How and Why I'm Both Vegan and Gluten-Free

More than a few friends recently have asked me questions about my diet, especially because it's pretty complicated and not very common.

For those who don't know, I'm both vegan and gluten-free, but it hasn't always been that way! It's mostly a pretty recent development, for a variety of reasons.

Here's the low-down:

WHY I'M VEG

  • I watched the documentary Food, Inc. in an AP Environmental Science class in high school, and cut out meat completely cold turkey (pun very much intended) right afterward. June 5, 2010, to be exact.
  • I hated seeing the horrible conditions animals are raised in to provide us with our meat. It was disgusting, unsanitary, sickening, heart-breaking, and inhumane. I couldn't handle the fact that our meat comes from animals pumped with chemicals and steroids and all sorts of other unknown things just to amp up their size and outputs. That's horrible to me. I couldn't support that.
  • I never loved things like steak, ribs, turkey, etc. I ate chicken and lunchmeat and things like that primarily (I was a kid/teenager after all) but didn't think I would miss it. 
  • I like knowing what I'm putting into my body and where it comes from.
  • As a kid, my brother would always make animal noises at the dinner table of whatever we were eating that night, and I always lost my appetite when he did that. I can't separate the meat from the animal like some folks can. To me, I see the face of the sweet, innocent creature that had to die for my meal, and I literally can't stomach it.
  • There are so many negative environmental effects that come with our meat industry, and as somebody who deeply loves and wants to protect this beautiful (and only) planet we have, I didn't want to further that destruction.
  • I'm very stubborn. Nobody thought I would stick with vegetarianism, so I wanted to prove them wrong. Here I am, six years later, still going strong.
  • After food allergies happened (see below), I couldn't eat dairy, so it gave me the push to finally be vegan. (Full disclosure: I do occasionally eat some eggs--free-range, organic, etc-- and some seafood-- sustainably raised and caught, organic also-- if there is literally NOTHING else I can eat somewhere, or if an egg is the only allergy ingredient in something like a pre-made pizza crust. It's increasingly more rare that I cheat at all though.)

WHY I'M GF/DAIRY-FREE

  • I found out in August 2012 that I was allergic to wheat. 
  • Afterward, every time I ate dairy, I kept getting horribly sick. I talked to the dietician at my college and they informed me that often allergies like mine to wheat go hand-in-hand with dairy intolerances. So, lucky me, I got a two-for-one deal on food allergies!
  • I would eat ALL THE WHEAT if I could. I really would. But thankfully, the gluten-free world has improved a lot, so it's not so bad.

WHAT I EAT

  • For some reason, everybody who hears that I'm vegan becomes VERY concerned with my protein intake. I swear, it's like people think protein can only come from animals. Here's the thing: vegetables have protein. Beans are excellent protein. Tofu is protein. Tempeh is protein. Chickpeas are fabulous protein. There are fantastic plant-based protein powders and protein bars. Nuts are amazing protein. Meat-eaters eat way too MUCH protein. I'm just fine in the protein department, but thanks for your concern, everybody.
  • I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I like so many more kinds than I did as a kid (and I liked a lot then) and I try to eat as seasonally as possible. Variety is key here, both in the produce and the preparation.
  • I eat gluten-free substitutions for some of my favorite carb things. I eat my tacos on corn tortillas instead of flour. I rarely eat bread straight up anymore. I eat veggie burgers in lettuce wraps now instead of on a bun. I'll eat the occasional sandwich on gluten-free bread-- Udi's is my favorite brand! I'll have gf bagels as a rare treat. I'll occasionally have pizza-- usually only if I'm at a restaurant, though, because I've found most types to be pretty temperamental if I make them from scratch! (Mellow Mushroom, Pie Five, and Domino's all have gf crusts that are great!) I eat delicious bean-based noodles instead of any other kind of pasta, and I'm obsessed with them. (Straight up protein, too!)
  • I eat many of the same other kinds of foods that I ate before I had allergies-- things like popcorn (just plain, with olive or coconut oil instead of butter, topped with nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor and a vitamin B boost!), corn tortilla chips with salsa or guac or any other kind of dip, rice crackers with hummus, lots of nuts and dried fruits, fresh fruits, fruit smoothies (with an added scoop of this plant-based protein powder!), rice and quinoa, lentils, all veggies, etc.
  • If I need a quick, easy frozen meal for lunch, I eat something from Amy'sThey're delicious! So many vegan and gluten-free options.
  • If I'm eating out, I do my research. Luckily, I live in a hipster, foodie city where there are LOTS of options for me. I use Yelp and occasionally the Find Me Gluten Free app to find options.
  • If I'm eating on the road, I have hardly any options. Thank the Lord for Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A fries. Apart from those two, I'm pretty much out of luck for true fast food, so I always have snacks handy.

WHAT'S HARD ABOUT IT

  • The hardest part of my diet is the social side. I absolutely HATE feeling high-maintenance, and sadly, having food allergies makes that inevitable. I'm the girl that has to make modifications with waiters, and I always feel like they hate me. I'm the girl that has to bring all her own food to family gatherings. I have my own feast at Thanksgiving. I bring my own food to work potlucks and dinner parties with friends. I can't eat at weddings (shout out to the friends that had vgf meals for me at their weddings, though!). That part is really rough. Food is such a social, cultural thing, and to be excluded from that is really discouraging a lot of the time. 
  • It takes SO MUCH planning. I can't just grab fast food if I'm traveling. I can't just go to a cookout and grab food. I can't just pop into any old restaurant to eat. I have to research, be careful, and prepare things as safely and cautiously as I can.
  • Constantly having to explain myself to people. I don't mind talking about it, but it gets old to feel like I'm constantly having to explain what I can and can't eat, and then answer a million "well, what about ___?" questions. It's worst when it's strangers or people that make fun of me or make me feel ridiculous for my allergies.
  • Getting glutened. Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I'll accidentally eat dairy or wheat. They're sneaky, and you can rarely see them, so it happens more than I would like. I get SO sick. It's awful. It gets worse each time it happens too. I'll spare you the details, but imagine an awful stomach bug combined with flu-like body aches on top of a splitting migraine and increased sensitivities. It's debilitating. 

WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT IT

  • I value and appreciate food and the culinary industry and farmers so much more. I have grown so much in my awareness and interest of where food comes from, how it's made or grown, how it gets to me, and how it's prepared now that I have this diet, and I love that. It's so fascinating and I love being able to support local farms, local growers, and local chefs as often as I can.
  • Finding things I can eat is WAY more exciting. There's a snack basket at work that gets filled up with goodies every morning, and it's always a mood boost if there's something in there I can eat. I don't take it for granted anymore!
  • The industry has improved so much, and there are more options than ever.
  • The community. Maybe it's just because I live in a great foodie city, but I have met and bonded with so many amazing people because I'm vegan or gluten-free. It's a supportive and encouraging community, and while there might be many jokes made about vegans, they're really awesome folks who are almost always happy to share why they eat the way they do. Plus, Richmond throws a killer vegetarian festival every year, and I always feel like THESE ARE MY PEOPLE. It rocks.

AND NOW, FOR YOU...

Why not try going vegan for a week (or a month, or a year)? Annie wrote a great post about that here. Also, PETA has MANY great resources-- I love this simple list of 10 great reasons to be vegan.

Also from Annie: 100 of her tips for going vegan! So helpful.

Why not try Meatless Mondays? Little things make a big difference for our environment.

Be supportive of your friends with food allergies.

Please don't tell me "Oh, this food actually sucks..." because I know it doesn't and that helps nobody.

Please be aware of what you're putting into your body. Support your local farms and farmers. Shop at your nearest farmer's market. Eat organic whenever possible. Care about where your food comes from, how it's grown, how it's made, what's in it, and how it affects you.

Eat well.

Like Michael Pollan says...

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables."

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