Saturday, October 22, 2011

To Vegan or Not to Vegan?

Oh the angst.  I should not be allowed to read books or watch documentaries.  In the last year I have flushed any diamonds I own down the toilet, shared a love-hate relationship with chocolate, joined three different cults, purchased Mormon underwear, diagnosed everybody I know with ADHD and various forms of mental illness and cancer, and have changed my diet no less than 27 times.*  Apparently, I'm impressionable.

These days, it's the Food, Inc./Forks Over Knives/The Future of Food madness.  At this rate we may never eat again.

All kidding aside,  I was actually a vegan while in seminary, a lifestyle that was thwarted the minute I stepped off the plane in Chile and was handed a pork sandwich by my new internship supervisor.  I wasn't quite sure how to say, "I'm sorry.  I live in a country with enough affluence that we have the choice to deny an entire food group."  This was 1994 and things in Chile were just starting to look up from Pinochet's regime.

So I ate meat that year -- and gained about 50 pounds, despite walking everywhere I went.

Apparently a slow learner, I returned home a year later a carnivore.

Then I became a Lutheran Pastor.  Try being a Lutheran anything and not eating ham.  Or meatballs.  It can't be done.

When HotNerd and I moved to Chicago 11 years ago, I returned to my herbivorous roots.  Sort of.  On and off.  Here and there.

I was wishy-washy.  I would go a year eating meat and then a few without it.  Then a few months eating meat; then a few months not eating meat.  Typically, my carnivorous bouts were triggered by a vacation to the home of carnivores who doubled as really good cooks.

My vegan bouts were just as maniacal.  I'd read a book and BAM!  Poor HotNerd would come home to me shoving eggs down the garbage disposal.  Then I'd go to a party with a centerpiece of creamy brie cheese topped with caramelized brown sugar and pecans and suddenly I wasn't so worried about the cows' feelings anymore.

Basically, I have been a fair-weather vegetarian my entire adult life.

There's something about my current research, though, that compels me to give veganism my very best effort.  This is also the first time that I feel strongly about offering my children all of the information I am consuming so that we can make informed choices regarding our diet as a family.

Now, my kids are pretty good eaters.  My youngest has never eaten at McDonald's -- ever!  The elder two have been there a few times in their lives, only because other adults have treated them.  A couple of years ago, on a road trip, the only place we could find to eat was a Dairy Queen.  The kids ate about half their meals and then declared that they were disgusted (I recognize how fortunate we are to have enough options that fast food does not have to be one of them. I am also very well aware that even when we were in the throws of unemployment, we were able to buy fruit and vegetables.  Not everyone lives with such luxury).

Regardless, they are offered unhealthy food a lot.  Seriously, you parents know what it means to go anywhere nowadays.  It seems adults know of only three ways to interact with children: either ask them what their favorite subject is in school, tell them how cute they are, or hand them candy.  The biggest culprits in our lives are the supermarket and church.  It is no longer sufficient to watch what our children eat by only bringing healthy foods into the home.  They are faced with a lot of choices regarding their health every day.  And they are old enough to know that their decisions do affect their health.

My eldest does well in limiting sweets, but she will eat all the meat offered to her.  Moral issues aside, the blow to health caused by meat is astounding to me (Read The China Study for health concerns and Eating Animals for the environmental and cruelty side of the argument).  I shared these issues with her so that she can make her own decisions.  She has not eaten meat since.  She has had a few eggs purchased from friends of ours who have an organic farm and whose chickens we have observed roaming the farm freely.

My son is not a huge meat-eater, but he loves sweets.  He also appreciates the adventures inherent in trying new foods (brains, tongue, squid etc.).  He is having the toughest time making a decision and has asked us to make it for him until he is ready to do so himself.  We suggested he try eating vegan for a week and see what happens.  After one week, he had a slice of pizza with cheese on it that wildly upset his stomach.   He told us then that he will be happy eating what we serve and can give up processed sweets as long as I occasionally make my vegan breads, cakes, and cookies.  We shall see where this goes, but it sounds like a good compromise for now.

My youngest views all of this from a practical, scientific stand point.  That the documentaries we are watching highlight doctors convinces her that the arguments are sound -- for now.  She told her violin teacher that the healthiest diet is a "whole foods plant-based diet".  She appreciates such verbiage and is, as I write, filming her own documentary about the ills of a modern American teenager's diet (Full disclosure: her favorite snack is and has always been a plate full of romaine lettuce or a bowl of broccoli with a little tamari sauce so this is not a difficult place for her to go).

HotNerd is currently eating about 90% vegan (our friends' eggs and half and half are his only non-plant foods) and I have been back at 100% for two weeks.  I am down five pounds from it, despite eating plenty of calories and not being able to exercise due to my injured achilles tendon.

It will be an interesting journey from here on out, especially as the holidays approach.  I am glad, though, that we are making these decisions and genuinely struggling through all the issues involved as a family.

*Only some of these statements are embellished.

My youngest thought this would be a good picture for this post
as it is a highly processed meat-like product, an example of all
that is wrong with the standard American diet.

1 comment:

HotNerd said...

Yep, I'm here to struggle through this with you. My only reason for not stuffing the remaining eggs down the chute is conservation, though even that principle may be mis-used here.
Now back to my Extending The Table cookbook for more rice n beans based meals!

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