Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eating Animals: Part One

First, a DISCLAIMER: This is going to be one in a series of many blog posts in which I will discuss my thoughts and opinions on all things vegetarian and vegan. I am not, in any way, attacking your choices, decisions, and/or lifestyle. I happily ate all kinds of pig, cow, shrimp, lobster, etc. for 20+ years, and so I completely respect your decision to eat, or not to eat, animals. Please do not take offense to anything I write. If you know me, then you know that offending you is my very last intention. As far as this topic goes, I am navigating uncharted waters. It's difficult and emotional and think-y (yes, that's a word in my world) and I'm just trying to sort this all out, albeit publicly. Please respect that.

PHEW, that being said, let's get on with it, shall we? I have not finished Eating Animals, but I'm pretty darn close. After bringing this book on a few solo lunch dates, I quickly realized that it's the kind of book best read home alone in close proximity to a box of tissues and a trash receptacle. I am equal parts horrified (read: nauseous) and saddened (read: hysterical sobs) by the information Foer presents, which is remarkable considering I already knew 80% of it. It's good to be reminded.

Many months ago, I decided to stop eating meat. I gave in over the Holidays to my Mom's scrumptious pork and beef - inspired Korean dishes, but it left me feeling heavy and gross. So again, I gave up meat. But I never gave up seafood. Or eggs. Or dairy. And certainly not leather or honey. I always believed that factory farming was the devil, but eating the meat provided by Farmer Joe with his green pastures and happy cows was okay. I used to think fish and lobster could not feel pain. I used to think I could live without cheese (this is still debatable). All this is changing.

Beginning March 1, I am jumping on on the 21-Day Vegan Kickstart bandwagon. My reasons are two-fold:

1. Conscience - Knowing what happens, not only in factory farms, but in slaughterhouses (yes even the ones used by humane farmers, mostly b/c they have very little selection and therefore very little choice) kills me. I can't bear the thought of another animal experiencing that much pain for my unnecessary benefit. That being said, I can't imagine a life without migas for breakfast, cream in my coffee, and cheese in/on/under just about everything. But I'll never know if I don't try, right?

2. Health - I've heard many of the health benefits from a vegan diet (and yes, I've also heard of the many dangers of a vegan diet so don't worry, I know), one of which is increased energy. And I'm tired of being so TIRED all the time (and yes, I know that exercise and a variety of other things can and will help me with this). Also? I'm tired of mucus, which I'm sad to say, is dairy's close friend. I want to see if a vegan diet will do all the things I've heard it can do. For me.

March 1 is still 13 days away, but as a way to ease myself in, I'm trying to make more vegan choices now. Last night, I cooked the only vegan meal I currently know how to cook and actually enjoy. This morning, I used soy creamer in my coffee, which admittedly was better than I expected, but was NOT in ANY WAY FORM OR FASHION the same as cream. It's just not. For lunch, I sadly requested "no tzatziki" from the greek joint next door. But... I did eat a slice of King Cake today (I'm Cajun, I had to!).

OOH - that reminds me. Sugar. Apparently a lotta vegans don't eat sugar. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Thoughts?

Also, what's the deal with honey? Bad because it exploits the bees? I'm not sure how I feel about that either.

AHHH soo many questions! So many arguments on both sides, good and bad, reasonable and ridiculous. This is HARD.

Can you tell that I'm struggling? Because I am.

Anyway, I digress. The point of this post is to let you know that: (1) On March 1, I will be attempting a vegan diet for 21-days; and (2) I'm scared.

That's all. Thoughts???

Oh and one more thing - Foer talks about eating meat, but what about dairy and cheese and leather and all that stuff? Can any of you recommend an Eating Animals/FOOD, Inc. - esque book or article about all that?
{image from here}


WellHeeledBlog said...

Wow... I really admire you for trying something you believe in. I'd be careful in getting enough minerals (esp. iron) in a vegan diet, so perhaps you might want to look at vitamin supplements?

Personally, I have no desire to exclude any one type of food from my diet based on philosophical reasons, but I am trying to cut back on meat for health reasons. Which is difficult because I absolutely love meat. It doesn't feel like a proper meal without it!

I love honey. I knew a girl in college who was a committed vegan but she made an exception for honey because it is so good. And I imagine honey is better than refined sugar.. so.. I say unless you feel really conflicted about it, keep it in your diet.

Megan said...

I really admire anyone who can go Vegan but I just cant do it. I love eating meat, very much a carnivore. I admire anyone who can give it a shot though. Goodluck!

Ellecubed said...

I think that it is amazing that you are taking the step and trying out being vegan. I know that being vegan made me healthier and allowed me to have a much clearer understanding of everything that I was putting in to my body.

I think that the way you are approaching it is good. I think it is a good idea to suss out whether being vegan works for you and go from there. Because it is quite hard to be vegan and you have to makes sure that your body is getting all of the nourishment that it needs.

Here is my understanding of a few of the questions that you asked. Keeping in mind that I have no judgment, just have a lot of experience being a part of and around the vegan community.

The argument against honey is that the honey is being created for bees and not for human consumption. Taking away the honey means that bees do not have access to the honey that was made for them. When deciding whether to eat honey, it really boils down to whether you consider insects to be animals. Those who do tend to abstain from honey. Those who do not tend to eat honey and still consider themselves vegan.

The reason a lot of vegans stay clear of refined sugar is because some of it is processed using animal bone char. Meaning that even though the sugar itself is vegan, the way that it is processed is not. There are plenty of other sugars out there if you still want to continue eating sugar. I am partial to beet sugar, agave nectar and maple syrup.

As for dairy, I believe a lot of vegans refrain from eating dairy products because of the way that the animals are treated and farmed in order to get the dairy products.

I hope your journey to becoming more vegan is wonderful. If you ever want to chat about all things vegan, you know where to find me.

City Girl said...

Great post. Go you!

As someone who eats zero dairy and eats vegan meals most of the time (though I do still eat some fish and grass-fed meats - but I know you read my super long post on that coz I just saw you commented), here are some thoughts:

1. soy creamer tastes good, but another option is coconut milk creamer.
2. honey - from a cruelty standpoint, my understanding is that by taking honey, we are taking something away from the bees themselves. [interestingly, from a glycemic load standpoint, honey is not that different from eating pure white table sugar. Yes it's more natural, but it still hits your blood sugar fast].
3. I think I sent you a link to Meghan Telpner's 5 day vegan via twitter - the ebook has a TON of good recipes that are easy. Seh also has a 5 day low glycemic ebook that is mostly vegan, and also has great recipes, plus good explanations on glycemic load. She is also really against processed soy foods, so you will see her recipes do not have any of that. Her website/blog has many recipes too, most of which are vegan, or easily veganized (ie hold the cheese).
4. The Kind Diet might be another book you like. IIRC she has a whole discussion on sugar and being vegan. My understanding is that while sugar is vegan, the way in which it is processed is not. I also know vegans who avoid sugar because it increases their cravings, including cravings for cheese.
5. More sugar thoughts - this blog might interest you: http://aprovechar.danandsally.com/
6. I never thought I could be without cheese, but it really is doable. I grew up in Switzerland where cheese is a normal staple, and always ate cheese until last May, when I had to cut out dairy for health reasons. When I first cut out cheese, I tried a couple of soy cheeses and hated them so figured I would be cheeseless without substitutes. A few months later I read this article, http://www.vegetariantimes.com/features/editors_picks/861 - which was super helpful on so many levels. One of the tips was to give yourself some time (like a few weeks or months ) between eating cheese and trying substitutes, and I do think that helped. I gave it a few more months after giving up dairy and trying soy cheese to try cheese substitutes again, and I used the suggestions at the bottom of the article to start and found others. My current favorites are Sheese Strong Cheddar (though I hated the medium and smoked cheddar versions, and have yet to try other types), Surnergia Mediteranean Feta, Daiya Italian style (but meh on the cheddar version) and Dr. Cow. I hate Teese. Cheezly I am 50/50 on - but I like the Cheezly Mozzarella enough to retry it. I need to try Follow Your Heart again, bec I tried it like last June, so I want to see if I feel different about it. I started doing cheese substitute reviews on my blog (the first one was Daiya), so you will see more in weeks to come :)

Kirsten said...

YAY! Well, I will be 13 or 14 days into being vegan - but it will be so fun to know that you'll be giving in a try "with" me.

I thought The Kind Diet was great - what I especially love about it is that Silverstone isn't judgemental in it. She sincerely applauds anybody reducing their meat/dairy consumption. It's broken up into three sections: flirting, vegan and superhero. Flirting is just like it sounds, flirting with veganism - slowly eliminating meat and dairy as often as you like. Veganism is just how it sounds. And superhero is the diet Alicia follows most of the time, it's a vegan macrobiotic diet. Some of the recipes in the book are great and others I haven't cared as much for, but it's a great book I think.

Another heavy read is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. This is the book that first turned me onto thinking about veganism many years ago. It's all about the health benefits of veganism.

A podcast to listen to is Vegan Freak Radio - language isn't suitable for work and sometimes I find them to be a bit too superior and annoying - but good information and can be really humorous.

My only advice to you (which I am trying to follow as well) is to allow yourself some vegan treats or "junk" food. I'm on a weight loss kick. But, I have to remember that if I'm feeling like I want to eat something not vegan (like ice cream), it's ok to indulge in some coconut milk ice cream (which by the way, YUM).

Cheese is going to be a tough one for me too - but I think of it this way - cheese is the most unhealthy thing I eat on a regular basis. It's terrible for my body, my skin (and I have good skin - but cheese can do a number on it), it's bad for my arthritis and it's bad for cows. Plus, when I learned that it can have puss in it - ew. It's still tough for me, but I constantly remind myself that I don't need that crap in my body. This is the only body that I get and I need to be responsible for taking care of it.

Anyway love, I am SO glad you are doing this and keep checking my blog - I'll post my updates and challenges! xoxo.

Kirsten said...

Oh! Sugar. Sugar I'm not giving up. I'd like to seek out some vegan approved sugar - it does exist - not sure where though. But, like I said previously, I'm ok with vegan junk food for now - I want to treat it like a treat, of course, but I'm not going to give up sugar along with everything else.

The honey issue is complicated. It's been said that honey isn't really any better for you than sugar is - your body treats it the same. That said, there is honey in almost everything. I'm not going to avoid food that is vegan with honey in it (which some people would then say it's not vegan) however, I don't eat a lot of processed food now and I don't plan to start. And I don't put honey in my tea or bake with it...so honey is less of an issue for me. I'm not going to avoid it for now though.

And the vegan issue is that a lot of times once the bees have given honey, they are killed and it's not the bees job to produce honey for us, but we take it from them anyway. I think of it this way...if there were a cow or a chicken or a fish that magically appeared in my apartment, no way would I kill it. But, if a bee magically appeared in my apartment, I would try not to kill it, but killing it would be an option if I couldn't get it outside. Not very vegan of me, I suppose.

City Girl said...

Kirsten's comments just reminded me of something - the puss issue in cow's milk was a real eye opener for me.

Kayla said...

I have been a vegetarian for about four years now. In University I lived with a Vegan and I'm not sure I could give up cheese! I think the key is finding recipes that are easy and taste good. My roommate and I made a lot of soups. Also you may want to look into a protein powder to supplement some of the nutrients. I put mine in smoothies.

Good luck!

Suz said...

I think it is great! I really wish I had the will power to do that, but I like eating meant and LOVE cheese. I watched Food Inc and it made me hate our food systems, so I have been trying to buy all organic and shop locally when I can.

Lauren said...

Yay, I am so glad you posted this (because, as you know, I am struggling with the same things!).

I have a ton of book recommendations if you want them, but I'd suggest that you maybe start with listening or relistening to the Vegetarian Food for Thought podcasts. She's so great as framing veganism not as "this is a list of what I cannot eat", but rather as this is why I'm a "joyful vegan" and look at all the "normal" foods I can still eat. It was inspiring to feel so EXCITED about it rather than like it was a daunting task.

Also I just finished "Diet for a New America", which was a bit dated, but also had lots of great info and was really eye-opening. I think I am going to have to join you on the 21 day kick start on March 1!!!

I'm really looking forward to reading more of your explorations on this topic!

P.S. I second coconut milk ice cream! You *have* to try the Purely Decadent (I highly recommend the mint chocolate chip and the coconut!)

Sallie Ann said...


After your post to my blog I wanted to see what you wrote. I'm thrilled. And I hope I've listed some good resources to get you started. They are some of my favorites.I'm also hoping to get more from some of my "connections."

As I've shared with you, I was raised not eating animals, eggs or milk. I did eat some animal products, but never really knew why we obstained. The Jungle was the main reason, though hardly something you discuss with your little girl. So, I grew up and started eating animals in college.

Since making the choice to avoid all animal products (even honey)I feel like a new person. I have had no problems getting any of my vitamins or minerals. My only issue was low protein, which I've written about.

I've posted the protein chart and am going to post some sample menus that got me started. But, in my references you will find oodles of links for recipes. I definitely recommend Cathleen Patrick Gudreaux's podcast. And, if you go to Meat Free Radio you can hear an interview with me and my philosophy. I got some not-so-great feedback from more committed vegans, and might say a few things differently now, but the bottom line is, don't stress about this. And don't feel guilty if you slip or crave. Consider the 4 things I listed in todays post, and enjoy the new experiences. I promise you will feel different...and the snotty-issue? I didn't know post-nasal-drip was an optional condition. Nada. For 38 years I dealt with it and now gone.

So excited you're dipping your toe in. The water is GREAT, my sweet friend. Oh, sugar...well, you know I love the sugar. I buy vegan sugar, available at Whole Foods, but you'll also find lots of sources for sweetners. And I love the coconut creamer and yogurt!!!

Sallie Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caitlin said...

Good for you! I wish you the best of luck and look forward to hearing about your journey.

Have you tried Agave Nectar as a substitute to honey? I just not really a fan of the taste of honey, but LOVE agave. It's super yummy and vegan.

I'd like to incorporate a little more vegetarianism/veganism into my diet. I'll definitely be taking some inspiration from you!

Caitlin said...

Soooo pscyhed you're doing this!
I eat a vegetarian diet but am severely vegan-curious.
I second the suggestions of The Kind Diet, and Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's podcast and articles on her website. She is very thorough and does some serious research. You'll be able to find the
dairy/honey/leather answers there. Girlie-Girl Army has some info more on the fun/fashionable side, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website should answer your nourishment/health concerns.

I've been cooking my way through The Kind Diet and am pretty pleased with the results. Also, Veganomicon (specifically the moussaka with pine nut cream) is awesome. The Kind Diet has a bunch of ingredients you may not have, but Veganomicon has more familiar ingredients.

I melted follow your heart in cheddar on a baked potato and it wasn't half bad. Tofutti's cream cheese and sour creams are also pretty good.

Keep in mind that food is fun and enjoyable, and doesn't have to be boring. Enjoy yourself and your kickstart!

Jessica said...

Not related to human food but as you strive to eat foods that are more eco- and socially conscious you may also want to consider the foods that you feed your adorable little pup. I recently read Pet Food Politics and found it to be both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. As a result, I have really thought long and hard about what I feed my two dogs and the facilities in which that food has been processed.

While I do not think a veterinarian would recommend a veggie or vegan diet for my dogs I do think I have a moral and social responsibility to think about their food in the same way I do my own. It led me to switch their food to the highest quality I could get that is also the most responsibly produced that I could get.

Best of luck to you! I am striving to reduce my own intake of animal products and am hoping to join a CSA for produce.

Crystal said...

Good luck, Carolyn! I constantly struggle with my food choices, too, and I'm still not quite happy where I am. I think most important is figuring out where you feel happy. If eating honey doesn't bother you, then eat it. If eating dairy makes you cry for factory-farmed cows, then don't eat it. You know? No one can be a perfect vegan (how many rodents and such are killed in harvesting veggies?), so everyone just has to find the spot that's best for them, that makes them feel good about their choices.

This 21-day thing sounds really intriguing to me... We'll be starting our beach vacation that day, so I doubt I'll start it then (although I technically COULD survive on mai tais and pina coladas...), but it's something I'm going to research. ANYWAY. Yay, you! :)

Analiese Marie said...

Thanks so much for posting about this. I really related to this because I recently changed the way I eat pretty dramatically! It was so nice to hear about someone else going through the same things I am.

I second all of the recommendations above, and in fact, I was about to ask if you're familiar with Sallie Ann's blog, and then I saw that she commented here! I have found her blog to be a great resource and source of inspiration.

I applaud you for taking these steps, and for sharing your thoughts so candidly with us.

Globetrotting Cacti said...

Thanks so much for sharing where you are with your experiences so far of eating a vegan diet. I really admire you and look forward to hearing how you adapt and products that you try.

Just to draw your attention to Matt & Nat bags/purses. I LOVE their products. I believe (although it may be worth checking out) that they are suitable for begans. No leather but the most fantastic substitute. Have quite a few items from their range.

TheAnalyst said...

Congrats Carolyn! I eat vegan meals sometimes, but I do indulge in cheese from time to time. I've struggled to give up pizzas. What I usually do is make 1-2 of my meals a day vegan. For example, if I know I may have some dairy for lunch I won't have it for breakfast and/or dinner. I've thought about going vegan, but now is just not the best time for me, since I have so much going on. One more change might push me over the edge. ;)

There are vegan sugars, and they are usually found in organic products. I know Newmans uses organic sugar. You can find this information one Peta's website(s) and I believe on Farm Sanctuary's website.

If you want to use cruelty-free products, leapingbunny.com gives info on beauty products. And if you give up textiles, vegans give up all animals sources--not just leather and fur. I however, use some animal textiles than do not involve death, such as wool. But most vegans will not wear leather, fur, wool, feathers/down, etc.

I look forward to reading more about your vegan experience.

fresh365 said...

Great post Carolyn! I have a lot to say on the subject, but I’ll try to keep it somewhat short :) I think what you are doing by educating yourself is amazing. It’s so enlightening that when you start researching the topic that you find out all these things that are not vegan. Things you never thought of- like sugar and a lot of alcohol (two of my favorites!) My journey to vegetarian started much like yours. I was getting sick a lot, started researching and become absolutely appalled by what certain foods do to your body, the environment and the poor animals. I cut out meat, seafood, eggs & dairy for awhile and felt a lot better. I didn’t miss cheese which I thought it would, but did find it hard to avoid. I find it quite easy to eat vegetarian at dinner or at people’s homes, but vegan is not easy. Ultimately I found a balancing point for ME, which is vegetarian, with very little eggs. I guess my point is, you have to see what works for you. It has to fit into your lifestyle and make you feel like you are not compromising your ethics or your happiness. Becoming vegetarian has been one of the best things I have ever done and I know somewhere along the way you will find your balancing point. Opinions, new information, etc are always evolving, so I thrive to stay educated and opened minded. This is a decision only you can make for yourself- good luck on your journey!

Meg said...


My husband and I went vegan last November and have really been thriving. We thought it'd be just a little experiment in eating better (as my husband hardly ate anything but animal products and LOVED meat). However, it's really become very important to us and we can't imagine going back.

For those interested in learning more about veganism, I highly recommend:

http://www.veganhealth.org -- for the nutritional benefits and a few caveats

Diet for A New America -- a great book about how eating less animal products (or none at all, ideally) can solve so many of the problems we face today

http://freedocumentaries.org/int.php?filmID=119 -- Earthlings, a really intense video on using animals, but something I think everyone should see if they are to make an informed choice

The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook -- for all the "But I just couldn't give up cheese!" people ;) I also suggest that those people try Daiya vegan cheese.

And please, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@mmmeg).