As of 2010, 21.8% of the world's population is either vegetarian or vegan. [source]
I have been a vegan for 16 years (and a vegetarian for 22 years), which is pretty much half my life – and barring some kind of unprecedented event of survival, I don't see that changing any time soon. Being vegan has occasionally had its setbacks, such as influencing my decision about not attending a conventional cooking school before working as a chef, because I didn't want to work extensively with meat. But more so, it's awarded me a tremendous amount of opportunity – the ability to explore an often-underused array of natural foods, which has added creativity to my recipes and enhanced the health of myself and others to the fullest. For me, this is the diet that offers me the most energy, enhances productivity and allows me to truly thrive.
Most people categorize a vegan as “someone who does not eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs – in other words, no animal products.” While this may be true, I cringe a little at this definition, because it sounds so limiting! No wonder the first question most non-vegan folks ask is “so...what do you eat?” Quickly followed by “where do you get your protein?” (I can assure you, this has never once been an issue, but that's another story altogether). I prefer to speak more often about my diet being “plant-based.” This is because being vegan has much less to do with the few things I don't consume and more about the plethora of foods I do eat…and it all comes down to plants.
Whether you're reading this as a card-carrying vegan or you just finished a stack of bacon, I promise we have more in common than you may think. Do you like strawberries? Do you like avocados? Do you like almonds? Do you like quinoa? If so, you like plant-based foods, too! And what about superfoods like Cacao, Maca, Hemp, mushrooms and greens? Is it any wonder that almost all superfoods are sourced from the plant kingdom? This leads me to the biggest lesson I learned very early on in my vegan journey: the vast world of supremely healthy vegan foods will ultimately expand your diet, not limit it. You don't have to be a vegan to pursue the one thing almost every diet and doctor on earth will agree on: we can all benefit from eating more vegetables, fruits and plants!
So, in the spirit of World Vegan Day, my challenge to you is to open up your plant-based world even further. Visit a farmer’s market or go to your local grocery store. Buy a bag of superfoods you've never used before, grab an heirloom variety of beans or pick up a colorful winter squash you haven't tried. Choose to learn everything about it, including its benefits, traditions and uses, and then work it into your diet. Plant-based eating is, in essence, about abundance: exploring the extensive cornucopia of natural foods, building new levels of culinary expertise, and improving your health and the health of the world around you. Although it has been a couple of decades for me, being vegan continues to be one of the decisions I am most proud of in my life and it just keeps getting better with every new bite.