I’ve been attentive to my health ever since I was seventeen years old, after my father had emergency surgery to remove his right kidney and the orange-sized tumor living on it.
It was a reality check for all of us, and my father’s new diet required a new, special attention to the foods we consumed as a family. My mother’s passion for all things health-related, and the naturopathic career she embarked on in her late forties, came from this tumultuous time in our lives.
I am convinced that my yearning to go vegan today partly stems from that time, too.
I was never a vegetarian. I never in my life counted calories and, to be honest, often worked out with the sole purpose of being able to indulge in a nice meal later, guilt free. The first time the idea of going vegan crossed my mind was last summer, but the thought was fleeting, only planting a seed in my brain at the time. This summer, however, twelve weeks pregnant with my second child, the connection was made.
Even on the very first day, it felt irreversible.
Like most new vegans, I was swayed by the documentary What the Health, available on Netflix, and its arguments on veganism being able to prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic diseases. Beyond the health component, what really hit me was the way we are manipulated by the big guys in the meat and dairy industries, and especially by the leading health organizations we often turn to for advice on health and nutrition. Seems improbable, right? Watch the film.
After watching the film, I dove head first into books about the vegan lifestyle, studies, watched a few more documentaries, and in our own home, went cold turkey vegan. My meat-loving husband agreed to try two weeks with me (as long as I cooked). Fine with me. Turns out he went above and beyond that commitment. It’s been a month and he is still going strong, thrilled with his results.
You might ask yourself, like many of my concerned friends and family members, if going vegan is the healthiest idea for an expecting mom. If I am aware of what nutrients and minerals I could be deficient in, or not absorbing as well.
From day one, I started tracking every single food I ate on Cronometer.com, weighing carbohydrates, nuts, seeds, and legumes by the gram. It may seem like a lot of work to some, but worth the hassle when at the end of the day I am relieved to know that I hit 97% of my dietary needs for the day. For the fun of it, I plugged in what my regular omnivore meals used to be, and barely hit 80%. I am eating a lot, and well. Especially during pregnancy, it is obvious when you are deficient in anything – if you are lethargic, or more on edge than usual, it shows. I’ve felt better than I have in years! Energetic, balanced, and even my skin has been clear after three years of unexplained hormonal acne. Whatever I’m doing, it’s agreeing with me.
But it would be a lie to say that going vegan does not require discipline and focus. I recommend the book “Vegan for Life”, by nutritionists Jack Norris and Virginia Messina, outlining every essential nutrient and mineral you need and how to obtain it from plant-based sources. Think about going vegan as a major diet change – you will be eating very differently (and portions will look very different on your plate!), and need to incorporate foods you may have never tasted before. Before embarking on a vegan journey, it is key to learn about the essentials so you don’t set yourself up to fail. A vegan cannot last on salad and fruit – it is pretty much guaranteed that he or she will give up, saying the diet is too difficult. Carbohydrates, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as well as meat alternatives (tofu, tempeh, and seitan, for example), will become your new staples. And, for the reluctant vegans: did you know that some of your favorite snacks are vegan? You don’t have to say goodbye to Oreos, Teddy Grahams, Ritz crackers, Cracker Jacks, Sour Patch Kids, and more.
My husband and I have been blown away by the vegan alternatives available to us and how fun cooking has become. We’ve become true innovators in the kitchen! For example, who knew two cups of cashews could produce a creamy pasta sauce or homemade ricotta? Or that chili was even better with sweet potato than with ground beef? Our culinary adventures have been thrilling and enriching, forcing us out of our comfort zone and opening our palates to new flavors and possibilities. I have a new appreciation for food as fuel, not just pleasure. I taste things in a way I’ve never tasted them before, really savoring flavors and tastes without needing anything to enhance them.
Who would’ve thought that I would miss nothing from my previous diet (not even cheese!) and that I would feel fulfilled every single day. Living a healthy life and not harming animals, other humans, or the planet is, of course, a huge bonus.
Choosing vegan goes way beyond your plate. If you think you’re not making a difference on your own, just read up on the statistics. You are. Every single vegan counts. A year eating vegan meals saves over 3,400 trees and more effective in the fight against climate change than driving a hybrid car for a year. These are just two of the many statistics out there – look them up!
I get asked all the time how I was able to go cold turkey vegan without ever having gone vegetarian. And how I’m so sure I won’t ever go back to eating meat and dairy. It’s simple – I’m an animal lover, always have been. Every single time I ate a piece of meat, I thought of this.
Deep down (although I shrugged the thought off, of course), I felt like a hypocrite. The girl who swooned over the cuteness of calves and baby pigs at the farm was also the girl indulging in steak dinners and uncured bacon in the mornings. It felt wrong, yet I kept that sentiment buried deep, to myself. When, a month ago, I chose to watch these documentaries and get informed, the images I saw were real. I couldn’t ignore the suffering I was seeing on the screen. These animals are afraid, sick, and suffer every day. What makes a screaming calf any different from a screaming child? In my eyes, all pain, all torture, all suffering is equal. The connection was made that night, and I swear to you that the following day I became unable to look at a piece of meat without seeing the massacre behind it.
I urge you once again: be informed. If you think eating dairy isn’t as bad as eating meat, read up on the dairy industry which, in my opinion, is one of the worst. If you think other human beings aren’t suffering and dying because of your bacon consumption, do some research on the health issues black communities surrounding pig farms in North Carolinas are facing today. Do not choose to be ignorant on these issues simply because it would “ruin your next meal” or because it would be “too hard to watch”. That makes us hypocrites.
I cannot begin to explain to you the relief I feel now that my diet is in harmony with my thoughts. I love animals and don’t want to harm them, and, now, I can truly say that I am not causing anyone harm. I am not contributing to the increasingly high demand for meat and dairy products, an industry that has more than tripled in the last three decades. I am choosing foods that are wholesome, sustainable, and good for me, my family, and everyone else on the planet. That’s good enough for me.
Documentaries: What the Health, Food Inc., Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, Vegucated, Hungry for Change, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead
Books: Vegan for Life, The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book
Westchester Vegan Options: Tomatillo & Chipotle (Dobbs Ferry), Sweetgrass Grill & Bibillé (Tarrytown), The Pureganic Cafe & Rosemary & Vine (Rye), Organic Pharmer (Rye Brook), Skinny Buddha (Scarsdale), Thai House & Sambal (Ardsley & Irvington), Jolo’s Kitchen (New Rochelle), Stew Leonards – Vegan Soft Serve Ice Cream! (Yonkers), Brrzaar (Irvington)