The following post is by guest blogger, Julia Guarino.
When I was five years old, I arrived home one day from kindergarten and announced to my parents that I was going to become a vegetarian. They were surprised, but as I seemed determined, they obliged, asking advice from my pediatrician as to how best meet my nutritional needs. By age ten, I had completely eliminated the fish and poultry that I sometimes ate, and I have been completely vegetarian ever since. In my final year of college, I moved into my first apartment, and in the excitement of newly possessing a kitchen, I subscribed to Vegetarian Times. It is full of wonderful recipes and tips on products to buy and restaurants to frequent for both lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who still consume eggs and dairy products), and vegans (those who have eliminated all animal products, including eggs, dairy and honey). I had never really considered becoming vegan, because though I had long since chosen to use soy milk over cow’s milk and to replace butter with non-hydrogenated-oil-based margarine (like Smart Balance, which tastes remarkably similar), but I knew giving up cheese and eggs would take immense effort, and I wasn’t sure it was worth it. After all, not only did I enjoy these things, but as a vegetarian it was extremely difficult to order a meal at a restaurant with any protein in it that didn’t come from one of these two sources.
However, as the year continued, several articles on the health benefits of veganism published in the Vegetarian Times encouraged me to eliminate more and more animal products from my diet, and the more I did so, the more I realized that it felt really good. I began to do some research. Could I really do this? Did it make sense to become vegan? Would the benefits outweigh the inconvenience?
My research gave me a fairly clear answer: it is difficult, and you have to do it right, but if you’re willing to put it in the effort, it is worth it. I came across several medical studies done on vegan groups, providing evidence that a plant-based diet has enormous health benefits, including helping to prevent cancer, reversing the need for medication in type-2 diabetes patients, and more. Concern over the risks of malnourishment (as in the infamous case of the Queens baby) are not entirely unfounded, but seem to be fairly easy to avoid; as long as attention is paid to the vegan’s consumption of protein as well as some vitamins found in less concentrated amounts in non-vegan diets, such as vitamins B12, iron, calcium and zinc, even children live quite healthily on it.
I cannot say that the switch is easy, and I have still not made it completely, but the less eggs and dairy I eat, the better I feel. Perhaps it is simply a feeling of accomplishment, but either way, I know I am doing better for my body, and it is worth it, despite the inconvenience.
[Editor’s note: if you’re looking for some yummy vegan recipes here are some that I’ve posted in the past]
Very good! It’s always nice to read about someone deciding to take better care of themselves.
You’re right: a lot of very well-meaning vegetarians haven’t taken the step you have, learning about the health, environment, and compassion -related reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle rather than vegetarian diet. It does seem confusing at first; you immediately become aware that the first priority of nearly all manufacturers is profit, not ethics nor transparency – and certainly not health, environment, and compassion!
Many years ago I realized that veggie burgers were supposed to replace meat, not taste like it. You’ll find the same thing with cheese and eggs. Faux cheeses and egg replacers can be excellent, but don’t expect them to taste exactly the same. There are hundreds of different types of dairy cheeses and they can have huge variations in flavor and texture. Don’t think of Follow Your Heart, Daiya, etc as “fake,” just think of them as additional types. Stilton and Double Gloucester, meet Sheese and Dr. Cow.
Thank you for your comment, Rob! It has certainly been a long journey, and I haven’t fully completed it. I love your insight that substitutes need to be thought of as their own foods, as opposed to substitutes for meat or dairy.
I find that to facilitate that substitution, I prefer products like Eat in the Raw’s parma! Vegan Parmesean to Daiya, and Sunshine Burgers to Boca Burgers, because they have very interesting flavors all their own. I certainly don’t deny, however, that Daiya or other products more closely resembling what they are meant to substitute, can also be fully enjoyed for what they are.
Mary, I’m right there with you! After watching Forks over Knives this week, my kids said that they are ready. (It also helped that Prince Fielder is vegan).
Thank you for your comment, Tammy. I look forward to reading about your family’s progress toward veganism. And thanks for mentioning “Forks Over Knives,” I hadn’t heard of it before. It’s now on my To Watch list!