I had several people message me on this blog recently, and ask me why "I don't just come out and say that I am vegan?" Truth is, I'd be a big liar if I did that. I have never claimed to be vegan. I would say that more than 98% of my diet is made up of vegan foods, but to me, and lots of others, vegan means a lot more than that. There are ethical vegans, dietary vegans (I definitely follow a 98% vegan diet). Here is the first definition that I pulled up: "Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose." I do have leather boots and Ugg boots. By that definition, I fail to be vegan. But there are lots of other ways that I fail the "vegan definition" as well. If I was vegan, by this definition, if I want to be strict, I would also avoid honey, as that could be viewed as an exploitation of bees.
Truth be told, if my son is eating something that looks delicious, and I have a bite of it, I don't look at the ingredient list and scan it to make sure there is not an egg in there. I also had some wild caught salmon while I was out to dinner recently. I probably have fish (sushi or salmon) 1-2 times a month. It is usually when I am at a restaurant with a limited selection of veggie dishes. I don't always get to chose where I am dining, so I make due. I usually eat a few ounces and bring the rest home. A couple of weeks ago I was eating a salad at a restaurant, and they had put feta on it. I took as much off as I could, but honestly there were still a couple of pieces on there, and it tasted pretty good, so I didn't sweat it. I have gotten into making vegan cheeses (just posted recipes) lately and they are amazing, so I am not feeling like I am missing out on cheese, but I also didn't freak out and send that salad back. I'm not going to feel guilty about consuming 1/4 oz of feta.
In my opinion, you can't just "turn off" vegan. You either are or you aren't. Granted you can be vegan for a while, and then decide not to be, but it is a big change in lifestyle. Living in L.A., it is common for people to say, "Oh I'm going vegan this week" or, "I was vegan all weekend." Honestly, I am not vegan, and that still rubs me the wrong way. People who are vegan and work very hard to maintain and support that lifestyle probably cringe when they hear people saying they are vegan for a day or a week. To me, vegan is a way of life. I can not say if, and when I will go all the way with that. Right now, I am feeling healthy and strong and my very minimal intake of fish once in a while is not making me feel like a lousy person or anything. I do absolutely love animals and that is a big reason of why am not eating them anymore. When someone says to me, you don't eat your dog, so why would you eat a cow, I actually do get it. I do not find that ridiculous at all. I came at plant based nutrition from a health perspective, but I did "go there". I watched the videos of the slaughterhouses, I watched the cruelty and that definitely makes it even easier for me to stay away. I had never been a fan of eating creatures, however I always felt I needed to to be strong and healthy. I know now that I'm actually stronger and healthier without eating them. Still, if I am out to dinner eating minestrone soup, I usually don't ask if it is made with chicken broth and I'm not going to freak out over it. To call myself a vegan, I would not be able to eat that soup.
I have also, over the years met lots of "junk food vegans". They don't eat animals, but they eat loads of empty calories and NO veggies! Lots of processed and fat laden food is vegan. You can eat a whole jar of nutella, and a coconut milk shake and still be vegan. I have seen vegan oreos, and there are lots of vegan cakes at Whole Foods. Loaded with sugar, and fat they will do nothing for your health or well being. I have met lots of obese vegans as well, and they have maintained that they are healthier than someone who is obese and eats meat. I'm not so sure that is true. I went to this amazing vegan restaurants in LA and got vegan crabcakes. They were freaking DELISH! But they were definitely a treat. They were deep-fried and definitely not pushing heavily into the nutrient dense category. They hit the "saving the animals" mark, but I'm not so sure about the "healthier mark." Vegan recipes and websites are awesome. I get tons of recipes off of them. I often do have to reduce the amount of oil or nuts in them to keep my fat intake lower than these recipes would have it. Whole food plant based covers the "junk food is not plant based so don't eat" it in title. The healthfulness of vegan is open to interpretation a bit, where lots of doctors and researchers who are spreading the plant based word are trying to define the diet, and limit the ability to follow it and eat crap.
Often, when I say I am not vegan, people go through the lacto-ovo or pescaterian labels and ask if I am one of these. I always maintain that I eat a whole food plant-based diet. I think that explains it the best. The first definition for plant based diet that came up in my search was : "a plant-based diet is one based on vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruit, with little or no animal products (including dairy). It may refer to: Vegan diet: a plant-based diet with no food from animal sources." I am sure there are some people who would not love this definition due to the "little or no animal products", but I actually dig it. It is how I define how I eat. I do try to stick with plants, but I do give myself some leeway to have 3 ounces of salmon on a Saturday night out at a restaurant, or sushi once a month or so. People that are switching over to this diet need to define what it means to them. If you know you are the kind of person who can not just have a little of something without going off, and craving more, then go all the way and don't let those temptations enter. My husband says that I have freaky good self control and can not expect that from others. If that is the case, then deviating out of the plant kingdom is not a great practice. We are better off without any animal protein anyway.
Would it be easy for me to be a dietary vegan? Yes, I am so close right now. But at this point I don't need a label and I am happy doing that I am doing. Someone who is a practicing vegan recently wrote to me to ask why I do not define myself as vegan, and he had a great response to my answer (which was basically the gist of this blog). He said, "I totally get it, and in the end it is a win for the animals and a win for your health." I couldn't agree more.
Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!!!!
It is a choice we all make around the holidays, and it starts with cute kids walking around dressed like zombies, cheerleaders, and various characters from Frozen and ends on New Years Day when you look in the mirror and either say, "I am headed into this year with a great head start, or, holy crap, what the hell just happened here?" We all have a choice. We can nibble on Halloween candy for weeks or GET RID OF IT. We can plan a Thanksgiving dinner revolving around a dead bird, or revolve it around beautiful veggie dishes. We will head to parties and outings and eat drink and be merry, and this doesn't have to involve cheese, creamy dips and puffed pastry. Instead, we can get creative with vibrant meals that will nourish us, and give us the energy to get through the holidays happier and healthier this year. There is no need to feel deprived, you just have to make new discoveries in food that you haven't tried before. Start planning your plant based Thanksgiving dinner now and get excited about it!
The temptations will all be there again this year. If you have recently embarked on your plant based journey it may be especially hard, because if you give in to cheese or meat just a few times, it will be harder to go back to eating clean. Your brain chemistry responds very quickly to calorie dense food, cravings kick in, and you are off to the races. I know this and I am staying away. I am fooled every year when I think some indulgence in Halloween candy won't start the process. If you haven't seen Dr Doug Lisle's talk called The Pleasure Trap yet, definitely check it out.
If you gave into Halloween candy, evaluate how it made you feel and ask yourself if it was worth it? I'm guessing not. The holidays make us all feel like we need a treat, and granted we all do once in a while. There are lots of treats that aren't processed and don't involve butter, gravy, cream or a big hunk of meat. I have had so many people tell me that that they would love to go plant based, but they "just couldn't deprive themselves like that." I NEVER feel deprived. I did before when I was watching the calories in everything that I ate and gaining weight anyway. I don't anymore! Learning new recipes or changing my old ones is a fun challenge.
Summer is over, so it's time to dive into satisfying soups and stews. We are kind of salad-ed out since we had SO many this summer so we are welcoming some warmth. All of my soups and stews were meat based before, so I need to find new ones that are still yummy and satisfying. One of my family's faves was turkey chili. I recently had been adding more and more veggies to it and decreasing the amount of turkey, but 2 of my guys do not like beans so no go there. No meat or beans in there ends up weird, and it is no longer chili, so I needed to try something new. The other day I tried using just 2 oz ground turkey in big batch with a bag of the Beyond Meat fiesta flavor. They LOVED it! I made it with carrots, yellow, red and orange peppers, onions, a jar of chopped tomatoes (better than canned due to BPA lining in canned tomatoes), lots of cumin and chili powder, and I cooked it all down for a while. Next, I heated my Beyond Meat up in 1 t olive oil and threw it in the chili right when it was done. It held the meat-like consistency and it was a huge hit. I also crunched up some organic corn chips in there. For myself and Dunc, I did all the veggies and added a bunch of cooked beans (pinto and black). SO GOOD!!! Next time I will use just Beyond Meat and take the turkey out completely. No one felt cheated and everyone was satisfied and there was so little turkey in there that I don't think they will miss it. I am excited to experiment with lots of different kinds of squash this week. Will post some recipes and pics as I do.
Play with your recipes and don't underestimate your kids. I have so many parents tell me that their kids would NEVER eat kale and they come over my house and scarf down a kale salad. Cook with them, and shop with them. Let them pick a new type of vegetable out and have fun with it. Get them invested in the process. Have them help plan the meals and help cook them too. I definitely feel like a short order cook a lot of the time, but it is getting easier and I am getting better at breaking it down and making something for everyone without losing my mind.
Holidays are busy times and there is nothing wrong with keeping meals very simple. Some dinners consist of a bunch of cut up veggies on a platter in the middle of the table, with sides of rice, beans, peas, and/or quinoa. Other nights, I will saute or roast lots of veggies and tofu and serve them over a bowl of quinoa or brown rice, or serve them with corn tortillas so everyone can make their own "tacos." These simple meals have more nutrition in them than anything I could buy at the market, take out of a package or dump out of a can, so I take the 1/2 hour it takes to prepare them while the kids do their homework. It would take me longer to get takeout!
Do treat yourself this holiday season! Try baking a some pears sprinkled with cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of maple crystals or syrup, at 350 degrees for 30 mins, or until they are tender and drizzle a little cashew cream on them. So good, so easy, and such a treat! Indulge in good health and breeze through the holidays this year. It will feel so much better than packing the Holiday 10 on, then trying to squeeze into those jeans in January. Enjoy your plant based meals and enjoy the energy to get through the holiday season energized.