Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Vegan?

I was recently interviewed for a soon-to-be-launched online news site called The Daily Norwalk. One of the questions I was asked was "When and why did you become vegan?"

Here is my response:

I originally changed my diet in 1996 for health reasons. I lived my whole life with seasonal allergies, but around age 30 I developed a chronic cough, fatigue, asthma, and was always getting colds. Traditional allergists told me I needed to 1) get rid of my dog and 2) be on steroid medication the rest of my life. Since I didn't want to do either of these, I did some research on alternative medicine and found a naturopathic doctor who recommended that I change the way I eat. This meant: no sugar, dairy, processed foods, refined flour, or caffeine... my five basic food groups. But since she said I could keep my dog, I decided to give it a try. I was already a vegetarian (or what I now refer to as a "junk food vegetarian"), mostly eating pasta, pizza and bread all the time. When I learned about battery cages and dairy cows on factory farms, it became much easier to give up cheese, my favorite food.

[I'd love to read YOUR stories, too, so please post a comment below!]

Here are a couple more questions from that interview:

2. What sort of clients seek you out - people looking to make a lifestyle change, vegans in need of new recipe ideas, busy types who can't cook for themselves?

Over the past year I've seen a dramatic increase in people interested in eating healthier not only for themselves, but for the planet. I think there is a growing awareness of the negative effects of factory farms due to the mainstream exposure of writers like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer, TV shows like "Ellen," and various celebreties promoting the benefits of a vegan diet. Consequently, people often tell me they no longer wish to support a system that mistreats animals and want to make a difference in the world by choosing a more humane diet. I am thrilled when I hear this! For some, this means incorporating more organic fruits and vegetables into their diet and eating less meat. For many others, they've decided to make a commitment to be 100% vegan. I'm happy to support anyone at whatever stage of the journey toward a healthy lifestyle they are on. Many people lead hectic lives and I'm here to make the transition easy!

3. Tell me about some especially funny or interesting that's happened on your journey as a vegan chef - a dish that went wrong? Kitchen misadventures?

Hmmm... misadventures... I think you have to read my Blog - The Traveling Vegan Chef (http://wellonwheels.blogspot.com) for that! I'm not a fan of the "Hell's Kitchen" approach to cooking, and mostly just try to enjoy myself and put love into the food I make. That's really what it's all about. Have fun in the kitchen! Don't worry about making mistakes - even the best chefs have thrown out food that was brilliant in conception but inedible in execution.

What I will say is that every day is different and it's always an adventure. I really enjoy meeting people and hearing about their challenges as they adopt new eating practices, learn new skills in the kitchen, share food with family and friends, and develop a greater awareness about the food they eat. This is what being vegan is about: making conscious choices. It's very empowering. When you realize that you can make a difference in your life simply by deciding what food to put into your body, it becomes a positive experience. And the potential to influence others in the process is exponential. Even going to a restaurant can become a learning opportunity - for the server, your dining companions, and sometimes even the chef. Sure, sometimes it can be a little awkward to speak up and explain your dietary choice without sounding dogmatic. But I always conclude that this little bit of discomfort is worth tolerating if it can reduce the amount of animal suffering in the world.

I'm often reminded of a quote by Margaret Meade: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I think we've already got that small group together, and it's growing every day. You never know what you are truly capable of until you take that first step.


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the meals that you've made. If they were misadventures or went wrong, you'd never know it. I could tell that the dishes were all lovingly executed and the colorful choices you selected for each item had so much visual appeal and the taste was fantastic-such a delight.

Estella said...

Hello! A couple of years ago I took your Raw food class and it was the best! I still use the recipes on a regular basis even though I still eat cooked food.

My question for you is what do you feed your dog?

I recently got a dog, Shaggy. I am giving him raw meat, but something is nagging at me. I know that he is a carnivore, so I want to be sensitive to his health too. I grew up in South America and people feed pets home meals and very little meat as that is expensive. So that is my dilema; should I make him vegan?

Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

Thank you

Mary said...

Thank you both for your comments and your kind words. It's hard to go wrong when you start with nature's finest ingredients!

To answer your question, Estella, I have to start by admitting that I too have encountered a similar dilemma when deciding what to feed my dog. I've known many vegans who feed their pets (even cats!) a vegan diet, and there's a website that sells food that's nutritionally balanced (http://www.vegepet.com). I used to feed my previous dog a mix of the vegan kibble and fresh made soups/stews, along with the occasional non-vegan treat when she'd visit Grandpa and Grandma. She loved everything, including tofu, raw carrots, and cabbage. The dog I have now, however, is more finicky and she walks away from any of my food I try to put in her bowl. She will literally pick through it and push out all the veggies onto the floor. So, rather than be insulted, I take her not-so-subtle hints and feed her organic dry dog food plus raw ground turkey, and sometimes canned organic dog food. The brands she's liked are Wysong, Organix, Newman's Own, and Spot's Stew (her favorite!). It's really tough walking into the grocery store and stocking up on packages of ground meat, but that's what works for her, and she's very healthy and happy. Since I'm her caretaker, I have to consider her well-being first when making this decision.

Estella said...

Thanks so much for replying. This is great information!