Attention carnivores: just skip over this one. It may have a lot of lentils in it. Everyone else, and that leaves approximately four of my readers who I know are vegan, read about why I’m trying the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program here.
I’m working on writing a Bridget Jones-Style Diary of my attempts at The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Program, which I will post soon because I only just started the program five days ago. This post is about why I decided to go vegan for twenty-one days, in case you’re interested. (-:
I am what you would call a die-hard carnivore who stops just short of deer hunting. I honestly don’t have any feelings for the meat in the produce department, because it’s already dead. I grew up in a house full of carnivores with extremely carnivorous parents. My mother was from Eastern Europe and kept a jar of pickled pig’s feet in the fridge for us to nibble on (we didn’t). Instead of giving us a regular snack, like tortilla chips, she would give us bags of pork rinds. She’d take us with her to her weekly visits to the local butcher shop, and the butcher would cut a slice of meat for us to taste. One time, she had him cut a slice of beef tongue and didn’t tell us it was tongue until after we had eaten it. She once served a whole baby pig with an apple in it’s mouth for Christmas dinner. Her “best” everyday recipe was London broil, and I’m pretty sure we ate meat and cheese every single day. On Sundays, my New Zealand-born father cooked us English-style breakfasts complete with tea, toast, sausages and bacon, with fried tomatoes as the token vegetable, and we would sit around the table ridiculing vegetarians, hippies, and people who needed therapy. My father once killed a wild boar with a spear. I think you probably get the meat of the matter by now: I’m descended from a tribe of serious meat-eaters. (-:
Back then, in California, being vegetarian was more of a cliche or a political statement than simply a healthy option. The vegetarians we knew were people who had followed the Grateful Dead for summers in renovated school buses; they were hippies from the Haight-Ashbury in flowing gowns or beards, and so from a very young age I ruled out being a vegetarian because it seemed to me that in order to be one you had to be like these people, which I was not. Vegetarianism came with so much baggage: you had to be a certain way (a Julia Butterfly Hill type, skipping around in bare feet proclaiming your love for Mother Earth, possibly even farting more than you should) just because you didn’t eat meat.
Vegans, then, were uber-cliched vegetarians. They were super weird. I didn’t hear about vegans until I was in my early twenties, around the same time I started hearing about raw-foodians because when you live in California everyone has a strange relationship with food, is trying some newfangled food-fad or other, and to me – veganism (not eating animal products) and raw-foodianism (eating only raw, uncooked foods) were just the next iteration in the evolution of weird Californian food cliches.
Two of my vegan friends were raw-foodians when I first met them (I opened their refrigerator once and out tumbled a crate-load of oranges and lemons – their fridge was jam-packed with a mind-blowing amount of citrus). One day they were coming home from a weekend-long raw food conference and they pulled into the Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru and ordered all kinds of hamburgers. I think they were starving to death before they got to that drive-thru. After that they went vegan. After that they divorced and he opened a raw chocolate factory and started dressing like Willy Wonka and wearing stilts and stripey suits with a top hat around town, but I won’t go into that now. My point is that in my frame of reference, vegans and vegetarians subscribed to a kooky lifestyle that just wasn’t my thing. I like Willy Wonka but I don’t want my husband to dress like him. I’m not into the Grateful Dead, I like Coldplay and Adele. Although I do have an inner hippie-chick, I am more way yuppie than hippie. I am an unapologetic, everyday consumer who is somewhat materialistic and although I appreciate nature once in a while, and I do my best to recycle, I do not have a compost heap and I’m not exactly one with Mother Earth. I drive a big minivan, and the thought of figuring out what my carbon footprint is is just too overwhelming for me, so I try not to think about it.
I think I’m like a lot of people. People who would never in a million lifetimes consider going vegan, even just for twenty-one days!
My sister went vegan for a while but she was a girl who tried all the food fads, so she lacked credibility. During that time, vegans were still on the edge of the fringe of society, they were the militant tree-huggers who favored rasta braids and lived together in communes. They weren’t so-called regular people or yuppies. I wasn’t ever able to see the sense in becoming vegetarian or vegan, because of the distraction of the alternative lifestyles associated with these choices. When I was a college student in Paris, my best friend was an American vegetarian, and we had to tromp all over the city to find a single vegetarian restaurant. And back then vegetarian restaurants were all bean-sprouty and lentil-glop, so I remember being annoyed, because we had to tromp forever, and we passed some tres bien fabulous meat-centric cafes along the way!
I have consumed a lot of meat and animal products in my life – a lot – it’s been a regular and wholly unconscious part of what I do: bacon or sausage for breakfast probably two times/week, eggs, I always put milk in my coffee, grilled chicken for lunch (which I always thought was healthy), we always had a meat-based dinner, we eat a lot of yogurt. At holidays, like Christmas, our menu planning revolves around the main meat course – a crown roast of lamb, turkey, filet mignon, or beef Wellington. If my husband and I go out on a date, we will go to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Every Sunday I cook a roast for our middle-of-the-day family dinner: roast beast, roast lamb, roast pork.
At malls, I love to eat the Thai chicken samples they offer, I will eat carpaccio, frog’s legs, sushi, squid, escargot, sashimi, liver – you name it, probably because of my weird family background - if it’s any kind of meat, I will eat it. And as for my husband, who is the one who encouraged me to start the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart with him – ha! He’s the most unlikely person to try going vegan, ever. He is from Dublin, Ireland, where his people are farmers and believe that animals belong either outdoors working the fields, or indoors on your dinner plate. There are two vegetables in all of Ireland: broccoli, and peas, and both are boiled to within an inch of becoming actual soup – so he is not a big fan of “veg.” He is a traditional meat-and-potatoes man who rolls his eyes at anything even slightly hippie, Californian, New Agey, or – God forbid – vegan.
Last September something changed for me – maybe I had an epiphany. I watched Forks Over Knives, and after that I watched all the movies about what’s really in our food and how it’s processed. I re-read Fast Food Nation and learned about The China Project. It all shocked me out of my meat-induced stupor. It changed the way I saw the supermarket, meat products, and how I’m raising my children. I like to think I am doing the very best I can to raise my daughters by giving them every opportunity for education and learning and health – but these documentaries stopped me in my tracks.
As a parent of a child-who-needs-protein-or-she-is-prone-to-have-a-meltdown, I’ve insisted she eat some bacon, or nitrate-free salami (at least I’d gotten on the nitrate-free bandwagon), some cheese sticks, cottage cheese, or melted cheese on a rice cake at least every four hours. The thing is – looking back – she is a child who has always preferred vegetables, who loves a bowl of black beans and brown rice with a side of sweet red peppers and hummus. This is a child of the Earth, a tree-hugger who has an innate sense of what’s healthy. And I have started to listen to her more closely. Starting the program has educated me about how many, many delicious plant-based options there are for children (and adults) to get their protein.
I’m not saying I’m ready to have my children go full-on vegan, but I have realized that I’ve been feeding them way too many animal products, and that I can limit a whole lot of the animal products they were eating – without them even noticing any difference. For example, they eat a lot of individual-sized yogurts so we switched from regular yogurts to non-dairy ones like Amande, which is made from almond milk. It’s delicious, and they love it – so why serve yogurt?
If I want to be the best parent I can be, one of the things I have to do is role-model a healthy way of eating. And I have not been doing that, on any level, even though I really thought I was. I wasn’t.
So that’s my backstory. A while back my paleo-eating husband came to me and said he was thinking of trying the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program. A group of yuppie meat-eaters and one vegan at his office were thinking about doing it for the new year. It took me a while to get over my shock that he would actually try something like this. He wanted me to do it with him for health, so I got a book – The Kind Diet, by Alicia Silverstone (what a book! get it, get it!), and we signed up for the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart program (I love Dr. Neil Barnard, the man who started it, even though he looks like he really needs to eat a sandwich. In this video he talks about what a healthy diet is for children.)
So far I’m on day 5 and I’m loving what I’m eating, am starting to feel different, and have already lost five pounds, which I think is pretty astonishing. Anyway, I’ll post my vegan Bridget Jones-style diary of how it’s going soon. In the meantime, a thought: it is possible – and maybe even delightful – for a hardcore meat eater to go vegan.
Some Interesting Links
- Bill Clinton on why he went vegan
- Bill Clinton talking to Ellan about going vegan
- Alicia Silverstone’s website, The Kind Life
- An average woman’s testimonial about the benefits of going vegan
- The 21-Day Vegan Kickstart Program
- The China Study
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