Striving Toward Veganism

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]


Trendy Billings

Storefront in downtown Billings, MT

The following post is by blogger, Julia Guarino

In January of 2009, I moved from the Washington, DC area to a small city of about 100,000 residents in the middle of Montana. I came to Billings to perform a year of service with AmeriCorps, and although I looked forward to being exposed to elements of American culture that I had never encountered before, I was a little concerned about being able to maintain a vegetarian diet. After all, Montana is “beef country” (as they proclaim on billboards along the highway), and I knew from some online research that there would be no Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Billings, although it is the largest city in Montana and several surrounding states, is just too small to attract that kind of chain. I also assumed that in beef country, where cowboy hats and pickup trucks abound, there would be little demand for tofu, seitan and other meat substitutes.

And it’s true that at times I get a strange look when I confess that I’m a vegetarian. Sometimes I get odd questions, like “Do you drink coffee, then?” or “Do you eat cookies?” For many, vegetarianism is not something they’ve witnessed first-hand; which makes sense in a place where, I’ve been told, you can get the most incredible steak even in the cheapest little places. However, I have been a life-long vegetarian, and it is something I cannot imagine ever giving up, so tofu or no, I planned to forge on.

One of my first stops after arriving in Billings, being an impoverished volunteer, was the Super Wal-Mart. I honestly don’t feel particularly good about supporting a big-box store, and try to avoid them when I can, but I was in need of inexpensive food and cleaning products, and I must admit, I was impressed. Wal-Mart had an extensive array of green cleaning products, carried recycled paper goods, and, to my great delight, had an entire case full of vegetarian meat substitutes.

Good earth Market, Billings, MT

As I began to explore Billings’ trendy and historic downtown, however, I came across a colorful building with big beautiful windows that quietly occupies a quarter block on the western edge of downtown. The Good Earth Market is, to this day, one of my favorite places in the city of Billings (and in fact competes for the best grocery store I’ve ever shopped in). Bright and spacious, with colorful displays and smiling staff, the Good Earth carries a wide variety of natural, organic, local and vegetarian friendly products (though you can get fresh local meat as well). With an incredible deli, salad and coffee bar, cafe seating downstairs or in the loft, and free WIFI, it is also a relaxing place to spend an afternoon. They even have a parking space out front, equipped with an electrical outlet, that is reserved for electric cars! Now I never grocery shop anywhere else.

Off the Leaf Coffee Shop, Billings, MT

In the time that I have spent in Billings, there is much that I have grown to love, and much that has surprised me about this small city. There are incredible pockets of world-class art, performance and music mixed in with the charming western cowboy culture, and I have learned much about another part of my own country, while never feeling deprived of the great cultural opportunities I was used to accessing in more urban areas. And it turns out that being a vegetarian in Montana wasn’t so difficult after all!

And I am not the only person who thinks that Billings has a lot to offer — the November 2009 issue of Fortune Small Business Magazine named Billings as the #1 place to start a small business!