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I get asked all the time about why I decided to go vegan. If you are vegan, you’ve probably been asked the same. But you know which questions people rarely, if ever, ask me? “How do you feel now that you are vegan?” or “What’s it like to be a vegan?” People probably never ask these questions because they are either 1) totally disinterested in trying to eat a vegan diet themselves or 2) already think they know what it’s like—“living without” good food, wearing patchouli, being a hippie, and other vegan “lifestyle” stereotypes.

In all honesty, since going vegan (a little over a year ago) I have never felt more free. I’m free from cancer-causing casein and don’t battle the dairy/cheese addiction. When I watch videos of factory farming abuse, I know my lifestyle is free from contributing to that violent cycle. When people comment to me how they “could never go vegan,” I know I am free from placing such limitations on myself. My conscience is free when I walk past the standard hair care and cosmetics aisles at retail or grocery stores, knowing what I put on my body hasn’t harmed any animals in a testing laboratory. I know it sounds like I’m on a soapbox right now, but honestly, it’s a pretty cool feeling.

So if someone ever did ask me, “What’s it like to be vegan,” I would tell them it’s probably a lot like being unplugged from the Matrix. (That is, if the Matrix were real!)

Do you remember “The Matrix”? I’m talking about the totally inventive, revolutionary, and kickass first movie “The Matrix.” Unfortunately for them, the following two movies in the series will not get any attention from me as I feel the general consensus was that they just got worse as filming went on. Anyways, going back to “The Matrix.” Bear with me, as I’m about to “nerd out” here for a moment, but I promise I will be making a point. Remember how Neo felt before he became unplugged? The Matrix was something he had heard of, was curious about, but wasn’t really sure what it was or even how to grasp the concept of it. He was living his day in/day out life like everyone else, but always wondering if there was more in store for him–“the question” as Trinity put it. But Neo decided to be brave, take a chance and see what was in store for him by going down the rabbit hole. And when he wakes up, unplugged, he’s freaked out, has to make sense of a whole world he’s discovered; he’s shocked to learn what the truth is, and is in disbelief when he realizes there are so many people out there that are still plugged in and don’t even realize they’re a part of a deception. It takes him a long while to reconcile he’s meant for greatness and when he finally trusts the process, he fulfills his true potential and becomes “The One.”

Now, while I may not have the sleek, apocalyptic-chic wardrobe and Kung-Fu prowess that the characters in “The Matrix” had, for me, I felt going vegan was similar to becoming unplugged from the Matrix. Case in point: you’ve heard about veganism and its health benefits, you’ve met a vegan or two who looks and sounds pretty normal, but you’re still skeptical. Then you decide to go ahead and give it a try and figure, “I can always stop if I want to.” So you go vegan. And this whole new world opens up to you. You start to read ingredients on a nutrition label and are shocked to see that there’s dairy in something as simple as pretzel (in some cases). Then you look at the foods labels of some of the foods you used to eat and all of a sudden, the ingredients list looks like it’s definitely tripled in length–is this a trick??? Did something change or is it YOU that’s changed? You watch people eating meat and licking ice cream cones and you think, “Did I used to do that so carefree also?” You see a video on factory farming and you can’t believe such abuse has existed all this time and you never realized you were a part of the system. You learn about animal testing and the environmental damage of raising animals for food and the amount of food that’s grown but given to animals so people can then eat animals and you start feeling a little freaked out that there’s this whole behind-the-scenes side of life that we all didn’t know about and just accepted that what we lived was the truth and you feel like your head is spinning! How can this be?! (Cue the scene where Neo freaks out and throws up all over himself…yikes.)

But then, once you’ve faced the storm and say “No more”, you find your voice and your strength. You have a new calling. You know deep down you’re better off than you were before. You find a new community of like-minded people and grow confident in your new path. And before you know it, you’re the one recruiting to get more people unplugged.

Do you see now why I compare going vegan to becoming unplugged from the Matrix? I know it’s total hyperbole, but it’s one of the few analogies I can make. However, in doing so, I think I also made the transition to veganism sound a little scary (she says with a sheepish grin). But in all honesty, sometimes it can be–any change can be. Having said that, I think that’s precisely what holds a lot of people back. They immediately think they’ll be the only vegan in their circle of family or friends. They think about the foods they won’t be eating anymore. Or if they will be able to go to the same restaurants or shop the same way at the grocery store or whatever. These are all understandable concerns. My goal is to assure people that once you “take the red pill” you won’t be living a life that is lacking. In fact, you gain so much more–freedom, as I spoke of earlier, insight into a new way of eating that is healthy for your body, knowledge of foods that you probably didn’t even know were available to you, creativity in veganizing and playing with recipes, and support from countless vegan websites, blogs, cookbooks, magazines, meetups, foodfests, podcasts and so much more.

If you can look past my very theatrical analogy (and the nerdy streak that lies within me), I hope you can understand the point I am making. If you’re already vegan, you know what I’m talking about and you’ve probably already discovered your inner-Neo. If you’re not already vegan, but considering it, do it. Get unplugged. You won’t regret it. I just can’t promise that you’ll become a Kung-Fu master.

Melissa as Trinity at a Halloween party

Back in my college days, I attended a Halloween party as “Trinity.”

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