Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I Became a Vegan: or How I'm Going to Live Forever Until I Get Hit by a Bus : Part 2

On to part 2! I want to start out with a little disclaimer/explanation. In writing the story of how and why I became a vegan, I am in no way trying to judge or offend people who eat animal products (that would be my entire readership...if you all left I'd just be typing to myself like the Internet version of the weirdos at the back of city buses). I am a vegan but I do not think that all of my friends and family need to be vegans, too, just as I'm a mother but I know motherhood is not the right choice for everyone either(and for my male readers, both may be impossible ;)). I'm not a fuzzy-hugger vegan. By that, I mean I didn't see a sad video of cows being driven to the slaughterhouse and decide to become a vegan (though I have seen such videos and they are sad). I'm a vegan because I truly believe a plant-based diet is healthiest for me and the environment. However, just because the majority of one's diet comes from plant sources, that doesn't mean there isn't room for animal products, also.

Food should bring joy to your life as well as nourish your body. If steak is your favorite food, it doesn't matter what anyone tells you about the cholesterol or saturated fat content, when you put a bite of steak in your mouth, you're going to think, "Yum!" and it's going to satisfy you in a way that a bowl of greens just can't. I know darn well that potato chips are high in fat and sodium and yet I eat them from time to time because they make me happy. All I think people should do is make responsible choices about what they eat. If you crave potato chips as I do, you should limit your portions and eat them only occasionally. If you eat animal products, I think you should choose products from humanely raised animals if you can afford to and you should think of your health when you make choices. In other words, you probably shouldn't eat hot dogs or Big Macs every night, just as I shouldn't be eating vegan junk food every night (yes there is vegan junk food and it is some of the gnarliest stuff out there!).

Now that that's out of the way, my friendly carnivores, on to part 2 of my story:

So, I said before that my choice to be a vegan can be entirely blamed on Rylan (that's right, Ry, you made your mommy the nutty spinach-lover she is today). The beginning of the transition was due to Ry's dairy allergy. The next part of the story began late late at night...well first thing in the morning for me, really. I got up one morning for work at the completely reasonable hour of 2:30 a.m. (that's right, bakers are hardcore!), and switched on the TV while I...(use the Internet ear-plugging trick I taught you in my earlier entry if you're breastfeeding-squeamish)...pumped milk for Rylan (see, told you it could all be traced back to him). I turned on the PBS Create channel because I didn't particularly want to watch anything starring Chuck Norris and a piece of exercise equipment, and there was a cooking show on. Score! The host was a redhead cooking what looked like amazing food - lots of color, lots of soy sauce (yum!). Then there was this weird slightly-mullety looking guy singing '80's-style ballads in the middle for no apparent reason...but I didn't let that faze me. The host was funny, witty, and she obviously knew her way around the kitchen. One episode was all it took. It was called "Christina Cooks" and I was hooked.

I began watching "Christina Cooks" regularly. After awhile (and it took me a-w-h-i-l-e...I blame mommy brain, though natural ditziness could definitely be the culprit), I realized that she never used any meat in her recipes...or milk...or eggs. I was intrigued. I bought one of her books Cooking the Whole Foods Way to see if I would like the recipes at home. Guess what? They were just as yummy on the plate as they looked on TV - well, mostly. I think she underseasons her food. I am Cayenne Meg, after all, so I had to add some heat to many of the dishes, but then they were amazing.

What was more transformative for me than the recipes, though, was the philosophy of eating that came along with them. She argues that a plant-based diet is the healthiest for humans, that there are multiple health risks that can be tied to the consumption of animal products, and that we should all eat more veggies (come on who hasn't heard that one before?).

I was swaying in the direction of veganism at that point, but not entirely convinced. Then, came the time to stop breastfeeding. "Awesome!" I thought, "Cheese party time!" The day I stopped, I started off my celebration in a small way with a cup of Greek yogurt: creamy, delicious and gone far too quickly. I went on with my day. I started to get a stomachache, but I ignored it. The next day, Dylan and I went out to dinner at a great Italian place, Savelli's. The cheese party was on! I ordered cheese sticks, followed by ravioli, and finished with a gigantic cream-stuffed cannolli. Delicious, fabulous, aaaaaahhhhh....uuuuuuuhhhhhhh....oooooooowwwwwww.....aaaaiiiiiiii! By the time we got home, I was doubled over in pain. I'll spare you the exact details, but I will say my diet consisted mainly of a certain minty pink liquid for the next 2 days.

I figured I had just overdone the dairy thing and tried again a couple of days later. I can't remember what I had this time...I think it was something made with dairy like bread or something. Sick. Again. For the whole night.

That's when I realized that during my near-10 month period of abstinence from dairy, my body may have lost the ability to digest it. This isn't too hard to believe as many adults have trouble digesting lactose and adults aren't actually meant to drink milk anyway. It's baby food, and cow baby food at that.

Wow, this is getting long...ok I'll try to limit my verbosity...Basically, it was then that I decided maybe Christina Pirello had a point when she advocated a plant-based diet. She cites a lot of research supporting plant-based diets in her books, but I wasn't quite sure if I should take her word for it since she so clearly has picked a side. I did a little outside research and found out some interesting facts:

The incidence of heart disease is much lower in Asian and Mediterranean countries. The diets in these countries traditionally are high in grains and vegetables and contain only small amounts of animal products, if any. Most meat consumed is fish.

Okinawans traditionally consume a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, fruit and soy foods and have the longest life expectancy and best general health of anyone in the world.

The risk of heart attack for a man who eats meat regularly is 50% compared to 15% for vegetarians.

Vegetarianism lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.

Studies show that even when adjusted for other lifestyle choices such as not smoking and not drinking, Seventh Day Adventists who consume vegetarian diets experience an incidence of heart disease and cancer that is much lower than the incidence of heart disease and cancer in non-Seventh Day Adventists living in the same area.

You can obtain all necessary macronutrients and vitamins and minerals from a varied vegan diet (and sunshine), except for vitamin B12, which while contained in small amounts in sea vegetables, can also be obtained through fortified products and supplementation.

There was a lot more, but you get the general gist. Anyway, all signs point to plant-based diets being healthiest. Does that mean complete abstention from animal products? Not necessarily for everyone, but it does for me. If I liked fish, I would eat it. Some of the healthiest cultures in the world get some amount of their protein from fish. Unfortunately, I can't even stand the smell of it, so I wrinkle my nose and feed it to my kid who loves it.

For me, veganism is the best choice because the only animal products I actually enjoy are the ones that are the biggest contributors to chronic disease: high-fat cheeses, ice cream, and high-fat, high-salt meats like bacon and salami. Since dairy now makes me lay in bed all day saying, "Never again" like a sorority girl after a night in Cancun, my cravings for cheese and ice cream have abated, thank goodness, so I am a very happy vegan.

Guess what else? Since I made the decision to become a vegan, I've lost the 5 pounds I gained back after I started weaning Rylan without even trying, and apart from that, I just feel great. I have more energy and I've had far fewer fibromyalgia relapses than when I ate a lot of animal products. So, yeah, "this crazy vegan life" as my guru Christina calls it is definitely not for everybody, but it is for me...

I never did figure out what the mullety power-ballad guy was about though...

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