ANYONE WHO HAS been a vegan for longer than a week comes to realise that ours is a ‘quiet revolution’. After more than 20 years as a vegetarian, I’ve now been vegan for just over a year. So far my journey has been exciting, rewarding, revealing and frustrating – only frustrating because it appears there are so few other vegans out there that it is easy for us to be ignored. It seems too that generally we are a polite bunch who tend to prefer not to upset any apple carts (or should I say pie carts?). I’ve sat politely through many a dinner while my dining companions compare notes on the state of their health; cholesterol lowering pills and blood pressure medication are cheerily discussed as course after course arrives reassuringly loaded with animal protein and belts are loosened another notch. Any tactful suggestions politely delivered that perhaps an adjustment in diet could be a better fix, hits a brick wall every time.
As a recent convert, I am still asking myself why it took me so long to make the change. Since most vegetarian diets substitute meat, poultry and fish with an increased amount of dairy products and eggs, most vegetarians continue to consume significant amounts of animal protein. I just don’t know how I ignored this fact for so long. Perhaps I fell into line with the popular belief that animal protein is an essential component of a balanced diet. I now know that this is simply not true. I highly recommend that anyone even vaguely willing to acknowledge that food choices affect our health, reads The China Study by Dr T. Colin Campbell. If you want to live longer and enjoy your years, as opposed to just taking longer to die while living with crippling and debilitating illnesses, this book will change your life.
Contrary to popular belief, being vegan does not mean that you have to live on carrot sticks and lettuce leaves and always feel hungry; that couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality for me has been that preparing vegan meals has been a simple transition. In fact I have found that many of the dishes that I previously made routinely adding dairy products can be produced quite successfully without them. I have even perfected my own recipe for a delicious brown rice pumpkin risotto – made easily in a crockpot. Who would have thought you could make a good risotto adding no dairy and using brown rice? The addition of a tablespoon of Tahini at the end of cooking turns this into a masterpiece – but it is equally delicious without it.
Hubby has joined me on my vegan journey (amazingly, straight from the meat eating world, and fresh from reading the above-mentioned book!) and for us eating out, something we enjoy doing, continues to be our biggest challenge. Restaurants that offer vegetarian options insist on loading these up as much as possible with dairy and/or eggs, rendering them just about as attractive to vegans as a big fat steak. So far, apart from a Mexican meal at San Francisco airport (of all places!), where the simple omission of the added cream and cheese to the bean dish was all that was required, only Indian or Thai restaurants have been able to accommodate us with a decent choice selection. I’ll talk about some of these places in future blogs.
A couple of decades ago when I became vegetarian it seemed a bold move. Family and friends respected my decision, but I don’t know that any of them ever really understood my reasoning or thought it was completely ‘normal’. These days I’m finding much the same thing. The word ‘vegan’ seems to be unsettling to most people; it mostly elicits a sympathetic response, as if surely no sane person would choose what is seen to be such a restrictive way of eating. Interestingly, the reality for me has been very different and I have found the change to be quite liberating. For any of us to make a change to something as fundamental as our diet, there needs to be a reason and the promise of a true benefit. I strongly believe that adopting a vegan diet is the single most important change that any of us can make towards improved health today and better health outcomes in the future. Food choices really do affect our health. CARRIE STEELE