked to my liking then I’d eat it with a little residual guilt.
When I was 21, I met this guy from the Caribbean who was a vegetarian and ate fish but no meat, dairy, eggs. He was the first young black vegetarian I ever met who did it by choice simply because he was woke af and didn’t want to partake in the “holocaust of animals” as he put it! We spent a lot of time together and I’d observe what he would read, watch, and eat. I learned a lot from him while still eating chicken but stopped cooking red meat and increased my intake of fish and fresh vegetables. He definitely helped me understand how I could proceed on this journey in a conscious and healthy manner. I would often watch food industry documentaries such as Food Inc, Vice reports, and YouTube videos that really made me question myself. I questioned what I was eating to nourish myself, the ethics behind animal farming and food industries, the correlation between mental & physical health and what we nourish ourselves. I thought about it critically and thought about what I was feeding and doing to myself, my health and where I wanted to be in terms of wellness.
Now my dad, who LOVED his lamb, veal, chicken, duck, fowl, fish, became a vegetarian for health reasons. It made me realize that if he could do it with such discipline, especially at his age, then I could do it too. He became another support system whom I could talk to and discuss nutritional findings in support of this new lifestyle and he inspired me even more. I tried to learn as much as I could about natural nutrition, about what my body actually needs to function at an optimal level and I researched vegetarian recipes that I would enjoy eating. Once I felt comfortable with an arsenal of knowledge and recipes, I thought I was ready. I tried a full vegetarian diet that lasted a week before I started craving my favourite…chicken wings. My second try lasted maybe 8 days before craving the smokey flavour of bacon. I thought about just using bacon bits in salads but of course I ended up eating chicken because I justified that if I could eat bacon bits then chicken wasn’t so bad either.
Finally on January 2 2013, after two trials and feasting on all types of meat for NYE, I decided to stop eating meat, eggs and dairy. Taking it one day at a time although some days were difficult, I continuously researched resources such as recipes, nutrition facts of natural foods, and watched hours of YouTube videos. Cooking with soy-based imitation meat was rare because I did not want to eat something that reminded of meat when I was trying to stay off meat. One thing that has helped me on any struggling day that my vegetarian Caribbean friend once told me is:
“You should eat for nourishment! What are you feeding your body to nourish it holistically? All that matters at the end of the day is the optimum natural nutrients you can eat and acquire to feel the best naturally and achieve whatever you want because great health IS fundamental.”
That has stayed with me throughout my journey! If I see chicken wings that I low-key want to devour, I ask myself if that’s the best way to nourish my body and if I know better than I must practice better because that’s the only way I can better myself. Learning about natural nutrition based on pure foods, cooking and creating recipes has truly helped me maintain this lifestyle without getting bored of what I eat. Sometimes I order out. However, it’s hard to find the type of deliciously nourishing vegetarian meals I enjoy.
To conclude, I became a vegetarian because I wanted a better lifestyle that aligned with my personal beliefs, values, and principles. I eat without guilt by counting nutrients rather than calories. I’ve been able to maintain the best shape I have actually ever had without it feeling like a diet but rather a lifestyle. I am continuously learning and having fun with it because I discover different cuisines and try different ways to cook whatever natural, preferably alkaline ingredients I have available. It has been a positive experience so far and I’m grateful for it.
Have you ever considered changing your diet or lifestyle? What has helped to motivate you? What was your breaking point? How has your journey been? What has held you back? I would love to hear about your journey so kindly comment below or feel free to ask questions.