When my husband and I first decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle, my husband couldn’t even say the word “Vegan” out loud. It might as well have been a swear word.
“Plant based, whole food!” he would say.
“Why not Vegan?” I would inquire?
“I’m not a tree-hugging-hippie-animal-lover who pours red paint all over people. And don’t tell anyone.”
In 2015, it is incredibly easy to be vegan, even if the word still conjures images of skinny activists strumming on acoustic guitars in Costa Rica while saving the manatees. And if that’s what vegans do, sign me up. Sounds fun.
The truth is, I honestly wouldn’t mind escaping to Costa Rica for a long, long time. My husband and I have had a lot of stress in our lives recently. We moved out to Cincinnati in a whirlwind with a six month old baby. We had to navigate a transition from furnished temporary housing to unfurnished temporary housing. (We currently have two Kroger camping chairs, a slew of baby toys, and a cardboard box in our “living” room.) Then my uncle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Then my perfectly healthy grandfather passed away rather peacefully in his sleep. Our house back East refused to sell. In just four short months, we have driven stretches of over ten hours on seven separate occasions. With a baby.
To complicate matters, I enjoy a good challenge. To the point where it could be viewed as a detriment. Since I had no idea this was all going to occur, I had signed up for the Flying Pig Half Marathon, joined three different moms clubs and the Junior League of Cincinnati because we needed to make friends in a new city where we didn’t know a soul, started researching and meeting with education based non-profits where I could get involved, and started writing for the Cincinnati Moms Blog. And making the transition from working ridiculous hours to staying at home with the baby (a completely different kind of work), has been difficult for me since I obviously have issues sitting still. “Nap traps” in tiny apartment with no furniture and no outdoor space are rough.
We were exhausted, constantly cranky, and insanely frustrated. I cried. A lot. But I’m not seeking sympathy. I considered omitting this, but I think it’s necessary to set the scene. I don’t like sharing negative things; I think there is enough negative in the world without me whining about my problems. The point is, we were in a dark place.
So one night, my husband came home and I called, “Intervention!”
I knew this had to stop. And I knew everything that was really bothering me was way beyond my control. In fact, that was the most frustrating aspect: there was nothing I could do to fix any of it. So I started thinking, well, what can I fix? What can I do to put a little more joy into my life, a little more pep in my step, a little more positive distraction in my day? What do I love to do?
Well, I love to cook. And I LOVE food. And I love a good challenge. And I love how I feel when I’m being healthy.
We had been eating a lot of takeout. It’s comfort food, it’s easy, and we didn’t have any kitchen supplies. If you open the drawers right now, you will find plastic cutlery. No joke. This is something I could focus on. This is something I could do.
So I sat us both down and we watched Forks Over Knives (on Facebook: Forks Over Knives’ Facebook Page) and Fed Up (on Facebook: Fed Up’s Facebook Page). Both are currently streaming on Netflix. Since 2010, I had been reading about nutrition. As the resident cook in the family, I tend to make mostly healthy food. But we did eat out a lot, and I did love my cheese. And the occasional brownie. Ok, pan of brownies.
I think the biggest takeaways for me from the documentaries are:
1. Americans eat a ridiculous amount of sugar. Oftentimes, we are completely unaware of how much sugar we are consuming. (Check your milk label, your orange juice label, your yogurt label, etc.) The MAXIMUM recommended amount of sugar for men is 9 teaspoons and only 6 teaspoons for women. (Or approximately 70.5 grams for men and 47 grams for women.) To put that in perspective, a 20 oz bottle of soda contains 17 teaspoons of sugar. Almost 3x the amount allotted for women in ONE DAY. Between orange juice, milk, and cereal, a lot of people consume their daily allowance just at breakfast! Also note that none of the labels on food tell you what percentage of sugar it contains for the daily diet. Mostly because it would be off the chart. Imagine reading: 220% of your daily sugar… sugar lobbyists certainly don’t want you to see that! I highly recommend you read more about this here: Heart.org
2. All of those commercials I saw as a child: “Beef, it’s what for dinner,” “Pork, the other white meat,” “Milk does a body good”, “The Incredible, Edible, Egg,” etc. Not once have I seen an ad for a carrot. Lobbyists have a lot of power. And now I know why the cheese section in grocery stores is out of control. I feel manipulated.
Yes, I realize that every opinion has someone hoping to profit from it. But, because of my uncle’s terminal diagnosis, I’ve read a ton of articles about nutrition from a variety of sources in the past four months. And I’ve always been a big fan of Hippocrates when it comes to medicine. All of these resources have forced me to really think about what I was eating, why I was eating it, and if I even liked it.
After watching, my husband decided he wanted to try to go entirely plant based. That wasn’t really what I was expecting; my goal in watching the documentaries was more to motivate ourselves to just start eating healthier. But, I figured, why not? Let’s give it a whirl. It will be a new challenge for sure.
Everyone’s first reaction was, “What about cheese?!?!”
The second reaction was, “Where are you going to get protein?!?!”
Honestly, we’ve been doing this for a little over a month. My husband said he wouldn’t do it anymore if 1. It were too difficult and 2. If he didn’t feel satiated. After three weeks, we had pretty much kicked our sugar addiction to the curb, we are sleeping more soundly, we feel a ton better, our moods have improved, and we have a ton more energy. In fact, I haven’t felt this good since I was a little kid. Which is especially helpful when there is an actual little kid who is crawling and climbing and trying to walk. I don’t miss cheese. And I eat plenty of protein. But more importantly, I’m getting plenty of fiber, which I know I didn’t eat enough of previously. I’m cooking a lot more, and I never get that gross where-are-my-elastic-pants feeling.
I’m not writing this to convince you to go vegan. But I am writing this because I think we all need to take a look at our diets. I grew up eating pizza every Friday, going to McDonalds at least once a week, and drinking soda warm because it never lasted long enough in our house to bother putting it in the fridge. And some may look at me and say, well, you’re fine. But, I wasn’t fine. I was stressed out and had awful sleeping patterns.
So what do we eat?
Well, this week I made Korean BBQ sliders from a NY Times recipe substituting seitan instead of beef with a side of sweet potato fries with a sweet mustard dipping sauce:
Mac and “Cheese” with NO faux vegan cheese involved (I’m not a fan of faux cheese whether it’s vegan or not):
Vegan pancakes with only 2 ingredients, plus water (so easy!):
Sweet potato and quinoa “quesadillas”
And because it was National Doughnut Day, vegan doughnuts with a vanilla glaze. Not healthy, I know, but nobody is perfect.
What it boils down to is now that we’ve done it, we can’t imagine going back. We just feel so good! Plus, we want better for our daughter. Being vegan doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly start eating weird food. But for me, it makes me really examine the food I am eating. For instance, I buy the Crispy Oats for her from Aldi rather than Cheerios because the Crispy Oats have 0 grams of sugar. We won’t be going through any drive-throughs. I hope she never has a soda. Right now, she eats all the healthy foods. She’s had Indian, Thai, tofu, an entire ear of corn right off the cob, roasted sweet potatoes, quinoa, and soba noodles. Lots of foods with only one ingredient. (For instance peas are just peas. Pears are just pears.) When she gets older, she will always order off the adult menu if we go out to eat. Why, oh why do we put all the bad foods on the children’s menu? How does that make any sense? Chicken nuggets, macaroni and “cheese,” pizza, hot dogs… Ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on school lunch.
By the way, you can totally eat unhealthily on a vegan diet. Note the doughnuts above. Just because a cake is vegan doesn’t mean you can eat it with abandon. This is about eating more vegetables, more fruit, more fiber, more one ingredient food. This is also about eschewing saturated fat, cholesterol, processed food, and sugar.
But this isn’t solely about nutrition. Yes, that’s how it started for me, but through my research, I’ve become aware of so many other issues. This is about the environment, sustainable food, sentient beings, farming practices, etc. I realize there is a difference between being plant-based and being “vegan.” The more I read, the more I learn, the more I have begun to associate with all aspects of a more “vegan” lifestyle, though I am definitely not perfect. It may not have been my original intent to go vegan, but I’m glad I’m here now, for a multitude of reasons.
But just in case you’re into numbers and weight loss is your goal… my husband has lost 16 pounds in a month and I have lost 12. But for me, it’s not about the numbers. It’s about how I feel. And I feel amazing.
Some great resources in the area if you are thinking about being more plant based:
3. Read more about local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and other options at Cincinnati Moms Blog: Why I Am Excited About Our CSA Produce Box
4. Amma’s Kitchen: Indian restaurant in Cincinnati with a full vegan hot lunch buffet on Wednesdays! (Cold bar may not be vegan) Amma’s Kitchen
6. Happy Chicks Bakery: Vegan Bakery in Cincinnati: Happy Chicks Bakery
7. Peace Street Bakery: Vegan Bakery in Cincinnati: Peace Street Bakery
8. Grateful Grahams: Vegan graham crackers based out of Covington, KY Grateful Grahams
9. This is prime time for the Farmers’ Markets (Find one close to you right here on Cincinnati Moms Blog: Farmers’ Markets)
10. Cincinnati has the healthiest grocery stores ever, in my humble opinion. Kroger has a ton of vegan options. But there’s also Fresh Thyme, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and Aldi. In NJ, you would have to go to a specialty store to find vegan goods. Here, they are ubiquitous. So have at it!
12. More vegan restaurants and vegan-friendly restaurants in Cincinnati: Cincinnati Vegan
13. Love animals? Check out: Sunrise Sanctuary right in Marysville, OH.
14. Interested in finding out more? Recipes, local going-ons, reviews, products, issues etc.? I’m starting a community via Facebook for local vegan, and veggie goodness. We can learn and explore great options in this city together! And please feel free to ask me any questions. I may be new at this, but I have already done a pretty solid amount of research. Check it out here: Cincy Vegan Facebook
Also, if you’re interested in Vegan Resources in general:
Recipes, Information, Articles, Products
Find vegan friendly eateries and stores all around the world! Also available as an app: Happy Cow
Cinnamon Snail Food Truck NYC/NJ: my first true vegan experience, and the source of the recipe for those doughnuts posted above. If you’re every in the NYC/NJ area, try this food truck out whether you are vegan or not. Great sandwiches, pastries, breakfasts… But in the meantime, Adam Sobel’s recently released “Street Vegan” cookbook is awesome and I highly recommend it.
Big Fat Vegan Radio Podcast This is so fun to listen to and one of the podcasters is a vegan drag queen. I mean, really, how much better does it get? And you know I love my podcasts… Read more about that on Cincinnati Moms Blog: Serial, Undisclosed, Cincinnati Podcast Club
Hampton Creek: The fastest growing food company on Earth
Farm Sanctuary: Rescuing animals and educating people on factory farming
Our Hen House: Also a podcast, TV show, magazine: a nonprofit trying to end the exploitation of animals
Feel free to share your favorite resources in the comments!