I’ve toyed with vegetarianism for many years. Off and on for years I’d stop eating meat, or eat only chicken, or eat only fish. I’ve never given up dairy along with meat, buying into the belief that we *need* dairy for the calcium. There were many reasons I would do this, most had to do with loving animals and some had to do with “dieting.”
One day, a friend’s son posted “The Meat Video” on their family webpage. The video is called “Glass Walls” and is narrated by Paul McCartney (another version is narrated by Alec Baldwin), a noted long time vegan. I opened the link to the video, but was unable to finish it. The short film documents (via undercover videographers) the brutality and filth of the commercial meat and dairy industries. I started crying within seconds and closed the web window. I felt like I was betraying these animals by doing so but I just couldn’t watch. Eventually I forced myself to finish it. It took me about an hour, because I kept having to stop. I felt emotionally wasted and helpless. At this point, I made a commitment to only purchase local, humanely raised meats and dairy products.
About two years later, I purchased the movie “Forks Over Knives” (FOK) which I’d been hearing so much about and was blown away by the film. The film focused solely on the health benefits of veganism and also eschewing refined, processed foods. It pointed out with clearly researched and verifiable facts the risks of including animal proteins and processed foods in the diet. The movie prompted me to evaluate all my health issues: obesity, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, skin issues, and that I’d been sick with a cold for two months. After I finished viewing FOK, I sat at my computer and opened up “Glass Walls” again. I watched it from start to finish without stopping. I felt I was at a crossroads in my life. The next day I made my choice at the crossroads. I chose veganism and whole foods on January 17th, 2013 for health and for ethical reasons, and I haven’t looked back.
I will admit it took a good deal of work for my “start up venture,” including tons of research, planning, and purchasing. However, once I got everything in place it was smooth sailing. I took a day and raided my cabinets and my refrigerator and gave away or threw away everything that I used to eat that contained an animal product or was processed or refined. The one and only animal product I continue to consume is the occasional egg from my own three backyard chickens. My son has not taken this path and so I’ve left his food alone, and continue to buy locally, humanely raised meats and dairy products for him.
This lifestyle change has predictably generated a lot of commentary and questions from family members and friends. The notion that I’ve “given up” eating “normally” is extremely prevalent. My niece suggested I go ahead and eat the Easter ham, because it was a special occasion. I could not make her understand that I don’t view veganism as denying myself anything. I’m choosing to not eat what I don’t want to eat anymore. My son said at a restaurant (after I’d ordered dairy- and meat-free nachos), “Mom, your new vegan thing is really inconvenient.” It’s not inconvenient for me, and I’m very sorry if I make others uncomfortable with my choice. I go out of my way not to inconvenience anyone. I can always order something at restaurants; yes, I usually have to ask for special preparation. I’ve found the staff more than willing to work with me, probably because, oh yes—I’m PAYING them. I don’t mind preparing two meals at home since it’s just the two of us. For dinner parties, I offer to prepare and bring a dish we can all share.
Among the questions I’m asked is if there are foods that I miss. Not really. There have been three instances when I really craved a certain food. Once, it was cheese fries. After thinking about a certain restaurant’s cheese fries for days on end I finally ordered some. It was nice, but not worth the sluggishness I felt within minutes of eating it. The second and third cravings were a gas station hot dog and a greasy Rueben sandwich, two easy no-brainers…just walk away.
Others want to know how I know if I’m getting enough protein, calcium, and vitamin B12. I don’t even think about it. My hens’ eggs provide some B12 and a supplement provides the rest. My protein and calcium all come from whole vegetable foods. Research has shown that we need much, much less protein than most people believe. Other studies prove that calcium from dairy products is less beneficial, since animal proteins acidify the body and absorb the calcium. (The United States consumes more dairy products per person than most nations yet also has one of the highest osteoporosis rates).
I also get asked: isn’t it expensive/time consuming/inconvenient? I have found the cost of this lifestyle is not any higher than my former one. Yes, the foods I buy now can be more expensive. I buy whole foods, organic when I can. I look for products that don’t contain corn syrup or additives. However, I no longer eat on the fly at fast food places, my restaurant visits have decreased significantly and I nearly never get takeout (we were ordering pizza 2-3 times a week!). Many times, eating vegan is cost-effective; I can make five meals out of a 99-cent bag of beans. Yes, it is time consuming to prepare whole foods, to plan ahead so that I’m not caught hungry away from home, to make sure I have lunch and snacks for work so that I stay away from the deli counter. So I take a couple of hours on Sunday afternoons preparing my meals and snacks, making extra of everything for the freezer. It’s very convenient to pull out a container of homemade stuffed cabbage from the freezer and have it thawed out by lunchtime! It’s very convenient to have five sets of lunches in my fridge or freezer, all made and ready to grab for the work week. Of course, fruit and raw vegetables are the ultimate convenience snack food. I find my lowered blood pressure, my elevated energy levels, my dropping weight, and my improving health VERY convenient!
So the big question I receive, the #1 from everyone is: What DO you eat? And the answer is so very simple yet covers a cornucopia of wonderful, tasty and healthy foods. It will be even simpler if I just explain what I don’t eat. If it had a face, I don’t eat it. If it came from something with a face, I don’t eat it (except my hens’ eggs). If I didn’t make it from scratch, I probably don’t eat it. I eat everything else! A few of my favorite meals include crockpot soups, pasta dishes, pizza (cheeseless or made with vegan cheese), homemade bread, casseroles — all vegan and all made by me from scratch – and of course vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts & seeds. There is so much to choose from and it’s all wonderfully tasty!
Of course I’m not Mother Earth’s perfect daughter, and I’m not above being strapped for time and need something quick or craving something junky. If I’m short on time I can eat a peanut butter sandwich – on whole wheat and maybe some tortilla chips. If I get caught in a traffic jam and start getting hungry, I can pull a Clif bar from my purse. If I’m really in the mood, I can have a (vegan) bologna and (vegan) cheese sandwich or a veggie dog steamed and covered in kraut, or even a chunk of dark chocolate. I do buy some packaged foods but I always read the labels – it must contain no animal products, no corn syrup or artificial ingredients and bonus if it states it is non-GMO (they have a customer for life!). I love the food I eat and I love that it’s all guilt free.
I try not to preach to people. If I’m asked questions, I offer straightforward answers. I tell people it works for me. I tell them I’ve dropped nearly 20 lbs without trying. I tell them I’m almost never hungry. I tell them how much better I feel. It has been such an amazing journey so far that I do have to rein myself in frequently from soap-boxing or monopolizing conversations. I want everyone to join me, but I realize that most people don’t want to. I do urge others to view the “Glass Walls” video and also “Forks Over Knives,” as well as research the subject and the science thoroughly before dismissing veganism as a choice. It may not, but it could change your life. It changed mine.