On to the topic of the post...
In December I reached a landmark that quite frankly baffles me. I have been an "accidental vegetarian" for 11 years now. I say "accidental" because I never expected or planned to be one. A rather gruesome and yucky incident prompted me to go this route (I will spare you the details). Suprisingly, the lifestyle has just stuck!
I think that the reason that I have never regretted this move is that the benefits of going vegetarian were apparent almost immediately. Just prior to the transition, I had been to the doctor several times because I was feeling inexplicably fatigued most of the time. They had even tested my thyroid to determine if this could be the problem, but alas it was not. In a relatively short period of time after giving up meat my energy levels returned and I experienced other benefits such as weight loss (that needed to happen) and a genuine appreciation and desire for a well rounded diet. I did make the mistake that most vegetarians make at first of substituting cheese wherever I had been using meat which raised my cholesterol for a smidgen of time, but I was able to correct this quickly by learning to appreciate a variety of veggies.
I have always been sensitive about some of the stereotypes that I fear will be assigned to me with this choice. It seems that there are those that assume that vegetarians are hippie, free-loving, Athiests that put the needs of animals before those of people. Things that I am not: A hippie, an Athiest, or someone that puts the needs of animals before humans. If you are any of these things, no offense. I just don't enjoy having assumptions made about me just because I don't eat meat. (Just to clarify on the last point: I love animals! I just happen to get a little annoyed when people place the needs of their pets before the needs of the people in their lives. I am definitely not one of those. Sorry Murphy and Maisie! ) I do this mostly because I feel that there have been some very concrete health benefits in my life.
Lately I have noticed that yet again I am not feeling my best (and of course that pesky weight is creeping back on) and I have been considering upping my commitment to the vegetarianism by going completely vegan. This may feel a little out of left field but it is something that I have actually considered for some time. When I first moved to Missouri I gave it a try for about a month, but found that it really wasn't feasible because there was really only one store in town where I could get some of the specialty foods that I needed. Here in Ann Arbor, I live 1/2 mile from Whole Foods and 1 mile from Trader Joes. Between the two of them I should be more than okay.
This might seem a bit extreme, but frankly, the health issues that have plagued my friends and family in the past few years have been extreme in their own right. I will admit that I am frightened and at this point am willing to consider drastic measures in order to increase my chances of good health. I know that I am not alone in the desire to explore the affects of diet and environment on health as my sister and I have had numerous discussions on things of this nature. It seems that we are on a mission to reduce the use of as many chemicals as possible in our lives. (Hey, she is the Mom and caretaker of a kiddo with cancer. We are entitled to be a little paranoid!) I even stopped using my microwave because... let's face it... there is nothing natural happening in there!
Needless to say, when I read that studies have shown that veganism reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases, my interest piqued. It is also shown to be rare that a vegan would ever develop heart disease, which makes sense given that cholesterol only comes from animal products. (Risk of death from heart attack by average American man: 50% Risk of death from heart attack by average American vegetarian man: 15%
Risk of death from heart attack by average American purely vegetarian man: 4% http://www.soystache.com/environm.htm) The fact that livestock are very rarely fed a vegetarian diet anymore also just creeps me out. Again... not natural. I just don't want to eat that!!!
Naturally, I have concerns. First and foremost, I worry how a decision like this would affect those around me, especially my wonderful, yet carnivorous husband. I never, never, never want to inconvenience anyone with a choice that I make. It is, afterall, my choice! I try to be as easy going of a vegetarian as possible but I always secretly worry that I am making things difficult for others and that they are just not telling me. (Feel free to use the comment section for an airing of grievances. I need to hear it!) I think that if I do this, I will confine it to my own home. If I come to your home for dinner, I will eat the cheese and consider it a lovely treat for the evening! Let's order a pizza! People have already made allowances for me as a vegetarian and I just don't think that I could ask them to take this extra step. It just wouldn't be fair, and I would feel guilty.
I was worried at first about getting sufficient vitamins, protein, iron, calcium etc., but over the past few weeks I have used an on-line tool that tracks the nutritional value of everything that I eat and I have found that almost consistently I have ingested more in each of these categories than I need before I even take my vitamins.
Mostly I am worried about the sacrifice that comes with giving up certain items. They are making decent replacements for cheese in terms of mozzerella and cheddar, but what about the more pungent cheeses like feta? I love feta! I also love candy and was shocked to find exactly how much of it involves gelatin and egg by products. I guess that the point here is that I should be eating less candy, though. :)
Along the lines of candy, I did worry about baking because I love to do it, especially on the weekends. I will be testing different options out in the coming weeks. I did, however, figure out how to make a vegan version of my Raspberry Truffles and I swear to you that they are superior to the originals! (No really, I did a blind taste test with Mick!)
The last concern of course is the perceptions that come with being a vegetarian being increased with being a vegan. I even read that some people consider vegetarianism to be anti-Christian! (I don't get it.) When I see statistics such as these:
- Human beings who could be fed the grain and soybeans eaten by U.S. livestock: 1.3 billion
- Percentage of food grown in United States eaten by human beings: 20
- Percentage of food grown in United States eaten by livestock: 80
- Number of people who could be adequately fed by the grain saved if
- Americans reduced their intake of meat by only 10%: 60 million
I cannot think of anything more Christian than to give up animal products.
So there you have it. All of my reasons for becoming a vegan, and none of them have to do with animal rights. I have not made a decision yet, and if I do, I think that the transition will be gradual. I may not even tell you. Afterall... you may be my cheese connection!!!