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January 26, 2012

It’s a new year, and this won’t be my usual entry. I’ve been thinking about food lately, but not on the local sourcing of it: I’m making a New Year’s resolution to consciously eat vegan at least three days a week. Why? In part, because four of the vegetarian cookbooks we’ve been using over the past year are vegan, so I have a feeling we’ve been eating vegan (un-consciously) more often than I think– and I’m curious if it will seem any different to do it intentionally.

There’s another part, though: In the many past conversations that have come up with friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances about being vegetarian or vegan, I realize that I’ve failed to be a good advocate for a lifestyle that I strongly admire and respect: a plant-based diet.

Those who know me understand that while I may have my moments of verbal clarity, I’m much more articulate through the written word– so an off-the-cuff comment or question about eating choices is likely to receive a less coherent response than if I’ve had a chance to think and write it through. But not to use my communication skills as an excuse. My verbal answers are often more cowardly, and aimed at making the person asking more comfortable– primarily by agreeing, and by letting myself be led to address the negative, rather than redirecting the conversation to all the positives.

The result is that after I tell someone I’m vegetarian, but not vegan (I eat dairy products and Certified Humane eggs), I have preemptively volunteered, “Yeah being vegan is really difficult.” I’m of the mind that most people will be more open to trying a different diet themselves if they can do it gradually and easily, rather than switching cold turkey (no pun intended) to something that seems extreme. This is the same reason why faux meat products like veggie burgers, veggie sausage, deli “meats,” etc. are so prevalent; people want to eat what they’re already familiar with. But in my desire to show that being vegetarian or flexitarian (eating meat only occasionally) is easy and accessible, I end up making veganism sound all but impossible. But is it really?

I’m going to eat my previous words in two ways this year: Cooking vegan meals at home three days a week, and bringing or finding vegan lunches to buy at work on those same days. This can be done even at chain restaurants. Some examples:

Subway – A falafel sandwich on wheat bread topped with veggies, giardinera, and mustard.
Chipotle – Veggie tacos with rice, beans, sauteed onions and peppers, lettuce and salsa (just skip the cheese and sour cream).
Other vegan alternatives in the Loop include Hannah’s Bretzel (gourmet sandwiches with their percentage of organic ingredients listed!) and the new Native Foods Cafe location (serving all-vegan dishes with house-made sauces, dressings, and proteins). I’ll post more as I discover them!

When people talk about being vegan, they question how you get your protein (it’s not difficult at all– the average American is actually consuming twice as much protein than they need or their body can use) and your vitamins: the old stereotype that vegans are weak and nutrient-deficient. Instead of being led into a debate about vitamin B12 (don’t worry, I’m getting it), I want to turn those comments around. I want to say that the American Dietetic Association has found a well-balanced vegan diet to not only be nutritionally sufficient for all stages of life, but to result in lower rates of heart disease and cancers. Vegetarian and vegan diets have been shown to be healthier.

A 100% vegan meal: Garlic and herb rice pilaf, green beans, and panko-crusted tofu cutlets with lemon-caper sauce.

People also tend to focus in on all the restrictions on your diet — that it limits you. But how diverse is the diet of someone eating McDonald’s for lunch and steak and potatoes for dinner? Eating vegan means opening up a spectrum of new foods, proteins, vegetables, grains, and dishes to try. From what I’ve seen so far, vegan eating is for those with a spirit of adventure — not those with a penchant for self-sacrifice. So I’m going to explore the diversity of the vegan diet through something I’ve been planning to do anyway: Whenever I go to the market, I’ll pick out a locally grown vegetable/fruit I haven’t tried, find a recipe to use it in, and blog about it.

Finally — I’m going to try to be more up-front with my reasons for doing this. When someone asks me why I’m vegetarian, I usually say, “For a lot of reasons: it’s better for your health, and for the environment.” Those are both true (see this Scientific American response summarizing the severe environmental impacts of large-scale meat production).

But there’s another reason that’s easy to leave out, because of what I mentioned before– not wanting to make the other person uncomfortable. What I want to say also is: “I don’t believe it’s right for any living creature to suffer the way millions of cows, pigs, and chickens do on factory farms to provide our food, when we have a choice to get our food entirely from other sources.”

I know no one wants to think about that. I certainly don’t. It’s not a topic for polite dinner conversation. But then, neither are many of the realities underlying our modern society. And making them visible is the first step to making change.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    January 27, 2012 3:01 pm

    I will go Vegan with you! It looks like we should look for a stronger and more responsible Vera, and the rest of the world should be prepared for that. Your now vegetarian husband never even missed meat when he made the transition, we shall see if we really miss eggs or cheese that much.

    • January 27, 2012 3:41 pm

      Thanks husband!! Triple points for vegan support AND a Love Actually reference!

  2. Fuzzy permalink
    January 28, 2012 11:09 pm

    Vegan….I am now practically vegetarian and my lovely wife is in the process of eating vegan food. She made even mention going cold Turkey. I must say that I am still not committed to that type of change. Now that I think about it the I have not have beef in a long time and even today when we went out to eat I order a veggie dish…What are you people doing to me!?!?…(the conversion progresses)

    I am looking forward to see how this goes so keep posting.
    Make sure you eat Avocados girl. I don’t want you disappearing.

    • January 30, 2012 11:41 am

      Wherever you turn, you can’t escape the vegetarians.. The irony! But I’m glad you haven’t really been missing the meat, that’s very exciting 😀

      I must admit that I love cheese and it’s the one non-vegan food that I haven’t found a good substitute for. Everything else is no problem– don’t need eggs and have been using soymilk and margarine in place of milk and butter all my life. I’m now only buying cheese made with vegetable rennet (not animal), but giving it up completely would probably be the main challenge for me going 100% vegan. I think I’ll try it out in a few months.

      Trust me, I’m getting enough to eat! haha

  3. Fuzzy permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:16 am

    My wife also told me to share this link with you.
    She found it very useful. It has meal plans and shopping lists. We made a vegan lunch for tomorrow.

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