Disclosure: I am not a vegan. My explorations into the vegan world are proving that it’s not just for the “crunchy granola” crowd anymore and here’s why, in no particular order:
1. Variety. Some people complain, bemoan and generally make fun of my eating habits, which have been unconventional since birth (I was the kid that snacked on carrot sticks and celery). Going out to eat can be a nightmare, in their eyes, because I’m such a “picky eater”. The truth is they are the picky eaters and most restaurants cater to their limited idea of food – meat, fat-laden processed cheese, starch and refined, nutitionless, empty calorie carbs (I’m looking at you bread and chips). Check out any chain restaurant and you’ll see that most items on their menu are a variation of the same dish. Even if they offer a salad, it is heavy on meat and cheese and light on veggies. Usually the only veggie in the so-called salad is iceburg lettuce and it is drowned in dressing. Let’s not forget the two wedges of tomatoes they stick in there for good luck.
My initial foray into veganism has produced meals that are rich in variety, flavor and nutrients (but we’ll get to that in a minute). I have (real) oatmeal enriched with nuts, raisins, wheat germ and flax seed topped off with almond milk for breakfast. Snacks (I try to abide by the E.L.M.O. diet – eat more less often) consist of things like peanuts and raisins (you should always have a carb and protein), apple and organic (i.e. no sugar added) peanut butter, hummus and crackers, lunch has been things like peanut and tofu cutlets (served with a salad or assorted roasted veggies) and quinoa salad. I also have made a cold pasta salad (silken tofu was the base for the dressing) and carmelized tofu with pecans and brussel sprouts (yes, I like brussel sprouts – remember I was that kid). I found the most DIVINE black bean soup recipe. I buy fruit on sale and freeze it for smoothies. Gathering recipes I realize there are tons of different types of veggie burgers (sweet potato, quinoa, black bean, white bean, etc) and I’m itching to try every one of them.
A wonderful resource has been the cookbook 1000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson. It’ll be a long time before I make my way through it.
2. Cheaper. Now I know a lot of you are saying there is no way buying organic food is cheaper. My little 11 oz. jar of organic peanut butter cost as much as the store brand 4 lb jar, so how can I claim it is cheaper. I’m looking at the full cost of our diets, not just the dollar amount we spend purchasing the food, but the impact on the environment and on our health and well-being (my peanut butter has no HFCS, just peanuts and oil). Plus, with a little practice and planning, it can be cheaper or at least cost the same. But it will take some diligence on your part. Buy in season and learn how to preserve it for future use (I buy fruit on sale and then freeze it for muffins or smoothies). Tofu and beans are a cheaper and more nutritious protein source than meat (read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” or watch “Forks over Knives” for a look at the mess our meat industry is making of our planet, our economy and our health). Not everything in a vegan diet is expensive or has to be organic. And if you really want to cut costs, start a garden. Will it take more time? As with any new habit, probably. But as you learn and it will become easier.
3. Healthier. I read somewhere that 75% of our nation’s health problems are lifestyle related – what we ingest (food, cigarettes, alcohol) and what we do (exercise or not) cause our illnesses. How many times have you heard the story of someone who loses weight and goes off of all of their blood pressure or diabetes medication? Eating foods that are unprocessed (of course there are vegans who still have bad eating habits – pretzels and potato chips are vegan, after all) is just better for you. Those hormones they inject in cows to get them to grow faster and the antibiotics they are fed so that they can eat their unnatural diet of corn (cows are meant to graze on grass, not eat corn) all end up in the hamburger patty you eat, along with who-knows-what else.
4. Better for the Environment. Do you really want to do something to help global warming? Quit eating meat. More methane gas is produced because of our demand for meat than car exhaust. I don’t know the exact figures but they are out there.
5. Stop world hunger. So many of our limited natural resources are spent growing corn to feed cattle (who aren’t suppose to eat it anyway), what if we were to divert those resources to growing food for people to directly eat? Novel idea, I know.
6. Internet. The internet has given us a wealth of information at our fingertips, including delicious recipes. Growing up, the only vegetarian cookbooks I saw were for Indian food (which I am not a big fan of) but today there are so many yummy ideas out there – I can’t wait to try the roasted garbanzo beans. And there are sites that will take the ingredients you have on hand and find a recipe for you, which helps you out with item #2.
7. Lose/maintain weight. As I said before, you can be a vegan and still eat like crap, but if you really try to embrace it, you will find that extra weight no longer becomes an issue probably because…
8. Break your addictions. Eating vegan just goes hand in hand with eating less prepared/preserved foods. All those Lean Cuisine and fast food burgers are full of fats and/or processed sugars (HFCS). The thing about these ingredients is that they create a never-ending craving for more. Sugar begets more sugar and next thing you know, you’re on your way to weight-related illnesses like diabetes. I have to say that I have been fortunate in that when I have too much sugar, I start looking for a carrot or celery stick because it’s just too much for me. But for the majority of people, these foods trigger something in their brains that makes them crave more – it creates an addiction. The only way to break the cycle is to quit eating those foods. When I first started eating organic peanut butter I thought it tasted strange. But I got used to it and now when I eat regular peanut butter I am amazed at how much it tasted like sugar, not like peanuts.
9. No artificial ingredients. If you need a science degree to understand your food label, should you really be eating it? Is processed really better than fresh? Should high fructose corn syrup really be in everything we eat?
10. Mindfulness. I think the Europeans have it right. A meal is a pleasure to be savored with people you enjoy. Being a vegan means being mindful about what you eat, which will hopefully make you mindful of eating, period. If your car has more food crumbs than your kitchen, that’s a problem. We are all busy, I get it. But are we really that busy all the time? Do you have time to sit in front of the T.V. every evening? Then you have time to gather your family, involve them in the food preparation and create not only nutritious meals, but deeper relationships as you bond over your day and make memories. Don’t expect perfection, just enjoy the company, laugh at the spills and bask in the warmth of your loved ones.