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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Becoming Vegan

First of all, what is a vegan?  There are health, ethical, and environmental reasons to adopt a vegan diet. They are all valid and as individuals we are going to have different preferences and motivations. "A vegan is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs, as well as fur, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics or chemical products tested on animals" - according to  Many vegans are driven by compassion for animals and the planet, others for health reasons because of the overwhelming scientific data that a plant based diet devoid of animal meat, eggs, or dairy not only prevents heart disease, but reverses it. A plant based diet also has tremendous impact on normalizing blood pressure and stopping and preventing tumor growth of many types of cancer. For myself, it began as a health-wise decision that combined with my love for animals, fully blossomed into even more dedication to my new way of eating. I was born and raised in the South and grew up on greasy cheeseburgers and chicken-fried steak.  I loved barbecue ribs,  the messier the better. I loved cheese, ice cream, big juicy steak, and all of the other thing the typical American diet consists of, but those things were slowly killing me. The oddest part is, I have always loved animals, they are a big part of my family life, but I never made the connection between my pets and the food I ate. Now I thought I was eating pretty healthy, we never ate fast food or even ate out (could not afford to) and we never ate fried foods. However, that way of thinking (or more correctly, not thinking!) and eating led to severe obesity and several serious health problems as a direct result;  I developed ovarian cancer, I had 3 heart attacks and an ongoing heart condition, hypertension, Type II Diabetes, GERD, back pain, knee pain, high cholesterol and triglycerides, IBS-C, and a total lack of energy, but kept putting the same things into my body expecting different results. It wasn't until I was middle-aged, fat and chronically ill that I started considering that there may be a better way to eat.

The kickstart came with the tough economy, we found the only way to make our dollar stretch from paycheck to paycheck was to reduce and eventually eliminate the meat we were buying. I didn't think of it at the time as 'going vegetarian', but I knew that we needed protein so I began studying vegetarianism to learn how to get our protein. Along that journey, I learned much more than I bargained for, I learned how animals farmed for food are raised, how they are treated. I read The China Study which blew me away, and a month later had the opportunity to see Forks Over Knives. When I learned that farm animals are NOT protected from animal cruelty, and in fact are subject to horrendous acts of cruelty on a daily basis, and that "free range" and "grass-fed" are complete fabrications by the industry to cover up their cruelty, it  kept me from sleeping well at night.  However, it was the overwhelming healthful benefits of a plant based diet that caused me to make up my mind; I wanted my life and my health back! I did not then know it, but this would turn out to be a "life or death" decision for me.

When I made the shift to being vegetarian, it was gradual at first as we used up the meat we already had, but it got harder and harder psychologically to eat it. I gave up eating one animal at a time, beginning with pork, and a few nights a week we simply had a meatless meal. Still struggling in the economy I stopped buying and cooking beef, and before long, I couldn't bring myself to buy any meat anymore because I pictured the once living, breathing, fully furry or feathered creature, and could not keep my blinders on any longer. It had been easy to 'not think about it' in the nice clean grocery store with it's neatly arranged trays of meats lined up, without the blood, guts, and violence of the slaughter. I never took the time to find out about animal farms and the deplorable conditions the animals raised for food endured, but once I was aware, I could not perpetuate the cruelty any longer. Sure, I was a little concerned about the 'C' word - CHANGE - like anyone, but it is the best thing I ever did. I found that it was the "convenience foods" that were hardest to give up, the chicken nuggets or fish sticks we used to pop into the microwave. I have to cook from 'scratch' more, and that's o.k., we didn't need all those saturated and hydrogenated fats coating our food anyway, and I was actually spending less time in the kitchen: it was always the meat that took so long to prepare!

As I began to get the hang of a plant-based diet, I started enjoying shopping and cooking which I had not enjoyed before. I discovered a creative outlet in “designing” new dishes. I found so many delicious foods that were actually the same as our favorite meals, but without the meat and fat content. Sometimes I cook meat 'substitutes'  that are great for transitioning to vegan because they remind us of how meals used to look, and sometimes it’s beans, legumes, and whole grains. The biggest shift for me in menu planning is that no longer is the meat the star attraction with some veggies tossed in as an afterthought. Now I put together three or four combinations to delight the eye as well as the taste buds, and no one item gets ‘star billing’ because they are all amazing. It feels good inside to know I am eating healthier AND not perpetuating violence and cruelty against animals. After a while as I continued exploring and assimilating vegetarianism, I gained more knowledge and it was a natural evolvement to go from vegetarian to vegan, and give up dairy & eggs. I am much, much healthier. All of the health issues that I struggled with before becoming vegan have evaporated – without the use of any medications. Being vegan has inspired me to become more aware of what I put into my body, become a better home cook, and to use high-quality ingredients, nutritionally-speaking.

  • If you do not want to read all of this, then just watch this, it says it in a nutshell:            

I consider myself an aware, compassionate, conscious eater, and I am happy to not be eating my furry or feathered friends, or to perpetuate cruelty on animals. I use how I spend my dollar to voice my opinion to the agricultural community and retailers. Most of all, I am happy to be really doing something healthy for my body, mind, and spirit. I find that I no longer "expect" to have another heart attack, or fear cancer will come back because for once in my life, I feel I am in control of my health. I have lost 70 pounds so far, and my husband has lost 85 pounds. Yeah, I even exercise, though it is hard! So far a daily walk and doing some strength workouts 3 times a week is all I can do with regularity, but my husband and I like to play tennis as his knee pain allows, and that will get better for him as the weight comes off. And it does come off, without counting calories or carbs or anything! Of course in addition to eating whatever we want from the plant kingdom, we watch our sugar intake, I still consider myself diabetic even though I am off medication now, so if I bake it is with stevia or xylitol. I try to eat foods mostly in their whole state, the way God made them, rather than processed. It is really much easier than I thought it would be, I always thought eating processed food was a bad idea and we have all known for years how bad they are for us, but so convenient, therefore addictive! I became vegan because I wanted to cheat death, and I remain vegan for life to save hundreds of lives of animals that will not end up on my plate. It feels good to lower the demand for farmed animals and the deforestation required to plant grain to feed those farm animals, to help sustainable industry, namely local farmers, and I dream of the day when no human goes hungry, and no animal suffers for the "diet of affluence" that is killing us!

Compassion goes both ways!

 As a vegetarian or vegan, the only nutritional concerns are to be sure you get a wide variety of plants in your diet so that you get the full compliment of nutrients that come from whole grains, beans, legumes, color-rich fruits and vegetables, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds. Ensure you have a reliable source of B12, iodine, selenium, omega 3 and vitamin D that do not contain animal products. You will become a label reading pro!  It is not vital to combine legumes with whole grains for a complete protein (having all of the essential Amino Acids) as the old myth states,  not necessarily in the same meal, just be sure if you have a bowl of lentil soup for lunch, have some whole grain bread or brown rice with your dinner or breakfast the next day.  Soy and the grain quinoa are complete proteins containing all essential amino acids so try to work them into your diet as often as possible. Another simple way to get a 'complete protein' is to get some Bragg Liquid Aminos, which is all of the liquid Amino Acids that taste like soy sauce, only better! It's great to use along with vinegar and olive oil for a salad dressing, or added to soups, beans/legumes, and most any vegetable dish, it is amazing! Since you won't be eating fish, to get your essential Omega fatty acids, be sure to incorporate 2 Tbsp flax seed daily on your salads, blended into your fruit smoothie, or added to soup, and add flax seed oil to your salad dressing. The flax seed carries one of the biggest nutrient payloads on the planet. You could take an Omega Fatty Acid supplement instead of flax seed, but read labels carefully, most contain animal products such as gelatin, and can be quite expensive, however Flax seed is cheap, just be sure not to get ground flax seed, (or ground flax flour) once the seed hull is broken the seed go rancid very quickly. Milled flax is shelf stable, or you could buy whole seed and grind it in your coffee grinder if you have one.

I could eat like this all day, every day!

I get really excited when I learn a great new recipe or find an amazing new vegan product. I actually love vegan food, and so does my husband, who doesn't seem to miss meat, dairy, or eggs at all. There is no feeling of loss, no starvation diet, and definitely no "rabbit food."  We are still in the process of learning to be vegan,  but eventually, we will be entertaining friends and family with unbelievably delicious (and nutritious) food that will not clog our arteries, elevate cholesterol or high blood pressure, or increase risk for deadly diseases from mad cow disease, heart disease, stroke, diabetes,  to cancer. Best of all, we will live peacefully with other living creatures, and truly "live and let live". We will one forkfull at a time decrease the demand on animal agriculture and support farmers and produce growers everywhere. We will live healthier, more knowledgeably, and more responsibly. A vegan is someone who looks closely at all of the implications of their food choices -- to his or her own body, to the animals, and to the environment -- and then chooses to eat a plant-based diet. A vegan takes what he or she learns and puts it into action by eating things that grow on trees or in the ground. As my son, a physics major who is also newly vegetarian puts it, it is only logical to accept the free gifts of the earth given in plenty from plants and trees, and completely illogical to cause the death of an animal for a meal. It's all about progress, not perfection. Being a vegan is about being passionate, aware, and solution-oriented. Think of it this way: just like a violinist is devoted to learning more and practicing the violin, so does a vegan commit to learn all they can and practice what they learn about compassionately coexisting with all living creatures. 

A well-balanced vegan diet is among the healthiest of diets. It is typically high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats. Protein, calcium and iron are easily obtained.  According to the Vegan Society, "a vegan diet will help ease world-wide water and food shortages.  Your vegan diet moves you firmly away from animal cruelty. Living, thinking, feeling beings are kept in appalling conditions and brutally slaughtered to satisfy the meat and dairy industries. Animals on free-range and organic farms do not have a lucky escape: they may still be debeaked, castrated and/or disbudded. Slaughter is inevitable. Your vegan diet will have less impact on the rain forests, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give you a smaller eco-footprint." With factory farming, it is impossible to argue that the animals do not suffer. Every minute of their lives is filled with cruelty that we are purposefully shielded from by the industry. To be a vegan is to eat first with one's conscience. The concept of non-harming doesn’t stop at animal welfare; it extends to humans as well. Consuming animal products can potentially harm us for a long time. Eating meat pumped full of antibiotics and hormones further damages our body, as we store these substances in our tissues and organs. Here is a poignant quote from one of the doctors on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:  
  • "The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined.  If beef is your idea of "real food for real people" you'd better live real close to a real good hospital".  -- Neal Barnard, M.D.

There is always plenty to eat!

Some of the best reasons to go vegan/vegetarian from The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine:

*A healthy heart 
Vegetarians/vegans have much lower cholesterol levels than meat-eaters, and heart disease is less common in vegetarians. The reasons are not hard to find. Vegetarian meals are typically low in saturated fat and usually contain little or no cholesterol. Since cholesterol is found only in animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, vegans consume a cholesterol-free diet.
The type of protein in a vegetarian diet may be another important advantage. Many studies show that replacing animal protein with plant protein lowers blood cholesterol levels—even if the amount and type of fat in the diet stays the same. Those studies show that a low-fat, vegetarian diet has a clear advantage over other diets. Lower levels of cholesterol and fat are found in the stricter vegan diet.
*Lower blood pressure 
An impressive number of studies, dating back to the early 1920s, show that vegetarians have lower blood pressure than non-vegetarians  In fact, some studies have shown that adding meat to a vegetarian diet raises blood pressure levels rapidly and significantly. The effects of a vegetarian diet occur in addition to the benefits of reducing the sodium content of the diet. When patients with high blood pressure begin a vegetarian diet, many are able to eliminate the need for medication.
*Controlling diabetes 
The latest studies on diabetes show that a vegan diet high in complex carbohydrates and fiber (which are found only in plant foods) and low in fat is the best dietary prescription for controlling diabetes. A diet based on vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains, which is also low in fat and sugar, can lower blood sugar levels and often reduce or even eliminate the need for medication. Since individuals with diabetes are at high risk for heart disease, avoiding fat and cholesterol is important, and a vegetarian diet is the best way to do that.
 *Cancer prevention 
 A plant based diet helps prevent cancer. Studies of vegetarians show that death rates from cancer are only about one-half to three-quarters of the general population’s death rates.
Breast cancer rates are dramatically lower in countries where diets are typically plant-based. When people from those countries adopt a Western, meat-based diet, their rates of breast cancer soar. Vegetarians also have significantly lower rates of colon cancer than meat-eaters. Colon cancer is more closely associated with meat consumption than any other dietary factor.
Why do vegetarian diets help protect against cancer? First, they are lower in fat and higher in fiber than meat-based diets. But other factors are important, too. Plants contain other cancer-fighting substances called phytochemicals. For example, vegetarians usually consume more of the plant pigments beta-carotene and lycopene. This might help to explain why they have less lung and prostate cancer. Also, some studies have suggested that diets that avoid dairy products may reduce the risk of prostate and ovarian cancer. Vegans who do not consume eggs or dairy in addition to meat, poultry, and fish have the absolute lowest incidence of breast cancer, less than 1% according to the world renowned China Study.
Some of the anti-cancer aspects of a vegetarian diet cannot yet be explained. For example, researchers are not quite sure why vegetarians have more of certain white blood cells, called “natural killer cells,” which are able to seek out and destroy cancer cells.
*The calcium connection
Vegans  are less likely to form either kidney stones or gallstones. In addition, vegans  may also be at lower risk for osteoporosis because they eat  no animal protein. A high intake of animal protein encourages the loss of calcium from the bones. Replacing animal products with plant foods reduces the amount of calcium lost. This may help to explain why people who live in countries where the diet is typically plant-based have little osteoporosis, even when calcium intake is lower than that in dairy-consuming countries.

If you want to give up meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, I recommend easing into it so that you don't get too overwhelmed by the changes. If you shift your eating patterns gradually, just by giving up eating one animal at a time  or subbing out a favorite meal by veganizing the protein (opting for a black bean burrito instead of a beef burrito for instance), you have more breathing room to discover new food choices and menus.  If you want a diet that is not just good but super-healthy, ensure it is varied. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially those with strong colors since they tend to have more nutritional benefits, and they are beautiful!  Also include plenty of whole grains and cut down on processed foods, especially hydrogenated fats. Generally, the more processed a food is, the less nutrients it contains. When I decided that vegan made sense, I was suddenly overwhelmed with what I didn't know, what I could and couldn't eat. So I just set my intention to be vegan, and then made the incremental changes little by little. And then you start reaping the benefits: weight loss, prevention and reversal of disease, increased longevity, the pride of knowing that you are radically reducing your carbon footprint, money saved, and the sense that you are evolving as a conscious and compassionate human being. You don’t have to be a genius in the kitchen or have loads of time to cook – quick and easy vegan meals include stir fries, pasta and sauce, chilli, salads, and burritos. If you do enjoy cooking, you can have lots of fun trying out new recipes and discovering new favorite ingredients and dishes. Many restaurants offer vegan options and the choice is improving all the time. International restaurants are the best bets for finding vegetarian food when dining out. Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Spanish, Thai, Japanese, and Indian restaurants all offer a wide variety of vegetarian dishesVegan food can be gourmet, quick and easy, healthy, indulgent, hearty or light, whatever takes your fancy.  Many countries around the world have plant-based recipes amongst their traditional dishes.  There are vegan equivalents of most non-vegan dishes that you could think of, including all those cakes and desserts!  Vegan cooking can also be simple and inexpensive, so if you don’t have much time to cook or you’re on a tight budget there are many recipes to suit you too. Familiar favorites such as pasta dishes, stir-fries and lasagnas can easily be made suitable for vegans, and many vegan baking recipes are simpler to follow than their non-vegan counterparts, so there’s no need to panic if you find yourself needing to feed a vegan friend or relative.  Texturized vegetable protein (TVP) is fat-free, has a texture like ground beef, and is wonderful in tacos, chili, and sloppy joes. Look for it in the bulk food section of the grocery storeSummer barbecues are healthy and fun with meatless hot dogs and burgers. Or, for a real change of pace, grill thick slices of marinated vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, or tomatoes. The simplest dishes are often the most satisfying. Brown rice, gently seasoned with herbs and lemon and sprinkled with chopped nuts or sunflower seeds, is a perfect dish. When traveling, pack plenty of vegetarian snacks like instant soups, fresh fruit, raw vegetables, trail mix, granola bars, and homemade oatmeal cookies. Fill a cooler with sandwiches and individual containers of juice and soy milk.

Easy tips to get you started:
1. Eat more organic fruits and veggies. They are full of life force and nutrition.
2. Eat less processed foods and when you do, choose those with the fewest ingredients.
3. Read! There are tons of wonderfully simple vegetarian and vegan cookbooks out there. Add one or two wholesome recipes a week and you will begin to feel amazing in no time.

Eating vegan is a substantial basis to our health and well-being; it's good for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Food is so foundational, so much a part of our daily routine. It reflects who we are and what we value.  Eating a vegan diet is the perfect opportunity to put into action, regularly, what's important to us. I feel healthier, I am losing weight with little effort, and have more energy than I can ever remember having in my adult life! And when I sit petting Fifi, my Cock-a-poo, my best friend and constant lap companion, I think she knows I am helping her cousins live, and she thanks me for them silently. I have a much deeper appreciation for animals as co-existers on this planet, not different 'grades' of animals, some to exploit, some to love. My bond with Fifi and my other pets is stronger and deeper now, I didn't expect that, it is just the icing on the vegan cake!  =)

Are you an animal lover? Don't eat your friends!

More resources:

A 6 minute story of one couple's experience going vegan:

You can try out veganism with full community support, The Vegan Pledge Facebook fan page:,  you can become a fan and chat to other vegans and pledgers here or on the Vegan Society's main Facebook page:
There are a number of US groups who send out vegan starter kits in the mail, they may also have more specific information about vegan food products available in the US:

I highly recommend reading The China Study, it  is packed full of sound scientific data on people who eat a plant based diet vs. those who eat meat in the longest running nutritional study ever conducted.

Everyone should make themselves "heart attack proof", watch the CNN Documentary: Dr. Sanjay Gupta with former president Bill Clinton: "The Last Heart Attack"

One more thing, the next 39 seconds could save your life:


Do Christians eat meat? Some do, some do not, many protestant religions do not preach vegetarianism. The Lord gave us free will, and each should examine  information (such as provided here) and then thoroughly examine their own conscious, and act accordingly. The 7th Commandment says, "You shall not kill." Our Lord Jesus preached peace and love to one another, and he condemned animal sacrifice. It is clearly documented as the disciples prepared for the passover with Jesus at the Last Supper, that the meat was omitted. Whatever we do eat, whether meat or not, eat the food with thanks and gratitude.

Romans 12:2
"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

    When our lifestyle and actions are aligned with our Faith it might seem sometimes (or very often!) that we are going against the flow set by society at large. It's during these times that we should remember that we are not here to please society or to "fit", but to honor God by living compassionate, loving, ethical lives that allow us to participate in the reconciliation of God's Creation.~ Christian Vegetarian Association

"Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God."~ Romans 14:6 

"Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so." ~ Genesis 1:29,30

" But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense  is like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations; 4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for the and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”~ Isaiah 66:3-4

" Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall." Romans 14:20-21

Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred. ~ Proverbs 15:17

"Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah,  “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.  So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead." ~ Daniel 1:11-16

" I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me,who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—  I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals  I hate with all my being.They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!" ~ Isaiah 1:11-15

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." ~ Matthew 5:7

Jesus' message is one of love and compassion, yet there is nothing loving or compassionate about factory farms and slaughterhouses, where billions of animals live miserable lives and die violent, bloody deaths. Jesus mandates kindness, mercy, compassion, and love for all God's creation. He would be appalled by the degree of suffering we inflict on animals to indulge our acquired taste for their flesh.

Christians have a choice. When we sit down to eat, we can add to the level of violence, misery, and death in the world, or we can respect His creation with a vegetarian or vegan diet.

The Garden of Eden, God's perfect world, was vegetarian (Gen. 1:29-30). Immediately, God calls this ideal and non-exploitative relationship "good" (Gen. 1:31). There follow many years of fallen humanity, when people held slaves, waged war, ate animals and committed various other violent acts. But the prophets tell us that the peaceable kingdom will be nonviolent and vegetarian; even the lion will lie down with the lamb (e.g., Isaiah 11). Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who ushers in this new age of nonviolence. When Christians pray, "Your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven," the one prayer given to us by Jesus, this obligates us to change our lives, to make choices that are as merciful and loving as possible. There will be no factory farms and slaughterhouses in heaven.

Lastly, here is a wonderful essay on the subject: "The Biblical Basis of Veganism" 


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