Mom, I’m vegan.

20120820-150044.jpg

Two things happened about a month ago. The first is that I saw what can only be described as a 12 layer meat sandwich topped with cheese. The second is that I watched Forks Over Knives, a vegan documentary doing the rounds that instead of focussing on sanctimonious and militant animal rights activists, looked at two ageing cardiologists and what happened when they put all their heart attack patients on vegan diets.

The first thing gave me a new appreciation for the word nausea. The second got me thinking – what would happened if I went vegan? Would I starve? Would my muscles desiccate before my eyes? Would my bones snap from lack of calcium. Actually Forks Over Knives countered those last two and let’s face it, in this society you are never going to starve unless you work really hard at it.

So I eschewed animal products in favour of a plant based diet (the non-controversial way of saying diet-based vegan but more on that later). I never ate much meat or eggs, and only ever had milk in coffee or on cereal so I didn’t find it too hard, I just swapped out milk for soy (again controversial, again more on that later).

What struck me was that the entire lolly aisle was now more or less off-limits. Want chocolate? Can’t, it has milk solids unless you buy 80% dark which incidentally has health benefits. Want sour gummy worms or party mix or marshmallows? – can’t it has gelatin (processed cow hooves). Ice cream? Milk and eggs. Cookies, a Snickers? Milk solids milk solids milk solids. One exception is Oreos which curiously, are vegan – that’s not a cream based filling in that centre! Goodbye yoghurt and yogo snacks, diet lite desserts, goodbye shortbread.

No wonder those patients in Forks Over Knives reversed their type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol when they followed a vegan diet. And here I am, a couple of weeks in to what is possibly one of the best presents I’ve given to myself. Suddenly I find thousands more ingredients to use that I never considered before. I discover that swathes of Asia are vegan of vegetarian by nature and that ‘mock meat’, non-soy based texturised starches have a long and trusted history. I discover that I like hoisin mock duck better than the real thing. My mind is clearer than its ever been and my skin needs a tenth of the attention I’ve ever given it.

But there is always a downside and much as I’d love to tell you that it’s all just too hard, it’s not the food that’s the hard part of going vegan. It’s the people. To date here are the responses I’ve received.

I could never do that.
I don’t get this response. Why are you saying this to me? I could never do half the things you do, because guess what, I’m not you!

What about protein?
If you never did biology or chemistry then I forgive you because I never had and learned all that later to get into medicine. But come on. Eggs and meat and not the sole sources of protein on the planet. They are high in protein yes, but guess what? To get more protein, I get to eat more!

What about calcium?
Forks Over Knives addressed this pretty well. The US is one of the highest dairy consumers on the planet. They also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. What’s missing here? Milk is not the only source of calcium, and bone density needs calcium, sunlight, and weight bearing exercise to maintain itself. This is scientific fact. Pumping yourself full of calcium and not doing any load bearing and staying inside all day will do nothing for your bones.

It’s so inconvenient when you go out though!
Actually this one is true. Most places are not well set up for vegans. My husband and I set a rule that if we go out and there’s no vegan options, we’d rather not be a drag so agreed to go vegetarian if there were no vegan options. It’s worked well! I’ll pull the cheese off pizza, go for eggs and if there’s no vego options, go for fish. It’s really not hard, it means we occasionally get some nutrient variation and have a good time with our friends.

You won’t get what you need to get fit!
I’m still going to the gym and I have more, not less energy. There’s a lot of food-related anxiety out there which people don’t even know they have, they interpret these anxious beliefs as truths. My advice is that for every belief you have, Google it – you might be surprised!

Soy is evil yada yada oestrogen something something
Apparently the evils of soy rumours were sown by the dairy industry in the eighties but rather than do the legwork of verifying that, I need only to point out that China and Japan have consumed many and varied soy products in their diet for thousands of years, that they have managed to procreate just fine, and that the Japanese enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

I can’t resist temptation
Yeah you can. You just have to want this more than you want that.

What about chocolate? Carob is gross!
I agree, Carob IS gross and if you thought this was the only chocolate substitute then like me you’re a child of the eighties whose Mum might have given you all carob eggs one year and hoped you wouldn’t notice – but I digress. first of all 80% dark chocolate has no milk solids so is vegan by default. Secondly milk solids are only used to keep the chocolate solid, it’s mainly cocoa butter and sugar so the vegan chocolates now just use a vegetable fat in place of that. It’s not quite the same, but worlds apart from gross carob.

Dietary vegans aren’t ‘real’ vegans
After watching Forks Over Knives I was all set and ready to go, googled a ton of vegan recipes only discover this really interesting argument on the Internet about how ‘real’ vegans didn’t consume palm oil because of rainforest destruction. I found this interesting because to grow anything you’ve kind of gotta chop down something, but efficient farming is all about getting the most nutritional bang for your buck per square metre (another reason why high meat consumption is bad for the planet). Also interesting because by definition, vegans are people who don’t eat animal based products. But apparently not. According to my more militant colleagues, veganism is a ‘way of life’ and not a nutritional choice. So unless you’re wearing hemp and using solar electricity only and basically not participating in the human race then you’re not a real vegan. Then I saw someone call themselves a weekday vegan which was great.
These are just words. You are who you are. How you eat is a personal choice and really definable by no one. People who call themselves ‘ethical vegans’ are by definition calling the rest of us ‘unethical’ which isn’t true. And if they don’t eat palm oil but do eat any farmed food does that make them semi-ethical? Again words, semantics, this is all meaningless. I’m here for health reasons and a dramatic reduction in animal based food with a massive increase in plant based food is good enough for me.

So how do I tackle all this overwhelming opinion that launches my way whenever I say the v word? I tell them that there is so much heart disease, obesity, and cancer in my family that it is the right thing to do for me, based on what I’ve learned about plant based nutrition and health. That I’ve seen the consequences of poor diet in the hospital too many times to count, that I know what I need to do. There is evidence appearing now relating high animal fat diets to types of cancer. I don’t want that for myself. And after I explain that, it’s all okay.

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Love this post. I’ve been interested in some kind of vegan-ness for a while however I have one big problem. That being my partner has a g6pd deficiency, super annoying because he was very keen to get on board. The g6pd deficiency means no beans, no legumes, no soy… What do we do? Two meals? No thanks. For the moment it’s stored in the back of my mind and I will get onto researching it.
    Cracked me up about the all carob Easter, we had one of those too. Gosh it tastes horrible!

  2. Cool. I experimented with being vegan for awhile – the food was easy (delicious!) but going out and other people were hard. What do you say when people jump down your throat when you eat dairy/fish out because you told them earlier that you were vegan? I found navigating social situations pretty difficult.

    On the other hand – some yummy food! Do you eat honey? If so, make a hot chocolate out of soaked cashews, cocoa powder, water, a bit of honey and a bit of vanilla extract – blend it all up and heat on the stove or microwave – rich and delicious (and healthy!) and better tasting than normal hot chocolate.

    1. I don’t really know anyone who would jump down my throat over it but I explain that I’m vegan for health reasons and if there’s no vegan option at a restaurant then I’ll pick the healthiest vego option, no big deal. If they want to make it a big deal that’s their problem. I pretty calm and relaxed about it – it tends to show people up if they get a bee in their bonnet about it. You just have to be firm about it and present as ‘this is who I am and how I do things’ and it’s fine.

      I don’t eat honey but I do have a milk wand on my nespresso so I just steam soy milk with vanilla sugar and a square of Lindt 70%.

  3. If you want to find some really great vegan chocolate, try raw chocolate. I’ve tried two brands -conscious chocolate and loving earth. Loving Earth is the cheaper of the two, still nice but definitely pales in comparison. I love their drinking chocolate and use their raw cacao butter too, though (amazing grated into smoothies).

    I think the japanese eat mostly fermented soy products rather than processed stuff like soy milk and mock meats. It is kind of funny (in a sad way) that the dairy and beef industries are so adamant that soy is the devil – when that makes up a good part of their livestocks diet in conventional farming methods.
    Coconut milk (canned) tastes really nice in coffee. Spiral organic coconut cream is my fave.

    I’ve never been vegan – was a vegetarian for 12 years up until the beginning of this year before my body started screeching at me for some red meat and now you can pry my (organic, grass-fed) beef and lamb from my cold dead hands 😀 Still indifferent to chicken and pork, though.
    To be honest, I think the main thing vegans (and vegetarians) have to worry about are their omega-6/3 ratios. I read that most westerners have a ratio somewhere in the realm of 32:1 when it should be closer to 2:1 or even 1:1 and it’s virtually impossible to get a healthier ratio when you don’t eat wild fish or grass-fed meat and grains and legumes make up the bulk of your diet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s