In light of Penn Vegan Society Mentorship Program, we present a Q&A with José, a junior in the School of Nursing. He talks about his experience as a vegan coming from our mentorship program a year and a half ago. He became a board member of PVS and was compelled to organize this Veganuary event to bring inspiration to go vegan at Penn.
Why are you vegan?
It’s hard to pinpoint it to one thing. The strongest reason is that being vegan helps me make the food choices that allow me to help with the environment and the accessibility of healthy foods to others by voting with my dollar to create a demand for more of these foods. It brings me comfort knowing that the choices that I’m making are helping others as well as myself.
When did you decide to go vegan?
November of 2016. After going to a couple of PVS events, I found that Veganism was actually pretty cool. It was innovative and was something I could do. At first, I found that I could simply be more plant-based while continuing to have my lunch meats on a daily basis. It wasn't until I went to a fraternity retreat with my brothers that I had the time to sit with my thoughts to make a decision for the rest of my life. At that time, I decided that I wanted to eat foods that brought me life, foods that were living in the sense that they were inherently fresh.
How did the mentorship program help?
Without the help of my mentor, I wouldn’t have been able to make the full transition. It was nice to hear of the challenges my mentor went through in addition to what she ate on a day to day basis. It brought more comfort that she had already overcome the issues I feared were ahead of me. She had emotionally ground herself when it came to family and made it feel like it was something I could do as well-- she made it feel okay to be questioned by family members and overcoming that feeling of peer pressure. she made what i initially thought of as extremist something very real. She showed me that I was not changing my whole life, that I was not putting a label on myself that I had to live by but it was simply bringing more to my individuality through my life choices.
Most positive result from veganism?
Definitely my ability to run. Waking up with enough energy and to go out and run at 5 am before my clinical is a blessing I will forever be grateful for. I don't feel like I have to force myself to stay in shape because it feels as if my body is naturally keeping itself in shape. It feels as if my body was running at 80% before a plant-based diet and that it is now at a solid 95% day in and day out. Low-key, I feel as if my skin is glowing most days as it has definitely helped with the acne I had before.
Have you slipped up?
In the past, yes. During the first couple of months of my transition, I found myself conforming to social norms in the moment but felt some ounce of regret a couple hours later. I didn't identify with living by the vegan label, but I did want to live by my own integrity. I found that sometimes we regret the decisions that we make, but that it is really okay to accept what the past has given us, and I have grown to accept what I couldn't change.
How do you think veganism impacted your fitness?
Like I said before, I have been able to run faster than ever before, and now, without any sort of injury. I somehow managed to run the Philadelphia marathon last semester in under 3 hours with sub 7 minutes miles and the longest I had run before those 26.2 was a mere 13-- I don't understand. I’ve been able to make stronger gains in the gym. Overall, I feel like this is the bio-hack of the twenty first century and it's only now that the pro athletes are picking up on it, shoutout to Tom Brady. But on the real, Go Eagles.
What is the best way to convince someone to go vegan?
The best way to convince people is to share more meals! Invite people over or let them share a bite of your food. The idea of vegans I get in the mainstream media is a skinny dude eating fruits and vegetables. There are a lot more foods that we live off of than the internet shows. Living by example and inspiring others to enjoy what you love is the best way to it. You truly don’t know of the health you miss out on until you have it.
How do you manage to be vegan and gluten-free in college? Is it hard?
At first it was difficult to go out and eat at restaurants. I never actually knew what places included gluten. I found a lot of comfort in making food at home and living of off the same 5 staple meals. Making a routine out of my safe set of foods was what made it easy, at restaurants and at home.
What was the hardest part about going vegan?
Keeping my mouth shut, honestly. Not telling everyone else about how I was feeling. Knowing how much I love my friends and family, I would want them to feel the same way that I did. Given how human beings are designed for a plant-based diet, I felt that truly everyone can do it, and that the only thing stopping them was misconceptions and accessibility. I felt frustration at times not being able to convey what I had to say in the best way possible with respect to the myths and societal norms at hand.
As a guy, how do you try to explain to other guys that eating meat is not an essential part of manhood?
The main idea of manhood and masculinity to me is the idea of being able to best work at and improve on your functional capacity. Knowing how a plant-based diet can bring you the most gains, it is a no-brainer as to why you shouldn't use this to your advantage. Eating your proteins in the most clean manner can help you outperform your competition. Truly, theres nothing manly in dirty bulking.
How will veganism impact your plans for the future if it does at all?
It aligns with my career goals. It aligns with my nursing career and my battle against the nation's chronic diseases. The future of medicine is preventative, we just have to inspire our people to make a change before it is too late. I would like to keep up with my athleticism and maybe run an ultra marathon or Iron Man in the future, maybe even back-to-back. This Fall, I'll be running the Philadelphia marathon again but this time I'll also be running the Half the day before. I hope to one day become a father, I think it would be amazing to bring the best health I can into my family's life. Additionally, it is important to go plant-based if we aim to sustain our species and the health of our people. I want to help others along this path. I see myself as an early-adopter of this movement, and with the revolution in food technology going on right now, I believe it will only be a matter of a couple decades before it's more than half of us following this way of life.