The story of how a 30-something carnivorous daughter-of-a-trapper ventured into a bold new vegan world.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Random Musings

My husband called as I was leaving work last night with the "there's no food in the house" plea.  Would I, he wondered, bring something home for us to eat.  I didn't feel like stopping at the grocery store and then making something, so I did what so many working parents do.  I headed to the drive thru.  All of a sudden, as I waited for my turn in line, I had a news headline flashback.  Remember years ago when McDonald's was in the news for secretly using beef product in their french fries and hash browns?  At the time, I thought, "Who cares?".  Yesterday, I thought, "Oh, no!" 

You've ordered through a drive through speaker, right?  Have you tried to test the order takers product knowledge through a drive through speaker?  Ugh.  I'm sure they spit in my salad and fries.  The fries, it turns out, that aren't vegan after all.  Not that I really needed another reason to give up fast food forever.  It's funny how time can change your perspective. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Big, Fat Vegan Thanksgiving

Ah, Thanksgiving!  The first real test of our commitment to plant-based eating.  First, my mother calls. 

“Your brother tells us you’re a…vay-gan?”
“Vee-gan, mom.”
“What does that mean, vegan?”
“It means we are eating a plant-based diet.  No animal products, so no milk, no cheese, no meat.”
“Oh.  Why?”
“Health reasons.  I saw this research that showed how people in other countries, who don’t eat as much meat and dairy, don’t have the problems with obesity and cancers as we do here.”

Mom calls me back to tell me that my dad doesn’t feel up to having us over for a full Thanksgiving dinner.  We settle on ice cream and cake for my daughter’s birthday. 

Next up, my husband’s side of the family.  Luckily, I wasn’t present when John explained to Grandma Mason we were following a vegan diet.  How did she take it?  Well, she told him about “someone” she knew whose kids almost died because their parents put them on a vegetarian diet and they didn’t get enough protein or vitamins, but she did volunteer to tweak her usual feast to include some vegan options. 

Dinner was well enough.  She made a giant ham, which John and I both resisted.  We had plain baked sweet potatoes, plain boiled white potatoes, plain peas and a giant salad, complete with some yummy wonton strips she’d tracked down since croutons have milk and cheese in them. 

I gave her an “A” for effort, even though we had this conversation after dinner:
Grandma:  “Have a piece of pie, Tab.”
Me:  “No, thanks.”
Grandma:  “I know you can’t eat the crust, but you could eat some apple pie filling.”
Me:  “Doesn’t it have butter in it?”
Grandma:  “Sure, but not very much.”

Then, it was off to my parents house.  There was vanilla cake, per my daughter’s request, and a couple of different kinds of ice cream.  John and I brought two different non-dairy ice creams to try, and everyone wanted a bite.  Here’s the “scoop”, pun intended.

For John, I got Organic So Delicious Chocolate Walnut Brownie (retail:  $4.50 at my local health food store).  It’s a soy based “ice cream”.  It WAS so delicious!  The little bits of brownies and walnuts were super yummy, and overall it was a decadent, rich treat. 

For myself, I bought Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge.  This is made from coconut milk and sweetened with agave (so, it’s organic, soy-free, dairy-free AND gluten-free).  At almost $7/pint, it’s not an everyday purchase, but it was really good and worth a splurge once a month or so. 

My mom, who is diabetic, was impressed with the flavor/texture as well as the sugar/carbs in a serving.  Nick, I know you and Amanda are reading this, so feel free to weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below!

We had a nice visit.  John can’t seem to reconcile masculinity with a plant-based diet, so he spent most of the time complaining about this crazy idea I came up with (please refer to my first ever blog to see whose idea this really was!).  Frustrating to me, but understandable in some ways.  I know he is on-board, he’s just got to get confident enough to talk it up in public.  Our first 30-days are almost up, and we’ve already decided to go another 30 days.  The results, which I’ll write about tomorrow, speak for themselves!

Probably my favorite part of the visit?  John, my brother and my sister-in-law were having a conversation about diets on the table.  I’m assuming someone said something about my sister-in-law being a vegetarian.  From across the room, I hear Sam pipe in, “I’m a vegetarian, too.” 
Hearing him say that big word just cracks me up. 

Back home, we had a simple Thanksgiving celebration with just the kids.  My poor 18-year old was openly afraid of the tofu in the fridge, so I went with a simple casserole, Savory Shepherd’s Pie, I found in a vegetarian cookbook my mom let me borrow (Better Homes & Gardens Vegetarian Cooking Recipes for Today).  It used beans, not meat, as the main protein.  I had to make some simple adjustments to make the recipe vegan (for example, for the mashed potatoes on top, I used vegetable broth instead of milk and mixed in nutritional yeast instead of sprinkling cheese on top).  On a scale of 1-5, John gave it a 4, Morgan gave it a 3, and the boys refused to eat it at all (I attribute this to their ages, not the food).  I thought it was just okay, so I’m not going to bother posting the recipe here.

Today, as I am every day, I’m thankful for the freedom to just decide one day to become a vegan. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Why & The How


If you haven’t seen the movie “Forks over Knives”, I recommend you add it to your Netflix queue immediately.  That movie was the one compelling reason for us to consider a vegan diet, and it turned us on to all kinds of books and research. 

In a nutshell, we decided  it couldn’t hurt.  After consulting with our family doctor, who suggested we take a Vitamin B supplement, we jumped in with both feet.  Who wouldn’t want to eliminate these health threats?

  1. Cardiovascular disease. Eating nuts and whole grains, while eliminating dairy products and meat, will improve your cardiovascular health. A British study indicates that a vegan diet reduces the risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Vegan diets go far in preventing heart attack and stroke.
  2. Cholesterol. Eliminating any food that comes from an animal and you will eliminate all dietary cholesterol from your diet. Your heart will thank you for that.
  3. Blood pressure. A diet rich in whole grains is beneficial to your health in many ways, including lowering high blood pressure.
  4. Type 2 diabetes. Not only is a vegan diet a weapon against Type 2 diabetes, it is also "easier to follow than the standard diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association." Read more about it here.
  5. Prostate cancer. A major study showed that men in the early stages of prostate cancer who switched to a vegan diet either stopped the progress of the cancer or may have even reversed the illness.
  6. Colon cancer. Eating a diet consisting of whole grains, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, can greatly reduce your chances of colon cancer.
  7. Breast cancer. Countries where women eat very little meat and animal products have a much lower rate of breast cancer than do the women in countries that consume more animal products.
  8. Macular degeneration. Diets with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, can help prevent the onset of age-related macular degeneration.
  9. Cataracts. Much the same way macular degeneration is headed off by a vegan diet, cataracts are also thought to be prevented through the intake of the same fruits and vegetables. Produce high in antioxidants are also believed to help prevent cataracts.
  10. Arthritis. Eliminating dairy consumption has long been connected with alleviating arthritis symptoms, but a new study indicates that a combination of gluten-free and vegan diet is very promising for improving the health of those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
  11. Osteoporosis. Bone health depends on a balance of neither too much or too little protein, adequate calcium intake, high potassium, and low sodium. With a healthy vegan diet, all four of these points set a perfect scenario for preventing osteoporosis

Sign me up, right?  The idea that diet modifications could help my children live a life free of cancer (or, looking at the flip side…the idea that feeding my kids certain food could cause them a life of illness and pain) was the final deciding factor.  Unsure what we were getting into, my husband and I decided to go a month at a time.  And so it began.

Note:  This post was written weeks ago, before we got internet at our new house.  More to come regularly now, I promise. 

Day 1

Yesterday, my husband and I committed to eating a complete plant-based diet for one month. The irony of scouring the shelves at Wal-Mart, looking for vegan offerings, wasn't lost on me as I stocked up this morning.

After my breakfast of coffee (What? I gotta give up everything?), I prepared a lunch of quinoa, black beans and fresh tomatoes. It was actually pretty tasty, though it wasn't quite as satisfying as chowing down on a steak. :)

When I got to work this afternoon, I ordered my daily mocha. After the first swig, my tongue immediately darted out to wipe off the whipped cream stuck to my upper lip. WHIPPED CREAM? Ahhhhhhhhh! Coffee cup in hand, I sheepishly returned to the barista and admitted I'd forgot I was vegan. A vegetarian herself, she happily made me a soy mocha, hold the whip. I'm not going to lie. I didn't love it, but I drank it.

After a couple of hours of work, I was ready for dinner. Vegan options are few and far between when you work at a restaurant known for BBQ, mac & cheese and fried chicken, so I got a side of french fries, a side of roasted vegetables (broccoli rabe, turnips, parsnips, radishes and eggplant) and a side of polenta (prepared with water) topped with roasted tomatoes. Sounds lovely, right? In reality, it was just fine...but it didn't hit the same buttons as a meal full of butter, cheese, meat and bread. So, I treated myself with a homemade cherry lemonade. That's right...actual montmorency cherry concentrate, fresh squeezed lemon juice, a touch of sugar and ice cold water. Now that was satisifying!

The big key, I see now, is preparation.  Working at a restaurant where everything is made to order, I have so many incredible options.  Simple modifications made by supportive chefs allow me to enjoy pasta, salads and fruit dishes.  On days I know the kitchen will be too busy to customize a dish for me, I bring my own lunch.  For my husband, who stays home with our two boys, having a well stocked pantry and meals made ahead of time stop him from going crazy.  Soups, stews, roasted veggies, whole grains and snacks like nuts, seeds and fresh fruits keep us full and happy.  The boys (2 & 4) easily transitioned from cows milk to the soy and almond milks we now buy. 

I admit it’s not easy or cheap.  A couple of days ago, as I spent $220 at the grocery store, the clerk looked over all my bags and asked, “Getting ready for your Thanksgiving feast?”, to which I replied, “Nope, just getting 2 weeks worth of food for my family of 4.” 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How We Got Here, Part Three

I've worked in the restaurant industry my entire life. I love it, spending my days surrounded by people...and food. I met my husband when we worked at the same restaurant. Our shared love of zombie movies, hot wings and beer brought us together. John was a big guy when we met, over 6 feet tall and 280 pounds. We spent our courtship eating and drinking, and I quickly put on 20 pounds.

John grew up on convenience foods: Kraft Mac & Cheese, instant potatoes, hot dogs and fast food washed down with a pop or two. My mother-in-law's "go to" meal is meatloaf, instant mashed potatoes with butter, canned corn with butter, macaroni and cheese from that popular blue box, and biscuits with more butter Butter is so important to his family that it's treated like a side dish for family dinners ("I'll bring a couple sticks of butter!"). It shouldn't surprise you to learn his family is plaqued not only with weight issues, but more serious health problems like Type 2 diabetes.

My husband wasn't happy with his weight, but never really motivated to make a change. Five years into our marriage, he suffered from gout, arthritis, sleep apnea and plaque psoriasis. With two little boys counting on us to be with them for decades to come, we began dabbling with dieting. We never stuck to anything, and seemed content to continue as is,...that is, until we discovered Netflix with it's playmate of documentaries about the state of farming and health in our country.  We worked our way through them all:  Food Inc, Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation, Killer at Large, Corn King, Our Daily Bread...we watched them all in horror while snacking on chips and ice cream from the comfort of our couch. 

Then, we watched "Forks Over Knives".  I stumbled upon it really.  Why would I want to watch a movie about veganism?  I don't know what drew me in, but here's the synopsis (from the website 

FORKS OVER KNIVES examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. The major storyline in the film traces the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

Dr. Campbell, a nutritional scientist at Cornell University, was concerned in the late 1960′s with producing "high quality" animal protein to bring to the poor and malnourished areas of the third world. While in the Philippines, he made a life-changing discovery: the country’s wealthier children, who were consuming relatively high amounts of animal-based foods, were much more likely to get liver cancer. Dr. Esselstyn, a top surgeon and head of the Breast Cancer Task Force at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, found that many of the diseases he routinely treated were virtually unknown in parts of the world where animal-based foods were rarely consumed.

These discoveries inspired Campbell and Esselstyn, who didn’t know each other yet, to conduct several groundbreaking studies. One of them took place in China and is still among the most comprehensive health-related investigations ever undertaken. Their research led them to a startling conclusion: degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even several forms of cancer, could almost always be prevented – and in many cases reversed – by adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet. Despite the profound implications of their findings, their work has remained relatively unknown to the public.

The filmmakers travel with Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn on their separate but similar paths, from their childhood farms where they both produced "nature’s perfect food," to China and Cleveland, where they explored ideas that challenged the established thinking and shook their own core beliefs.

The idea of food as medicine is put to the test. Throughout the film, cameras follow "reality patients" who have chronic conditions from heart disease to diabetes. Doctors teach these patients how to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet as the primary approach to treat their ailments – while the challenges and triumphs of their journeys are revealed.

As the credits rolled, my gun-toting, four-wheel drive driving, beef jerky loving husband looked at me and declared, with all seriousness, "We should do that."  And so we did.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How We Got Here, Part Two

Shortly after we got settled in Michigan, my little brother was born. My mom will tell you I used to pray every night for God to send me a baby brother, and I somehow know I loved him the instant he was born. He became my instant ally, my tormentor, my prisoner, my child, my best friend and protector...

After graduating from high school, my brother got married. To a vegetarian Mennonite. Honest to God. A vegetarian. We immediately labeled her "weird" (sorry, Amanda). What does she eat, we asked ourselves? How does she get enough protein? Is she really just a picky eater? Does she actually have some kind of eating disorder? Well, my parents consoled each other, at least she's a nice conservative Christian. No one is perfect. My parents made sure to have a boring green salad at family events to keep the peace.

My brother, like the family men before him, joined the military his senior year of high school. After his wedding, he was stationed in California, the modern day Sodom & Gommorah. Forget worrying about training exercises and the impending parents prayed for his soul and his safety in this den of liberals and degenerates. They probably breathed a sigh of relief when he got his orders to deploy to the Middle East (okay, even I realize I'm taking it a little too far here.  Brother, mom and dad love you.  You know I love you, right?). My mother decided she wanted to see him before he lefty dad told her to go alone. He said he'd never set foot in that state. She started making plans to go alone. He caved and accompanied her. After a rocky start (Nick and Amanda took my parents out to dinner at a sushi restaurant knowing what you've learned about them so fat, do they strike you as "sushi" kind if people?), they discovered wine country, and so the walls began to crumble. They returned home with a new appreciation for California, with it's natural beauty and Trader Joe's.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How We Got Here, Part One

When you were growing up, did you have a paper route? Get paid to mow the lawn? Have parents that gave you an allowance without asking for a chore in return? Lucky you! Me? I earned my weekly coin skinning muskrats. In the overall scheme of household duties, it wasn't actually that bad. See, my dad hunted, trapped and fished. The animal pelts were sold for income, and the meat was featured at the dinner table. I don't remember a time there wasn't some animal being processed.

My favorite picture of my dad is from the late 70's, when we were living in Alaska. He's bent over our kitchen table, lit cigarette dangling from his lips, butchering a moose he'd shot with a handgun. Bare chested, wearing faded denim cut offs, he's a skinny, baby-faced version of the conservative I grew up with. Even with the shaggy blonde hair curling around his shoulders, he looks like a total bad ass. Hell yes, I'm proud to call him my dad.

No surprise my favorite picture from my childhood also involves a dead animal. It's from the early 80's. We had just moved to Michigan. I know, because the picture is set in my grandparent's basement, where we lived while my parents house hunted. I'm all of four years old, wearing an orange knit hunting cap over my white blonde bob one of my dad's ran hunting vests hangs from my shoulders to my ankles. In one hand, I'm propping up a hunting rifle. In the other hand, I'm holding a pheasant, a trophy from a hunt my dad let me tag along on my arm is stretched as high up as I could reach because the pheasant was as long as I was tall. Blue eyes sparkling, I'm sporting the biggest smile as I show off for the camera. This is the home I was raised in.