Friday, January 27, 2012

My feelings on eating meat.

I have discussed why I decided to start eating a vegan diet on my blog, but I have concentrated on the health and nutritional aspects of my decision.  I don't really discuss my ethical views on the subject much.  The main reason is probably because it is the most controversial aspect of veganism.  The other reason is that it is a very personal thing for me.  I have been an animal lover as long as I can remember.  When I was a kid, probably around 7 or 8, I remember my mom letting us take in a cat that had gotten part of his paw cut off somehow.  We didn't have much money and couldn't afford to take him to the vet, but my mom called a vet and got suggestions on how we could care for his wound.  I remember the cat would sleep with me at night.  I felt so special that he chose me to sleep with!  After a couple of weeks he started getting diarrhea and going to the bathroom on the carpet.  My mom decided we could no longer care for him and let him back outside.  I remember crying that night because I missed him so much.  The same thing happened when we had to give away our first dog because the apartment we moved into didn't allow pets.  Part of this could have been because we didn't have pets much when I was growing up until I was in high school.  The other reason could have been that I was dealing with my parent's divorce during my first animal experiences, and separation of any kind was difficult for me.  Whatever the reason, I have been a huge animal lover ever since.

I dabbled with vegetarianism since my first year in college because of my love for animals.  I was young and thin, and although I was into working out and eating relatively healthy I wasn't that concerned with the long term effects of what I was eating.  I cut out red meat for almost a year.  Although I started eating things like hamburgers again eventually I was never able to stomach things like steak again.  My system just couldn't handle it anymore after the hiatus of red meat for a year.  That should have been my first clue that maybe meat was not necessarily healthy for you.  I never went fully vegetarian, because basically I was super picky back then.  I couldn't stand most cooked vegetables, especially the popular ones like broccoli and cauliflower (I still can't stand either to this day actually).  I just thought I could never like vegetables enough to go vegetarian.

Fast forward to today.  As I started rolling into my 30s I started trying new cuisines and vegetables cooked in other ways than the normal mushy, cheesy way you find most often in the south.  To my surprise (and I'm sure my family's as well) I really liked these new things I was trying!  I finally decided after reading a couple of books to try becoming vegetarian.  Then, to my surprise, I started trying non dairy alternatives and actually liking them.  I have to say that the start of my interest in to this new diet was for the health benefits.  But the animal rights was always in the back of my mind, which is really the main reason I decided to go fully vegan.  I watched a lecture on You Tube by Gary Yourofsky that showed what these animals had to go through, especially in the dairy industry, and that was my final motivation.

So, what is my actual stance on eating meat?  How do I feel about others eating meat around me?  This is what gets me in trouble with both the meat eating and vegan communities.  Why?  Because one side is fully insistent that we should, have to, and need to eat meat.  The other side says eating meat, or even being around it, is 100% wrong, and if you don't shun those who do or aren't judgmental of them then you aren't a "true" vegan.  The truth is that I don't necessarily feel that eating meat is wrong.  I feel that cutting meat and dairy out of your diet is MUCH healthier, and will eliminate any risk of health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol.  But, eating meat has been a part of our culture for centuries.  The problem is the factory farms that produce our meat and dairy.  Even the free range farms aren't much better.  Not only are the animals tortured in too many ways to count, but the practices make the meat very unhealthy for us.  It's not the pig or cow being raised on a 100 acre farm in SD, living it's life to roam free and producing some milk for your family, until it's time to slaughter the animal, then you use every single part of the animal and spread out the meat for months to feed your family.  That's how it was back in the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder (that's actually an exact story of how they raised one of their pigs in the first book of her Little House on the Prairie series).  If that was the case I would have no problem with people eating meat and dairy at all.  The main problem is that people aren't educated on these practices and what actually goes on in the factory farms.  And, the people that have the opportunity to learn turn around and run away with their fingers in their ears, because they if they see and know then they will have to rethink everything they grew up with and have been taught for decades.  Most people just don't want to know.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

For all the meat-loving skeptics: Answering a common question/misconception.

Here is my first blog post about some common questions, comments, or misconceptions I get all the time when people find out that I eat a Vegan diet.

The most common response I hear when I say I'm vegan (or even if I just say I don't eat meat) is "Well what in the world DO you eat??".  My initial reaction is "A hell of a lot more of a variety than you do, you uneducated bastard!", but I refrain (usually, ha).  My second reaction is to want to list the tons of things that I do eat, and how you plan a meal eating a plant based diet.  Then, I will explain how anyone, even meat lovers/vegetable haters, can adopt this diet, or even adopt SOME plant based meals in their weekly menu.

First, here is a list of things I can (and do) eat.  I am positive I have not listed everything here.  This list is either things I eat on a regular basis or common foods that most people eat and know:

Grains/carbs:  Rice (white, brown, and wild), pasta, quinoa, bulgar, couscous, oats, barley, wheatberry, spelt, amarynth, udon noodles, rice noodles, corn meal, wheat/white/almond/etc. flour, oat bran, flax, orzo, polenta

Beans/legumes:  Black beans, white (great northern) beans, pinto beans (chili beans), black eyed peas, lima beans, kidney beans, butter beans, garbanzo beans, chickpeas, split peas, lentils (red, green, black), fava, cranberry, millet, navy, soy beans, popcorn

Nuts (fats):  peanuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), soy nuts

Vegetables:  Tomato, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, peas, corn, spinach, lettuce (red leaf, green leaf, bibb, romaine), kale, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, endive, cabbage, beets, artichoke, eggplant, fennel, peppers (green, red, yellow), onion, radish, pumpkin, sweet potato, yam, red potato, baked potato, zucchini, yellow squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, acorn squash, tomatillo, avocado, water chestnuts, celery, bean sprouts, mushrooms (button, shitaki, oyster, portobello, crimini), yucca, plantains, leeks, olives

Fruits:  Apple, banana, strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, mango, papaya, pear, pomegranate, watermelon, kiwi, starfruit, cantaloupe, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, cherry, grape, persimmon, peach, passionfruit, rhubarb, cranberry, coconut, currants, prunes, figs, apricot, dates

Herbs:  Basil, cilantro, italian parsley, dill, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, tarragon, tumeric, anise, arrowroot, bay leaf, cardamon, caraway, celery seed, chiles, chipotle. chives, coriander, cloves, marjoram, mace, mustard seed, juniper berries, paprika, salt, black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, poppy seed, saffron, vanilla

This is probably about 1/3 of the vegetables, fruits, etc. that are actually available out there.  These are just the ones that I could come up with that are readily available or that I have had since I've stopped eating meat.  Now, how do you take all of this and come up with a meal?  Usually I try to take at least 1 item from each category I have listed and put it together for a meal.  As you can see you have an endless number of options if you mix and match.

There are also numerous products to substitute your favorite meat or dairy product out there.  Afraid you can't live without hamburgers?  There are over a dozen different brands out there of veggie burgers available at most grocery stores.  Even restaurants such as Chili's or Red Robin offer a meatless option of your favorite burger.  Love a cold glass of milk?  There is soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hazelnut milk, the list goes on.  They offer it in vanilla, chocolate, etc. flavors, or just plain for if you are substituting it in a recipe for regular milk.  They even have dairy free egg nog and ice cream varieties.  Can't live without that hot dog or polish sausage, or love spaghetti with meat balls?  There are multiple varieties of each out there.  AND, since those are processed meat products, many of the meatless varieties are more flavorful than the meat version!  If you look at the ingredients you will find that the meat version has more fillers and less meat than you actually think it does anyway.  Not to mention you can actually pronounce the ingredients of the meatless varieties!

One of the comments I hear most often is "But I just don't like vegetables".  Growing up as a super picky eater I can understand where someone would think that.  However, most people have tried a handful of the most common vegetables in 1 or 2 ways, then gave up and came to this conclusion.  There are over a dozen ways to cook each vegetable out there, not to mention combining them together or with other things.  That's thousands of flavors, textures, etc.  That's like trying a hamburger and coming to the conclusion that you don't like any meat.  Don't like mushy vegetables?  Use fresh or frozen instead of canned and just barely cook them until they are slightly firm.  Don't like the flavor?  Add them to your favorite pasta sauce diced up small so it absorbs the flavors of the sauce.

One last thing:  Think you could NEVER eat a meal without meat, or eat anything that's "vegan"?  Here are some foods you may be surprised that are actually vegan, or don't think about being vegan:
Potato chips, Oreos, Teddy Grahams, parmesan cheese and many Italian restaurants, most bacon bits at restaurants and that most people buy, Nutter Butters, PB&J sandwich, tomato soup, many pasta brands, crackers, french fries, wine and beer, chips and salsa, many breads and buns, twizzlers, non-dairy creamers, Frito's, Little Caesar's Crazy Bread (without the parmesan cheese), soft pretzels, Cracker Jacks, ginger snaps, dark chocolate bars (most brands), onion rings, unfrosted Pop Tarts, tortillas and taco shells, bubble gum, onion rings, steak sauce, most non-creamy salad dressings, taco seasoning, Hershey's syrup, marinara/pizza sauce, Bisquick, cooking sprays, Jello-O instant pudding mix, Blue Bonnet Light Margarine.

There are of course others out there, like specific cereals, mixes, drinks, etc. that are as well.  But see how easy it is to find items that are meat and dairy free?

Ever had oatmeal for breakfast?  Tomato soup with a PB sandwich for lunch?  Spaghetti and marinara sauce for dinner?  You just had a vegan day!  :-)

I challenge everyone to try one new meatless food or vegetable a week.  Add one healthier food a week and you'll be on your way to eating a healthier diet in just a few months!  You will be surprised at what foods you never knew you would like!  I know I have been.  I am still adding new foods and recipes every week.  It has made eating and planning meals exciting again.  And every meal I eat I know I am doing something healthy for myself as well as animals.  And that feeling can't be surpassed!

"Life is about what you do, not what you don't do.  It's about going without so someone can have.  And most of all it's about giving until it hurts, because in the end you know it will hurt more to know you could have but didn't."
I saw this quote at the end of a video from a NYC animal shelter showing "before and after" pics of when cats came to the shelter sick and scared, and after they were adopted and healthy and happy.  That quote is why I do what I do.  Why I have tried to be an animal advocate for most of my teenage and adult life.  And...why I stopped eating meat.  I speak for animals, because they do not have their own voice to speak for themselves.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New year, new adventures.

That's a picture of me on Christmas day with my new (and first) vegan cookbook.  (Not my best pic, I know!) I have been following her blog for a few months now, and it has really helped keep me informed and on track with transitioning to a vegan diet.  I actually found her blog by accident.  I was on a popular vegetarian/vegan forum and someone posted a blog post she had recently made.  It was about how harsh some vegans can be to other vegans for not being "vegan enough".  I could completely relate, as I discussed in an earlier blog post.  Ever since then I've been inspired by both her honesty, cooking talents, and whole attitude towards herself being vegan as well as others striving to eat a plant based diet.  This was one of my Christmas presents I was most excited about.  Learning a new way of eating/cooking can be challenging until you get the hang of it, and this cookbook gives a lot of basics that you can use in all plant based cooking, not just these specific recipes.  For anyone who is interested in exploring a more plant-based diet, or even just healthier cooking in general, I would high recommend this cookbook, or her website.  I actually participated in my first ever Twitter party/discussion with the Happy Herbivore and a few other authors, and I won a virtual cooking lesson with her!  I will be sure to post all about it afterwards. :-)
This is Midnight laying on my new cookbook Christmas night, before I even had a chance to read any of it.  Looks like he's a fan already!!  :-)

I have also been thinking more about my decision to become Veganish, and how I could incorporate that into my passion of helping Americans become healthier.  That has been a passion of mine long before I considered becoming vegetarian or vegan.  After some research I have decided to enroll in an online bachelor's program and get my Bachelor's degree in Social Science studies.  It is a broad degree, I know.  But this program fits many of the college credits I already have, so I won't be going to school for another 3 years when I have over 140 credits already!  It's also completely online so I can actually manage it.  It's geared towards people like me who have many college credits already and work full time, so each class is only 4-6 weeks long.  Plus, it's actually affordable, especially for an online program.  I am applying this month, and hopefully will start in the fall.  That is, if I can get the financial aid for it!  That's the only way I can do it at this point in my life.  My goal is to take as many nutrition courses as I can that will also go towards this degree.  Then I will possibly get a job more social based, and maybe even get my Master's degree in Nutrition, which this college also offers.  But that's WAY down the line!!  Right now I really just want that Bachelor's degree under my belt.  I've always wanted to get it, even before I thought about a career change to more fit my passion. 

So I've been doing a lot of thinking about this blog the last few weeks over the holidays.  I wanted to streamline it a little more to make it easier to follow.  I've decided to have 2 different types of blog posts.  I will alternate between personal experience posts and informational/Q&A posts.  That way they aren't combined and each post will have one specific purpose.  I have been working on my first informational post, and hopefully I will have it up in the next week or so.  It takes a lot more work and research to do those than just a basic post about my experiences, but It's a good way to help me hone in on my plant based diet information for myself and others as well.  :-)