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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Respect the Vegans

I often talk a big game about becoming vegan at some point in my life ... not today, not tomorrow, but maybe, I don't know, next year? Once I actually assumed A Vegan Life. It lasted about a month. I remember quite a few dinners consisting of fried potatoes with lemon tempeh. There was also the challenge of concocting dairy-free desserts (I think I gave up and resorted to chocolate sorbet most nights). I didn't drink much coffee back then, so half-and-half wasn't much in the picture, but how did I think I was going to survive without cheesecake, pumpkin pie, yogurt, or two eggs over easy? Or milk chocolate!?

Chocolate became my gateway back to fish, ice cream, and chicken (I had not, since 1979, eaten what I referred to as "red" meat--veal, beef, lamb, pork--though the fact that I did eat chicken and fish made me not quite the vegetarian I longed to be). Yes, chocolate, of course. Because I was hungry all the time (vegetables and rice just aren't that filling), I started nibbling this giant bar of gourmet chocolate I spotted in the pantry. More than nibbling. I was helpless. In one day I ate the entire bar. This created a great dilemma: what was I to call myself? A choco-vegan? After all, there was not yet a word for my kind of cheater: a flexitarian. There was no place to hide, no sorta vegan or quasi-vegan, so I chucked the whole meat/dairy-free thing in one fell swoop. The next morning it was eggs in the batter and cow's milk on the Cornflakes. Done, finito, exeunt.

Until yesterday. Yesterday and today I have been 100% vegan. I have not even attempted to eat with others or in a restaurant, and I am here to report that this is quite difficult diet to adhere to. I think it's mostly due to habits of taste, habits of preparation. I am used to having chocolate nearly every day of my life (and I don't especially like the dark version), cream in my coffee (actual cream, not non-dairy creamer, not soy or rice milk), and, well, milk on my oatmeal. I am not a huge carnivore, but it takes some amount of intentionality (is that a word?) to not choose a dinner menu that includes chicken or fish or dairy. It's something I don't give much thought to, though I do eat a diet high in fruits and veggies, and low in processed foods, huge hunks of charred flesh, burgers, fries, etc.

The diet I am on is drastic. I'm not eating any bread-related foods, or sugar, or distilled spirits, for instance. Maybe I could be a vegan most days if I could have one of these three vices now and then.

I will probably only last one more day on the 100% austerity diet--rice, beans, quinoa, fruits, veggies, and nuts. But I am considering going sugar, meat, spirits, and dairy-less for the month. No promises, but the thought has definitely entered my mind.

Any vegans out there who want to share their stories of conversion? Was it difficult at first? Why are you (or were you) vegan? Health reasons, animal rights, or some of each? Are you grossed out by all the yucky chemicals and harmful bacteria in meat and dairy products, even, in the case of meat, in the organically-labeled ones? Discuss among yourselves!


Peter said...

Martha: I should have you talk with my co-worker Cammy. Her whole family (Vietnamese) has been totally Vegan for years, and loves it. They use nuts like cashews to thicken soups. They use soy protein (Seitan?) to make faux chicken and beef. She brings in things for me to taste, and they are pretty satisfying, even for a lifelong meat eater like me. :)

Martha Silano said...

Hi Peter -- cashews to thicken soups sounds very cool, but I doubt I would become one of those mock-chicken fans. To-furky? I don't think so. I love veggies and fruits and find no reason to eat soybeans shaped into faux chicken nuggets, but the hard part is baking without eggs. My mom tells me about things like arrowroot, but I am already not the best baker even with eggs on my side. But maybe I could try it for a month and see how it goes ... that is my tentative plan, at least. Thanks for sharing!

Supervillainess said...

Dairy-free desserts are pretty easy...well, if you can eat eggs! :) I have a lot of meringue-based desserts, things like squash custards, and I love the Bettie Crocker gluten-free box mixes for brownies, cookies, and cake.
Because of my mid-life food allergies I've gone completely gluten-free and mostly dairy free (with the exception of some cooked milk, hard sheep's ricotta and some cream cheese, small amounts, because I'm allergic to casein, not lactose.)
This has required quite a bit of getting around things in the kitchen...but you'd be surprised at the number of allergy-free cookbooks out there now, even for things like cupcakes and pumpkin pie, that use no wheat, dairy, or eggs! Check out magazines like "Clean Eating" or "Gluten-Free Living" for inspirations (often these magazines give egg, dairy, and gluten free variations on regular recipes, with pretty good results.)
If I hadn't developed allergies, I doubt I ever would have forced myself to eat this way, but it has been interesting to discover that I did actually survive giving up most restaurant meals, convenience foods, even things like soy sauce without, you know, losing my mind. Food has become, to me, a gigantic foodie, just food again. Because it was too important before, and too important when I first discovered the allergies - now I'm like, oh yes, delicious food that is also good for me, that's a great idea!

Martha Silano said...

Thanks for your post, Supervillianess! It occurs to me that I have a block about believing I can make bread, cookies, etc., without using eggs and white sugar, but I know this is not true, that there are easy ways to substitute, etc. It's more of a "oh, this is such a hassle" knee-jerk response that I am going to have to machete my way out of of. In the meantime, I am not going to eat any desserts or bread ... and stick to quinoa, brown rice, spelt, barley, etc. for a while, just because, well, the holidays did a number on my physique. The other thing is that my family shouldn't have to eat vegan if they don't want to ... and they might still want the traditional cc cookies, for instance. This gets tricky cuz how am I supposed to resist?! But I will figure all this out in time, at least for the month of January ... and who knows ... I am taking this one day at a time.

Supervillainess said...

Oh, the other thing I wanted to comment on is you might want to run and get a quick check on your iron and b12 levels when you experiment - for me, for instance, even when I eat meat and eggs, almost every day, I'm chronically deficient in both - which can whack out your metabolism and your immune system, neither of which will make you feel better in a hurry! There are supplements you can take - some more effective than others - but I know other vegan women friends have struggled with iron and b12 deficiencies, so just a heads up!
And yes, making up new recipes for things is a huge pain at first, but apparently, then you get totally used to it and it doesn't freak you out any more and your gluten-free friends will be so happy you learned to bake muffins they can eat :) so it's totally worth it! Glenn has become a genius already at gluten-free baking, even attempting complicated stuff like popovers, pie crusts and souffles without wheat.
But yes, often it's simpler to eat a side of rice/potatoes/polenta than try and replicate a bread-like, dairy/gluten free objet.
I hope you feel much better soon! I know all the healthy eating will help! And then you will feel so virtuous!

Kathleen said...

Oh, thank you for the word "flexitarian," which is what I still am. Or a "chocotarian," not yet a "choco-vegan." I go through periods of meatlessness, and I like them, but never cheeselessness. I like increasing fruits and veggies in the family diet and would graze, and will graze, as life changes.

Martha Silano said...

J9, I was thinking of taking a B complex vitamin not only b/c no meat but also b/c I hear it helps with fighting off the nasty stress chemicals that lower immunity. Iron I'm not actually worried about ... suffice to say that it's a myth that iron comes from meat. There's more to be had from using an iron skillet and eating beans that are high in iron, such as black beans and pintos. They are way higher than a hamburger. Okay, maybe liver is higher ... but I refuse to eat it!

Oh, and to clarify: I do not have any health problems that would be alleviated by going gluten- or dairy-free. I just want to prove it to myself that dairy is not really necessary ... and neither is meat. In my most cynical moments, I'm nearly positive that Americans have been duped into thinking they need meat and dairy to be healthy, when in fact that's the farthest thing from the truth. You can't make much money growing beans and brussels sprouts, but you sure can make millions making bacon. Nuff said.

Martha Silano said...

Kathleen -- yeah, l love that word (flexitarian). It gives me the freedom to be 75% vegetarian, and 25% sure I'll sample the Afghani lamb kebob.

Jeannine said...

Yes, a lot of meat doesn't have much iron in it at all! I stick to lean tenderloin steak, mostly. Bacon not only doesn't have iron, it barely has any protein! Junk food for sure! Pork, chicken, etc - mostly a waste in terms of iron.(Yes, liver, but also duck, are good sources, though. In case you do go back to some meat :) I do cook everything - particularly potatoes - in a cast iron skillet, because 1. cast iron rocks! And 2. it is a great way to pick up extra iron. I think for me it's an issue that no matter what I eat I'm not absorbing enough b12 and iron anyway, so I may not be the norm...
Just something to keep an eye on. We have whole nations of people who have lived on not much more than lentils, chickpeas, and rice, maybe some tubers, in various forms, for centuries. So you know it's possible. I was amazed in California how much technology the different commnities there - Venezuelan, Mexican, Argentinian used to break down corn to make it digestible - corn on the cob - almost no nutrients - but process it with lime, bam - vitamins! Got to respect the ancinet technology going on.
You looked great at the reading, by the way - the new vegan diet must be agreeing with you!