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Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Vegan Journey

When people see how I eat (and how my daughter and husband also eat most of the time) they have varying reactions. Some people poke fun that all we eat is "rabbit food." Some people argue that we must not be getting all the protein/calcium/whathaveyou that we need. And some people express admiration, quickly following that they just couldn't "give up meat." They just "love it too much."

I try to remind myself that it is hard to change old habits overnight. I didn't become vegetarian that quickly- this has been a slow journey over about 5 years, and I "slipped up" and ate meat quite a few times. I used to think it tasted good- I was able to separate what it actually is (a carcass of what was once a sentient being, possibly ridden with disease, and likely to cause illness) from the ingrained idea that it is food. (Note: I don't judge people for eating meat- I used to myself. I focus on the benefits of getting more whole and natural plant matter instead of avoiding entire food groups. If this leads to vegetarian or vegan eating, so be it- but it does not have to be all or nothing.)

My journey began with college- I rarely ate beef, chicken, pork, or fish while away at school. I just couldn't afford it! I would eat it when I went home on holidays or for summer, since that was what my mom would cook. Since I was living so frugally, eating it at those times felt indulgent. To be honest, I enjoyed it. While at school, I may have been vegetarian by default, but I wasn't eating all that healthfully by any means. There was a lot of Ramen soup, mac and cheese, pasta and jarred tomato sauce, tuna fish, eggs, and some frozen vegetables here and there. We also ate out a lot- Cheesecake Factory, diners, and Chinese food mostly. As a result, I wasn't experiencing excellent health.

Once out of college and in our first apartment, I took a real interest in mindful eating. I had a real job, more money, and most importantly a refrigerator in which to put the food. We bought a really good set of pans, started cooking more complex dishes, and made less and less mac and cheese. At that point we still made and ate chicken about once a week, beef once every two weeks on average. Meat was still expensive, it was cheaper to eat pierogies and pasta. We did start buying more fruit and vegetables, albeit still frozen. We also learned to cook fish, mostly tilapia. We switched from cow's milk to soy milk- I believed it must be healthier for some reason. (Since then, we have switched to almond milk.)

Then, about five years ago we bought a house, had more kitchen space, and also a bit more money. I would toy with the idea of never eating animal flesh again, but it seemed too limited. Chris would tell me there was no way he would do it. Then we both started doing some research as to how meat gets to our plate- we learned about factory farming, antibiotics, the impact of meat consumption on the environment, etc. We saw films like Supersize Me and Food, Inc. That's when I decided it wasn't going to be that hard after all to just stop eating meat, especially when I considered the huge impact it can have on so many things.  Chris decided he wouldn't eschew meat completely, but he would be more mindful in the meat he did choose- it would have to be organic and grassfed/pastured. (Although, organic, grassfed meat is VERY expensive, so he still rarely eats meat.) He also eats a lot of seafood, except for crustaceans because of an allergy.

That is about the point we are at now, except that lately I personally have been taking it one step further. I have always had eggs, cheese, butter, and ice cream. But a lot of the dairy we were eating is fattening, organic dairy is limited in availability or expensive, and there is not all that much nutrition in dairy despite what the industry says. Chris loves eggs, but I have been eating them less and less- some days I am completely turned off to the taste and texture. I look back and remember how impossible it seemed to NOT eat meat, and only recently I thought the same of eggs and cheese.

Maybe this all means I am slowly becoming vegan. Instead of ice cream when sitting down to a movie I find myself craving homemade popcorn, sugar snap peas, or a piece of dark chocolate. My body literally does not want the ice cream, which I find bizarre, but it is a welcome change.

How have your eating habits changed over the years? What influences changes in your diet- money, ethics/morals, family/friends?

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