Everyone Starts Somewhere
This past week, I didn’t know what to write about, so I went to my bud Somer, over at Good Clean Food, and asked her. This week, I’m taking her advice and writing about how and why I went vegan.
When I first registered this blog name, I wasn’t vegan yet. I was just fairly recently vegetarian, and I originally planned on writing about living with a vegan as a man. Well, by the time I actually started writing, I had gone full-on vegan, and so my focus shifted a little bit.
But where to start. . . I suppose at the beginning.
Before the blonde and I got married, about 7 years ago, we both decided that we needed to drop a few pounds. Her mother and sister had recently tried WeightWatchers and had had some success, so we took their materials and did that for 5 or 6 months. The weight melted off of us. On our wedding day, I weighed the least that I’ve weighed since 6th or 7th grade, and a full 100 lbs. less than when the blonde and I met. Seriously.
Unfortunately, this was just an introduction into portion control. We started eating a little bit less, and trying to incorporate more veggies when we could, but we were still full on omnivores.
Fast-forward 4 years, we had moved to Maryland, and the blonde had discovered the difference in health quality between organic and non-organic foods. We began to buy organic almost exclusively, but have you seen how expensive organic meat is? This basically eliminated beef from our diets, except when we were eating out or on vacation. It was a financial decision, and over time, we just got used to it.
By now, the blonde was working at WeightWatchers, and so every ingredient that could be measured or quantified in a recipe had to be. It didn’t matter if I knew how to make something, I had to know exactly what went into it. How many teaspoons of this, and how many grams of that. It was annoying at first, but again, I adjusted. I learned that a tablespoon of olive oil is often just as effective as three “glugs” out of the tin. Who knew!?
As it happens, per serving, organic vegetables are cheaper than organic meats, even chicken, so meats became a smaller and smaller part of our plate. The blonde came across a cookbook called “The Flexitarian Diet,” and we started being ‘mostly’ vegetarian.
I leaned a bit further in to vegetarianism at this point, because of a book I had won called “The Anti-Cancer,” by David Servan-Schreiber.
The thrust of this book is that the author, a doctor, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and little by little, he found way to control the growth of cancer cells in his body through diet. I have a history of cancer on both sides of my family, so I was probably more convinced by this than by anything else.
During this time, we started eliminating certain animal products for health reason. In baking, butter and eggs got replaced with applesauce or ground flax seeds, not because they were animal products, but because the alternatives were healthier. Cheese was expensive, and, to be honest, in college I was the guy who would sit down with a block of cheese and gnaw on it like an animal (See the first photo). So we rarely bought cheese. And to top things off, I hadn’t liked cow’s milk since I was about 7, so the change to almond milk was easy. My fave is Silk PureAlmond unsweetened original. Mostly because it tastes like very little in my cereal.
We spent about a year as ‘mostly’ vegetarians, but for her New Year’s resolution in 2011, the blonde decided to go full-on vegetarian. My response: “You can go vegetarian, but I am NOT going vegan.” Thankfully, she replied “Oh no, that’s way too hardcore.”
(total side note: How many vegans does it take to screw in a light bulb? Just one, but they have to get past 20 people saying “it’s to hard.” to do it.)
Where I come from, dinner is a family affair. There was no television during dinner, and as kids, we weren’t allowed to answer the phone during dinner. Even now, if I don’t think it’s an emergency, I just silence my cell phone if we’re eating. This still is how I feel today, so having one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian was a little difficult, but I refused to give in. We ate a lot of Italian, which was fine, because we both love Italian food. I would make pasta and sauce, and cook sausage separately, adding it after I had served the blonde, or make a stir-fry, adding pre-cooked shrimp after pulling half out.
Then, just as I was starting to wrap my head around vegetarianism, the blonde got a volunteer position with VegNews magazine.
Neither she nor I knew whether or not VegNews was a vegetarian, or a vegan magazine. (The “Veg” in “VegNews” wasn’t specific enough.) Once we learned that it was indeed a vegan lifestyle magazine, she decided that she had to go vegan. It was August of 2011, and my heart broke a little bit.
Allow me to explain. I grew up in Northern New Jersey, where food is a way of life. I was surrounded by amazing Italian, Cuban, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, and American food. At no point did I ever walk into a restaurant and wonder if the food would be good. I assumed that it would be, and I was usually right. My favorite food, even now, is pizza. There is nothing in the world like good, hot, fresh pizza. Made well, good pizza is a piece of art.
Thankfully, there is no really good pizza in Maryland. In fact, I think the best pizza in Maryland comes out of my oven.
We spent about five-and-a-half months this way: me as an omnivore, and the blonde as a vegan. I was flexible and patient, while she was understanding and confident. As she learned something new, she shared it with me, not in the hopes that I would go vegan, but because she found the fact that she didn’t know some of these things an atrocity. This is how I found out about the movie “Earthlings,” how I learned about battery cages and gestation crates, and a ton of other offensive ways that animals are treated.
This is also the time where I learned about pressing tofu (Get a tofu press, stat!), tempeh (my favorite meat alternative), seitan, and roasting veggies correctly. My palate expanded by about 50% by the blonde going vegan.
One day, early in February 2012, the blonde told me about a video she had seen of piglets being castrated. I’ll spare you the details, but it disturbed me so much, that I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video. I still can’t bring myself to watch the video.
About a week later, I had an all day meeting at my school, where lunch was provided. A great treat in and of itself. The lunch was, surprise!, pork loin. I had no hesitation in eating it. Now, for maybe the first time, I filled my plate with about 50% veggies also, but the pork went nicely on a sandwich with portobello mushrooms and roasted red peppers.
I still feel guilty about eating that pork.
I thought about that meal for 3 or 4 days, and kept waiting for the feeling of responsibility to go away. It wouldn’t. I thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it, and finally, I looked at myself in the mirror one morning, and said, aloud, “Well, I guess I don’t eat animals anymore.” That was that.
We had been eating almost all plants at this point anyway, so it wasn’t a huge shift in diet, but it was a shift in the way I thought. I finally started thinking about the real impact on what I ate. It changed my whole thought process when we got food. That change is what made me wonder about veganism. About a month later, on Ash Wednesday, I decided to go vegan for Lent. I figured, if I didn’t notice any issues in my life, then I would stay vegan, and if I did notice any, then I would adjust how and what I ate according to that hassle.
It wasn’t really a big issue, with one exception. On Wednesday, I “went vegan.” That Friday, I ate a bunch of crab dip. Doh! On the way home from curling (yup, the sport with rocks and brooms on ice) it dawned on me that I had been vegan for 2 days, and had eaten a bunch of crab and dairy. Nice job, dummy.
It certainly helped that we went to The Seed, A Vegan Experience. That really helped solidify some of the ideas that I had been thinking about as being a vegan. (Side note: Since The Seed and its primary organizer, Erin Red, have parted ways, I’ve totally taken sides. I support Erin Red and her views on the subject, so I have only liked to her blog post about this.) The presentations there by Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, JL Fields, Gena Hemshaw, and a host of others really helped me coalesce the various ideas about why I’ve vegan. As usual, someone figured it all out before me, and he even posted about it. Show off. . .
Since then, I haven’t eaten any animal products, and little by little, we continue to process animal products out of our lives. No more leather belts, I’m looking forward to replacing my leather wallet with a stainless steel one.
We won’t buy woolen products anymore, and naturally animal testing is a no-no, so the decisions we make are always guided at this point. We have an additional external moral compass to help make decisions about our lives, and to be honest, it’s a big help. It’s like we’ve taken the Hippocratic Oath of “First, do no harm,” and I feel better about myself.
The way I understand it, everyone has an “ah-ha” moment about their veganism. For some people it’s health related, for others its animal welfare. I would like to know what yours is, so please, leave a comment below telling me why you chose to go (and stay) vegan/vegetarian, or why you haven’t, and thanks you for sharing!