Aug 12, 2009

The Greener Side

"But when it comes to bad for the environment, nothing - literally - compares with eating meat. The business of raising animals for food causes about 40 percent more global warming than all cars, trucks, and planes combined. If you care about the planet, it's actually better to eat a salad in a Hummer than a cheeseburger in a Prius."
-Bill Maher

I have recently begun the process of transitioning from gluttonous omnivore to equally gluttonous vegan. This has garnered me the expected level of ridicule and criticism, both humorous, which I enjoy and participate in, and malicious, which I resent, especially given the sources from which that variety invariably comes. It hasn't evoked quite the level of vitriol that my body art choices of yore did, but it's a spirited second. In my days as a meat-eater, I too looked down my nose at the granola gang, and was frightfully put out by the mere thought of having one to dinner. I get it! My previous views toward vegetarians and vegans have afforded me a some pragmatism for dealing with the reactions my current dietary choice has brought me. Some. Not an infinite measure. My patience for the latter form has pretty much been tapped. So, in favour of losing my temper, I chose instead to vent here, and, hopefully, coherently explain my position. I hope to briefly detail the events that led me to where I am, and assuming I remember to do so, rebut the common criticisms I've been facing.

1. The Build-up
I got engaged. Then I bought my wedding dress. Then I wrote a thesis, and in the process became a little overweight. The wedding dress still fit, but not in a way that I would want to have documented in a wedding album. In particular, my arms had become the size of an average woman's thigh, and my wedding dress was strapless. Not a good combination! It was six months away from the wedding, and while I had a reasonable amount of time to get into a shape other than round, I did need to be more than passive about it.

For me, the classic restrictive diets serve only to remind me of the wonderful cheesecakes and fries I'm not eating to the point that my self-deprivation explodes into a frenzied binge and I end up consuming more calories than I would in a normal day. Exercise works pretty well for me, so I hauled out my The Firm Body Sculpting Systems and set to working out daily. That was great for toning, but for the purpose of reducing my actual mass, some alteration to my diet needed to happen. As I mentioned, I am a gluttonous pig, so reducing the volume of food I eat invariably leads to disaster. To accommodate my big appetite, I decided to aim for high-fibre food (brown rice, lots of pears and celery, etc.). I also decided to cut out dairy, a mixture of my new fun lactose intolerance and a helpful dietary hint I got from talking to a new mother. She was skinny and attributed her slim figure to being forced to go dairy-free so that she could breastfeed her colicky child.

2. The Pesco-Ovo-Vegan
I was reasonably happy with the weight loss I was achieving when I ran into a different problem. I was living in Austin, Minnesota for six months before I got married, and worked beside the Spam factory. Thank you economy, the ration-esque treat was in record demand and the Hormel plant was working overtime trying to fill demand. The town reeked constantly. The air was saturated with the smell of either seasoned pork, which was bad, or raw pig meat, which was rancid. The move to excluding meat from my diet stemmed rather organically from this half-year long olfactory assault. I was at this point still eating eggs and fish.

3. Ready-Steady-Cook!
I'm now married and living in the wonderfully liberal Northeast. I have a colleague, who together with his wife, is a full vegan, and I have found him to be a wonderful source of recipes and information. On their advice, I bought the Uncheese Cookbook, which has exposed me to a whole new battery of cooking techniques. I have learned so many new things about how foods work together in recipes, and I am ceaselessly amazed at what can be replicated in vegan form. The thing I love most is finding new challenges in cooking. I have gotten as good as I plan to for the majority of things I make, so adding a whole set of restrictions has been like advancing to a more difficult level in a computer game. Otherwise, the daily task of making dinner becomes more and more of a chore. Adding to this challenge is the leaps and bounds my multitasking skills have made in catering also for a husband who has no interest in trying vegan food.

I decided to extend the culinary challenge by fully excluding animal products from my diet; basically, to see if I could. This was also prompted by a few other factors. The first was my health. A mixture of my restricted diet and yoga (the exercises in The Firm were too much for my weak knees) have me feeling healthier and happier than I have ever felt in my entire life, and I reasoned by moving further into veganism, I would feel even better. The second factor is my increasing concern was the environment. I'm not getting into that debate here as I have already rambled enough, but there is rock-solid proof that excluding animal products helps.

So that's pretty much it. I am at a point now where I describe myself as transitioning to veganism. I am still working down my supplies of Worcestershire sauce, Fish sauce and cane sugar as I don't feel that the wastefulness of throwing them away helps anything. I am also still unwittingly eating animal products that in foods I assume are vegan (feel free to add to my list in the comments!!!). I also feel that I haven't been vegan long enough to identify myself as one. I would liken it to quitting smoking, and the length of time it took before I felt comfortable calling myself an ex-smoker.

The main criticism I have been getting is that I am being difficult. I can't say that I disagree, as I have felt that of other vegetarians and vegans in the past. That said, I have tried my hardest to minimise that side-effect by agreeing to bring my dinner with me if I were going to someone's house. As mentioned, I have been happy to cook two meals each night, to avoid forcing my husband to engage in my lifestyle decisions. Finally, I have been very careful to not be holier than thou. I have not said word one to anyone about their eating choices, environmental impact or health issues. It's not even that I have been holding back from doing so. This is my personal journey and I have no desire to convert anyone to over to it. I initially made the promise to eat non-vegan options if I were at a restaurant or someone's house where no vegan alternative was available. However, as I have decided to move further into a vegan lifestyle, I have since decided against doing that. I do not feel this is hypocrisy as I was not being disingenuous at the time, so much I see it as a progression in my own personal choices.

Another point some people like to make is that this is just a phase. Maybe. In fact knowing me, I'd go so far as to say probably. It's safe to assume that I won't ever return to dairy as I seem unable to consume it without being in pain, but I may someday return to eating meat. However, for now, I feel happy and healthy with the way I am living, and I really resent that people would try to take something away from me that makes me feel good when it harms no one else. I hope to remain committed to this lifestyle. I think this would have an even better chance if I had people's support, or at least if I lacked their abject disapproval. It's not even a case of committing to this lifestyle per se. I have not missed anything. My favourite food is Thai cuisine, which lends itself to a vegan lifestyle, so I may have it easier than others. I can honestly say that I have experienced no cravings or longings for any of my previous animal-product containing fares, and I can only hope that this will translate to a long-lived success in veganism.

It has been implied that the statements I made in the past about vegetarians should preclude me from being allowed to give up meat. I admit I made derogatory comments about this lifestyle; comments I now understand to have come from a place of ignorance. I do not feel, however, that I have to go down with the ship to speak. I admit now that I was wrong and my opinions changed as I obtained more experience and information. It drives me insane when politicians are accused of flip-flopping, as I feel such an atmosphere inhibits growth and progress, and I no more plan to pander to such accusations in my personal life.

The more ridiculous things that I get asked are why can't I just be normal, or why can't I just eat meat/normal food? Of course I can. I haven't sustained any injury to my lower mandible, nor have I developed a neurological disorder whereby I would forget how to chew! I choose not to. Simple as that. I am still working toward finding my place on the spectra of diets and lifestyles. For instance, I do not plan to rid my house of animal-containing products. As long as I don't eat the bar soap in my shower, I don't see it as an affront to being a vegan. Nor do I feel that stealing honey from bees is exploitation of animals. There are those that are more lax than I am, and there are certainly those that are more extreme than I am. I don't yet know where I am on the normal scale, but with each bit of information I get about the food I eat, and the world I live in, I am slowly figuring it out.

Here are some resources that have been really helpful:
Choose Veg Recipes
Veg Web Recipes
Is It Vegan?

2 comments:

Alisa said...

Good luck! Your open-mindedness will certainly help in finding what works best for you.

Faith said...

Your self-control is impressive -- way to go! I'm proud of you!

I don't think it's silly to have your opinions change over time. At least you're willing to recognize your prior attitudes were ignorant, and you're willing evolve. The thing I find crazy is making two separate dinners! I think I'd tell my husband he was on his own if he didn't like what I was making, but who knows.

If you tire of your resources, one of our new regular knitters is a vegan and I'm sure she could make some good recommendations.

10 Things in 1000 days

I decided to rationalize my impulse purchasing of knitting books by setting myself a personal challenge.
Here's how long I have left:

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