Few things in life can elicit stronger emotions, opinions and debate than dietary choices. Yogis, of course, often have a lot of dietary predilections. Dinner parties with a group of yogis can sometimes seem straight out of a SNL skit or a “Shit Yogis Say” YouTube video. Guests will likely have one or more of the following dietary restrictions: gluten free; soy-free; sugar-free; vegan; raw vegan; or, of course, all of the above.

So, yes, yoga can certainly have an impact on one’s eating patterns. It sure has for me. It wasn’t a painful process nor was it sudden. Rather it was a gradual evolution through which I never felt deprived even though I was slowly beginning to omit things from my plate.

The first of the yamas (one half of the yamas and niyamas, most easily described as yoga’s version of the 10 commandments) is ahimsa, or non-harming. Many yogis apply this to their diets with respect to animals, eschewing meat and sometimes even all animal products. Though this thought rattled around my mind from relatively early on in my yoga life, I didn’t change my diet right away. It took a combination of regular practice over a period of time as well as seeing films like An Inconvenient Truth and Food Inc. to begin revamping my diet. For me, ahimsa was not only about animals, but about my desire to avoid harming the earth.

But ahimsa also applies to how I treat myself and other people with whom I might share a meal. I don’t want to deprive myself in such a way as to feel constantly miserable about the way I eat. I also don’t want to force my opinions and philosophies on others as I’d rather not dine alone for the rest of my life. So, though I’ve identified as a vegetarian and a pescatarian at times, I am learning to let go of labels. There are two reasons for this: one, I find the vitriol around the conversation of whether or not it’s OK to eat animal products quite harmful in and of itself. Reason number two is, simply, sushi. Why can’t I quit you, fish?!

If pressed to label myself, someone once referred to me as an “aspirational vegan” and I really liked that description. For me, ahimsa is doing the best I can, choosing food that hopefully causes the least harm to the planet, to people and to me. At home, I eat a largely vegan diet and when out, it’s mostly vegetarian (minus the occasional “treat” of fish). Strict vegans might be put off by my allowances, but this is what works for me at the moment. And the dietary evolution will, no doubt, continue.

One of the most fun and creative aspects of being an aspirational vegan is playing around with new recipes. It’s required me to learn an entirely new lexicon (hello, “nooch”) and become familiar with ingredients I would have considered woo-woo and out there several years ago (I’m talking to you maca, hemp and chia). So it requires a new set of skills, creativity and the willingness to really screw things up on occasion. For example, I may never attempt to work with kabocha squash again; my first experience was, let’s just say, unsavory. My fault entirely, the squash was just collateral damage.

Luckily, I’ve found some awesome bloggers who have become my guides on this aspirational vegan journey. Even if you have no intention of becoming vegan, I encourage you to check these folks out as they all kinda rock:

Sidesaddle Kitchen: I have such a huge girl crush on Laura Miller. Her incredible produce portraits belong in a gallery. Her YouTube show, “Raw. Vegan. Not Gross.” is hysterical. And of course, her recipes are YUM. Thus far, my favorite is the cashew cream from the buckwheat groats cereal (yes, groats. Sounds gross, tastes good!).

Choosing Raw: I was so bummed when I learned that Gena Hamshaw was moving from D.C. to New York. I felt like this area got extra cool points for having the plant-based blogger living here. I also had dreams of meeting Gina and becoming BFFs. I love her story about overcoming an eating disorder. I also love her candor about how easy it is to turn healthy eating into disordered eating. I just bought her cookbook and am eager to work my way through it!

A House in the Hills: So, Sarah Yates isn’t strictly a food blogger. Part of the allure of her blog for me is that, in addition to wanting what’s on her plate, I also kind of want her house and her wardrobe. But she does share great recipes on the regular. She’s on a clean eating kick this month, but I am still obsessed with her flourless peanut butter chocolate chip cookies recipe.

So, I’m off to play with a new recipe (tomato tart, if you’re interested. I’ll let you know how it goes!) I encourage you to play in the kitchen as well. And to bring a little ahimsa to your diet, whatever that may mean for you.