I’ve noticed something sort of disturbing in the last couple of months since we’ve started eating vegan as a family. It didn’t used to bother me before. In fact sometimes it made me nod my head in sympathy and commiserate. Sometimes with a qualifier, but often not. Sometimes I ignored it, but not often, and sometimes I got angry. It’s the non-vegan responses to my lifestyle choice that include these comments: “Oh, I can’t give up _____!”, “How can you not eat ____?”, “Why does eating healthy mean giving up everything good?”, “Oh that’s nice but it takes too much time and is too expensive for most people.”. Sometime in the last couple of weeks these seemingly innocuous comments have begun to grate mightily on my nerves. No longer do I nod my head in sympathy and understanding at the idea that I no longer eat a 4 egg breakfast with bacon or a gooey mound of mac ‘n’ cheese. It’s beginning to feel as though the people most inclined to accuse vegans of pushing their lifestyle choice onto others are often the very first to comment on mine, usually with a combination of disbelief, a stunned “why?!?!?” and dismissive negation. Now I find myself biting my tongue to stop the comments from pouring out of my mouth…
1. YES, you CAN give up _____. Be honest with yourself. You simply don’t want to. You have made a choice, the same as I have, and yours includes _____ in your diet.
2. How can I not eat ____? It’s simple, I just don’t eat it. Yes, sometimes I miss it and sometimes I even eat some at a time when my committment wavers but I’ve decided that I would miss my family a great deal more if I were to die from heart disease or diabetes. That tends to put ______ into some rather harsh perspective.
3. Eating a healthy plant-based diet DOESN’T mean giving up everything good. And if it does then I can’t begin to imagine what you must be eating. Eating a healthy plant-based diet means that everything you eat is good and if YOU can’t find a way to make it tasty and exciting then you might want to consider some basic cooking classes and simple cookbooks. In a day and age when you can order pretty much any spice, condiment, utensil, how-to guide or gadget over the internet and have it dropped on your front door like a Jehovah’s Witness with a fresh copy of the Watchtower, resorting to raw broccoli, lentil cakes and nutritional yeast in hot water is just plain lazy and maybe even a bit passive aggressive. I mean, it IS the perfect excuse for not eating healthy if is looks awful and tastes worse, right?
4. According to a recent Nielsen study, the average American spends almost 160 hours a month, over 5 hours a day, watching television. Now tell me that those very same people don’t have time to prepare and cook a meal. The more correct assesment is that many Americans don’t TAKE the time to cook healthy meals. If someone can’t manage to boil pasta, heat up sauce and throw together a salad while watching Dancing With American Idols or whatever it is that passes for entertainment these days then they have bigger problems that we can address here and none of them involve efficient time use. Just because commercials for processed foods bombard you day in and day out with the idea that cooking and family meals are quaint but unrealistic goals in your busy busy life doesn’t mean that we have to buy into this thinly disguised manipulation. As for expensive, well yes it is, if you choose shop at high-end yuppie stores. But, if you take the time to locate mom and pop produce stands and watch your grocery store flyers for sales on fruits, veggies, and bulk beans and grains you can eat veggie or vegan quite cheaply. I know. We did it on food stamps, feeding a family of 4 for $246 a month.
The thing is, deprivation is a state of mind. If you view eating healthy, feeling better, being more active, having fewer stomach upsets or nights of gorged incapacitation and extending your life as being deprived, then yes, you ARE deprived. If you want to view the glass as half empty then that is exactly how it will appear. And that is your choice. But this is MY choice. I don’t view deprivation the same way anymore. I see losing my life early to preventable disease as being deprived. I see missing out on Christmas eve’s, cheap movie matinees, Saturday morning coffee, summer days at the beach and family dinners as being deprived. I see an inability to enjoy outdoor activities because I’m too ill or incapacitated as being deprived. I see having to tell people “No, no… don’t tell me about it, it’s too upsetting” when it concerns the abuse and torture that food animals endure as being deprived. It might have taken me 45 years to get here but I enjoy my life, my family, my hobbies, my dreams and my goals too much to willing sacrifice them for a cheeseburger or sausage gravy.
And really, if you think about and if you are truly honest with yourself, who among us on our death bed will say, “I wish I had eaten more fast food.” or “I wish I had spent more time with a grilled cheese sandwich.” I think it far more likely that most of us will say, “I wish I had been a more compassionate person. I wish I had left the world a better place than I found it. I wish I had more time. I would give anything for just another day, another minute, with the people I love.” Isn’t it better to recognize that now when you still have a choice?
Vegan substitutions, condiments and spices. Oh my. (the draft I was working on when MSP had her heart attack)
Ever since we started eating vegan and low-fat (when I can stop sabotaging myself) we have utilized spices and condiments in more creative and exciting ways than we ever did before. It isn’t about covering up the taste of anything, on the contrary, it’s about enhancing the tastes we’ve covered up all these years with our layers of fat, salt and sugar. I’ve noticed that those who do not share our eating habits seem to require almost an overdose of “flavor” on their food to the extent that the flavors of the real food are buried and no longer recognizable. I think of it as the “Ranch Dressing Syndrome”, when you can recognize the texture of the vegetables in your salad but can no longer see them or taste them owing to the ocean of dressing you just buried them in. It’s a syndrome I am intimately familiar with having had a rather unnaturally close relationship with Ranch dressing for years. One might say Hidden valley was my adopted home town even.
But now what? Let’s face it, vegan ranch dressing is, well… vegan ranch dressing. You can make it vegan but it just doesn’t taste the same no matter what you do. I’ve discovered that there are some things you can substitute with vegan versions and others that you just can’t. Pot roast for instance. Others you can barely tell the difference or they taste so good on their own that it doesn’t matter. So I’ve decided to show some of the products/recipes we use in the event that it might help someone else avoid the vegan ranch dressing trap.
1. Malt Salt/Bacon Salt. These are exactly what they say they are. And oh so very tasty as well. The malt salt is essentially a vinegar powder like you find sprinkled on salt and vinegar chips but with a stronger and yet more delicate vinegar flavor and less salt. I love it sprinkled on salads and especially thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes. The bacon salt is still vegan and comes in a variety of bacon flavors. It tastes more like bacon bits than real slices of bacon but I find that’s ok in a vegan universe. I sprinkle it on my tofu scrambles for a tasty bacon ‘n’ eggs kind of thing as well as on lettuce, tomato and veganaise sandwiches. *I should mention we had a late night snack of Cheddar Bacon microwave popcorn made by the same company last night. Not low fat or low salt but it is vegan.
2. Parma: Vegan Parmesan cheese. Does this taste like the aged parmesan cheese they so freely sprinkle on your salad at the Olive Garden? No, not really. But it does taste good on things like spaghetti and sauce and in pesto. It adds that salty, gritty texture that is really what makes parmesan work so well on Italian food. It’s main ingredient is nutritional yeast. Not a flavor I’m enamored with but as I said, sprinkled on other foods as a counterpoint it is excellent. I have even discovered that it works not just well, but exceptionally well, on my hot cereal in the morning. I can hear the confused “eh?” now. Who puts cheese on their hot cereal? Well, I do. I don’t do sweet things very well anymore. Too much sugar, especially processed sugar, makes me sick though you would never know it some days the way I sneak cookies. So instead of putting brown sugar, honey or maple syrup and butter on my hot cereal in the morning I make it savory. I add diced tomatoes and scallions, a bit of vegan parmesan and a touch of Hawaiian chile water for tang. It’s hot, creamy, savory and usually lasts me for hours without the need to snack.
3. Bragg Liquid Aminos and nori furikake. For liquid aminos think soy sauce with a high protein content. It’s a non-GMO liquid protein concentrate that replaces tamari and soy sauce. Although I have heard it has less salt than soy sauce I can’t seem to verify that from what I find in terms of sodium content but the protein content information seems to be right on. Nori furikake is basically shredded, dried seaweed seasoning that is sometimes mixed with sugar, salt, fish flakes or sesame seeds. I usually pick mine up at Uwajimaya in the International District. I go for the one with just plain nori and sesame seeds and nothing else added. It’s great sprinkled on tomato slices, steamed rice, stir fry, congee and anything else that goes well with a light Asian flavoring. *If you click on the Bragg Liquid Aminos link I’ve provided you can sign up to be sent some free samples of their products. they also have a seaweed based seasoning mix but I do not recommend it.
4. Lastly, because I saved the best for last, Nacho Mom’s Vegan Queso. We have decided to return to our whole foods ways, in other words,no more oil-riffic fake cheeses and meats. If I can’t make it myself or reasonably reproduce it in my own kitchen then it’s too processed, and likely to full of fat, for us. So to find this vegan queso sauce was a real treat. To begin with it tastes FABULOUS. If you miss nacho cheese sauce then you MUST run out and buy this stuff. And if you miss nacho cheese sauce but haven’t been able to even enjoy the store bought stuff or make your own with vegan “cheeze” then you will be ecstatic to note that this queso sauce in NO fat. Yes, that’s right Virginia, Santa came early this year and he left a big heaping jar of vegan no fat cheese sauce that tastes really really good! As mom never said, well butter my butt and call me a biscuit!
I’ve wanted to find our scale, that little bringer of woe and misery, since we moved. We finally found it today, several days ago by the time you read this actually (depression makes me slow and lethargic), and now I sort of wish we hadn’t. The other chubby vegan is doing swimmingly and is on her way to becoming the skinny vegan. I, on the other hand, am apparently determined to stand up for the chubby contingent come hell or high water. Which is frustrating. To say the least. So I asked the other chubby vegan why I’m not losing weight and she is. Now mind you, she works as an electrician on a naval base right now and it is a VERY physical job but I’m also doing more physical work since the move. See the walkway in the garlic whistle post for instance. BUT, as the other chubby vegan noted, lately I am also horking down:
1. Trader Joe’s vegan cookies… bistro cookies, druid circles, trail mix cookies, etc.
2. Honey-Roasted peanuts
4. Homemade bread, with vegan butter
Now I realize that none of those things are necessarily bad on their own, but the problem is that I’m not having one of them a day. I’m having several, sometimes all of them. So here I am to prove that yes, it is possible to maintain or even gain weight while eating vegan and still staying away from a lot of processed food. I have also begun the troubling habit of snacking late at night when I get up. I usually don’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time and often wake up between midnight and 1:00 am and am up for an hour or two before going back to bed. This is a newish development for me. I never used to do this and I’m pretty angry at myself for succumbing to one of the few bad eating habits I never had before. I really feel like it’s always going to be 2 steps forward and 1 or 2 steps back every time. So I’ve asked the now skinny vegan to help me to get back to my former behaviors. No more snacking at night. Fruit for dessert, not cookies. The very occasional cookie to be doled out by Miss Skinny Pants and otherwise hidden by her. Nothing with more than a 10% fat content. No oil. No butter. No nuts except walnuts in recipes. No more avocados unless it’s burrito night. No more than one beer.
What does this mean? Well I guess I can feel all pissed off at myself and deprived or I can get out my Veganize This book and get back to what made this fun to begin with… good health, feeling good physically and the challenge of figuring out ways and recipes to make this fun and exciting. My first challenge is to make a really good, crustless, vegan, low fat fruit pie/dessert for those times when I want fruit for dessert but crave the comfort of something warm and handmade by my Nana like. Well, made by my Nana before she totally lost her sense of taste due to smoking Pall Mall’s and drinking 1000 degree cups of instant coffee. I swear it was like she could only drink her Taster’s Choice when it was at a temperature approaching the core of the sun. And by the that time she thought that water was just as good as butter and milk when making Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I liked to think of it as “Kraft Macaroni and Orange”. My goodness but I sure miss her! Nobody could laugh at themselves quite like she could. In fact I’ve been missing her even more since the move to this house. Nana would have liked it. And she would have been proud of me even with all my mistakes. I miss you Nana!