Friday, February 24, 2012

The complexity of "health": Why I don't consider myself a health nut by eating plant-based

Even though I'm only 5 months into this new eating lifestyle, I can say I have already experienced a wide variety of reactions and comments from every end of the spectrum!  Going in to becoming plant-based I expected the skeptics and hard core meat eaters to throw some questions and negativity my way.  What I DIDN'T expect was the the judgement of fellow "Vegans" or other health enthusiasts.  I'm sure the meat eaters out there are thinking "But you gave up animal products.  Why in the world would would others doing the same thing for the same reasons give you grief??".  I had the exact same reaction.  But, parents can probably relate to this, as when you have your first child you are bombarded with opinions and ridicule from other mommies and daddies for not being a "good enough" parent.  Parents out there are nodding their heads I'm sure!  Of course, that comment is coming from the parents I know, as I do not have any children yet.

Let me see if I can try to explain the turmoil so you can understand it.  Let's say you decide to give up red meat, because of the reports on how bad it is for your health.  Well, what about the other meats?  They have been linked to diabetes, every cancer in the book, not to mention heart disease, obesity...the list goes on.  Plus the hormones we are ingesting!  OK, so I'll give up all meat.  But wait, seafood is a meat too (anything that is the flesh of a living thing is meat, for all you Catholics who beg to differ ;-), and they suffer when killed to be eaten as well.  It has the same effects as any other meat does. Not to mention what it does to our ecosystem!  So we'll give that up too.  But what about eggs and dairy?  It has just the same carcinogenic effects that meat does.  Not to mention it's link to asthma and seasonal allergies, and our bodies can't digest it properly.  Plus it has blood and puss from the factory farms practices.  And the dairy cattle and chickens are even more abused and neglected as the meat factory farms!  And don't even think about the organic and free-range versions of these products.  Those still are factory-style farms and many are treated similar if not exactly like the regular factory farms.  Plus, it still has negative effects on your health.  So fine, let's go Vegan!

But wait, what about those leather shoes you're wearing!  Vegans don't use animal products in any way!  And don't think about that honey either.  Tens of bees are killed every time the honey is extracted from the hives.  So we'll throw out all our leather, wool, and honey too.  Hold on, those jelly beans and sprinkles are coated with the secretions of a certain species of beetle to make them shiny!  You have to cut all that out too.  Whew, OK, we got that all cleared up.  But wait, did you really just eat some cotton candy at the ballpark last night?!?  You know that much of the refined sugar we eat is processed using bone char.  Yep, that means an animal product.  How dare you!  Good, you won't do that again I'm sure.  Now wait, those processed veggie burgers and hot dogs have soy and other GMO products in them.  Do you know what that can do to your body??  Not to mention the birth defects if you have a baby!  No, only homemade veggie burgers for you!  No, you can't go out to eat.  What if that bread has a spot of dairy in it?  No, you can't chance it.  You better clear your dining out schedule.

Whew, OK we're eating a perfect, healthy diet now, no processed foods, no animals being harmed.  But wait a minute...aren't you heating your food up in plastic bowls?!  Most plastic containers have BPAs in them!  Talk about cancer and metabolic risks!  No, we need to find all BPA free plastics.  Throw that crap away.  And don't forget all your kid's toys, they probably have BPA as well.  Well crap, canned food is often lined with BPA, so you better get to the health food store and find some BPA free canned goods.  Hold on, did you just put your groceries in a PLASTIC bag?  Hell no!  You are killing the environment!  Not to mention clogging up our landfills.  That crap doesn't denigrate for thousands of years!  Not to mention it kills the fish in the oceans.  No, take your own cloth bags to the grocery please.  They hold more anyway.  Wait, did you actually just DRIVE to the grocery?  It's less than a mile away!  You are wasting our oil resources, not to mention killing the ozone and children with asthma with the pollution you are creating.  Plus you need the exercise you damn couch potato.  What kind of example are you setting for your kids?  Wait, speaking of kids, what about your furry ones?  Aren't you feeding Fido regular dog food?  It has MEAT in it!  Not to mention it is processed crap.  Dogs are much healthier with a plant-based whole foods diet.  So make sure to make an extra plate of your dinner for him.  Throw out that processed animal killing crap, jeez...

Do you see the problem here?  Where do you start?  And where does it end?!?  The reality is, it doesn't.  No matter what you do you will get negative feedback from someone.  You can never do enough for some people, plain and simple.  So as you can see, although I eat a plant-based diet with very little processed foods, and use my reusable shopping bags as often as I can, and have started replacing my old plastic containers and bottles with BPA free ones, in some people's eyes I'm STILL not doing enough.  Personally, I believe that anything we put in our bodies is of the up most importance, to our health, to the health of our current and future children, as well as passing the good habits to others.  Healthy food is the best medicine out there, to both help current health conditions as well as prevent new ones.  And not eating animals (or their products due to factory farms) is the best thing you can do for other living creatures and the environment, not to mention to get the attention to the food industry that we demand healthier, safer, and more humane practices.

But no one should feel overwhelmed.  All you have to do is do your research and take one small step at a time.  The next time you are at the grocery browse through the health food section.  Pick up a non dairy milk, a whole grain like quinoa or bulgar, or meat substitute to try out.  Or better yet, find some recipes online and make your own!  My favorite resource is The Happy Herbivore website, which has both a blog as well as TONS of super delicious and healthy recipes.  And while you're there, pick up a couple of reusable shopping bags.  If you aren't too concerned about the landfills, keep in mind that the bags hold a lot more groceries and are much easier to carry than plastic or paper ones.  Then go home and try your hand at a meat and dairy free meal loaded with tons of vegetables and whole grains.  Try a new meal every week.  Next time you're at a restaurant try the veggie burger (Red Robin can replace any of their burger creations with a veggie burger.  Just as delicious!), or grill your own at your next barbecue.  The longer you try these new things the more you'll realize what a variety there is out there even cutting out those 5 most popular precious meats we have grown up with.

You don't have to go whole hog (pun intended) and never eat meat or dairy again.  But I will tell you that even though my intention was to MAYBE become a vegetarian and POSSIBLY replace SOME of my dairy products with non dairy ones, it took me less than a weekend to cut out all meat, and within just a few months I also cut out dairy and eggs and never looked back.  And this is coming from a cheese and milk loving ice cream freak!  But if that isn't your style after dipping your toe in a few meatless meals then no problem, just do what feels right for you.  But I promise that you will not only feel better health wise (even if you aren't suffering from any health issues at all), but you will also feel good about yourself for just doing something good for yourself and other living creatures.

The new Vegan isn't a tree hugging hippie Nazi type.  It's someone who has a passion for themselves, for animals, AND for other human beings as well.  They don't judge others for eating a shrimp or drinking a milkshake.  They applaud you for what ever amount of effort you can make.  It's about compassion, for all others, but especially for yourself.  And it's the last one that I am reaching out to now.  :-)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Meat-free living in the real world...

Living in your controlled every day life it is easy to follow a diet and lifestyle that may be controversial to some, or not the most popular way of living.  If we have a Drug Rep. bring in hamburgers and cheese curds from Culver's for lunch, for example, I just dig in to my stash of back up lunch items, or run home and grab something quick.

However, the last few weeks have been filled with unplanned, last minute trips to Owensboro, which is about 2 1/2 hours away.  My mom has been in a nursing home there since right after Christmas, and now she is in ICU with double pneumonia.  She has been on a ventilator for 6 days, with hopes she will be off of it today.  This has required several trips back and forth, without knowing how long I would be there or when I would have a chance to take a break and eat.  Like all long trips I packed the car with several snack options.  But the car being parked several blocks away, and the ICU not allowing food or drink in the rooms, that only helped during actual travel there and back.  So when there was 30 minutes free there was only one option to grab some lunch....You guessed it, the hospital cafeteria.

Working in several large hospitals over the last 11 or so years, I know what few options can be available in a hospital.  So when Tim came back from perusing the options and told me there were several to be had, I was pleased.  Not only did they have several options for us, but the items available were marked with a V for vegetarian.  There were baked regular and sweet potatoes, hummus with pretzels, veggie burger with all the fixings available, and a salad bar which also had a few pre-made vegetarian salads.  The pineapple and sweet potato salad with raisins was my favorite.  Then of course the usual choices of french fries, onion rings, etc.

Tim's selection in the hospital cafeteria: His version of nachos, with pinto beans, olives, 
salad greens, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember, lol.

Now a very strict, anal retentive vegan may have not been exactly happy with some of these options.  The pre made salad items could have possibly had butter or honey in them, and the fries and veggie burger were cooked in the same oil/grill as meat items.  But eating plant based is different for everyone.  Although I do not eat animal products nor keep any in my house, if I am out to dinner and bread or pasta might be made with a trace of milk or butter I will still eat it.  As Kathy Freston says in her book Veganist, if something has 10% or less of dairy or eggs in it you don't have to stress about it.  Obviously if there are other options available that absolutely do not have animal products in it I will choose that instead.  But for me it is not worth stressing over every little detail when I am out with friends, or in this case worrying about when my mom may get off the ventilator or wake up alone, I am not going to be that anal about it.  Eating that small amount from time to time does not affect how great my body feels not having any animal products.

Just like anyone trying to eat healthier, when "life" hits sometimes it's difficult to stick with it.  When you are making a conscious and moral decision, however, it makes it easier to make the right choices.  Especially when you don't have the cravings like you do in a "diet" where you are restricting yourself from addictive foods like sugar and dairy.  The one thing I have been shocked by is the fact that I no longer crave or miss ice cream.  Yes, I have non dairy options available that are delicious and satisfying.  But like any book that discusses becoming vegan will tell you, once you detox from animal products, especially dairy, you no longer crave it.  Yes, I still have cravings for something sweet or savory, but it's nothing like before where I could eat ice cream sitting in the middle of a blizzard (which has happened numerous times!).  I have a piece of the pumpkin-chocolate bars I made that week, or some fruit dipped in chocolate sauce, and I'm happy and satisfied.  And the big difference is that I don't feel stuffed, weighed down, or guilty afterwards.  I had something absolutely delicious that was also good for me, so I feel awesome both physically and mentally!  I have yet to feel hungry or deprived in the 5+ months since I gave up animal products.

As I have stated before, I'm now excited to plan my next meal or snack, because there is so much variety now.  I also crave healthy foods like vegetables over fried or sweet and fatty foods.  If you would have told me a year ago that I would be craving and loving vegetables of all kinds I would have told you that you were absolutely insane.  But your body and tastes adapt to this new and healthy eating, and that's how I know that it is good for my body.  You will never find any bad side effects or cravings with this way of eating, unlike restrictive "diets" such as Adkins or low-fat (and usually highly processed) diets.  And the funny thing is, before I thought I felt healthy and great and had lots of energy.  Now looking back that was nothing compared to how great I feel now!  And all that is from just changing my diet to a plant based one.  :-)