Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This Little Piggy Had Tofu

About to chow down on some veggie dogs at Spike's. See, even veg kids eat hot dogs.

I've been thinking a lot about our food choices lately and feel like I have been having more conversations than usual about why we have made the decisions we have to raise our family as herbivores. As more and more of our friends and family take steps (or leaps) towards a more compassionate way of eating, I have been encouraged and sometimes surprised. People who I'd never expect to cut back on meat are learning more about where food comes from and are taking the steps they think are appropriate for them and their family.

I get asked a lot of questions about vegetarianism. I don't mind at all because generally people are really just curious and interested in understanding it a little better. It has been a long time since I've felt a need to defend my choice to not eat meat and I enjoy answering all the questions. With that in mind,
I've decided to write out some of the FAQ's.
Hopefully this diatribe will answer any questions people have and help shed light on the reasoning behind this fairly significant aspect of my identity. If nothing else, it will
save me some time since I'm pretty sure I've typed up these responses a dozen times and now I can just link to this post.

How long have you been a vegetarian?

Logan was already a vegetarian when I met him. I remember telling my sister and brother-in-law that Logan was a vegetarian and I couldn't date someone who stands for something (joking, sort of) when they teased me that Logan sent me flowers on my birthday when we were so not dating. I was not a vegetarian at that point, but like most soft hearted little girls, I went through stages where I refused to eat certain animals because they were just too cute. I never ate tons of meat growing up and often picked it out of my meals. As I said,
Logan was a vegetarian when we were dating but he was surprisingly not pushy at all and I feel like even though Logan
had an influence in my decision it was one I made on my own for my own reasons. He probably knew that I am stubborn enough that if he pushed I would resist and that it needed to be something I chose to do.
So in 2004 when I decided to try to stop eating meat after reading Animal Liberation, it was a very easy transition for me and I never looked back.

Why are you a vegetarian?

I am a vegetarian for a combination of many reasons ranging from religious, economical, health and environmental but mainly I choose not to eat meat so that I am not supporting the meat industry which treats animals in a way that I simply cannot justify supporting no matter how good bacon tastes. We can eat a delicious and well-balanced diet without eating animals, so we choose not to. Both Logan and I feel like our bodies function better on a vegetarian diet, but understand that not everyone feels that way. Neither of us misses meat or ever craves it.

Are you going to raise your children as vegetarians?

When I was about to have Soren we were faced with the decision about how we were going to raise our children. It is easy to make decisions for yourself, but when you are making huge decisions that will effect your family forever and that you will inevitably need to defend, it seems like sort of a big deal. I knew I was not going to feed my children meat, but I went back and forth over whether we'd go vegan once we had kids. The idea of having pure kids that never had animal products in them really appealed to me. (Think about how clean those little colons would be!) I knew it was possible and knew I could do it, but I just wasn't ready to make that jump myself so we remain in the sort of limbo state between vegetarian and vegan. We don't eat any animals, and limit our dairy and egg intake pretty significantly but still eat those things on occasion. Maybe one day we'll go all the way but for now, our plan is to raise our kids as vegetarians with the realistic understanding that, as it is with most things you teach your children, they may choose to eat meat at some point when they are old enough to make that decision. I don't see raising your kids as vegetarians any different than "pushing" any of your other personal ideologies on them such as politics or religion or choosing to raise them as omnivores. Either way, you are making decisions for them based on what you have decided is right until they are old enough to make them on their own. We won't buy or cook meat for them, but if they choose to eat it there's nothing we can do about it. Clearly we'd be a little disappointed (just as we would be if those chose to be Republicans or anything else we find appalling...) but hope that we can respect our children's individuality and their ability to exercise agency and make that decision on their own. But as I said, I think this is how parents should feel about all beliefs they teach their children.

Where do you get your protein?

Protein is easier to get than you think. Many foods that you don't realize contain protein and it all adds up. For example, even a serving of watermelon has a gram of protein. We eat a lot of beans, whole grains, nuts, green vegetables and tofu. Since we still eat some dairy, we also get protein from yogurt, cottage cheese and the occasional egg. I'm at the point where I no longer really think about protein since I cook things with more than enough protein for most meals. For Soren I usually am more aware of it since there are days where he doesn't eat much so I have to make each bite count.

But surely you'll eat meat when you're pregnant, right?

I didn't eat meat when I was pregnant with Soren nor do I plan to for future pregnancies. My doctor was 100% supportive of my being a vegetarian and trusted that I knew how to eat a well balanced diet that could support both the baby and my needs. I had a very healthy pregnancy and Soren was a big, exceptionally healthy baby. I was able to nurse him for 14 months while maintaining a vegetarian diet.

What do you feed Soren?

Soren eats pretty well, but like most toddlers it can be pretty hit or miss. I try to give him fat, protein and fresh fruit and/or vegetables at each meal. Some of his favorite things to eat are broccoli, peas, watermelon, bananas with peanut butter, carrots, apples, avocados, grapes, tofu, beans of all types, dried fruit, yogurt, cottage cheese, cereal, couscous, ravioli, rice and pasta. He drinks soy or almond milk instead of cow's milk. I try to give him very few processed foods but he's still a toddler and there are some days that he has Teddy Grahams and chocolate milk for breakfast (while watching cartoons) and that's totally okay. I just try to make sure that the majority of his calories come from whole, unprocessed foods. Both Logan and I were freakishly small as children, so it is no surprise that Soren's a little small for his age. I blame that on genetics (as does his pediatrician) and not his diet. His pediatrician marvels at how healthy he is and is absolutely supportive of his diet. And his diapers don't stink at all! (Totally kidding.)

What are some of your favorite vegetarian meals?

I never really know how to answer this question, especially on the spot. Most of my tried and true recipes I've posted here. I'm lucky that I enjoy cooking and am pretty good at it (if I do say so myself). It is a little hard to make the initial transition since traditionally most meals are planned around meat, but once you change your mentality a little you no longer feel like you're just eating a meal of side dishes and it becomes much easier to plan delicious, healthy meals. You can be a vegetarian and eat cheese pizza and french fries for dinner every night, but taking the time to learn how to cook well-balanced meals is well worth it. I am a good cook and have reached the point that I can usually cook delicious food without a recipe, but it took a long time to get to this point and don't think that is exclusive to vegetarian cooking. Learning to cook is a process and there were lots of tears, pans of gross food thrown into the sink and pizza ordered. But if you push through the tears it will pay off in the end.

Do you have any cookbook recommendations?

I have a shelf full of cookbooks, but don't touch a lot of them. The ones I find myself going back to time and again are Veganomicon and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. These are probably my only cookbooks that I have grown to trust close to 100% and would try a new recipe from them even if I was cooking for guests, which is saying a lot. I think Mark Bittman's is a really good one for someone who is trying to eat less meat but isn't ready to go all the way. He's not actually a vegetarian so it is very omnivore friendly and isn't full of meat "substitutes" that freak out some people who are new to vegetarian cooking. I love the authors of Veganomicon and have several of their cookbooks. Most of my cookie and cupcake recipes come from their books. However, they do use a lot of things your average omnivore might not be comfortable with (seitan, tempeh, quinoa, tofu etc.) but all their recipes are terrific and I'd say the majority of the recipes use ingredients you've all heard of. You should check your library for a couple cookbooks and try them out before spending a ton of money on a book you may never use. I also use the internet a lot for recipes, probably more so than any of my cookbooks. Cooks Illustrated is one of the few online resources that I totally trust, but they are by no means vegetarian. I don't subscribe to the magazine since they don't do enough veg recipes to make it worth it, but I do have an online account and use their recipes quite a bit.

Those are all the questions I can think of but if there's something you're just itching to know ask in the comments and I'll answer it.

PS: I thought the title of this post would make a great new name for my blog if I finally decided to change it, but then a quick google search proved that someone else beat me to it. Dang. But we really do say that when we do piggies with Soren. No roast beef for his little piggies.


logan said...

Nice work Wifey! Very well said. Don't think I've got more questions, you've convinced me, I won't eat meat any more!

Marian said...

Don't change your blog name. It makes me smile every time I see it. Thanks for the good info. You are a wonderful cook and I brag about you all the time. Come make dinner soon.

Spencer said...

Great stuff. Well, I can inform you that you saved yourself at least ONE conversation like this because I was getting around to asking you about it, as I've been in and out of vegetarianism for the past few years. Keep it up. I'll be in Boston for a few days in January (with Sam again) and we'd love to see you again. Take care,

PJ & SANDRA said...

I am inspired. I am not sure I can give up meat entirely, but even my hamburger seemed unappetizing last night - my hamburger!! For goodness sakes, that is endorsement for your post. I love all of your recipes. And I really feel crummy eating meat. Maybe you could post a sample weekly menu - just so I can get a little more inspired.

Oh, and here is a question: how did you adjust to soy milk?? I LOVE milk like I love my first born - okay, not quite, but I love milk a lot and I just cannot get myself into soy milk. Now, I want to drink less milk because I drink a lot so what would you recommend? The vanilla kind? The plain kind? Almond milk?