By Melissa Costello
I have been a vegan for quite a while now and I am also a vegan chef, so being vegan is part of my livelihood and I believe in it. For most of my life I have gone back and forth between the labels of vegetarianism and veganism. For a long time, these labels fed my ego and helped me to feel “powerful” in a sense. I felt better and “smarter” than others, because I was doing the “right’ thing. I was making healthy choices and saving animals at the same time. I would even go to the extent of preaching to others how they should be vegetarian and I judged them if they weren’t or if they ate unhealthy.
But, what I am finding now, as I live a healthier life and work closely with others to assist them in finding a healthy lifestyle that works for them, is that these labels do not matter and in a way, I am discovering that they can actually hold us back. When we label ourselves, we set ourselves up for minimal growth and also scrutiny from others. I cannot tell you how many times I have been scrutinized by people when I eat out or when I make a decision to eat an egg, and listen to my body vs. following my label of vegan. And, how many times I have looked over my shoulder to make sure no one sees me eating an egg or a bite of goat cheese! Our ego needs to give almost everything we do a name, and most of the time that doesn’t serve us. Think of any kind of label, even designer labels. Some people will spend thousands of dollars more on a designer label so that they can get attention or feel good. I personally know people who are addicted to designer labels and feel unworthy if they are not donning some expensive purse or piece of clothing. I am not saying this is a bad thing, yet it’s definitely an ego-based decision and doesn’t seem to allow for much internal growth.
When we live in a world of black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, I can understand labeling, but if we want to grow as a society and in our own personal lives, labeling leaves much to be desired. Labeling can pigeonhole us into ONE way of being and thinking. Even political labels can do this. Yes, we all have our beliefs and there is nothing wrong with that, or, in fact, even right with that, they are just beliefs. And as human beings we get to make new choices and have new beliefs any time we want and that is the beauty of free will. I have found that labeling myself a vegan has, at times, brought me much discomfort in the eyes of others. I understand that this discomfort is my own, and I also understand that I get to call myself whatever I want without buying into the judgments of others.
To me what matters most is that I am healthy, energetic and I am eating whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods and listening to my body by giving it what it needs. Also, that I am being of service to the world no matter what my label. For me veganism was a choice for many different reasons, which started with health reasons. As a kid I suffered from allergies, digestive issues and the like, yet it was also a natural progression that happened as I started to care more and more about what I put in my body and how I wanted to feel. The cleaner I ate and the more I cut out the processed foods, the better I felt. But I could’ve just cut out processed foods and continued eating meat, yet for me, my body really didn’t like it. Honestly, it grossed me out and I just didn’t want it anymore. So I decided to become first, a vegetarian and eventually a vegan.
What I realize now is that I don’t want to label myself as a vegan anymore. I know how much it means to me, but if I am following the “vegan guidelines” of how to be a “proper” vegan, I fall way short. Why? Well, because I still eat honey (something vegans frown upon), I still wear leather (and I am mindful not to buy new leather products), I will on occasion eat an egg if my body wants it, or even have a bite of creamy burratta mozzarella when I am in Naples, Italy where Buratta originates…When in Rome. I don’t want to be under the scrutiny of the vegan label anymore, and that doesn’t mean that I won’t still claim I eat vegan, cause I do, but what I am leaning toward now is that I am a person who loves vegan food. I am a person who loves to eat plant-based, whole foods and I am a person who cooks vegan food for others and teaches others how to have more plant-based foods in their life.
Vegan, Vegetarian, Flexitarian, Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian, Pescetarian, these are all just labels that we use to describe the way we eat. One thing to know is that these descriptions of eating lifestyles don’t necessarily mean that we are healthy! And they definitely don’t always mean that we know what our bodies need or want. The key is to listen to what you really want and what resonates with you in your heart, not what others do. It’s about your own wellbeing and no one else’s.
I have learned that the way to teach is to lead by example and not from a place of preaching and self-righteousness, but from a place of my own authentic experience and how it has changed me for the better.
And on another note, I love, love, love animals and don’t think that they should be mass produced as they are and killed for food. I love the Earth and I know how the meat and dairy industry negatively affects the earth. I became a vegan chef so that I could do my part and teach people how to eat healthier, while helping to save the planet as well and I am also aware that preachy vegans or people who judge others for their choices are not helping themselves or others. Everyone has to find their own path in their own time and we get to give them the dignity of that!
Melissa Costello is a Holistic nutritionist, Plant-based chef, Author, Speaker and Transformational Eating Coach. Her years of work as a private, plant-based chef for celebrity trainer, Tony Horton creator of P90x organically led her to work with her clients on a much deeper level when she recognized the struggles they had with consistent, healthy eating and sustainable weight loss. Her mission is to empower busy professionals to stop the struggle with yo-yo dieting, weight loss and food obsession. Melissa’s in-depth training in Spiritual Psychology, Clinical Nutrition and holistic coaching along with her own personal struggles provides the foundation for her clients to experience powerful breakthroughs and sustainable, profound transformation. To learn more about Melissa and her coaching, visit www.karmachow.com
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