Recently, I have received several emails, comments and questions from my sister (through my mother on the phone… “Hey! Eunie wants to know if you are cheating or really doing this vegan thing??”) so I thought it might be easiest to attempt to clarify in one place. Here goes, and hopefully you (and I) are not more confused by the end.
At the beginning of this year – actually on a trip we took with friends to celebrate new years eve – I became intrigued by a friend’s decision to commit to a vegan diet. In the weeks or months prior to our new years eve trip I learned of her diet changes and responded with comments like:
“I could never. I love steak.”
“Didn’t you know? Cheese and bacon are like J’s religion!”
“Milk I could do without but yogurt? No way! Give up butter and heavy cream?? I wouldn’t be able to make one thing from the Pioneer Woman!”
Anyway, you get the idea. So we go on this new years trip and cook and eat all sorts of delicious vegan stuff and it was pretty satisfying and kind of not a big deal to not include the meat/dairy or animal products. I also learned more about her motivation to go vegan and was inspired to do a little research when we got home. So I trekked out in the snow to the library with my little ones and borrowed a bunch of books in print and on tape, and decided to attempt 7 days without *any* animal products. **There was one caveat to this initial 7 day stint: I would still eat the eggs produced from my own flock of five fat and happy laying hens who, at the time, were bundled up warm and snug in their coop in my backyard. After all, we worked really hard to get this flock started and I wasn’t about to stop enjoying the reward. Plus, I was exclusively nursing a three month old baby and was a little nervous about completely changing and slightly reducing my protein intake. So… low and behold I made it 7 days with no problems and felt better to boot. I think that being more conscious than ever before about what I was eating was kind of like a little personal challenge to eat really really well. At the same time, I was reading and listening to this, this and this. I think I had a little mental love affair with Michael Pollan. Well, not really, but I did like what he had to say. Also, I would NOT recommend listening to the Skinny B*tch series on tape. In the car with children. I had to take that back and switch to paper! So major takeaways from this research included:
-the food chain in this country is majorly messed up. (duh.)
-meat production is NASTY. Not because the animals die but because how the animals live before they die, and how they die, and what happens to what is left of them before it gets to the supermarket. btw, supermarkets are kind of gross too. Once I saw a rat at the ghetto chopper (this is only for people from Troy, sorry). Price Chopper has never been the same for me. I am a Hannaford die hard. Sorry, chopper shoppers.
-eating crap will make my body crappy (for lack of better words, plus this is a mild tribute to SB*)
-milk is designed to feed babies to make them grow fast. Am I a baby cow? Is my goal to weigh a thousand pounds? heck no. Plus big-scale commercial milk production gets a double YUCK and OUCH for those poor mama cows forced to produce many multiple times the amount of milk that nature intended them to.
There were many more but I just recommend you read/listen yourself if you are interested.
So, I followed a relatively committed veggie diet for about 5-6 months. I did eat our eggs and I occasionally ate locally produced sheep and goat cheese. Cheese is REALLY hard for me to cut out. It just tastes good. For protein sources, I was eating lots of beans and was even making from dried beans rather than cans… hummus made from a variety of beans, nuts (raw or raw & salted, no oil roasted or ‘party nuts’ – another of J’s favorites), and whole grains especially quinoa. I used soy and almond milk, earth balance spread in place of butter though it just isn’t the same so I opted for nut butters or honey or whipped maple syrup where I might have spread butter before. As usual, I ate a lot of fruit and veggies, burritos, soups, stews, etc. I developed a love for stewed eggplant, curries and squash soup (mmm… I can’t wait for fall to arrive!!). I revived my old copy of The Moosewood Cookbook and was generously gifted a copy of the Angelica Kitchen cookbook. I did most of my shopping at Honest Weight, where they have a surprising amount of local or at lease domestic produce, even in the dead of winter. Also, a group of friends opened an account with a discount food co-op delivery company that specializes in natural & organic products which opened my palate to a variety of meat substitutes and vegan products. I still prefer homemade but these products, while expensive, are yummy and good in a pinch. Some of my favorites include these and these. One of the ideas from the SB book is to start the day with fruit to enable the enzymes in the fruit (the good parts!) to work optimally in your body so I tried to do that most days as well. Most of the time, I’d eat just fruit (melon, bananas, berries, all fruit+water smoothie, apple, plums, whatever I could get that looked good) first, around 7ish, then I would wait until I really felt hungry (not a sensation I was too familiar with at first!) and try to kind of embrace the feeling, not in an unhealthy eating disorder kind of way but just in recognition that my body had finished digesting the fruit and my belly was empty and warmed up for the day to digest more complex foods. Then, I’d have my staple breakfast of english muffin or toast with peanut, sunflower or almond butter, sometimes with a little maple syrup or honey as a treat. I usually ate the Ezekiel breads or homemade oatmeal/wheat bread. Lunch might be salad with avocado or nuts or sprouts with balsamic & olive oil, or leftover dinner or cooked veggies, or a frozen burrito or frozen meal for a treat. Then maybe more fruit for an afternoon snack. Dinner I sort of described above. For sweet treats I made a lot of oatmeal-applesauce muffins with a variety of nuts and dried fruit or homemade granola/trail mix. This tea (duchess) with honey usually did the trick for my sweet tooth, and to be honest, the more time that passed the less I craved sugary/chocolatey/creamy treats. Maybe it was just out of sight/out of mind but either way it worked for me. Oh, and on the topic of sugar – I effectively cut out white sugar and absolutely cut artificial sweeteners (which I had been avoiding for quite some time anyway). “Acceptable” sweeteners included honey and maple syrup (both produced locally!). I tried a few other “natural” sweeteners but didn’t really care for them. I modified my recipes in order to bake with honey or with just fruit for sweetness. Oh, and I occasionally used molasses. I have a few recipes that just really hinge on that flavor and I wasn’t willing to give it up. Plus, molasses is full of iron which is good. That reminds me of vitamins & minerals, which I make sure Andrew and I are getting enough of by taking these. I also take this and Andrew takes this. I have never really been a coffee drinker, so that wasn’t an issue. I continue (even now) to have 2-3 cups of black tea each day with and sometimes without soymilk.
So, you might be wondering (I am after writing all this!) why did I stop since I seemed to have the system down? Well, until late May all I was really doing was staying home (believe me, staying home with a two year old and newborn is NOT a vacation), but around that time I began to do some work on the side for my midwife, and things on the farm started to pick up. I remember clearly the day I went to a friend’s house for brunch and was feeling a little tired and lazy and just thought, what the heck? That breakfast pizza with sausage and cheese looks pretty good (it was!) so I will just go for it. So I did, and it was sort of a slippery slope after that. Things got busier, I got lazier, we went on quite a few vacations and lots of friends and family came to visit. Keeping up with what I was doing every day took the place of what I was eating every day. Then, on vacation with my family, my sister and I got to talking about how eating with reckless abandon (which we did pretty much every day) made us feel like crap and we wanted to “do better”. I got to thinking about when I was eating ovo-local-vegan (my invented term for egg & local non-cow cheese but otherwise vegan) and how good I felt, all around. So, we decided to challenge each other to a semi-veggie lifestyle, or at least try it out again. Hear this folks: I make no promises. I will always be semi-veggie, because I love vegetables as fresh and local as possible and they will always account for 50% of my diet, at the very least. However, if you see me enjoying a nibble of super sharp cheddar from the private reserve brick J keeps hidden in the fridge or *head hanging in shame here* devouring a delicious pile of Hattie’s fried chicken at the track, don’t say I didn’t warn you. btw, the Hattie’s incident was isolated and a very special indulgence! The summer has really been a challenge, with sheep shows and fairs, vacations and party after party to attend. However, as the nights get crisper and days get shorter I feel a renewed sense of motivation to get back to my new year changes and finish out the year in a healthier routine.
Regarding exercise: at the start of the year, I attended Stroller Aerobics with the talented and inspiring Ms. Nicole (Andrew’s preschool teacher… my baby starts school next week!?!). As winter melted into spring I had that itch to be outside and started walking/jogging. Keep in mind that I push 35 pounds of stroller and about 50 pounds of children in front of me, so the jogging is pretty intense. Through the summer I have been running more and more. I also fenced several acres of pasture, cut down about 6 trees for fence posts for my garden, built that fence and the three 4×8 garden beds it contains, filled those beds with dirt and planted my garden, groomed 6 sheep for show, trained those 6 sheep to walk on a halter, showed those sheep (and took first prize and champion flock!) and a few other things I can’t remember right now. Sorry, I am tired! Oh, and I did about half of all that with a baby strapped to my back and a toddler “helping”. As summer winds down, I am hoping to make stroller aerobics part of my schedule again but I am also starting my own flock of sheep which will add to my weekly responsibilities, so we will see how that goes. My goal is to move every day, which really isn’t a challenge. My other goal is to run in the Turkey Trot this year, with my babies, and run the whole way. I figure with all the moving I am already doing, the couch-to-5K (Eunice?? write about this!!) will not be to difficult and that will prepare me for the turkey trot.
And while I am thinking about poultry, I just remembered (how could I forget?!): I raised 100 chickens this summer for meat. They were raised in a clean, open space with plenty of room and fed all natural, locally produced feed. They were killed and processed locally. I packed and delivered them live to the processor and picked them up 2 hours later. That same afternoon, I delivered them out of a cooler in the trunk of my car to my customers. I plan to eat some without any question about how it was raised, how it was killed and how clean it really is, inside and out. I feel good knowing I had oversight of the entire process and that it was as sanitary, natural and humane as any meat production could have been. Because of this, I have no issue eating this meat. I probably won’t consume too large a quantity of this meat, since I raised it mostly to earn money to buy sheep, but I am looking forward to trying it. I also occasionally eat beef and lamb produced locally and sold at the farmers market in Saratoga. I have been to the farms that produce and slaughter house that processes their meat. Essentially, I have no issues with eating animal products. My issues lie with the process and the loss of integrity in this process when it is scaled to meet grossly excessive demand.
So, I hope that this answers some of your questions. If not, please comment or email me! I love talking about all this!!
cheers to ringing out this year as healthy as I rang it in!
ps. I forgot to talk about beverages. I am addicted to seltzer. That pretty much sums it up. Also, I am known to occasionally enjoy a mean mojito with my own fresh picked mint. I go for broke and use white sugar for these. I’m over it, so you should be too.