What’s the Deal With Fast Fashion

With spring just a few weeks away, many of you are probably starting the “spring cleaning” process of your wardrobes— getting rid of some things that haven’t seen the light of day or been warn in years, and buying new pieces to prepare for the warmer weather.

I, on the other hand, will not be making any warm-weather purchases. What I will be doing is getting rid of more clothes that I don’t need or don’t wear. Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes. But my views on them have changed a bit as my vegan lifestyle continues to evolve. As a newbie to the world of eco-conscious living, I decided about a year ago (just a lil’ while after I went vegan) that I wouldn’t make anymore clothing purchases because I’d made a commitment to living a more minimal lifestyle. This vow spread to all parts of my life, wardrobe included. Luckily, I had a decently curated closet, and although my personal style is kind of ever-evolving (but has pretty much found its most comfortable place at this point), I was really happy with the clothing I already owned and was excited to mix and match the pieces I had in fun ways.

So, that brings me to the topic of this lovely blog post: fashion— well, a very specific type of fashion; fast fashion. “What’s that?” you might be asking. This is one of the best cases of a name being truly self-explanatory. It’s fashion that is produced quickly. Very quickly. The fashion industry is a billion dollar giant that has grown massively over the past several decades. Even if you’re a person who could truly care less about any of the clothing that goes on your body, the fashion industry likely has had some sort of affect on your life in one way or another.

Sure, some of us may scoff at an industry that is largely based on looks, status and elitism, but remember that scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Miranda Priestly tells Anne Hathaway’s character that her bargain basement sweater choice may seem like it was an independent decision made by her and her fashion-oblivious mind, when in reality, it was actually chosen for her by the very people in that room? Well yeah, that’s kinda true. You see, that’s how fast fashion is born— it’s all based off current trends, and these trends change annually, even seasonally. Giant retailers like Forever 21, H&M, and the biggest of them all, Zara, design and produce clothing that matches these seasonal, high-end trends so that everyday people like you and I can partake of the colors and styles of the season at a deeply discounted price than the high-end garments we see on the runway.

But there’s a downside. There are many problems within this seedy world of trendy clothing production. Here’s why fast-fashion is toxic for both people and the environment:

Horrible Labor Conditions

To make clothing for the masses at such a quick rate and at really low prices, cheap labor is required– and lots of it. The fast-fashion industry is notorious for using overseas labor to keep costs down. And the industry is also full of complaints of less than satisfactory working-conditions ranging from long hours in packed factories with no air-conditioning or regulated breaks, to horribly low and unlivable wages, to mistreatment of workers and even the use of child and slave labor. Many of these factories are located in countries like China and Bangladesh where the workers rights are very minimal or hardly enforced1. The 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh is just one extreme example of the poor conditions that garment and factory workers must endure. Over 1,100 people, including many garment workers died in the building collapse amid many warning signs of imminent structural failure of the building that went ignored by the building’s owners2.

Embed from Getty Images

Bangladeshi people protest in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse.

It’s the knowledge of instances such as this one that make me think twice about this industry. Personally, I don’t like the idea of essentially paying for atrocities like this one to take place. After all, it kinda aligns with the reason I’m vegan. In the same way that I don’t want to pay someone to slaughter animals for me, I also don’t want to pay someone to force a child to sew my sweater for me or to have someone working in unsafe conditions for minimal wages.

They Use Animal Skin and Fur in Production

Another byproduct of the fast fashion industry is less than stellar animal welfare standards. Over the years, companies like PETA have done their part to call out the big players in the world of fast fashion. Because of this, some of them have changed their standards and policies when it comes to using products like leather, wool, and animal skins. For example, PETA came down hard on Forever 21 for using mohair, and as a result, Forever 21 joined the ranks of H&M and Zara in banning the use of the hair, stating that the company would be mohair-free by 20203. I know, I thought the same thing — by 2020? But hey, it’s a start. Zara and H&M have stopped using exotic animal skins but all three companies still utilize leather and wool, although some claim to source their wool in a humane way. The site good on you is a sick resource for seeing how a ton of companies, including the fast fashion Gods are doing ethically, giving them report cards that rate their impact on people (labor conditions), the environment and animals.

The Environmental Impact is Bad; Like, Really Bad

This one makes a ton of sense but really break it down for a sec to understand. If fast fashion retailers are producing a massive amount of clothes every season, and people are buying these clothes every season, what happens after that? Because of the quick production and cheap prices, the quality is often questionable as well. So, we have clothes that are falling apart after just a few years (and some after just a few washes… I mean, hellooo Forever 21 basic tees, ugh.) coupled with clothes that are “out of style” within a year. That leads to hundreds of thousands of pounds of clothing going into our landfills every year. In fact, the amount of clothing that Americans throw out is crippling, clocking in at well over 14 million tons annually4. It only makes matters worse that the majority of these clothes contain synthetic fibers such as polyester, acrylic and nylon, all of which are derived from petroleum. Therefore, similar to plastic, those pieces of clothing will take hundreds of decades to decompose. This is horrible news for the environment. Another disgusting byproduct is water pollution. With the massive amounts of chemicals and dyes used on these clothes, the fashion industry is by far one of the biggest contributors to toxic H2O, producing over 20% of industrial water pollution5.


We have to take care of the planet we live on — that includes trying to minimize pollution in all forms.

But I have to Wear Clothes, so What Can I do?

That’s a great question. And honestly, I’m probably not the best person to ask. I’ll explain why that’s the case in a little bit, but it isn’t because I don’t have a few suggestions on how you can cut down on the negative impacts of the fast fashion industry. I actually do have a few tips for that:

  1. Buy American-made clothes: One way to ensure that you aren’t contributing to horrible working conditions is to buy from companies that make there clothes right here in the good ol’ U.S.A. Companies like American Apparel, Hackwith Design House, Todd Sheltonand Khloe Kardashian’s denim line Good American are all made in America. There are also plenty of designers, such as Pangaia that produce clothing overseas but ensure that working conditions are impeccable — just do a bit of research before shopping. If you’re not American but live in a thriving, Western country, purchase locally-made clothing from designers where you live.
  2. Shop second-hand: One of the biggest things you can do is to shop second-hand. It’s basically buying recycled clothing. The idea is that by purchasing you clothing second-hand, you aren’t spending your money on more mass produced pieces, thereby supporting the fast-fashion industry. If you live in a major city, shopping second-hand is supa dupa easy. There are usually thrift shops and second-hand stores all over big cities. You’re also likely to find something that will suit your taste because they usually have a wide variety of clothing. And don’t worry about wearing clothing that’s old or used because a) all hail the hipster movement of Gen X and Gen Y that has made dressing like you’re from decades past insanely cool again, and b) personal style is exactly that — personal. Fashion has at least done a few things right– that coupled with good timing because there really is no such thing as not looking stylish anymore. Thanks to creative designers, everything has practically been done in the world of fashion (although designers will continue to try their hardest to innovate and I say go for it) and so long as you rock it with confidence, you’ll always be stylish. My favorite decade is the 90s and I actually grew up during that decade so it’s very fitting. But the point is that I’d be able to find an abundance of cool 90s digs in any thrift shop and so can you.
  3. Don’t, I repeat DO NOT buy fur or leather: or wool, or angora, or snakeskin… you get the point. I specify this because just shopping second-hand doesn’t equal cruelty-free (if that’s what you’re aiming for). Many second-hand shops sell clothing that is made from animal products, skins and furs. If you want to look out for the environment and the animals, try not to purchase clothes in which animals have been killed or harmed in order to make them.
  4. Do a clothing swap: I know someone who participates in these and although I have yet to do so, it’s a great way to recycle clothing. Basically, a group of folks gets together with all the clothing they don’t want, and you swap out your pieces for other pieces– sort of like an intimate thrift store among friends. There are two benefits; the clothes are being continuously recycled as you swap them with others, and it’s also a fun way to go “shopping” as you get rid of clothing you don’t want anymore. Let’s say you got a sweater at a previous swap and by the time it’s spring (kinda like now) you already aren’t feeling the sweater or it didn’t look as great as you thought it would look no matter how you styled it. Well, now you can pass it on at a clothing swap guilt-free and get something else in return. Voila, wardrobe crisis solved.
  5. Make your own clothes: Okay, I know this may not be for everyone, myself included because I’m not really into making clothes and sewing. But you may discover you have a hidden talent or love for making your own clothing. All you need is a sewing machine and some patterns. You can also try going to a workshop or class to discover how to create your own fashions. One of my cousins knows how to make clothes (and just about anything for that matter) and seeing some of her creations solidifies that it’s completely possible to make your entire wardrobe. If you decide to go this route, don’t forget to use sustainable and, if possible, organic fabrics for your creations! The added benefit here is that you’ll have entirely custom pieces, created specifically for your body — kinda like how they used to do in the old days way before fast fashion was even a thing (sighs nostalgically).
Why not have some fun and try your hand at making your own clothing?

Where I Stand

Remember when I said I’m probably not the best person to ask about how to shop ethically? That may have been a little self-critical but I said it because I can’t guarantee that I’ll never purchase anything from a fast fashion retailer again. I also really love contemporary and modern pieces that I feel are sometimes harder to come across in second-hand stores. But I haven’t given up on major retailers yet, especially as they continue to make improvements and move toward more sustainable and ethical practices. It’s similar to the dilemma many vegans face when eating at non-vegan establishments — do we not eat there in protest? Or do we order the one vegan option they have so they don’t take it off the menu and so they realize that people want to order it? If H&M has an amazing organic cotton, chunky knit, over-sized sweater (wow, I started drooling just writing that) that is part of a line they created of American-made pieces, why wouldn’t I buy it? I want to show them that I as a consumer will gladly spend my money on that organic cotton ya know? The same goes for any other brand. My minimalist lifestyle will keep me from decking out my closet with unnecessary clothing anyhow, so now all that’s left is to make sure that the clothes that are in there are as ethical– and cute as possible.

Here’s another website I found that features a few designers and design houses that make ethical, sustainable and/or eco-friendly clothing:

https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/ethical-workwear-for-women

References:

  1. https://borgenproject.org/facts-about-workers-rights-in-china/ and https://www.lawteacher.net/free-law-essays/employment-law/the-labor-rights-in-bangladesh-employment-law-essay.php
  2. https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/video/collapse-at-rana-plaza
  3. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/06/04/forever-21-h-m-zara-mohair-peta-animal-abuse/669487002/
  4. https://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/09/old-clothes-fashion-waste-crisis-494824.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry

Images:

  1. Bangladeshi people protesting image courtesy of Getty images.
  2. Earth image courtesy of pixabay via Pexels.com.

Intersectional Veganism and Why it’s Important

When most people hear the word “vegan”, they associate it with food. The choice to not consume animal-derived products. Depending on why one goes vegan, the knowledge that is accrued after that can come in bits and pieces. That is kind of what happened for me. But its actually a lot more complicated than that. Read on to find out how my vegan journey, one that did indeed start with a basis of just food, expanded into a world of activism and intersectional veganism.

Why I Went Vegan – A Recap

The beginning of my vegan journey started out as many vegan journeys start out. For health reasons. Outside of my nature, I didn’t think much further than that, and I’d finally come to realize that this wasn’t a bad thing. It’s usually best to take major changes one day at a time so as to not become overwhelmed. I became obsessed with being vegan not long after making the change. I wanted to know more about this lifestyle and everything it entailed — more than just the food. Shortly after going vegan, my reasons for doing so quickly expanded to more than just health. I was now living this lifestyle for the health of the planet and to save animal lives.

The Vegan Girl Becomes an Activist

I could say I never imagined myself as an activist — and that would be a half-truth. I’ve always been a talker (for the most part) and talking is usually a big part of activism. After all, how can you spread a message about something without speaking about it? Yet I never had the drive or confidence to be a full-fledged, outright activist. But it’s funny how life works. Once you get the ball rolling on one or two things, if you can maintain that momentum, both you and the powers that be can help everything work together to create the very things you either wanted or thought you could never accomplish, maybe even both. So, there I was. I went from being an anonymous food blogger to being the public face of “The Vegan Girl”, a platform I was now using to spread awareness of the harm that consuming animal products had on health, the environment and the animals. In a complete 180 degree turn, I could now never imagine not being an activist. The more I learn about the horrors of animal agriculture and how the body reacts to a plant-based diet versus an omnivore diet, I am so happy that I have found my voice — and in finding my voice, I am now able to be a voice for the voiceless.

Then, I Realized there were More Voiceless

As I continued growing my knowledge of veganism and activism and vegan activism, this began to expand into even more areas. I discovered the Instagram accounts of vegans and vegan groups that were specifically run by and focused on vegans of color (VOC). They were often comprised of Latino and Black persons. Veganism was still kind of new to me. But I had already been a Black female for a few decades. Discovering the connections that these groups were making between veganism and the struggles of these marginalized groups was enlightening and it felt right within my heart that this is where my vegan journey was gravitating toward.

And when it came to the diet part of things, I was a very “Americanized” person who ate a very “Americanized” diet. I was born and raised in New York City, and although I did consume a lot of food specific to (one of) my culture(s), most of the food I ate was the unhealthy junk most folks in this country consume. And when I first went vegan, I totally subscribed to the ideology that it was a hip way to eat, and for me, the word “hip” had a dual meaning. Veganism was the lifestyle of either hippies (of both old generations and new) and hipsters.

However, as I said, finding these VOC groups enlightened me to a new ideology. I was now enthralled by the idea of dismantling the notion of “white veganism”.

Now let me make this clear. Yes, I have brown skin. Yes, I identify as a Women of Color (WOC), as a Person of Color (POC) and now, as a VOC. And I am also very aware of my Blackness in society. Although I didn’t grow up in an environment that lends itself toward a lot of racism (growing up in a major, densely populated city in the time that I did equals a lot of diversity, although it isn’t void of racism and discrimination), I have had my own experiences and have most certainly seen others have theirs. But I wasn’t aware of how those injustices interacted with the world of veganism.

What’s “White Veganism”?

So, here I was now trying to understand what this “white veganism” was. Well, simply put, its the ideology that veganism is a diet and lifestyle for privileged people with money — this usually equates to people who are white. This ideology completely ignores many factors including but not limited to:

  1. The fact that most whole, plant-based [vegan] foods (including a bunch of fruits, veggies, and legumes) are grown abundantly in places that are inhabited by POC and therefore have been the basis of the diets of POC for centuries.
  2. Veganism, as a lifestyle, aims to eliminate speciesism, the belief that one species (humans) are superior to another species (amimals), thereby making veganism inherently linked to the many other “isms”, for example racism, which also exists as a mechanism to exploit some groups and have other groups claim superiority over the former groups — as has been the case for some time now, these methodologies must be fought against as well.
  3. Veganism naturally lends to intersectionality as the fight for animal equality spans other areas, specifically feminism as the bodies of female animals are often raped, forcibly impregnated, and taken away from their children.

Basically, what brown vegan folks are trying to say is get off your high horse to our white vegan counterparts. We want them to understand that veganism in not a privileged lifestyle or one that should be touted as a way of life only for those who can afford to buy acai bowls everyday. We want people to understand that “build-your-own quinoa bowls” should not be priced at $10 while there are tons of poor brown children forced to eat a family-sized pack of beef with questionable coloring from their local supermarket because it’s all their family can afford. And furthermore, a bulk box of quinoa should cost less if not equal to that container of beef so that a family of 3-5 people can thrive on it for at least a week by adding veggies and fruit and other vegan protein sources such as legumes and beans to it. And again, many POC have already been eating meals like the ones I just described, and to this day many households of color still do (albeit usually with animal protein). So why is the notion of these types of meals and a vegan lifestyle only portrayed in a “white light”?

Instead of this broken ideology of what veganism is, we want them [white people] to realize that Black, Hispanic and many indigenous people across the globe have indeed been eating this way since, well, forever— and that painting an exclusive picture of the aforementioned vegan lifestyle not only marginalizes those groups of POC from all over the globe but also the POC who live right here in America– the poor and middle-class brown people who could greatly benefit from embracing a vegan lifestyle.

Where the Intersectionality Comes In

With veganism being my primary concern, as I educated myself I began to expand my activism to include these aspects of intersectionality that I was becoming more aware of. In the summer of 2018 I went to the first annual BlackVegFest. This was even more of an eye-opening experience. I discovered groups like Veggie Mijas and La Raza for Liberation, and began to learn more about terms like decolonizing your diet, and how veganism also trickled over into the LGBTQ community. It all started making sense. You know the saying “call a spade a spade”? Well I realized that a marginalized group was a marginalized group no matter the reason of why they were marginalized.

Pioneer activist and feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the theory of intersectionality, and for many, it has grown to include (although not formally) this idea of veganism. Intersectional theory attempts to understand how the social identities of minority groups such as women, minorites (POC) and those within the LGBTQ community overlap and how these overlapping identities interact within an oppressive society and oppressive social and structural systems. The following chart beautifully expresses how the struggles of these many identities and groups overlap:

With the help of this graphic, it should be easier to understand how all discriminatory processes are manifested within various groups and how they overlap. As touched on earlier, when referring specifically to veganism, the notion of “white veganism” creates that systemic and social barrier which excludes other groups such as those who are poor, and those falling into this latter group more often than not tend to be communities comprised of predominantly POC. This exclusion takes place in various ways. It spins the story, changes the value and lessens the accessibility of veganism to marginalized groups.

This discrimination also manifests itself in other ways such as environmental racism. Environmental racism occurs as a result of hazardous waste being exposed primarily to persons who live in and around areas where massive animal agriculture takes place. The location of these factory farms are predominantly found next to areas that house minorities and poor people, and the waste that is expelled from them has caused sickness and illness to many. Another major concern is the exploitation of slaughterhouse and factory farm workers, who are largely Hispanic and oftentimes immigrants. They are subject to poor working conditions and must work in an environment in which they must carry out gruesome procedures to kill and

Instagram screenshot courtesy of vegan community via veggie_kittyy

subdue animals. All these things and more come together to make a complex web of interconnected people and groups who must fight oppression– but imagine how much harder it is for those who can’t even speak in a language that any human understands?

But You’re Black– Don’t you have more Important Issues you Could be Fighting For?

For a brief moment (okay, maybe a few brief moments) in my short-lived vegan history, I thought the same thing. That was until I continued to realize what I’ve already stated. A marginalized group is a marginalized group. I’ve lived my life as a Black female for my entire time on this Earth. And that will never change. So including others in the fight will not lessen the plight of the two groups (well, three groups, as I’ve now come to openly acknowledge my queerness on the spectrum of sexuality) I already belong to, but strengthen it because there is strength in numbers. I’ve been blessed to be born at a time in this world where so many of the generations before me have fought tirelessly to give myself and those other Black and brown persons who share this time with me the abilities and privileges to live as freely as we do. There is still and will like be for some time progress and change to be made. But in being blessed in that way I have also been blessed with a choice. I can join those freedom fighters and continue the work that has been going on for decades and even centuries. Or, I can take the blessings I’ve been given and pass the torch to another area that is admittedly newer– veganism and it’s intersectionality. Now, some do scoff at Black vegans fighting for animal rights when our people are still shot by police officers when they are unarmed, thrown into prisons for minor offenses, and discriminated against on a daily basis. However, as stated, these areas all interconnect if we really think about it. And so, fighting for the freedom of ALL living beings, including animals is truly the future of freedom fighting and activism. Why should we wait for a world where being Black or brown has no discrimination attached to it to start helping our brothers and sisters of another species when they so often suffer similar plights as we do as humans? Why are their voices deemed less important?

My belief is that their voices shouldn’t be less important. We are all fighting the same fight and therefore we must help each other whenever and however we can. Each new generation will be tasked with taking on the problems, issues and fights of the last generation. Yes, this time animal liberation is at the forefront, more so now than it has been in the past. And as veganism continues to grow, it will become an even bigger force just as the issues of all the marginalized groups before them have become. All I know is that I want to be able to say that I listened to both my heart and my brain and tried to help and live as compassionately as I could during my no doubt brief time on this planet. I make it a point to showcase my activism through veganism as much as possible. On my Instagram page and here on this blog, I create recipes that include many of the whole foods that many Black and brown people may already be familiar with, making the recipes easier to create for vegans and making it an easier transition for non-vegans. I also try to follow Black and brown vegans who are doing their thing and/or are living an upper middle class or upper class lifestyle. I see this as a form of activism as well, as it shows us all that POC can also live a “luxe (vegan) life” that is often only attached to white vegans– and those POC are usually including some form of activism in their own vegan lifestyles, which also goes to show that no matter one’s station in life, there is always an opportunity to pay it forward when living a vegan lifestyle whether it be through humanitarian work, animal activism, or showing others the beauty of veganism. I will continue to try and leave a mark in this lifestyle and I hope it will be seen as a hugely inclusive mark; one that aimed to help as many people, and species as possible.

* Animal figures cover image courtesy of pexels.com

Updated September 14, 2019

Being Vegan Doesn’t Fix Everything

When I first went vegan, I thought it would make me invincible. I envisioned myself being thinner, stronger and a whole lot healthier. Armed with the menial amount of knowledge I’d picked up when first researching a vegan lifestyle (after I’d already made the decision to go vegan), it seemed like a cure all for practically any and everything. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized that I was heavily idealizing veganism. Yes, I still believe it is by far one of the healthiest diets that most humans can thrive on, but I was taking an unrealistic approach to what veganism was truly about. I was met with a rude awakening after a couple of events that caused me to realize that being vegan, in fact did not make me a superhero.

Throwback image of what I was supposed to look like after going vegan.

The closer I got to my one year #veganniversary, the closer I got to the realism of veganism and the fact that it was indeed an entire change of lifestyle, but it was not something that could change everything that was capable of occurring in life. In early fall of 2018, I injured my leg. The injury wasn’t life-threatening, and because of that, I continued to live my life with the same gusto I had been for the past several months. The same gusto that had allowed me to become physically, mentally and spiritually stronger. After all, a positive by-product that came out of me going vegan was that I was able to not only lose weight, but prove to myself that I had the discipline to stick with something that took work– an entire overhaul of how I approached eating but also how I approached many other aspects of my life. Losing weight was tangible evidence that I could make a change in my lifestyle and achieve my fitness goals.

The more I focused on my physical activity, the stronger I became. I was sooo diggin’ that feeling! I actually felt my body changing and felt myself being able to do things I couldn’t do before. But too much of a good thing too soon is the best way I can describe the series of events that happened next. I suffered a mild leg injury from what I eventually determined had to have been overuse of my muscles and ligaments. In my mind, I had to push myself to the limit to keep feeling and being stronger. And pushing oneself is not a bad thing, but it depends on the circumstances and the person. In my case, I was starting to push too much, too soon, not giving my body enough time to rest throughout the week.

Summer 2018. Working out 3-4 days a week, I was at my most fit since I’d started my journey.

So, I’d come to terms with the fact that I’d sprang a ligament in my hip/thigh area. And you would think that I learned my lesson. But almost two months after the initial injury, I re-injured the same spot. However, this time, it was worse. Self-diagnosing, I felt really strongly that I knew what happened. The initial injured area never fully healed and I either tore or pressured that same area even more. The first sprang wasn’t debilitating, but it was definitely painful. But this time, I was literally stopped in my tracks for almost 48 hours, limping around with a wrapped up leg in agony. My body was telling me it had had enough.

This sent me into a depressing tailspin. I knew I couldn’t work with this injury but I also couldn’t afford not to work. I wasn’t sure what to do and the thought of not working for awhile terrified me. Then, I had an epiphany. I was seriously considering possibly permanently injuring myself for the sake of a job and some money. It was true that I couldn’t afford to be out of work for long, but I could afford to let myself heal for a bit. In fact, I had to do that.

This knee brace and wrap became staples in my life. Both are covered in yellow stains from the balm I made containing turmeric, that I would rub all over my leg before wrapping it up.

I made the decision to leave where I was working. Eventually the pain started lessening in intensity but it was far from healed. I was back at work within a couple of weeks and I continued to really hone in on my homeopathic routine to help with healing. The pain is about 90% gone as of the publishing of this blog post. It just goes to show that letting “food be thy medicine” has really showed value in my life, in spite of my initial anger that being vegan didn’t make me invincible.

A more recent occurrence happened within months of me going off birth control. I decided to make the switch before going vegan actually, because remember, I had already decided to do a health overhaul — going vegan ended up being the last step. Supposedly, the body adjusts within a month after going off the pill. Hormones should be back to normal and all should be well. But for me, it didn’t happen that way. I had lived for a few years with the crystal clear skin and light periods that come as a result of birth control. I had actually forgotten what my body was like pre-pill. Well, I stopped taking the pill in late 2017. It wasn’t until almost a year later that that I experienced a full comeback of my pre-pill self. Really heavy periods and acne. A decent amount of acne. So much so that I was ashamed of myself for being so vain in my hatred of it and also surprised that I had gotten so used to having no acne so quickly, completing forgetting that this was all part of my normal before I ever started the pill. But after several long months, it was as if the birth control had finally flushed out me, taking all the lingering hormones out and now I was really me again. This was a blessing I was happy about, but I kept thinking “how can this be! Everyone on vegan Instagram has beautifully light periods and no pimples!”

Summer 2017. Chock-full of birth control hormones, I wasn’t cheesing because of my super clear skin, but I might as well have been.

But that wasn’t true. The more I explored, the more I saw many vegans with skin problems and period issues. I wasn’t alone and that was comforting. But it was another wake up call that simply being vegan doesn’t fix everything. It was also a motivator to try to find out how I could use food as medicine for these issues. Maybe I hadn’t been vegan long enough yet to notice a change in these areas. Maybe I had to wait for my body to fully detox from the hormones. Maybe I was still eating too much processed food and not enough fresh produce. Maybe I wasn’t eating the right types of produce. There were so many variables to think about. The body is essentially a giant science experiment, and I was and still am determined to figure it all out.

Through my health journey I realized I didn’t want to thrive on body-altering hormones any longer.

After I come back from Europe, I plan to start a regime with more produce to combat the severity of my menstrual cycle, along with the acne that comes along with it. I’ve heard some things about celery juice and how it can help fight acne (among many other things). It will also serve as a nice detox post decadent euro-vegan eats so I’m trying to reap all the benefits. I’ve already started using a menstrual cup and honestly, I noticed a slight difference during my first cycle using it. That may sound weird, but we as women and humans don’t give ourselves enough credit for making small changes. Bad things happening shouldn’t be considered “normal”. If you notice a positive difference after making a small change, keep going! I’m still amazed that I was able to cure a ligament sprang that felt so severe with herbs! But I shouldn’t be so surprised because people have been doing things like this for centuries. The longer I’m vegan, the longer I eat raw and fresh, the longer I stop putting man-made and chemical-filled things in and on my body, I’m certain that I’ll see amazing changes, probably beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Please stay tuned for more updates on my path to actually becoming an invincible vegan!

Edit**: As of March 21, 2019, I feel very comfortable saying that my leg is at 90%-95% when it comes to being healed. I’ve continued to do all that I can to help it get better, including using it more– something I was initially afraid to do until I recently read an article stating that the ligament will actually become stronger once it’s in use again. I plan on upping my physical activity even more soon, hopefully being back in the gym by summer. I don’t think I’ll start running again, but I will continue to listen to my body and maybe running will be something I can enjoy again by next year. I don’t want to over exert the ligament being that it’s freshly healed.

Bodybuilder image courtesy of: Pexels.com

Pills image courtesy of: Pexels.com

I’ve Been Vegan for ONE YEAR!

So this is it. In my first update post, I had made it to the six-month mark and was so excited about it. As with most joyful events that occur in my life, I celebrated with food. I went to get some grub with a pal. My plan for this year-one anniversary was to go get some food with a pal again– but this time, I wanted to up the ante and go to a nicer, swankier spot. One where a server comes to the table and brings us all our vegan goodies. But life had different plans. I was a little disappointed at first, but instead of wallowing, I decided to hit up a slew of vegan spots and focus on my triumph of making it through the first year.

So, here are a few things I’ve done over the past year along with the emotions, revelations, realizations, and successes that have occurred.

I Went Vegan? Yes! I Went Vegan!

Only after spending countless hours (maybe more than I should) on vegan Instagram did I realize that doing week-long vegan challenges before going vegan was more of a common thing than I thought. Well, that’s how my vegan journey started. I randomly decided to do a vegan challenge but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would

curry ginger carrot soup
A curry ginger carrot soup I made during my week-long vegan challenge.

actually become a vegan. I was one of those people. You know, those people: “But bacon!” “Oh my goodness, I loooove cheese!” But I made it through most of that week okay. And along the way, something inside changed a bit. I wasn’t vegan for the trilogy of reasons yet (health, the environment and the animals) — it started out solely as a way to improve my health. When I told my then only vegan pal that I went vegan she sounded excited and happy for me, but also a bit skeptical. Maybe she sounded skeptical subconsciously, and at the time it didn’t feel great but now I totally understand it. I decided to go vegan pretty much overnight and that vegan pal is well aware that I originally wasn’t even thinking about going vegan. When we got in contact with each other, I wanted to do yoga not change my entire lifestyle. But the universe and the powers that be take us in the direction that’s best for us, so there I was– a new vegan!

To Food Blog or Not to Food Blog?

Next came the idea to take food blogging more seriously– but this idea was not without some… okay a lot of hesitation. The blog I currently have was born out of two things. The vegan Instagram page I had already been operating, but really my love of blogging. I had started a blog in the past and didn’t keep up with it because I wasn’t passionate about what I was blogging about. When I started my Instagram page, I wasn’t yet sure if blogging was in the future. I had thought about it, but as with most new ventures in my life, I

Instagram screenshot of my page
My Instagram page in all its vegan food glory and goodness.

was terrified of actually starting it (even though things are never really that scary after the fact). But eventually I decided to take the leap and start blogging about this new passion of mine– living a vegan lifestyle. And of course, once I started blogging, it wasn’t that bad. As a matter of fact, it was amazing. And even though I was a blogging novice, I realized that wouldn’t hinder me because I loved writing and I loved being vegan. And those that saw my blog would be able to feel that genuine emotion of a new vegan fumbling and figuring it all out along the way. Also, being able to look back at the collection of photos on my Insta page and my recipe posts and writings on my blog make me feel great about the progression of my vegan journey. And even better is knowing that I’m actually able to reach people, whether through Instagram or the blog, helping to spread the vegan message even more. I never imagined that I could inspire anyone by way of my own vegan journey, and to be honest, it’s still a little intimidating. But It’s a good sort of intimidation because everyone on the planet is meant to inspire everyone else in some way. When we use our talents and focus on our passions, those actions will serve as inspiration for others to do the same and that’s exactly how it should be. And I’ll admit that it feels even greater to have a passion that can lead to inspiring others to focus on bettering their health, being a voice for animals and all living creatures, and protecting the planet we all share.

I Made Vegan Food, I Bought Vegan Food — I ate A LOT of Vegan Food.

Real talk. I didn’t know how to cook before going vegan. I knew how to make basic things like spaghetti with some pasta sauce, or how to scramble eggs (pre-vegan of course). The most labor intensive thing I could make was lasagna and my specialty was actually veggie lasagna, because I preferred veggie lasagna to meat lasagna even before going vegan. But being vegan forced me to learn how to start cooking more to sustain myself and get the nutrients I needed on a vegan diet. And so I did that. And again, being able to look at my Instagram collection of photos with all the food I’ve made over the past year, it makes me really proud that I started appreciating the kitchen and what I could do in it. And yeah, a lot of my recipes included those basic ingredients I’ve always used, because I wasn’t a pro yet. I’ve even written about that. But I am slowly starting to expand my cooking repertoire, learning how to make more intricate things and cooking from scratch and it’s been so fun and such an amazing learning experience. And then there’s going out to eat. I won’t lie, if I could afford to, I would probably go out to eat everyday because I enjoy the experience of dining out. And what do ya know, I happen to live in one of the vegan food restaurant capitals of the world, having tons of vegan spots at my disposal. Unfortunately, I don’t have a ton of money at my disposal. But that didn’t stop me. I created a food budget and used that to go out so I could have the opportunity to start experiencing the vegan food scene of NYC. Everyone has their vices. For some, it’s shopping for clothes and shoes. Others enjoy going out to clubs and partaking of the nightlife. While even more others spend their money on things like traveling or collecting special things. For me, it’s food. I love buying food and I’m not ashamed to say it. So I was determined to start exploring all the NYC vegan food scene had to offer. I tried mostly fast-causal spots and that’s still where I’m at, with the latest spots I’ve hit up being Hartbreakers in Bushwick, and Rip’s Malt Shop in Fort Greene, also in Brooklyn. I enjoyed those meals for my one-year vegan anniversary, along with a trip to Dunwell Donuts in Brooklyn for some delicious doughnuts. I’ve tried some scrumptious food and have been amazed at what is being done with vegan fare. It’s insane and innovative and I know I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to see and experience so much more vegan goodness.

I Went Raw Vegan for a Week!

I also tried going raw for a week. I already knew I was doing my health a tremendous service by going vegan, but raw veganism was like the epitome of veganism, so I thought I’d try it out. It was a fun and interesting week for sure. You can read about how it went here on my blog. I definitely want to try it again and for much longer than my original challenge which was only a week long. I had planned to do another raw vegan challenge before 2018 was finished but it didn’t pan out that way. So maybe early in the year or right before I leave for my vegan food tour I’ll do it again.

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I drank a lot of homemade juice during raw vegan week.

I Went to Not One, but Two Vegan Food Festivals!

I also had the amazing opportunity to go to two vegan food festivals this summer. First, I went to Black Vegfest. This was awesome for two reasons: 1) It was my first ever vegan food festival and 2) It was the first ever Black Vegfest, so it was great to be able to take part in the first installment of what would no doubt become a staple festival for vegans but particularly Black vegans and vegans of color (myself falling into both categories). The food was great and I even met some awesome folks that I kept in contact with after the festival.

Black Vegfest Shirt pic
Some of the swag I got from Black Vegfest.

Next, I went to Vegandale — based on a real location in Toronto. Tons of vegan food vendors from all over the country and even the world. I went in with a specific goal in mind: get food that wasn’t local to New York City because I could try that anytime. I wanted to try some nationwide and global fare. So I hit up those vendors, trying food all the way from Switzerland, to Chicago, to Texas, to right next door in Jersey and more. It was so fun and exciting. I could barely eat all the food I got which I chronicled over on my Instagram page, but one of my Insta-pals gave me a heads up that I should bring some takeout containers with me so that’s what I did. But even then I didn’t have food for a week like I thought I would– a couple of days was more like it because I ate continuously for both days of the festival and thereafter. I have a big appetite okay? Not that I’m apologizing for it, because my grande appetite was extremely helpful when it came to trying to eat so much food in one day. Both festivals were satisfying to say the least– for my soul, my belly and my happiness. I was thrilled to have been able to attend two major festivals in the vegan world on my first year out. Kudos to me!

Me at Vegandale
Me at the Vegandale food festival in summer of ’18

I Improved My Health Drastically, But Wasn’t Invincible.

My health improved so much after going vegan. The biggest change was in my nasal passages, which previously had been constantly blocked. Not so much like when you’re sick and badly congested, but definitely at a constant level– and I thought that was my “normal”. It wasn’t until I went vegan and more specifically I believe until I cut out dairy that my breathing passages fully opened up. I also lost weight and experienced a major decrease in the chronic headaches I once had and the colds I always used to get. Whether it was the elimination of animal derived foods or my increased intake of vitamin rich and nutritious whole foods that caused these changes, I am not sure– honestly, it was probably a combination of both. But either way, I’m certain that going vegan is the reason I feel and actually am so much healthier. But even with these major health improvements, I wasn’t invincible like I thought I was or would be after going vegan. I didn’t get sick for a long while after going vegan. I had a history of getting sick and catching colds very easily. I also went vegan in the beginning of winter. And I didn’t get sick at all that winter. The immediate rise in fruits and veggies likely did have something to do with that fateful, illness-free winter, haha. But eventually, I became human again and experienced colds and headaches. However, the fact that they came in so few and far between was still evidence enough for me that veganism was indeed my route to becoming a semi-superhero.

The Learning Continues and I’m Ready for Another Year!

After this first year I’ve learned so much about myself, my personal health, the food I eat, the products I buy and the impact that I have on those around me, the planet I live on and other living beings. Growing in perspective has been life-changing — like, it has literally changed my life. I don’t dislike or judge anyone who isn’t vegan because I was there just a year ago, but I do view life from a different perspective that I wish everyone could see life from. Still, I know that the world is purposely an ever-evolving place; one where change is indeed a constant. I’ve spoken to so many vegans who are amazed at how far vegan options have come and that gives me hope that this lifestyle and movement will continue to grow because as we all know, supply must meet demand. And if we keep demanding products that will lead to a world that is more cruelty-free and better for our health and the environment, we’ll keep getting more options that will help us achieve those things.

I love being vegan and although saying that I’ve been vegan for a year is still a little surreal knowing my history with food, I can’t wait until I am fully at peace with my own personal transformation and don’t have that surreal feeling any longer, knowing that change can also be a constant for every individual on this planet, myself included. And that even for me, someone who once, at times, ate bacon derived from pigs everyday and survived on so much unhealthy crap– starting a new life full of fresh, whole foods, and decadent, cruelty-free eats is completely possible. I’m so looking forward to year two, and three and four and beyond!

*Product Review*: Daiya Boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheeze

Macaroni and cheese is definitely up there when it comes to foods I love to eat. I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of my favorite foods in general, but it is absolutely in an even more specific category: one of my favorite holiday foods. When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, I am not a happy camper if I don’t have some mac on my plate. And to take it a step further, culturally speaking, I’m used to a very specific type of mac and cheese. B A K E D. African-American households are no strangers to mac and cheese, and to offer us anything other than a tray of baked mac might get you some funny looks (or even a few unkind words), especially at a holiday meal. All the nostalgic memories come flying back to my head of my mom taking the elbow macaroni noodles and tossing them in a huge bowl with tons of cheese and seasoning and them placing it in a few deep dish pans, then, popping them in the oven (with more cheese slathered on top!) for almost an hour — one of the most hunger-inducing hours ever, with the result being a crunchy, soft, smooth, cheesy masterpiece being revealed as part of the rest of the dinner feast.

When you have memories of homemade mac and cheese being as insanely good as I do, it’s kind of hard imagining a ready-made style, boxed mac and cheese that you don’t even bake could be as good as anything I’ve just described. Well, that’s not entirely true. Because there’s one brand of boxed mac and cheese that has stood the test of time. It’s from that really popular brand that we all know– it starts with a “K” and I have many memories of seeing their commercials on TV as a kid. They promoted the heck out of that boxed mac. And it worked because I know it was a popular product for kids across America– maybe even a staple in their childhood diets. It’s also a staple in the poor college student’s diet, the can’t be bothered to cook bachelor’s diet, and maybe even sometimes the single woman in the city’s (or country?) diet. But believe it or not, I’ve only had that mac and cheese maybe twice in my whole life. Pre-vegan of course. And I am not unhappy about it, because even before I had the more refined foodie palate I currently have, I always knew that homemade baked mac was where it’s at.

Then I became vegan. And I started learning about the world of supermarket vegan food. Not the fresh, whole foods I love talking about on this blog and on my Instagram, but the fast-growing variety of ready-made, easily prepped, frozen, and packaged convenience vegan foods. Most long-term vegans are in awe of the products they see today, because several years ago, most of these easy-to-make products didn’t exist yet! But being vegan today has never been so easy. Even though it may not be the healthiest way to live, if you can’t cook or don’t want to cook, there’s still no excuse for you to harm animals or the planet for your meal when you can stock your cabinets and freezer with tons of microwavable and ready-made vegan options (you also don’t have to do much cooking on a vegan diet that’s based in mostly whole foods but that’s another blog post for another time!). And you also don’t have to give up childhood favorites like ready-made mac and cheese!

That’s where Daiya’s Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac comes in. This boxed, quick mac IMG_8285and cheeze is prepared like any other quick macaroni with cheeze sauce product: you boil the noodles, drain them, then add the cheeze sauce. And within minutes you have a hearty, cheezy pasta dish to have alone or to accompany the rest of your meal. So why am I doing a review on this product when several vegan options like it exist already? Well, there are a few reasons. Vegan cheese has come a looong way. I became vegan at the tail end of it’s growth, but I had already heard many of the rumors. Vegan cheese has sometimes gotten a bad rep. There’s been issues with it not melting easily. Issues with texture. And most importantly, there have been issues with taste and flavor. Some just aren’t feelin’ the flavor of vegan cheeses.

So when trying this product, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve tried Daiya‘s cream cheeze and I must admit, I wasn’t a fan. This was toward the beginning of my vegan journey and it wasn’t the best introduction into vegan cream cheese options. So I wondered if this cheeze sauce would follow suit with the cream cheeze debacle.

It absolutely did not.

Not only is this mac and cheeze amazing when it comes to flavor, but the texture is mind-blowing! The noods are basic elbow noodles. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that the noodles this mac comes with are gluten-free which is a plus for the gluten-free folks out there! But the cheeze brings in all the punch and glitz; it’s thick and creamy and there was actually an overabundance of the delicious saucy-goodness. The noodles were well-coated when I was only about 3/4 of the way through the sauce pack!

And let’s get more into the flavor. This cheeze sauce is SO similar to dairy-tasting cheese! If you are trying to ease into a vegan lifestyle (or get a non-vegan to try a vegan dish), this is perfect because your taste buds won’t know the difference! I can’t put enough emphasis on how much it tasted like the dairy-cheese I used to eat — it reminded me of hearing about folks on vegan Instagram complain that some meat substitutes tasted too

Daiya boxed mac components
Noodles + cheeze sauce = happy belly.

much like animal meat and it freaked them out. That was my experience here. This tasted so much like dairy cheese that it was a bit weird! But knowing that it wasn’t actually made from dairy was all the comfort I needed to continue to enjoy my mac. And again, the sauce is thick a.f! No need to worry about the sauce being too runny or not cheezy enough. There is also the perfect amount of saltiness to it. I jazzed mine up by adding some pepper to the finished product– if you check out the pic of my mac below, I also added some bacon to it because even as a vegan, I still believe that bacon makes everything better 🙂 But I didn’t add any salt because it didn’t need it! If you do add salt, do so sparingly– every palate is different so maybe you’ll think it needs some but enjoying it “as is” is perfect. And honestly, I’m considering trying my hand at baking this mac– with a few additions like some milk, shredded cheeze, and breadcrumbs, this can easily become a baked mac and cheeze masterpiece suitable for a spot on any holiday feast table. When I do bake it, I’ll be sure to update you all on how it went, and more importantly, how it tasted! 😀

So that’s it! If you’re looking to add a boxed food to your kitchen arsenal for quick meals or those times where you don’t feel like cooking (or don’t have the time to cook a more elaborate meal). Or if you actually just prefer to eat mac and cheeze that isn’t baked, or boxed mac because it brings back some childhood nostalgia, you need to get this product! I know there are a few other vegan boxed mac and cheeze’s out there– although I haven’t tried them yet, that won’t take away from how good this Daiya one is. Maybe I’ll do a taste test on a few of them down the line. But comparing to the taste, texture, ease of preparation, and overall deliciousness of this Daiya mac is not gonna be easy. Thanks for keeping us vegans going strong Daiya!

Daiya boxed mac closeup
Daiya boxed mac. Cheesy goodness with bacon crumbles on top. Yes, please.

My Journey to Becoming a Vegan Chef (and Recipe Developer!)

I’ve always had a big imagination. Over the course of my youth, this led to me having many passions and hobbies in life. When I was a kid, I used to love watching television shows about science (hello Zoom and The Magic School bus) and would try to recreate science experiments at home. I was also an only child, so the world was my imagination’s oyster– I would concoct vivid scenarios in my head due to a lack of mental stimulation that most kids might have found in the presence of siblings. I would read entire Goosebumps, Fear Street and Babysitters Club books in one day, then act out scenes from the books with imaginary people. Because of this immersion, I also grew to love writing, drawing and just being creative in general. But one hobby I never took to in my youth— or in my adult life for that matter, was cooking. However, thinking back on it, I’m not sure why that was the case— as a child, I loved watching cooking programs; I’d fall asleep to shows like Iron Chef (the original Japanese version) and Essence of Emeril. I always found watching cooking to be therapeutic in a way. But I never learned to cook myself. I loved my mom’s cooking but she never really taught me how to cook the meals she made and I never felt as interested in learning to cook as I did in watching others cook. But all of that changed about a year ago. It was a culmination of things that led to both a necessity and a desire to learn how to cook for myself.

The most epic event to occur was me moving out on my own —  I had to start adulting very quickly. This of course included learning how to keep myself properly satiated so I didn’t, you know— die.

But I should probably clarify that I wasn’t a complete novice in the kitchen. I knew how to make the most basic foods for survival, that would allow me to not have to live off ramen in a cup and frozen microwaveable meals. I could make rice and pasta. I knew how to operate a can opener so that opened up a whole world of legumes and veggies to me. I even made veggie lasagna once in awhile— funny enough, even before going vegan I preferred making veggie lasagna to meat lasagna. But in my opinion, I was no cook. If someone asked me to make dinner on the fly, I would have considered that to be a curveball in my daily routine for sure, and more likely than not, we’d be having pasta and meat sauce— my go-to on the fly meal.

But the universe continued to unfold my life in an eventful path of twists and turns— well maybe I shouldn’t blame the universe entirely, because I came to many of the decisions that led me to where I currently am on my own; but I believe that everything happens for a reason, oftentimes with light (or very heavy!) influence from the universe as well.

Just a few months after my big move, I became vegan. So not only did I now have to learn how to cook, but in true “Tiffany style“, I had just made this task even harder for myself by now having to learn how to prepare foods I’d never seen or heard of in my life, while also ensuring that I was eating the right things so that I didn’t fall prey to what I thought was my “lingering” iron-deficiency anemia, or any other health ailments I thought I could now suffer from after having cut out meat and “good dairy” like yogurt and some cheeses.

I read up on and started fumbling around with the top vegan proteins. But how was I going to make tofu not taste like lifeless, chewy pieces of gunk? And I didn’t even know how to pronounce seitan let alone use it as a protein in a meal. What should I start eating more of? Less of? If you read my post about the staple foods I keep in the kitchen as a new vegan, I explain a little about traversing the line of becoming an unhealthy vegan versus a healthy vegan. Being that the former was a large possibility if I started my new vegan life living solely off pasta, rice and Gardein frozen meat substitutes, I quickly had to become well-versed on how to cook not only for flavor but for actual nourishment.

And that learning process is still ongoing. But I’ve also started learning other things about myself. One is that I can actually cook! As I said earlier, I never considered myself a chef. Even when I decided I would make a vegan Instagram account and document the meals I made, I still never thought I’d be up to the caliber of deserving the title of “chef”. Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I put such emphasis on my food being plated beautifully. It’s true, I do eat with my eyes and I do believe that beautiful food is a feast in itself; but I also believe that for me, plating food in an aesthetically pleasing way will hide some of the fact that I don’t have top-notch cooking skills or use elaborate cooking techniques.

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You may notice my reluctance to boldly call myself a recipe developer on my Instagram account.

This is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it is somewhat in my nature to partake in what I consider to be a healthy amount of self-loathing in whatever I take on— although not entirely by choice but I feel doing so has kept me humble for the most part.  If you follow my Instagram page, you can pretty much see the chronology of my chef development. A lot of my meals are based in the simple foods I’ve always been familiar with— pasta and rice— I use a lot of canned goods also, like different varieties of beans. But now, I see these foods in a whole new light. I realized that those basic foods are the foundation of many different styles of cuisine and that it was possible for me to make beautiful and nutritious meals using them without considering them to be too basic or not fancy enough. I also began to realize that jazzing up foods from a can was not something to be considered sacrilegious in the world of cooking. On the contrary, all foods, whether from a can or from the earth could be used to make great food. But that still wasn’t enough. Like most things I take on, there was some polarity involved. I have a tendency to start a hobby or project and not fully see it through to completion, or at least not finish it in a timely fashion. Either that, or the exact opposite will happen, and I’ll put my absolute all into it, accepting nothing less than perfection. I pretty much knew early on I would never not be vegan once I made the switch, and therefore all of my blogging endeavors involving vegan food would likely fall into the latter category. That meant that once I started putting dishes together, I immediately felt a lot of pressure to make sure everything looked beautiful even if there were only a minimal amount of components to it. It also had to be obvious that there was at least some element of effort put into each dish, no matter how simple it was. After all, I was taking pictures of this food and posting them on a public platform for the world to judge!

So that was the beginning of my role as a vegan chef. But I still didn’t consider myself a chef just yet— at that point, I was simply a new vegan sharing pictures of the food I ate on my evolving journey, while acting as a pseudo-chef. But remember, I also work in a restaurant. Being surrounded by chefs making food and plating things all pretty, and conducting R&D (research and development) on new dishes was really inspiring for me as I delved deeper into what was now becoming a passion for food and being in the kitchen. And so, naturally, my journey evolved into creating new things— I slowly began putting more focus on innovation with the dishes I was making, while purposefully keeping those elements of simplicity and ease to them, never forgetting my roots of not knowing how to cook and being lost at the beginning of my own vegan journey. I wanted my recipes to be accessible to new vegans so that they didn’t become discouraged on their own journeys. It was crazy because the very things I had been embarrassed about— that is, using super simple ingredients and techniques, became the very basis of the message and platform that I was now trying to promote as a vegan. There was so much self-discovery involved in this process because I now realized that the reason I didn’t start out with this premise was because of my own shortcomings such as an irrational quest for perfection and perhaps even a slight desire, and maybe need, to be accepted by others in the vegan community through my seemingly complex dishes. But I didn’t realize that so many people in the vegan Instagram community very much so appreciated the simplicity I was trying to avoid — in fact, this premise of simple, cheap and easy meals already largely exists within the vegan Instagram community because the community is largely made up of average people on a vegan journey who are also not chefs and who are also making food with simple ingredients, everyday.

Thinking about my evolution has been interesting. As I exposed myself to more vegan bloggers on Instagram, I saw amazing folks who actually made it a point to state that their food was “ugly” — as though they were trying to shun the idea that they’re food and Instagram accounts would only be acceptable if they made Pinterest-worthy vegan dishes. Seeing things like this helped me loosen up a bit more. I talk about these topics of becoming more comfortable in my growth as a recipe-developer and chef in the captions on my meal posts as well. I’ve had some rough days in the kitchen where something didn’t go as planned, and I was just like screw it.

Once, I made and plated a sandwich beautifully. It was a breakfast sandwich, stacked high on a bagel with lots of goodies, including tofu scram. I made the mistake of thinking that using a really sharp knife would help me avoid destroying the sandwich that I had already put together when slicing it in half. I was wrong. It toppled and smashed together. I was horrified. More so, I was pissed. I had already waited to eat after a long day so that I could put extra care and detail into preparing and plating this nice meal because I knew I’d be taking a picture. So not only was I hungry, but the wait didn’t even pay off because the sandwich was now ruined. But the anger didn’t last too long, because instead, the experience helped me continue to realize that: 1) it’s important to seize the moment when you can and should, and 2) this was life— nothing is perfect, and sometimes gravity wins and your sandwich falls and topples before you can take a picture.

smushed sandwich for amateur chef blog post
Behind The Scenes: Footage of the toppled breakfast sandwich — I added hot sauce to the plate because I was about to have it for dinner.

I’ve also began to embrace the chaos of the kitchen and understanding the need to try out recipes and conduct R&D. More recently, when I created the recipe for my lavender cupcakes with lavender and blueberry buttercream frosting, I was so excited because I had begun making dishes from scratch. Nothing from a box here baby. Now I was starting to feel like a legitimate chef. And the cupcakes came out amazingly. But the buttercream. I screwed up the buttercream. And the crappy part was that immediately after screwing it up, I knew that I’d screwed it up but it was too late to turn back. This was me becoming comfortable with my mistakes — mistakes that would inevitably happen as I created things from scratch. But being a bit of a perfectionist made it hard to naturally be comfortable with those aspects of being a chef. So I had to pull inspiration from other areas of my life (and youth) and think about all of it as one big science experiment. Trial and error, and eating yummy stuff throughout — mistakes and all.

I’ve finally reluctantly accepted the title of amateur chef, but I’ve gone a step further and now call myself a plant-based recipe developer because I do love being an alchemist in the kitchen and creating new things from basic ingredients and turning simple food into food that looks extraordinary and tastes great and has things like “flavor profiles”. I feel that if the passion and willingness to learn is there, you don’t need classical training to be considered a chef. In fact, I know a couple of chefs with no classical training in the field, although I very much admire those who do have it. However, I myself definitely do not have enough experience in the kitchen or enough knowledge of food, flavors, or cooking techniques to take the “amateur” part off yet. And even when I do, knowing me, I’ll probably still call myself an amateur. I don’t know if cooking will become a more prominent part of my life after I leave grad-school or if it will remain as a passionate hobby. Just as my vegan and chef journey has organically unfolded, I am letting that part of my life organically unfold as well. But I am absolutely certain that so long as I can help it, and in some capacity, cooking and developing vegan recipes will always be part of what I have to offer to the world.

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Now I have more pride (and patience!) in all areas of cooking, especially the R&D part of things. It’s actually a lot of fun figuring out what flavors go well together and if they look aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well. Here’s a tasting plate I made while trying to come up with a recipe for an upcoming series.  I wanted to see if some or all of the flavors I had in mind would mingle well together together in the dish. Pictured from left are: homemade pickled beets, organic green grapes, mango, pan-seared “scallops” (heart of palm), and a lemon-ginger dressing I created, inspired by a fresh dressing at Trader Joe’s.

Some Natural Remedies I’ve Been Using for Inflammation and Pain

Inflammation is one of the body’s natural reactions to injury or infection. When we have a sore throat, our tonsils may become inflamed. When we break bones, tear ligaments or simply overuse parts of our body, those areas may also become inflamed or cause other body parts nearby to suffer the same swollen fate. I personally learned this the hard way several weeks ago. I woke up one morning and all of a sudden, I had pain in my hip area, around where one of my hip flexors are. I wasn’t sure what caused it, but I self-diagnosed myself using a bit of logic. I work on my feet all day— somewhat vigorously at that, because my job requires me to go up and down stairs often, and I had recently been training more than usual, including my lower-body. I also tend to go harder during leg days because I know that it is both the largest and strongest muscle group in the body, so I like to challenge myself. All of these factors seemed to spell out a recipe for disaster. I knew any one of these things could have caused my injury, but it was likely a combination of all of them.

This injury set me on a whole new path physically, but perhaps more importantly, psychologically. I had become so used to physical activity being part of my current lifestyle that the idea of not being able to exercise was crazy to me, and it made me feel very uncomfortable. So I sought to try to fix the problem— but the catch was, i was going to heal myself naturally. I told myself that if things get worse, if the pain becomes so bad that I can’t walk or no longer have a full range of motion, that’s when I’d obviously have to see a professional. Otherwise, one of my new goal’s in life was to utilize professional help as little as possible and try to solve issues homeopathically. And in this case, this route felt even better after doing a bit of research and finding out that ligament tears and small fractures could totally heal without any sort of surgery. I started researching natural remedies for pain and inflammation. I found many suggestions, and started to incorporate them into my daily diet and life whenever and wherever possible. Here are a few that I find to be key to helping with inflammation and pain, but do some research of your own because there is a wealth of knowledge to be found when it comes to homeopathic remedies for these types of ailments.

Turmeric

Turmeric has great healing effects when it comes to inflammation reduction. It is also used to help aid in managing infections. The agent in the spice that helps with inflammation reduction is called curcumin. This is also what gives turmeric its yellow hue. I started drinking more golden milk lattes to ingest turmeric, and also added it to my herbal teas and of course, I already have it with foods such as tofu scrambles. You can also add it to soups, sauces and sauteed veggies. Making curries is a great way to add turmeric to your diet without even noticing it, because the strong flavor blends in well with the other flavors often found in curries. However, there is a catch. Pure turmeric will not help with inflammation on its own. For turmeric to do its job in the body, it must be absorbed from the gut — this is only possible if there is a fat source present. Otherwise, little turmeric will be absorbed. This is an easy fix — in food, make sure you are using some sort of carrier oil; this is yet another benefit to sauteing and cooking with olive oil! I often use olive oil to grease the pan even for tofu scram (I rarely use vegan butters such as Earth Balance for greasing the pan — I primarily use it for baking purposes and as a spread on bread), and I always use it for my sautes. This will ensure that the spice has a fat source to ride along with as it enters the body. You can also add coconut oil to your golden milk lattes and herbal teas to ensure absorption. Black pepper is also helpful when it comes to turmeric absorption. The compound piperine which is found in black pepper, blocks the metabolic breakdown of turmeric in our guts. So ingesting turmeric with black pepper will allow more turmeric to stay in our system and not be broken down. From there, the fat source (i.e. oil) will help that extra turmeric be absorbed into our bodies. Check out my recipe for a delicious golden milk latte which includes turmeric, black pepper and coconut oil to ensure you get your daily anti-inflammatory dose of turmeric!

White Willow Bark

White willow bark is often touted as “nature’s aspirin”. This is because it has comparable effects on pain relief as the man-made medicine. This herb is derived from willow trees that are at least 2-3 years old. You can find it in many forms, including pills, teas, and tinctures. The goal is to absorb salicin, which is the active ingredient in the bark that has pain relieving properties. When ingested, about 80% of salicin is absorbed into the body. White willow bark can help with all sorts of pain, from menstrual cramps to severe pain and inflammation.

Peppers and Black Pepper

Practically all pepper contain capsaicin — the compound in them which causes all that hot, hot heat. In fact, all varities of peppers are originally derived from one single plant, the capsicum annum — native to the tropical regions of the Americas (a.k.a the bountiful Caribbean!) Capsaicin works in an interesting manor: when we consume peppers containing the compound, it binds to certain heat receptors in our body — even though there is no real danger at hand, the body thinks it is being exposed to extreme heat, and therefore will desensitize painful stimuli via our pain nerve cells. That’s actually pretty cool. Capsaicin may also help to improve blood flow circulation in the body when taken internally. This was helpful for me because I discovered that ligaments may take longer to heal because there is a poor blood flow to those areas. Therefore, improving blood flow may help with healing.

Black pepper uses that same compound mentioned earlier, piperine, to combat inflammation. The compound may reduce pain and inflammation even at low levels of ingestion. I already add pepper to most of my food — this is probably one of the easiest natural remedies to incorporate into your diet as most people use pepper on a daily basis. As mentioned before, you can also add the spice to your teas or other drinks. You can balance out the heat from the black pepper with some brown sugar or agave, or other spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. Or, if you like the extra heat in your food or drinks, pile it on!

Ginger

Ginger may have anti-inflammatory compounds that work similarly to existing meds used to treat pain and inflammation. When taken in relatively higher doses (at least 2 grams or more) it can have great effects on the body, not only for pain and inflammation, but also to help those with pain associated with conditions such as arthritis. Ginger can be added to foods, teas and other drinks, or even ingested raw (although it might upset your stomach this way). It is another easy one to add into your daily routine. Like capsaicin, ginger also helps with blood circulation when taken internally; so, when it’s combined with pepper and turmeric (maybe in a ginger turmeric latte?) or even on its own in ginger tea, it can help with the healing process of ligaments by improving blood circulation to that area.

As of the publishing of this blog post, my hip and leg are still not fully healed. However, I have done more research and found many sources that say that even a minor tear of fibers that hasn’t limited my mobility may still take weeks to heal. Right now, I’m attempting to isolate the pain. I spoke with a co-worker a little while ago who is well-versed in bodily functions as well as a trainer who I met at, of all places, Vegandale. They both stated that my hip flexor pain could actually be a result of issues from another location. As in, if my knees or feet aren’t doing great, my hip flexors may be doing extra work to compensate, thus resulting in the pain and inflammation. The trainer was great– she explained so much to me about what might be going on and how that area of the body functions, and even offered a small suggestion to start to alleviate the pain. For now, I’m focusing on my hip area, and then I’ll make sure my feet are okay. My knees feel fine but if anything, I’ll check those out too. I’ll update this later when I’m back at 100%. Until then, I hope these natural remedies help to aid you on a more homeopathic journey as they have helped me. And just to be on the safe side, you may want to check with a doc to make sure everything is okay before starting any sort of regimen, even a homeopathic one. And of course, avoid any known allergens, such as black pepper — even if they can help with the pain!*

[Edit:] As of January 7, 2019, the current state of my hip/leg has improved drastically. I still experience some discomfort which lets me know that my leg is not completely healed yet, but I am very mobile and able to carry on with my daily life. Here’s the condensed version of how this injury affected other areas of my life to date– I ended up having to leave where I was working because the pain was unbearable at the time. It was bittersweet but my health was more important. I ended up working at another restaurant (and luckily got the gig not too long after leaving the last place thanks to a pal) but was blessed that I finally got to work at a vegan spot! Funny enough though, this place was also dual-level! More stairs! But I had bills to pay and I needed a job and it was a vegan restaurant so I was in no matter what. And I think that a combination of not carrying heavy stuff anymore and not going up and down the stairs as often helped contribute to the healing process. I was also completely or mostly homebound on my days off which helped too. A negative aspect however, was that I couldn’t exercise. As of this update edit, I haven’t been to the gym in almost four months. It was kind of depressing and messed with my confidence a bit too. But everything happens for a reason so I was able to focus a lot on my mental state and why something like not being able to exercise had such a negative affect on me to begin with. I was also able to save more money from not getting as much food or going out to eat because since I couldn’t exercise as vigorously, I didn’t want to indulge as much because I was fearful of putting on weight. More mental love I had to give myself to work all that stuff out. But it was easier to save money anyway because I also had to accept a pay cut at my new position and that wasn’t fun, but like I said, everything happens for a reason. Flash forward to now and all thanks to this injury I’ve been able to work a lot more on my relationship with food– something I thought I’d worked out simply by going vegan but it wasn’t until I couldn’t exercise and had to focus more on my diet and the food I was consuming (and not consuming) that I realized that being vegan doesn’t fix everything.

[Edit:] As of April 24, 2019, I have started taking ibuprofen to help with inflammation and any lingering pain in my hip joint. I am also aware that it’s likely my hip joint/socket and not a ligament that had been the cause of all these leg issues, as there technically isn’t a ligament in the hip area, but being that I never went to the doctor, I don’t know if a ligament elsewhere was the culprit, although I doubt it at this point. I’m not changing anything in this article however, because my mistakes are part of my learning process 🙂

The ibuprofen has been amazing. I feel absolutely no pain from inflammation or anything else when I’m physically active. And it’s not just because ibuprofen can “numb” the pain. But instead, as an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug), it has the ability to block COX enzymes within our body that aid the production of prostaglandins which actually promote inflammation. That’s all explained in more detail in this article.

However, I am still extremely proud of myself for letting my leg heal naturally. This injury happened several months ago, and if I would have went straight to using ibuprofen, even combined with non-medicinal methods (i.e.- no pressure on the leg, wrapping it, etc.), I would have run the risk of 1) becoming dependent on it, which is something that we are warned of even while we are told to use the drug daily to help with inflammation, 2) falling prey to some of the side effects of taking too much ibuprofen, and/or 3) building a tolerance for it, meaning it wouldn’t have the amazing effects it’s now having on my body.

The point is, I’m not completely averse to using modern medication, but for all the above-mentioned reasons, I think it’s vital that we try to solve as many issues as possible taking the homeopathic route first before automatically turning our bodies over to modern medicine. Natural meds have existed pretty much since the beginning of time, and although the lifespans were shorter back than, I don’t necessarily chalk that up to natural medicine not working or the advent of more modern meds. Additionally, because natural meds are, well, natural, most of them will likely interact with your body wonderfully (given that you don’t have any allergies or adverse reactions to certain things, but this can also be said for any medication and really, anything, period). Modern meds, although stronger in some instances, were created by man, and therefore may not necessarily interact with our bodies so seamlessly. I’m taking the ibuprofen just a couple of times a week to see how it goes. But I’ll tell you this: I never worry about overdosing or experiencing side effects from sniffing too much peppermint.

[Edit:] **UPDATE**: As I’ve continued to do research on natural medication, I’ve decided to try adding turmeric supplements. Once I find a supplement that seems appropraite, I’ll add it to my regime, likely some time in March 2020. As I’ve learned more, I discovered that curcumin is found in much higher doses when taken via a supplement verses powder form. Although the use of the powder will not at all be counted out (I’ll still be drinking golden milk and of course, using turmeric powder in my tofu scrambles), I want to see if my body takes to a supplement better, because supplements utilize turmeric extracts– this is why there is a higher concentration of curcuminoids (curcumin) found in them. I’ll keep you updated! 🙂

Updated: 424/2019

Updated: 2/23/2020