El·e·na [el-uh-nuh, uh-ley-nuh; It. e-le-nah] /ˈɛlənə, əˈleɪnə; It. ɛˈlɛnɑ/ –noun a female given name, form of Helen // A proud student of His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche // Personal assistant with a BSc (Hons) Psych from Uni of Warwick // These are snapshots of my life, in words and pictures

The Awkward Vegan

February 3, 2020 2

Taken with H.E. Kyabje Tsem Tulku Rinpoche shortly after I was discharged from the hospital. Prior to my hospitalisation, I had been vegan for nine months until an unrelated medical issue led to my hospitalisation.

I’ve been hesitant to talk about going vegan because to be honest, I wasn’t sure how long it’d stick. Talking about it prematurely felt like I’d jinx it somehow? But it’s been going well so far so what the heck.

In late October last year, I decided to go back to veganism. In my mid-20s, I’d been vegan for nine months before a spell in the hospital put an abrupt end to that. And I say “decided” but it wasn’t really a conscious choice. I know loads of people recently transitioned to a plant-based diet after watching “Game Changers” but nothing like that happened to me. There was no momentous, earth-shattering moment. It kind of just…happened after a friend said he was doing it.

It was something I’d been thinking about for a while but had been putting off because well, I know what I’m like. I have a tendency to get really into something and it doesn’t last, or I apply the “all or nothing” approach. (In the case of going back to veganism, it was clearly “nothing” for a while haha)

But when that friend said he was vegan but still had fish in his fridge, something clicked. It wasn’t even dairy, which is what I had and was what I had been thinking was holding me back. He had fish and – this is the part that made a real difference for me – he seemed OK with that. That’s when it dawned on me that my chosen approach was just an excuse.

My friend’s approach also, quite unexpectedly, gave me a different perspective on something Rinpoche had told me years ago. I remember the scene very, very clearly. We were in the car coming back from Viva Mall, driving along Jalan Loke Yew when, out of the blue, Rinpoche said,

“It’s OK if you cheat once in a while Jean Ai, it’s alright if you eat meat.”

We hadn’t even been talking about meat-eating so that caught me off-guard. I had never, ever heard Rinpoche tell anyone it’s OK for them to eat meat before. Rinpoche always encouraged everyone to go vegetarian so hearing that really got my attention.

I’ll be honest, a part of me was like, “Yesssss, I get a hall pass to bacon sandwiches!” but my first instinct was to protest and tell Rinpoche that I really didn’t want to eat meat.

Rinpoche, in his compassion, replied,

“It’s really, really OK if you cheat every once in a while. It really, really is OK.”

By the end of the conversation, I had protested so much that I was pretty much a confirmed vegetarian 🙄😂

All this while, I had always viewed that interaction as Rinpoche reverse psychology-ing me into vegetarianism but back in late October, I got a different perspective. When I looked deeper into my friend’s “I still have fish in my fridge” statement, I realised Rinpoche had also been telling me it is OK for me to not do things perfectly and to make mistakes, and not to beat myself up about it.

Just trying is good enough and when I mess up, I should keep trying. Try and try again, and keep trying.

Just try.

2019-11-13 14.57.57

In the last three months, that’s not to say I haven’t slipped every once in a while. There have been a couple of occasions when I have unknowingly eaten egg and dairy, and I could DEFINITELY be doing this more healthily. I still eat junk while adding a sprinkling of hemp to fool myself into thinking my meal’s healthy (haha). I should probably have more fibre in my diet. I might be missing out on a few nutrients that I haven’t taken supplements for.

But the difference this time is, I haven’t spent the next two or three days after the slip-up feeling horrible about myself, or ‘punishing’ myself by being super strict about my subsequent choices.

I’ve just moved on.

Okay, before I go on, let me just say this – if you’re a 100% vegan and you don’t use animal products whatsoever, you grow your own food, cycle everywhere, harvest rainwater, run off solar, support independent farmers and businesses, and so on, fantastic!

If you call yourself ‘vegan’ and you sometimes consume sugar, honey, butter by accident, fantastic!

If you enjoy plant-based meat replacements and you’ve found them helpful for you, fantastic!

If you’re plant-based one day a week and you’re working on increasing the number of days, fantastic!

YOU DO YOU.

One of the reasons why it took me so long to get back into veganism is because some vegans tend to be extremely binary and black and white about these things. The “HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELF A VEGAN IF YOU ACCIDENTALLY EAT GELATIN” or the “DON’T EAT ALMONDS THEY TAKE A LOT OF WATER TO GROW” types. Mistakes aren’t allowed, slip-ups are frowned upon…some of the people online can be really mean and there is so much toxic behaviour surrounding this stuff! Scant, if any, acknowledgement or encouragement is given for the effort people make to adapt their lifestyles. And though I understand where they’re coming from, personally the relaxed, non-judgemental approach worked much better for me.

All y’all militant vegans and Judgemental Judy’s need to chill. People are trying their best but sometimes change takes time. So I’m sorry if I’m not doing it right according to how you perceive it should be done but yo, I’m trying.

So how did I do it? I took stock of my stuff, finished what cheese I could (seriously, it was mostly cheese), gave away the rest and just stopped buying more. Vegan replacements were purchased, as well as other bits and bobs I knew would help ease the transition.

My first vegan haul :) (mostly from Vegan District)

My first vegan haul :) (mostly from Vegan District)

And what’s happened since I’ve gone vegan? This is the part that excites me the most because I didn’t think it’d happen this fast and this quickly!

(1) No more sugar crashes. Mostly because 90% of what I used to snack on is now off-limits and Bentong is essentially a vegan desert, I can pretty much go for only nuts and fruit, with the occasional cacao nibs or Ben and Jerry’s non-dairy dessert. Y’all, being vegan turned me into a squirrel.

(2) As a result, my cravings have also reduced tremendously. They are fewer and further in between, and much simpler to satiate.

(3) No more brain fog. I used to get really dozy after meals but that doesn’t happen anymore.

(4) Made me less wasteful and more creative. Because no one else here in Kechara Forest Retreat is vegan, the community meals aren’t normally vegan (which is fine). But there’ll be elements that are, like the daily soup for instance, so oftentimes that’ll be saved and used as a stock for something I cook the following day. I’ll also cook in bulk and save leftovers for future meals. (I should clarify, the soup is the Chinese-style clear soup, not a cream one)

(5) Made me simultaneously more aware and less selective about what I eat. I’ve had to do more research into what I eat and yet if there’s only one vegan option on the menu, it’s what I gotta go for. And if I can’t be bothered to cook that day, and nothing from the community meal is suitable, then toast it is. And that’s cool with me.

(6) I’m not entirely sure about this one but I think I have more energy and better stamina. While it’s early days, it appears that I now recover faster and have more energy to keep going. There are times when I feel I’ve got excess energy but I haven’t figured out if that should be attributed to the change in diet, or the fact I’m just overly enthusiastic in general.

(7) Being disciplined in this has also impacted my consistency and discipline in other areas of my life.

I think there’s something to be said about the importance of being kind to everyone, even to yourself. That is not to mean we take it overboard and use ‘self-care’ as an excuse to focus only on ourselves, but it is to say that we’ll accomplish so much more and be so much happier, if we are not constantly punishing ourselves for the mistakes we make, which are not permanent anyway.

There’s also a lot to be said about the importance of recognising that everyone is just doing their best – as Rinpoche told us, sincerity is everything. Someone doing something imperfectly but sincerely, is better than someone not doing anything at all.

I’m plotting the next stages (incorporating nyungney practice, for example) but for now, I’m pretty happy with where I am and I don’t feel like I need to push more. I’m just going to take things as they come, and see how things go :)

Here’s to kindness!

Vegetarianism

2 Comments → “The Awkward Vegan”

  1. Yee Lung 4 months ago   Reply

    Love this!

  2. Meg 3 months ago   Reply

    Lol the balance between idealism and actualisation hahahaha

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