FEATURE: Kwame Whyte

Seven years ago, when I decided to become a vegan, my parents laughed at me. Not a chuckle but a deep, Santa Claus type, bellyaching laugh. My Dad quickly reminded me of all the times in my childhood when I wouldn't eat my vegetables. He also reminded me of all the nights I fell asleep at the dinner table because, even at the age of four, I refused to change my mind and eat it.

They had a good laugh at my expense. 

Telling your Caribbean family you no longer eat meat is both hilarious and frustrating.  

Jokes at your expense are par for the course, particularly around the holidays. You'll hear "I could never give up meat" for the umpteenth time. Or my personal favorite, "what do you eat"?

Uhhh, food!

Same as you.

What else?

I decided to stop eating meat for health reasons. I watched Forks Over Knives while a family member battled cancer and it opened my eyes to the link between diet and health. My daughter was seven at the time and while her paternal grandfather was in the hospital dying of cancer, all I could think was I can't let this happen to me.

I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic with a prolactinoma tumor and polycystic ovarian syndrome. And while these diagnoses aren't terminal, I do have a family history of diabetes and breast cancer.  All I could think about was I have to live to see my daughter grow up. I need to be a part of her life for as long as I can. If making better food choices could help me with that then, let's do it!

I'm a voracious reader. This quality initially helped with my transition to veganism. I did my research on veganism, the food industry, cooked dinner every night and juiced every morning but still couldn't stick to the vegan lifestyle. It wasn't easy for me to find lunch ideas for work. I lacked the imagination needed to construct a delicious vegan meal.

I started getting tired of eating the same thing all the time: soup, pasta, veggie burgers. I was lentiled and bulgured out!

In addition to my food frustrations, I had to deal with people questioning my lifestyle choice. Telling me I'd lose my hair or worse if I stayed a vegan. I didn't have the guts back then to stick it out.

It's shameful, I know. 

So I decided to become a vegetarian simply because it was easier to do. I could still eat dinner with my friends and extended family; because apparently it's less offensive to them if you at least eat the side dishes but not the meat. Being vegetarian was easier for others to accept and it still gave me the illusion that I was doing something good for my health. 

The vegetarian lifestyle for me was a heavy one. I was still able to eat cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheese. Oh cheese! I gained weight because I overindulged in sugar. And I was constantly bloated and uncomfortable due to my lactose intolerance. 

After years of giving up meat, I then succumbed to seafood. My mom makes the best fish on the planet. Salmon, red snapper, tilapia or king fish...she has the ability to turn that fish into a dish befitting a five star restaurant. How could I not return to seafood?  

My dietary journey has taken lots of twists and turns. I'm so happy that I've finally decided to be vegan. I know this time, it's for life.  

Back in the day, I lost sight of my "why". My why is my daughter, my health, the animals and the environment. With all the research I did back then on the food industry, healthy and unhealthy diets, I should have been more connected to my why. I'm learning to forgive myself for backsliding.  

Now, on my second vegan journey, I feel more energetic and creative in the kitchen. I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cut up fruits and veggies for snack and I regularly make pastries for me and my daughter.

I find baking to be extremely therapeutic!

Even when my scones come out looking like muffin tops or when I forget to add sugar to my cookie batter...the muffin tops were still yummy; the cookies...not so much.

To keep my "why" etched forever in my brain, I watched tons of documentaries; like Food, Inc., Cowspiracy, Vegucated and Forks Over Knives and the scary ones like Earthlings. I also watched any footage that showed animal suffering due to factory farming. I had to scare myself straight. I couldn’t contribute to animal suffering anymore. I'm an animal lover, I feed strays and I have two cats and a dog. It would break my heart to see them mistreated. How could I allow this to happen to another being; for what burgers, cheese or milk?
I’ve made the decision that I need to live a good life today to be a part of my daughter's life in the future. I need to make smart decisions with my money and my health to ensure she has a future to look forward to. I need to help protect the voiceless.

I'm a vegan for my daughter, my health, the animals and the planet.

I'm happy with this decision and will remain a vegan for the rest of my life. 

For me, it's a lifestyle change worth making to ensure the well-being, success and future of others.

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