Give Yourself Permission to be Vegan – My 4 Year Veganniversary Post

When my vegan lifestyle comes up in conversation, more often than not, by husband and his dietary habits become the immediate object of curiosity. The center of the interaction. Everyone wants to know if he’s vegan. Since he isn’t, everyone wants to know how we cohabitate. How we grocery shop, cook our meals, agree to disagree. Everyone wants to know how two people can be happily married and hold two completely different ideological viewpoints when it comes to food. And for us specifically, when it comes to animals and morality.

Let’s back up. When I was dating I had three (yes, only three) requirements for my future boyfriend. At that time I did not think that I wanted to be married, ever, so they looked something like this: He needs to have a job, a car, and his own place to live. Like I said, they were simple requirements, but shockingly hard to find. I had decided that I didn’t want to muddle things up with extraneous requirements like what kind of job, or car or dwelling. Or make it even more impossible with specifications pertaining to diet and lifestyle… like vegetarianism. At that time, I still had a few years to go before making the switch from veg to full on vegan. I don’t want to say that my standards were low – in my opinion, they were just realistic. I was only in my mid-twenties, wasn’t looking for a husband, and had so many amazing people in my life from diverse backgrounds, so I didn’t want to limit my possibilities based on assumptions like: If I date a vegetarian we will be more compatible. Because honestly, that might make eating easier, but that’s about it.

Then I met Kanan. For those of you that don’t know the story, he moved into the apartment next door to me and we noticed each other from afar before I finally took the plunge and slipped a note under his door asking him to go grab a beer with me. He called me back TWO WEEKS later… so much later in fact that I had assumed he had a girlfriend, or wasn’t into me, so I went about my life and honestly kinda forgot about it. Over the months (and then years) we lived next door to each other, I had made several observations about Kanan’s habits: He wasn’t home a lot; when he was home he never had any visitors and almost never left, and sometimes his car would remain parked in the spot next to mine for long stretches without moving. So basically, I had concluded exactly what any logical person would: If he had a job and wasn’t just sitting in his apartment playing video games all day, it must be some nefarious illegal activity that kept him away for weeks at a time, or he was a firefighter. One day I took a little gander into the back seat of his car and noticed a pile of ropes. After that, I added potential serial killer to the list, but was happy to learn that serial killers almost never murder their neighbors.

Being from Kern County (near Bakersfield), where everything is dry, and hot, and dusty it never occurred to me that some people actually could make a living fishing. Fishing was something my dad made us hike upriver at 3am on the weekends to do. Something I was more than happy to leave behind after I declared vegetarianism as my new world view somewhere around junior year of high school. So when we finally went on a date and Kanan explained that the ropes were for crabbing and not for some sort of mass strangulation scheme, I was relieved. But I was also a little sad and confused. I liked him instantly, and after only a few dates I was ready to marry the guy. Seriously. I was used to most people eating animals, but had never even considered dating someone who made their entire living by killing them. I was from Kern County but clearly I had never dated a meat or dairy farmer…

So this brings us back to the topic at hand. How did I reconcile dating and then MARRYING a man who had basically the complete opposite viewpoints and values when it came to the treatment of animals? Although he has since then changed careers and no longer kills animals for a living, we still hold different views. He enjoys recreational fishing, and on occasion eats animal products. I decided to go full-blown vegan. But now we enjoy a mostly compatible lifestyle based on generally healthy whole food eating habits and a shared philosophy of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. While I completely omit all animal products and refined sugar, Kanan allows himself the occasional splurge but has grown to have very strong viewpoints on health and whole foods. He balances me out when I’m going crazy for vegan fast food because hey, I went vegan for animal rights, not for health! And I feel like I can sometimes act as his moral mirror, and the conduit for new enlightening vegan nutritional information.

A lot has evolved and changed in our relationship because of two factors, which I believe are the key to making any relationship between a vegan and a non-vegan work. I can give you all the “tips and tricks” you want for day to day living, but until you get these two concepts dialed in, none of them will actually work for you.

#1: Give yourself the emotional permission to embrace what you know to be right for you. If you’re considering going vegetarian or vegan, chances are you’ve already done the hard work of unlearning societal programming regarding food consumption. Your husband (or partner) has already done that for themselves as well by accepting that the way they choose to eat is normal, and everything outside of that worldview is “other” or delinquent from the way people are essentially “supposed to eat.”

This is a simple concept once you wrap your head around it. There is always something that dominant society has deemed “normal.” Someone (or in this case, several powerful “someones,” like large, corporate agribusiness, big pharma, and our for-profit medical system) has a stake in maintaining the status quo, therefore a lot of effort and energy is put into poking holes in other ways of thinking, trying to prove them “wrong,” “unhealthy,” or “worse for our planet.” But here’s the thing – our planet is dying, we’re dying, and animals are dying using the old framework, so maybe let’s just test out this new way and see what happens? Everything is normal, until it’s not.

I’m here to tell you that if you know that for you, veganism or vegetarianism… or just eating one plant-based meal a week is better, then give yourself the permission to shift your consciousness, moving your new held ideas or ideals from the margin (or what is unusual, weird, or not normal) to the center, which is usual, normal, and good. Making yourself the center in this way will ironically produce a series of completely unselfish and empathetic consequences, like caring more for the health of humans, animals, and the earth.

Instead of feeling guilt and assuming that you and your new moral and/or dietary choices are the burden, flip that on it’s head and ask yourself why your partner’s choices aren’t the burden?

To challenge these deeply ingrained ideas of normativity even further, ask yourself why anti-speciesest beliefs are thought to be inferior to those socially constructed speciesist beliefs that we are the inherently superior beings atop the animal and nature hierarchy.

#2: After you’ve got #1 down, then just lead by example. But be tactful.

Once you start viewing the world through this more critical lens, a lot changes internally, and it can be difficult to not judge and criticize other people, or proclaim your new lifestyle as better. Trust me, I still do it often because I choose to be vocal, and believe in making social change. Everything is seen as a deviation from the norm, until it’s not.

People who aren’t vegan or vegetarian navigate their lives as “normal” simply by living in a country that accommodates them, facilitates their behaviors, and rewards their dietary choices with limitless options, advertising that aligns with dominant culture and a convenient separation between our individual choices and policy. Because of these reasons, vegans are criticized for speaking up. We’re casting a bright light on something that needs to be seen, something that doesn’t look good under that light.

If being in a relationship with a non-vegan for almost seven years has taught me anything, it’s that that voice that I choose to use in a political sense only drives Kanan away if directed at him in a more personal sense. For a lot of people, unlearning what they think they know about nutrition and veganism is painful because food is so closely woven into every fabric of our society and life. It also calls on people to look inwardly at their choices, forcing moral introspection. This can be extremely difficult for most people to do- it challenges us to level up and be accountable for our choices, which also requires an acceptance that our choices matter. Veganism calls people to look at how we treat the planet, other beings, and ourselves. That is simply overwhelming. Every vegetarian or vegan, including myself, went through that period of difficult growth. Every vegan or vegetarian you’ve ever met had to go through intense changes in realizing their accountability, unless they happen to be one of the very few vegans who’s parents raised them that way since birth. We understand what you may be going through.

I will tell you with 100% certainty that the longer I am vegan, the simpler the concept becomes for me. I try to do as little harm as possible, and all that can possibly do is ripple kindness out into the world. That’s all it’s about. All food, human rights, animal rights, and global arguments aside.

So just lead by example. Share positive things about being vegan, cook good plant-based food and share it, shop from vegan vendors who also value the planet and other humans, incorporate more whole foods, watch veg documentaries, read books about animals. And learn, because I’m finding that the more I learn, the more I realize that we’re all so interconnected that each choice you make really has a positive impact elsewhere. Only good can come from a lifestyle based on love and kindness. And others (including your husband/partner) will see this over time.

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Photo: Hennygraphy https://www.hennygraphy.com

Vegan Tattoo: Seven Stars Tattoo, Eureka CA

One Year No Beer

One year ago I sat around a breakfast table with my sister, my sister in law, and seven of my closest girlfriends to toast to my bachelorette party weekend and it’s success. In the loud cafeteria at Camp No Counselors Seattle we said goodbye over mimosas and departed to locations all over the country – back to our normal lives. I had made up my mind to quit drinking at the dance party the night before. I had been quietly considering it for months, wondering if I had the will power to go through with it. Somewhere between dancing the night away to Whitney Houston and standing in line for midnight nachos while drinking soda water and lime, the decision became crystal clear and easy. Camp left much to be desired, but my memories are all perfect – bunk beds and ping pong, waterslides and the talent show. Three nights in a cabin together with accomplished dynamic women taking breaks from their busy lives and careers to eat burgers in the mess hall and do bad yoga. Most of them I’ve known a decade or more – we’d come a long way from scream-singing Tenacious D songs at college house parties over shots of watermelon rum – most of us have been through a lot since then. I don’t want to say that being together again was like “the old days,” because it wasn’t. To me, it was better.

I’ll just start by saying that fifteen years is a long time to be in a one-sided relationship with something that only takes from you. Something that encourages your self loathing, and cheers for depression to root deeply inside your heart. Something that intentionally wastes your time and energy, strains your relationships and willfully stands strong and stubborn between you and your dreams and goals. I had decided I’d simply had enough of this self-inflicted bullshit.

I’ve never been someone who accepts what is “normal” just because everyone else does it. Sometimes I walk my own stubborn path to my detriment, questioning everything along the way. Critically. But this time I had recognized that for some reason the lemming in me had a thing for booze. I had fallen into the socially-acceptable catchall for life: alcohol fixes everything. Not that I believed this to be true, but on some level almost all of us buy into that narrative, otherwise we wouldn’t regularly drink alcohol. I wouldn’t drink a glass of milk because to me it represents violence, but I’d drink a beer because someone somewhere is selling me an illusion of happiness.

During this last year as I’ve put time between myself and alcohol, I’ve realized something big. We’ve been sold the idea that more money and more things will make us happier. We’re realizing that isn’t true. Each time we reach a new standard or pillar of accomplishment, we move the marker for success onto the next. If we live this way, we never reach happiness. On the sidelines of this over simplistic, capitalist equation for happiness is alcohol, working as an easy band aid when the rest of what we’ve been promised falls short. And it will always inevitably fall short. I believe that being truly happy requires so much more effort than buying something new and washing your guilt and lack of satisfaction down with a beer at the end of a long day. But I haven’t always felt this way.

Over my bachelorette party weekend I had several epiphanies. The most influential in my decision to quit drinking had to do with the company I keep. I could count on one hand how many alcoholic drinks I had over the course of my five-day party. As I quietly contemplated my decision to quit altogether I realized that I was having just as much fun without alcohol as I have with it (if not more). And then it “clicked.” Instead of drinking to “suffer” through events I attend out of a false sense of obligation, or drinking to “tolerate” people I do not wish to be around, I should stop wasting my time and life and just stop. Stop going and stop doing out of obligation and/or guilt. Give myself the emotional permission to create more time in my life by just saying no. If I don’t want to go, or I don’t enjoy the people, I shouldn’t be there. If I feel like I “need” alcohol to “have fun” then I am clearly using it as a band aid for a bigger problem: I am wasting my life doing things that do not serve me or my real happiness and that makes me unhappy. The other epiphany I had was that when you’re around your real people, the ones that give your life joy and meaning, alcohol is not just unnecessary, it can be a detriment to really experiencing your time together. And our time here is short.

Time. That is a topic I’ve written often about, and after discovering Andy Ramage and the company he co-founded: One Year No Beer, all the benefits of not drinking that I had struggled to articulate became clear. I was rarely a binge-drinker. I considered myself to be a moderate drinker, usually enjoying a beer or two a night after work “to relax.” My husband was the first one to point out to me that I shouldn’t need alcohol to relax, and that perhaps I should spend more time contemplating why I’m so unrelaxed in the first place. I met his ideas with stubborn resistance. I’m not an alcoholic. I work hard. Why shouldn’t I be able to have a beer at the end of a long day? I still, even now do not think that I have or had an alcohol dependency. What I did have was what Ramage talks a lot about: A bad habit that drains my energy while simultaneously sabotaging my physical and mental health. A habit that I engage in without question because society encourages it and deems it “normal.” And a habit that will always keep me from reaching my true and full potential because it is a huge waste of my time. Alcoholism aside, that just sounds terrible.

The focus of One Year No Beer is on the moderate drinkers. Those of us that do not consider ourselves extreme enough cases to need serious intervention or assistance, but who would benefit greatly from being part of a community of other people who just don’t want to drink anymore. Who recognize the untapped potential in a life and mind that isn’t constantly clouded or depleted by alcohol. Those of us that recognize that being an American should consist of more than working and drinking in an attempt to find happiness. Because most of us grew up living this model and are now realizing it’s pitfalls and failures. And we want more from our lives than a cycle that supports a general feeling of malaise.

Once I made the decision to quit drinking, I began to truly recognize how deeply alcohol is ingrained in our daily lives. When was the last time you stopped drinking for long enough to enjoy the physical and mental benefits of a body free of alcohol? From the research I did, the general consensus is that it takes at least two weeks to begin to feel the physical and mental benefits. Much longer if you want to experience things like long-term career or fitness boosts. Most of us will never experience this since we begin drinking as teens and continue on some level, forever. This shocked me to think about. Would I really never let myself experience my full potential because I like beer? That felt absurd.

One thing that the OYNB movement emphasizes is that the benefits of not drinking snowball tremendously. And after a year, I can attest to that. Time seems to multiply because every late night, every hungover or tired day, and every event I did not want to attend simply vanishes and can be replaced by other more fulfilling activities. Sleep improves, energy levels improve, depression and anxiety decrease, workouts are more effective, and work is more productive. Instead of struggling through a full day at moderate productivity, I find that I can complete more meaningful work on my business and personal endeavors in less time. Making time for even more meaningful relationships, goals, and activities. My husband and I have a stronger relationship (he quit too), and I believe that our decision to omit alcohol from our marriage will help us to focus our energy on positive endeavors and leave aside all of the complications and traps alcohol brings into relationships.

But it’s difficult to get that snowball rolling. Between the social event excuses, the work event excuses, and the “wine-o-clock,” “mama needs a beer,” and “life is better day drinking” t-shirts, alcoholism has become so pervasive in our culture that to not drink makes you somewhat of a social leper. My interest specifically on the strong emphasis on moms and females self proclaiming their drinking habits as a “funny” way to cope with our lives fascinates me, but that topic is for another day. As a meme I once read so accurately put it: “Galentines Day is not a thing. You’re an alcoholic.” And as someone who would have scoffed at that comment in a past life, I see it clearly now. Alcoholism has taken on a much more female tone recently- “I’m on a juice cleanse, and by juice I mean wine.” Normalizing drinking, emphasizing it’s importance in our social lives, and excusing our “need” for alcohol is not only shocking, but indicative of a culture that is starved for meaning. So I am happy to leave it behind forever.

Popping that special bottle of champagne my best friend brought and toasting to us, the round table of strong women felt like a break up. An empowering and permanent celebration of acceptance, surrounded by my biggest supporters. I’m leaving alcohol behind and beginning my new life with a different perspective – life is short and I refuse to waste it.

3 Lessons From My Husband

Today is my husband’s birthday. I’m up at 5am to write while Kanan sleeps so we’ll have the day to spend together once he wakes up. I know that I haven’t given much history about our relationship, and rarely divulge details about his life specifically, focusing mainly on relevant information for our topic at hand. So today, in an attempt to shine light on the person that my husband is, I’m going to share three big lessons that my husband has taught me about life in our last (almost) six years together.

If there’s one thing about Kanan’s personality that has always perplexed and fascinated me, it’s his ability to consistently be one step ahead of the rest of us when it comes to matters of “zen.” I use that term loosely and metaphorically to mean calm, collected, and unchanged by his surroundings. When we first met I mistook his disinterest in most things as aloofness, dismissiveness, and an overall indifference or dispassion, but I know now that my husband cares more deeply than anyone I’ve met, he’s just remarkably good at choosing what few things he cares about.

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Lesson #1: “Structure Your Life Differently.”

If I had a dollar for every time this phrase exited my husband’s mouth or came through to me via text message, I’d be rich, and I wouldn’t need to structure my life differently.

Over the years Kanan has seen me grow from a mid-twenties employee with undefined dreams to an early thirties small business owner with fairly clear goals for our future.

I’ve discovered that when I have an end goal in mind I will work relentlessly toward it regardless of the time and energy that it takes to get there, even if it means depleting every resource I have in the process. Sometimes this takes years to complete. Sometimes the “end goal” is so obscure and far off in the distance that it’s almost impossible for anyone else to see, let alone support. But I see it.

Kanan may not notice what I’m able to predict. He observes my chaotic life, chalk full of work and stress. I see myself lay one more brick down each day I wake up with intention. It may not look like much now, but someday I’ll build my castle, revel in it, then move on to something new. I thrive on accomplishment and projects. I find happiness in the process of building, not necessarily the “finished” result – consequently this means I’m never really done and I’m almost never satisfied.

He watches me struggle and sometimes doesn’t realize that I share his same vision. Laying a brick a day will get us there, I promise, but you need to trust me. A decade later, and the foundation is complete. Still a lot of castle to build, but it’s got something solid to stand on. Structuring your life differently takes time. Great things aren’t built overnight. Strategies take trial and error to perfect; systems take years to run smoothly. I’d work seven days a week, and teeter on the precipice of burnout – he’d say “structure your life differently.” I’d be at the end of my rope spending every “personal” moment on my phone working. What should I do? Structure my life differently. To him, its easy. A simple answer to any of those parts of my life I am not satisfied with.

His point: When I’m “done” I’m never done. So I may as well create a life I love to live in the process of building. Structure my life differently. 

It’s not that I didn’t understand this concept before – I feel like I have quite a clear understanding of what it takes to create a life you actually want, basically full of work I enjoy, people I enjoy, and activities that give me joy, purpose, and meaning. But for me it will take years to even define what that looks like, and I imagine it will be fluid and constantly in flux. But I feel like when he emphasizes that point to me, it’s his subtle and effective way to reiterate that I am the creator of my life and I do have the power to change it, and make it however I dream. It’s up to me, and he knows I can do it. After all, if I’m not happy with something in my life, all I need to do is do it differently.

Lesson #2: Leveling up is hard, but a great partnership will force you to level up constantly, and forever.

I resist what my husband tells me to do. My husband resists what I tell him to do. Together we end up stubbornly encouraging each other to become better people.

What I’ve discovered is that my husband and I chose each other for big reasons, and each one of us has greatly valuable qualities to bring to our table. So when we resist each other because of our strength and stubbornness, eventually one of us will rise to join the other. And when we really clash, it’s because one of us just hasn’t quite figured out how to get up to that next level yet. But with enough encouragement, we will.

This happens in small ways, like snoozing my alarm. I used to be that person. Snooze the alarm every single day for however long it takes to get out of bed in the morning. Kanan explicitly hated this behavior because it disrupts his sleep, and we had many arguments about it, until stubbornly and angrily I made it a point to get out of bed immediately, every single day as soon as my alarm went off. Annoyed and stubborn, I now am a more productive person who loves the morning and looks forward to quiet time alone with my coffee, my books, and my computer. Why would I want to waste that wonderful peaceful time snoozing?

This also happens in big ways, like eating more plant foods, a significant and long-term lifestyle change. Over the years Kanan has resisted my dietary choices being “pushed on him” and has explicitly made it clear to not tell him what to eat. It turns out, the squeaky vegan wheel gets the grease. When I see my husband packing his mostly (if not entirely) raw, plant based lunches for work everyday, coming home for his post-work kale, ginger, celery smoothie it does two things. It instantly makes me happy that we’re headed down this healthy, long path together, but also makes me realize that I can do better too. I don’t eat kale everyday; there’s always room to improve and grow.

When my husband and I seem to disagree, I now try to step back and look for the lesson inside the clashing of two stubborn individuals. We both want what’s best for us, so who needs the boost up to the next rung? The other one of us will be more that happy to provide it.

Lesson #3: Protect Your Time.

This last lesson I’ll share with you wraps back around to the initial idea of my husband as the “zen master.” Kanan is not a meditation expert. He doesn’t do yoga. He’s certainly not Buddhist. He has fairly liberal beliefs but is in no way carefree or someone I’d call a free spirit. He has not reached enlightenment. Nor is he wearing a poncho and selling beads in the park. My point: he’s neither a true zen master, or a wannabe zen master. He’s just himself.

He is an adamant nonconformist in his own way. He’s so punk rock about his time that it fascinates me and encourages me on my digital minimalism journey. Simply put, Kanan understands with no degree of uncertainty that his time is his own, and he is allowed to selfishly protect it. He can exist amongst the chaos and remain himself, a calm center.

Social media? Not worth the time or energy. Texting? Only if absolutely necessary, or to appease his text-happy wife. Facetime is a solid no. Calling is a sometimes and only for the most important in his life. He refuses to make plans if he even has an inkling he may not want to participate in something or may want to just relax and do what he wants. He doesn’t feel the need to answer to anyone about how he spends his personal time, and most of the time that philosophy does apply to me. And while this can frustrate me sometimes as his behavior can appear to be noncommittal or selfish (which it is), he generally encourages me to live the same way. Selfishly with my time, even when it pertains to matters involving him.

This has taught me that being selfish with my time is okay, and that respecting each other’s time is important. It’s taught me not to dole it out indiscriminately, and to really decide if something or someone is worth letting into my life and space. My husband is basically a minimalist at heart, and someone so confident in himself that he can live his life from his own center, allowing in only the things that mean most to him. That is a skill most of us have to actively cultivate with things like exercise, meditation, learning – strategies. I joke that Kanan has had it figured out since I met him. I thought he was antisocial and afraid to commit. It turns out he just wanted to make sure I was someone he wanted to give his most precious resource to before he decided to marry me. What a way to live.

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Wedding Photos:

https://www.hennygraphy.com