I’ve been plant-based for 2 weeks, y’all!
This process has been a long time coming, but I am glad to be here—though I never thought that this would be me. I grew up eating meat. All the time. Everywhere. Pernil for celebrations and christmas. Pastelitos filled with ground beef, chicken, and cheese. I mean, the classic Dominican breakfast la tripleta is basically an animal-product-filled feast with eggs, salami, and mangú—with the option of adding Dominican cheese and, of course, morir soñando to the mix. You get the picture. Because I was happily filling my life with all of these things and more, I never thought I’d be here, and I never even thought I wanted to be here!
Or so I thought…
Everything changed when my daughter made her grand entrance into the world. More specifically, this particular change catalyzed when I started her transition to solid foods. We decided to take a baby-led weaning approach to bringing solids into her diet, which basically means that she can eat pretty much anything cut into appropriate sizes, according to her developmental stage and with the exception of salty and processed foods. I’m a runner and generally focused on my health, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal for my daughter to be eating what I was eating. The first taste of solid food she had was a green smoothie, which she absolutely LOVED.
Yay, off to a good start! That is, until I realized how often I had to say no to her. You see, once she got her first taste of smoothie and realized that there were delicious things she could put in her mouth and eat anytime we were eating anything she would start begging for a taste too! She looooooves avocados, bananas, clementines, tomatoes, beans, squash, bread—the list goes on and on. I started to see that I had to have these foods ready for her because I was eating so many things she couldn’t eat! Between the french fries, subs, pizza, and more (things I justified for myself), I was constantly telling her no and redirecting her to other foods. I started to think about my own diet and what I was modeling for her. Baby-led weaning is supposed to be “easier” because your child just eats what you eat, but it felt clear to me that I had my own changes to make.
Around this same time, my best friend Molly had posted on Facebook about the What the Health documentary. I decided to take a look, and my whole perspective changed. For the record, the documentary has an obvious angle, and yes, it is edited with a bias, but I agreed with many of the points and decided to give this vegan thing a try. My first move was to text Molly, who, like the amazing vegan fairy godmother she is, sent me literally the most comprehensive email with a whole bunch of links, information, and resources. One of the things that she said that stuck with me the most was, every meal counts. For the animals. For the environment. For my own health. Every meal counts. This made the idea of transitioning to a plant-based diet so much more realistic.
I began incorporating more plant-based meals into my diet and trying out new recipes. At times, I found myself falling back into some of my old habits, but realized it was more out of convenience than anything else. Being a new mom, a second-year PhD student, training for a half marathon, and working part time, it was so much easier to rely primarily on things that were easy and fast to make that were not necessarily healthy. A few weeks ago, through another bad-ass friend, Ysanet, I came across “What Lies Between: Mid Harvest Cleanse,” led by Heidi Lopez in NYC. This online-based cleanse was exactly what I needed—a space to detox into a plant-based diet while also investigating my own relationships and attachments with foods through a supportive group. It’s been an incredible journey, to say the least (keep scrolling for pictures and recipes of my food from this week!).
Through the cleanse, I learned so much about myself and the things that my body truly craves and needs. I learned about the power in choice and my ability to choose the nutrients my body loves. So much of the foods that I was eating were so closely linked to feelings and memories—i.e. I loved super supreme pizzas because that was what my fiancé, Ivannoe, brought me after my first ultramarathon. Given my memories, these foods elicited an emotional reaction followed by a physical crash later on. Understanding how to separate these specific foods from the happiness, togetherness, space, or whatever emotion I was really craving has been incredibly enlightening.
As I said before, I never thought that I could be vegan because I was stuck in a mindset of “missing” all these foods that I had grown up with and had been eating all my life. I was so scared of straying from this normal, when in reality it’s been so delicious and, dare I say, FUN! Ivannoe has been super supportive through this process and it’s been really nice to explore recipes together—I’m so lucky that he is a chef and also loves to eat! We scroll through Pinterest or follow friends’ suggestions and pick out a new recipe to experiment with. The biggest change for us has been learning how to cook plant based dishes with the Caribbean flavors that we know and love. But, as we’ve learned, it’s totally possible! In this, I’ve learned that I won’t be giving up my culture, just making some changes.
Still, as so many of our social gatherings seem to happen around food, I find myself wondering, how am I going to tell my Dominican family that I’m not only no longer eating meat but not including any animal products in my diet? Luckily, I already have two plant-based cousins who have also been very supportive. Elizabeth in particular has been paving the way within our family and also sharing her amazing vegan recipes with us. Change is coming and won’t be without its challenges. The future is bright, however, and I am so excited to be entering into my first holiday season eating a plant-based diet and starting new traditions!
I have to say there are some super dope grassroots organizations that bring plant-based options to communities of Color. Ysanet, in NYC, is one of the Afro-indigenous Dominican women creating Woke Foods, a platform to remind people of the knowledge they already have within them, talk about our collective ancestral connection to food, and share vegan and vegetarian Dominican food practices with our community. In Boston, we have Oasis Vegan Veggie Parlor, a Black-owned restaurant serving up amazing dishes. You don’t have to give up the foods and flavors you love while eating plant-based and there are most likely delicious dishes in your neighborhood if you know where to look!
Thinking about moving in a plant-based direction? Here’s a taste of what I’ve been eating this week!
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