“I could never be a vegetarian!” These were among the first words Aran Shirdavani spoke to his soon-to-be-girlfriend when they met. The pronouncement was inspired by her informing him proudly that she had over ten years of vegetarianism under her belt. “I tried being a vegetarian once and I lost weight. It didn't feel good and it just isn't for me. And I like meat, except for pork. Pork isn't good for my ecosystem.” She had heard it spoken before (although without the disclaimer regarding swine and their impact on one's physiology) and frankly seemed not to care, as vegetarianism fortunately was not one of her requirements in a mate. A nice bonus perhaps, but not a requirement.
Aran continued on his culinary path and though they diverged in their epicurean ideals, he and his girlfriend found common ground in many other areas of life and the relationship flourished. Food choices came up occasionally because Aran wanted to wrap his head around why someone would choose not to eat meat. Was it ethics? Health? The environmental impact? As he sought answers, he realized they had more in common than he'd bargained for. “The ethics part hit me last, which surprises some people. I found the environmental argument to be the most compelling. The planet needs all the help we can give it and as I learned that the best way to make an impact was to stop consuming foods that require so many resources to grow, I had to join the movement. Then as I looked more into it, health concerns became a close second. Then as I learned more about the ethics of it, well, it just all fell into place.” Next thing he knew, he was proudly proclaiming to his girlfriend that he too had not eaten meat in almost 2 weeks! And he felt fine! Now pigs weren't the only ones who could feel safe at his dinner table. Fish became a convenient and healthier substitute for more meaty meals and Aran found himself enjoying his new eating habits and status as a pescatarian.
Things went swimmingly in this fashion until one day at sushi. “I just felt weird eating fish. It didn't make sense anymore. The environmental reasons were similar to other meats. And the health concerns become more valid everyday with heavy metals and poor fishing practices. And then the ethics...oh the ethics. Once you cross that line, it's a slippery slope. Fish, too, became taboo that day.” And so it went, no more fish for Aran. Yet, he still felt good and continued on with his lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs) vegetarianism. And his girlfriend was right by his side. As their eating habits became one and the same, food choices became easier and once they moved in together, life went on in a happy lacto-ovo fashion.
“[Aran] had not eaten meat in almost 2 weeks! And he felt fine! Now pigs weren't the only ones who could feel safe at his dinner table.”
That is, until Aran decided to cross the line. Suddenly, lacto-ovo vegetarianism wasn't enough. That slippery slope got steeper and before he knew it, he was on a solo voyage of veganism. Even his girlfriend couldn't commit to his newfound food concerns. No eggs, no dairy, slim pickins' but he felt it had to be done. His girlfriend threatened to feed him cheese while he slept, begged him to join the ranks of the 'regular' vegetarians, and knew deep down that there was no turning back, she had created a monster. But Aran stood firm. “It was the hardest with my parents. My mom still just doesn't understand what veganism is or why I do. She proudly serves something she made 'just for me' only to later tell me that there was butter in it, but 'organic butter from happy cows so it's ok'.” Aran has discovered that it's hard to be part of a food minority. Especially in a culture that seems so centered around eating, and seems to do so to an extent that makes us the laughing stock of the planet. Obesity rules in America, and those who venture far off the path of the 'regular' diet are often met with resistance stemming from defensiveness or from a simple lack of understanding.
“The key, I think, is surrounding yourself as best you can with others who understand where you're coming from. It makes it easier to stay firm in your beliefs so you know you aren't crazy!” Living in a city like Seattle, Aran has found that there are actually quite a few people who share in his dietary and lifestyle choices and there are even many restaurants that cater to vegetarians and vegans like him. Even his girlfriend has become a main supporter. She only serves vegan food at home and is quick to defend her partner's choices to anyone who questions why he deprives himself of what many find to be one of life's main pleasures. “She knows it's hard and she admires me for doing it, she knows how important it is.” And Aran claims that it is actually easier than many people think. Simple substitutions like oil for butter, making cheese out of nutritional yeast or nuts (nutritional yeast, water, salt and lemon juice can be a creamy cheese substitute, as can a raw 'cheese' made of a fatty nut like macadamia, pine, or walnuts, pureed with salt, and lemon juice), and using non-egg binders like applesauce for baking have become second nature in their household.
To this day Aran remains a proud part of the 1.3% of the U.S. population who do not eat any animal products. And although their meals aren't the same anymore, Aran and his girlfriend are still happily breaking break together at a table that is, at least, meat free.
Thank you Aran, for sharing your Story with us.
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