Food for Thought

posted in: Various Musings | 0

Something people ask me about a lot is why I’m vegan or they’ll ask questions about my lifestyle and eating choices. I usually don’t mind, because most people are genuinely interested and just want to know more, because it’s something they’re not familiar with. Other people, though, immediately go on the defense, seeming to think I will begin judging them for their food choices (I don’t), while still others—as either a smart ass or a dick—will proceed to tell me how wrong I am and why (like they are physicians or experts in nutrition). To this day, I find it amazing that people would judge me for something that doesn’t directly affect them.

But lots of friends and acquaintances express a sincere curiosity about it and—if you’re still reading—you might be one of them…so I’ll tell you a little more, but I’ll try to keep it short.

First, a vegan is, yes, a vegetarian, but we’re vegetarians who neither eat nor use any animal products—no meat (that includes fish and poultry), dairy, eggs, honey, or other foods with “hidden” animal products (for instance, a lot of people don’t know that regular white table sugar is often processed through “bone char filters” that use animal bone to refine and “bleach” the sugar). We also don’t wear leather, wool, silk, angora, etc., and we try our best to use products that are vegan. Some of us extend that to products that are cruelty free as well, but that’s a little different and is probably a discussion for another time!

Why I made the choice to go vegan. I have not been vegan or even vegetarian my whole life. In fact, I come from a carnivorous family and upbringing. Not only did my father come from a family that raised animals for food (cows, pigs, and chickens—and, yes, I watched cows get branded and neutered and I helped butcher chickens in my youth), but they were huge on hunting and fishing (yes, I did my share of those too). My family has a deep respect for animals in that regard, and one thing I always admired about my parents was their ethic that you only kill what you plan to eat and then, when you do, you use every part of that animal that you can—none of it must go to waste.

After leaving home as an adult, I toyed with vegetarianism, but only because I worked in restaurants and grew tired of much of the food after a time. Vegetables had never bored me, and I’d been the one kid in our extended family who’d actually loved asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. Other veggies I had to acquire a taste for, but I was the one who’d eat the veggies on her plate first.

Anyway (so much for keeping this short!), I also started smoking after I left home too and, even though I quit off and on, I was a regular smoker for a very long time (I’ll come back to this in a moment). It doesn’t matter all the stupid reasons why I did; just know that I did—a dumb life choice, but I’ve made a few of them. My hubby smoked too and we were generally unhealthy, even though part of why I smoked was to keep from gaining weight. So, quite a while back, my husband did some research and decided to follow the Atkins’ diet. If you’re not familiar with it, just know that when you read it, you might be shocked, because a lot of what the diet proposes is quite counterintuitive to much nutrition advice we’ve been taught growing up, but Atkins’ science seems sound when you read it and glance through all his research. Well, although the kids and I didn’t need to lose weight, I read the book and, unfortunately, didn’t do enough independent research on my own. The proof, though, seemed to be how much weight my husband lost. It was unbelievable, and it happened quickly. I didn’t lose a single pound (I didn’t need to anyway), but I did realize that I felt just plain bad on that diet—sluggish, lethargic, and very unsatisfied eating wise. Needless to say, I didn’t stick with it. One mere cup of vegetables a day was sheer madness to me.

A few years later, we quit smoking. YAY!!! And gained some weight. BOO!!! But my lungs were thrilled, even if my waistline wasn’t. Then my researching hubby wanted to once again find an eating plan that would help him reach his goals, and vegetarianism seemed quite promising. In his research, he came across the PETA website that had a thirty-day vegan challenge. Of course, I agreed to do it, and I enthusiastically bought a vegetarian cookbook and planned a month of menus. The cookbook lacked a lot in terms of taste, but we powered through. I decided near the end of the month that I could never remain a vegan because I loved cheese too much.

At the end of the month, the rest of my family went back to their regular diets, but that was the day I became a full-fledged vegetarian.

For a year and a half, I remained a vegetarian only, and I reaped so many health benefits, I had no desire to go back. I felt so much better. I didn’t lose as much weight as I would have liked, but I did lose some. I felt so good, though. I’d been experiencing acid reflux for about a year before we did the PETA challenge, and that just went away. And my skin feels amazing. Most vague tummy troubles disappeared for good. After a while, I finally gave up dairy and eggs too and felt even better, and I didn’t miss them as much as I’d thought I would. Is my health perfect? Hell, no. Not even close…but had I continued smoking and eating the way I had been, I think I would be in shitty shape today. I will never go back.

I don’t (typically) broadcast my eating choices nowadays, but when I’m asked, I tell. For instance, next week I have a “thing” at the college where I teach off and on, and I made sure to remind them today that I’m vegan…otherwise, it’ll be like a few years ago where the only thing there that I was able to eat was…potato chips. Yeah. Not even a frigging salad. So there are times where I do have to mention it, but I don’t talk much about it anymore, because it always leads to questions. When people are sincere and really want to know, I welcome the questions…but the smart asses kind of deflate the balloon, if you catch my drift, and so it’s just better not to say anything if I can help it.

So what do I eat anyway? This is one of the questions I’m asked the most. I understand why. I grew up eating what I call meat-centric meals where, for the most part, you choose your entrée first (some type of meat dish) and then plan around it. So, if you’re going to have steak tonight, you might choose to have a baked potato, salad, and broccoli to go with. Or if you’re going to have lasagna, you’ll have salad and garlic bread. Beef tacos? Ham and cheese sandwich? Chicken noodle soup? Hamburger Helper? Yes, meat first and then everything else falls into place around it. So I’ll admit…it was hard for me at first. When you eat that way growing up and then cook that way—not just for you but for your family—it’s hard to wrap your mind around a different mindset. At first, I did a lot of substituting…you know, veggie burgers instead of hamburgers, spaghetti without the meatballs, that kind of thing. At some point, though, I switched the way I eat, and I can’t really explain it, but there’s usually a green on my plate (think lettuce), a veggie (that could be anything), a grain (like rice), a legume (maybe black beans), and some fruit, but sometimes my dinner will be something I’m craving, like a veggie pizza or something.

But I used to get the question, “Well, if you don’t eat meat or dairy or eggs, what do you eat?” My smart ass reply would be, “Everything else!” My serious answer, though, is anything that is grown from the ground is fair game, and once you’re able to change your perspective, it’s not as hard to imagine what you can eat or what you want to eat…and, for someone like me who really does love her veggies, that’s an awesome choice.

Okay, sorry. I rambled on for a lot longer than I’d planned. I’m going to try to do one of these blog posts either weekly or monthly. My thought is that my readers don’t want me to necessarily talk about my books all the damn time…you might actually want to know more about me. So…there you go. Anything else you want to know, just ask!

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