You can still eat great food as a vegan, like the Organic Vegan Black Bean Burger at Four Burgers

I am a vegan. Cue the gasps, the incredulous questions of “Why?,” “Where do you get your protein?” and “I could never give up ice cream!” and the all-around pity that comes when I make this announcement.

At this point, I’m pretty used to it. Since becoming a vegan a year and a half ago, I have learned to adapt to people looking at me like I have two heads. Now I can come back at you and say, “Yes, I am a vegan and yes, you should be one too.”

Before you click away from this page and go order a greasy slab of ribs, just take a minute to hear me out. I can still remember the days when my favorite food was a nice, juicy cheeseburger, so don’t think I don’t know what meat tastes like. I can sympathize with you, but don’t expect me to order a Big Mac any time soon.

The following list is from my own experience, and I don’t expect anyone to go running to the store to buy out the entire produce section at Shaw’s. I just want to open your minds to something that is an up and coming trend, at least by my standards.

1. Natalie Portman is a vegan: I figured I would start with the reason I became a vegan. While there were other factors involved in my decision-making process, this was the one that got the ball rolling. First of all, I love Natalie Portman. I even dressed up like Queen Amidala, her character from Star Wars, for Halloween one year. Honestly, who doesn’t like Natalie Portman? She went to Harvard, so she’s kind of a local, she is both a psychopathic ballerina and an Avenger’s girlfriend (played by the handsome Chris Helmsworth, I might add) and the biggest scandal she’s ever been involved in is the controversy over how much she relied on her stunt double for Black Swan. If she can do it, why can’t I?

Natalie Portman is the reason I went vegan

2. You don’t have to give up ice cream to be a vegan: Yes, you read that correctly. Ice cream can still be eaten by faithful vegans. You just have to know where to look. But don’t worry. You don’t have to go to the ends of the world to find this rare delicacy. J.P. Licks has its own series of dairy-free flavors, which debuted in the spring. From coconut and soy to hemp-based, they measure up perfectly with the real deal. And if you want even more flavors, there is an entire vegan ice cream shop in Allston that suffers from no shortage of flavors. Some of my favorites include Dark and Stormy, Bananas Foster and Avocado.

3. You get to eat and cook awesome food: As a vegan in Boston, there is no shortage of vegan restaurants in the area. Vegan food is more than tofu and lettuce; I can get anything from pizza to Chinese food to omelets if I so choose. Because a vegan diet is closed off to all animals products, I have been introduced to alternative sources of nutrients, many of which are just as delicious. The recipes I have made as a vegan are some of the most delicious I have ever eaten, and I promise that is not my vegan bias talking. All of my non-vegan friends (the only kind I have) agree that some of the recipes I make are better than the animal-product versions. If nothing else, as a vegan, you definitely expand your palate, which, as a foodie, I consider a plus.

4. You’ll live longer: While I can’t actually make this claim backed my own research, I can assure you that health professionals can back the claim with their research. One such example is a German study that looked at vegetarians from 1904 and observed them for 21 years. The result? The men reduced their risk for early death by 50 percent and the women by 30 percent. While these people were not strict vegans, the point is still made that their plant-based diets improved their life expectancies.

5. You’ll have a better life: Not only will you live longer, but the quality of your long life will also increase. Because a vegan diet is naturally free of cholesterol (it is only found in animal byproducts), vegans can’t help but decrease their chances of clogging their arteries and developing heart conditions, such as heart disease.

You can still lick this bad boy as a vegan

6. You’ll be happier and healthier: While you may get depressed thinking about that fact that you won’t be able to chow down on your mom’s chicken pot pie, you may in fact be happier in the long run. According to new research from Nutrition Journal, a vegetarian diet could make you happier and less stressed, due to the lack of fatty acids found in animal meat. They contain AA, a chemical previously found to cause mood-disturbing brain changes.

7. You’ll eat guilt-free: Would you eat your dog? I didn’t think so. And I am not going to try and say that your dog is the same thing as the cow that is now the hamburger sitting on your plate. I’m just saying, for any guilt-ridden omnivores out there, it pays not to eat meat. I could never enjoy my food when I knew it was once living its own life just like me.

Now, that wasn’t too painful was it? I understand everyone has their own right to choose their diets and that is why I would not force my decision on anyone. Just like omnivores, every vegan is different and my reasons differ from other vegans. I am probably even more in the minority because I jumped on the vegan bandwagon not because of the animals, but because of a celebrity (thanks, Natalie!).

If you do change your mind about your diet, I would love chat veganism with you over some FoMu Ice Cream Shop. Mint Carob Chip is my favorite.

Food images via Tasted Menu. Featured image via Veggie Fueled Runner.