Let's veg out – Guest blog [MTL]

I don’t know if it’s that spring is in the air, but I’ve been craving all things veggie, when usually I am craving all things cookie. It was over coffee after NP that our crew began swapping restaurant recommendations for the best veggie-fare in our city. Camilo shared that a plant-based diet fuelled his many activities. Personally, I can’t fathom living life without chicken fingers, but I can appreciate the way Camilo speaks about his experience. So for anyone who is veg-curious, I invite you to consider this one very fit dude’s experience.

I switched to a vegan diet September last year. For a while, I was a little wary throwing around the word vegan, and even preferred to say I ate plant-based, mostly because of the stigma that the word seems to carry around. In Colombia, my country of origin (I don’t know if I can call it home after 9 years away) we have a popular saying that refers to something that is excruciatingly long: we say that it is longer than a meatless week. This is how engrained eating meat is in our culture, so deciding not to eat meat, let alone dairy or any other animal products seemed to be somewhat rebellious. 

It took me about a week to get rid almost all the animal products I had, I cooked for my friends and gave them all the leftovers, and a lucky NP member even took a few pounds of frozen meat and poultry for her own enjoyment. It has been quite interesting to experience how people react when I mention it—and I only mention it when I need to, e.g. when going to a restaurant with friends. 

Naturally, one of the biggest concerns that people have about veganism is where to get protein. I could easily go on a rant about the many sources of plant-based protein there are, but I won’t. I get more than enough protein every day, without much effort to be honest. Calcium, iron, omegas, B-12, etc. Then there is another classic: “It’s too expensive”.  But one of the things I’ve come to realize is that any of those concerns are valid not only for veganism, but for vegetarianism, flexitarianism, omnivorism, you name it. 

No matter what foods you eat, there are always healthier/less healthy and cheaper/more expensive ways to do it. You can be vegan and live off faux meats and cheeses, Beyond Meat Burgers and Burritos and sweetened cashew milk, and it won’t be very healthy and it will be quite expensive. For me, the important thing is to be conscious about what I eat, and to feed my body what it needs to perform physically and mentally every day.

I am very active. I train callisthenics and gymnastics rings 5 days a week, come to NP on Wednesdays, and play soccer and sometimes volleyball recreationally. With such level of activity, it becomes quite important to have a healthy diet. When I changed my diet, I found a great number of resources to help me, documentaries, scientific papers, cookbooks, online communities, etc. Of course, it is important to check the references and do some fact checking, which I was willing to do as it was important for me to do it right. I was surprised to find a myriad of vegan athletes ranging from tennis players, soccer players, body builders, you name it. And so, with a little help from some cookbooks, I did it, and I have never feel better.

I eat my greens, my whole grains, beans, fruits etc. and since September, I have noticed significant improvements in my performance at the gym, and honestly, in my overall wellbeing. I set ambitious goals for myself and assess my progress constantly, and I have noticed a significant gain in strength and endurance. My recovery time has reduced a lot; my muscles are not as sore as they used to; the quality of my sleep has improved, and I feel calmer. In general, I feel better. Combined with a flexibility and mobility program my wrist and shoulder stopped being an issue, and my ankle is healing quite nicely.  I buy produce that I did not even know existed before (and sometimes discuss with Silvana how it is called in Mexico vs. Colombia, and it’s usually quite different), and have discovered so many delicious flavors that I don’t think I would have explored otherwise. 

There is a lot of judgement about veganism and so many misconceptions and weird associations. A conversation I had with a friend back home made me look a bit into how eating meat is, for some reason associated with masculinity, which is already a concept filled with misconceptions, and for some so fragile that it can break by eating plants instead of meat. It also made me appreciate my friends here. They have been super supportive, take it into account when eating out, ask when they don’t know something and are curious about it.  They have also gotten several delicious —and just a few not so great— homemade meals.

And the wonderful thing about NP is that we all have a different story, different views of the world and different ways of doing things, and different lifestyles that work for us. People don’t judge you, and you don’t judge them (we hope), we all support, encourage and high five each other. We annoyingly ask for restaurant recommendations (greatly appreciated, Laura). Veganism has worked for me; it makes me feel great and it enhances my performance and mental clarity. Additionally, it’s great for the environment, and compassionate towards animals, and so it aligns with my values and beliefs. But that is my experience. It may not be for everyone, and that is ok too.

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