I'm thinking about going vegan. This idea has been on my mind, on and off, for nearly as long as I’ve been a vegetarian. I’d say the first I ever thought about it, was back in the very early 90’s. But all I knew about veganism back then was that it was “cool” (the krishnas did it, you know?), and, that it was “super restrictive” (did you know they don’t even eat honey?).
The first time I seriously considered eating vegan was when I was on a limited diet while nursing my daughter, in an attempt to help her colic & allergies. At that point, I really became vegan by default. I learned about alternatives to milk (then, soy), and then after learning of the soy concerns (like allergens, aluminum, hormone disrupters), the alternatives to soy (rice, almond, etc.). It seemed, at the time, once I got into the groove of the elimination diet, to be fairly simple. And I admit that I felt pretty healthy (though deprived of my cheese, darn it), in spite of (or because of?) losing a lot of weight.
At that point in time, Adam wasn’t yet vegetarian, and we hadn’t decided to raise our daughter vegetarian, so it was more difficult for me to be vegan. I found that once I COULD reintroduce cheese, I did… and there went that.
The next time I ventured into the thought of becoming vegan was when my vegetarian husband was diagnosed with borderline high cholesterol, and he severely restricted his dairy & egg intake in a (successful!) natural attempt at weight loss & cholesterol reduction, without drugs. I saw him eating a wider variety of foods, and enjoying things like rice milk “ice cream”, without feeling deprived. I’d changed all of our eating habits dramatically at that time – learned to substitute things like coconut oil for butter and applesauce for eggs in recipes.
But old habits die hard, and Rice Dream just didn’t quite taste as good as Ben & Jerry’s.
I thought about it once again after seeing Food, Inc. In fact, that movie has brought about a lot of changes in our diet & ways of looking at food – at the larger picture; not just how food effects OUR bodies, but how our food really gets to be food. How its production affects the earth, and the animals. We buy organic for nearly everything now – really, if I can’t find it in organic, I just wait ‘til the next shopping trip. Our milk & eggs come from pasture-raised animals. And those are big changes, yes. But, still, I can’t help but gag a little when I drink my milk, knowing where it comes from. Knowing that we’re the only species that drinks another species’ breastmilk. Is that progress? I’m not so sure.
At this point I know there are far more reasons in my life for me to become vegan than there are reasons not to. I feel in this last year – basically since seeing that movie – I’m the closest to actually taking the vegan plunge than I’ve ever been.
I’ve followed vegans on Twitter, for inspiration. I’ve been reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. My husband is now a vegetarian, my daughter is now a vegetarian, and my son has been vegetarian since birth. I’ve been one for 20 years. All that stands between me & veganism is…
I’ve got a couple small issues. Both of which, are, honestly, almost laughable, when I really sit down & think about them.
My daily iced latte. I make this thing every day, and I’ve yet to find a substitute. Though, that being said, it didn’t always used to be iced latte, it used to be iced chai. But then, Tazo went & discontinued their vanilla chai, and darn it, that’s just not fair. When that happened, after frantically calling Tazo, and determining that yes, in fact, they did can my favorite thing to drink in the entire world, I switched to Starbucks double shots (one of the only things I don’t buy organic. Sigh.) – which I embellish with a bit of milk & a touch of vanilla syrup. Yes, fat, sugar, caffeine, laced with dairy – and hard to substitute with rice or almond milk, because, it already has cow milk in it.
Every morning at work I make one, and when I don’t, I seriously feel the effects. Not just the caffeine withdraw, though I’m sure that’s part of it, but a bigger part, I believe, is the lack of having something cold to sip on while I work. It puts me in the mood to work. I don’t know what it is about it, but I’ve found no substitute, yet. I’ve tried phasing it out. Alternating with green tea. Or, just not buying it. But I get itchy for it. Like I start thinking about it in the morning when I don’t have it. And in the afternoon. And planning reasons to go to the store where they sell it, so I can get it while I’m there (thereby justifying the trip, no I didn’t solely go out to get said Double Shot). Ugh, the commercialized addiction part of this is scandalizing. It’s a personal weakness. I don’t want to give up my latte, and the thought of making it with rice milk, or some other substitute… it’s just not the same. I don’t want to change my habits – that’s what reason one really boils down to. Laugh if you must.
So then there’s the slightly more understandable and less embarrassing reason: my children. They are vegetarian. And, it’s easy to be vegetarian – there are so many options, without too much thought. Their school serves vegetarian food. Vegetarianism in this era is an understood & generally accepted way to eat. I tell the kids about the foods we eat, why they are healthy, what the benefits are of each food (like, tofu has protein, spinach has iron, oranges have vitamin C, oatmeal has fiber), and generally, I allow them free rein in our kitchen. I don’t buy junk food, and always keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand. I don’t keep a hawk’s watch over what they eat because I know, in general, if they’re eating from their own kitchen, they’re eating healthy.
Out of curiosity, shortly after watching Food, Inc., I bought a book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Eating for Kids”. It’s a good book, really… in spite of the title (honestly, whoever came up with that series of books, I’ll never understand the philosophy behind making your customers feel stupid). The book has great recipes, thoughtful analysis on the pros & cons of veganism in general, difficulties you might face raising a vegan child, and the good things too.
In reading this book, I find I’m perhaps more convinced that veganism, while the healthiest option for me – an adult who has already fully developed my sense of self, of controlling my eating – it may not be so for small children, who, some days, may decide that all they want to eat is yogurt, followed by cheese, followed by a hard boiled egg. So, I fear that by putting my children on a vegan diet, I’d be putting myself in the position of micro-managing their mealtimes. I’d want to be certain they were eating “enough”, that they were getting enough fats, B12, omegas, protein, iron, and I don’t want to have that kind of control over my children – I don’t want to pass on to them over-concern about food, I don’t want to police what goes in their mouth, because I believe in the long-run, that can backfire.
Of course, part of me wonders if that’s not the right mindset. Can’t I just move from where we are as vegetarians, rather effortlessly and seamlessly into a vegan kitchen, and still not worry about what they’re eating, as long as they’re eating? But then, what about school lunches? Parties? Family gatherings? Restaurants? These all sound like excuses my mother might have used 20 years ago when I decided to go vegetarian. Only then, I was already 15, and already knew a good bit about food, and really could make my own decisions. It's a bit of a dilemma.
Of course, all of the considerations over my childrens' diet, doesn’t mean I can’t be vegan myself. It’s just that in keeping things like yogurt and cheese and eggs in the house, I find myself attracted to those foods as well, particularly when I’m cooking with them. Again, it’s a matter of ease & habit. And self-control.
So here I am, on the edge, in between. It would take just a little hop to go all the way in. But I don’t like the idea of “giving things up”, which is why I need to work on my frame of mind before I take the plunge. Going into a diet thinking that I'm being deprived isn't going to be successful. It's about making a change, and coming to terms with that change - truly understanding & believing is the best in the long-term. We’re expecting the movie, “Earthlings” to arrive this week (thanks, Netflix), and I’m secretly hopeful it might provide just the right amount of … oomph to get me moving. I’ll report back afterwards.
In the meantime... why are you vegan? Or vegetarian? Or not? I'd love to hear.