What word is that, you ask, that strikes fear in the hearts of the in-laws, and has people shuddering at the thought of giving up so much?
Vegan, of course!
I say this completely tongue in cheek. Actually, our families have grown used to what they see as our “weird food” already and most people I talk to about the vegan diet are open-minded and supportive. Even better, I get lots of questions, and I thought I’d address some of them here.
I’ll give you a little background first, because not every experience or lifestyle is the same. I became a vegetarian at the age of 11, but it was years in the making. I think I was five or six when I was at the grocery store with my mom and refused to go into the meat section because I had recently noticed the blood in the pre-packaged meat, and connected what was on my plate to those cute animals I loved so much. There were many lectures and fights about how I wasn’t allowed to give up meat, and I succumbed every time until a fifth grade classmate brought in crawfish for the whole class to eat.
You know, these guys?
I managed a polite “no, thank you” and never (intentionally) ate meat again. My mom realized I was serious, and told me there’d be no special meals prepared for me, but I was free to prepare my own. That spawned a long history of cooking and baking, but that’s a story for another time.
There was a time when I was a bad vegetarian, that’s for sure. I ate mostly simple, processed carbs and dairy, and lots of frozen foods. I learned about health and nutrition slowly, and made simple changes along the way.
Over the past year or so, R and I started incorporating more home cooking into our lifestyle. We made lots of soups, homemade veggie burgers, sandwiches, and pretty much anything that I could make without meat. But once in awhile we’d get pizza and I’d notice how downright bad it made me feel, even if I just had one piece. I couldn’t drink milk anymore without a nasty upset stomach, but I had always thought of veganism as extreme – and that’s what giving up dairy would make me, since I had always felt a little iffy about eggs anyway (I can’t help it, I’m a softie!)
I’m going to answer the questions I most commonly get, but if you have any others I’d love to hear them!
So if you don’t eat any meat or dairy, what DO you eat?
We eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, all sorts of beans, nuts, and whole grains. There are so many options now that companies like Earth Balance and Whole Foods make lots of vegan friendly products! I love PPK for recipes, and we have at least five vegan cookbooks.
How do you cook and bake without dairy?
Baking was definitely a challenge. It wasn’t until I tried the vegan vanilla cupcakes recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World that I realized it was doable. And, honestly, I’ve found recipes that I like even better – including a chocolate chip cookie recipe and a chocolate frosting recipe that I made purely out of necessity one night when we were out of some ingredients. Just like normal baking and cooking, you develop a feel for the chemical reactions and what works. For instance, 1 cup of soy milk and 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar whisked together and left sitting for about 10 minutes can act as buttermilk in a recipe.
Look! Vegan cupcakes:
What about nutrients? Do you take supplements to make up for protein deficiency, iron, B12, etc?
I’ve found that I really don’t need supplements, although I take b12 to be safe.. There certainly IS an unhealthy way to be a vegan, and I bet some peoples’ bodies wouldn’t react well with it no matter what. But my energy increased exponentially after I stopped eating dairy. I’ve found that most vegan foods are already supplemented with B12 and the like, and nuts, beans, etc are great for protein.
I’ve heard that soy is bad for you/I don’t like soy, but it seems like all vegan foods have it.
This was a major concern for me. While raw soy and soy cooked at home are healthy, the processed soy featured in so many frozen veg*n foods is probably not good to have often. Because of this we try to cut down on soy consumption as much as possible. To do this we often have almond or coconut milk instead of soy milk, cheese alternatives that don’t include soy (Daiya is the best) and tempeh or seitan instead of soy fake meat. I do still use soy milk for baking, but that’s such a small amount I feel it’s negligible. Really, I eat much less soy now that I’m a vegan because I’m more aware of how bad it can be.
Is it hard eating at restaurants and with family or friends?
In Chicago, it’s a breeze. Wait staff is almost always friendly and knowledgable about what dishes are veg*n, and most places around here have that information on their menus already. In the suburbs where our parents live, we’re often stuck eating salad or pasta, but we rarely go out there. Calling ahead to places often helps, and it seems like they appreciate it too. Family gatherings are tough, but I always ask what I can bring, and make a few vegan dishes so we know we can eat those. I’ll admit that it was tough on Thanksgiving when there was an inch of melted butter collected at the bottom of each of the vegetable dishes, but I know most people don’t think twice before adding it!
I hope this was an interesting and not completely boring look into the vegan lifestyle. As a closing note, I want to say that I think anyone who truly thinks about what they’re eating – whether it’s meat, dairy, or veggies – is making a difference. Where your food came from is so important, and no one lifestyle is perfect for everyone.