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Posts Tagged ‘eating habits’

This weekend I got into a rather passionate debate with some friends of friends about animal rights. One of them was pretty educated about the evils of factory farming, and said that she didn’t eat much meat because she had to know where it came from. Her husband on the other hand, didn’t know much about factory farming at all, though he was curious about what I had to say and was a good, respectful listener.

After a lot of back and forth about how animals are treated, how ethical meat consumption is, and why I’m vegan, we ended up with them stating that animals wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for humans to eat them – as in, they were put on this earth specifically for us to use as we see fit.  I said that I think animals exist for their own purposes, not for ours.  They exist to be pigs and cows and chickens and zebras and elephants.  I asked them why lions exist, since we don’t eat them (okay, maybe some humans eat lions, but I don’t think many).

“To eat zebras”, they replied.

“Um, ok, why do dogs exist?”

“To be our companions and protectors.”

“So why do humans exist?”

“To eat animals.”

“Wait – so everything on this earth exists to either eat other animals or to be

Here's my l'il doggy, just being his doggy self!

eaten by them? Or apparently, in the case of dogs, to be our buddies?”

They didn’t really have an answer to that.

It is kind of weird to think that we’re all just here to eat each other, isn’t it?  I mean, to be fair, I don’t know why the hell we’re all here either, but I certainly do not think it’s to eat or be eaten.

They also tried to tell me that veganism is no better because of all the animals that are killed in the process of harvesting vegetables and grains.  UGH. I am so tired of hearing that one.  Let’s walk through this: yes, small animals and insects are killed in modern agriculture in the planting and harvesting of various crops.  Those crops are then largely fed to “food animals”, which are then slaughtered and fed to humans.  So, logically speaking, we could kill significantly fewer animals by simply harvesting those crops and eating them directly, could we not?    And isn’t that better from an animal rights perspective than the alternative?  Yes, yes it is.  Plus, I don’t claim to be perfect – I step on ants and insects all the time, I’m sure. I hit them with my car.  I live my life trying to do the least harm possible, but I can’t claim I’ve done no harm to animals.

It gets exhausting fielding these same questions again and again to people, and yet I have to remind myself that I once thought that way, and if no one had ever explained things to me, I’d still be eating the standard American diet – SAD!  Do I think this couple is going to be vegan now?  Heck no, but at least I tried to explain my perspective to them, to show them that not everyone thinks that animals are here just for our selfish human purposes. Maybe eventually it will sink in, maybe it won’t, but I did what I could!

So, friends, why do we humans exist anyway?

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Several years ago my now 59 year old father had a heart attack. It wasn’t a major heart attack, but it has definitely caused him problems. He’s been on medication since it happened, and has regular stress tests to see if the damage to his heart has progressed. Thankfully, up until this last time, his heart showed no additional signs of damage….but his test a few weeks ago had a different result. His cardiologist told him that another part of his heart that previously hadn’t showed any damage now was. The doctor gave him 2 choices: proceed with an angioplasty now, or take 6 months to change his lifestyle and see if his condition improved. After asking what the latter would mean, he decided to take that option.

So, what lifestyle changes did the cardiologist recommend? First, he said my dad needs to lose weight, and that he should do this in two ways: 1) by walking at least 2 miles every day, and 2) by changing his diet dramatically.

Let me explain to you exactly what I mean by “dramatically” in the case of my father:  this was a man who ate beef at least once a day, if not more, for the majority of his life.  He ate high fat, high cholesterol meats and other animal byproducts.  Butter, ice cream, cheese, steak, pork, eggs – you name it, he ate it.  He would stop at fast food restaurants and get 2-3 burgers to eat over the course of a few hours.   At this last visit, however, his doctor told him that his diet should be primarily plant-based – 80% at a minimum, but the more the better. He said no more red meat, no more high fat dairy products, etc.  This prescription would be a hard for a lot of omnivores, but for a farm-raised, country boy like my dad, it was a pretty tall order.

In the past month, however, he and my mother have been eating almost exclusively vegetarian, and have even switched from using butter (a staple for them) to using Earth Balance.  My mom asked me for healthy vegan recipes, and has been cooking completely differently than she had been.   My dad has taken to walking and is getting in some cardio almost every day. And guess what?  In about a month, he’s already lost 16 pounds, and he feels great!  And probably most amazing of all is that he says he doesn’t even really miss meat.  Usually I say that when people start eating healthy vegetarian food, they WON’T miss meat, but my dad was just such a meat lover that I didn’t know if that would be the case. I am thrilled that it is.  I’m thrilled that he’s feeling good and losing weight, I’m thrilled that both my parents are eating fewer animal products, and mostly I am thrilled that he’s making this effort for his health. I want him to be around for a long time, and unless he does this, that just won’t happen.

And maybe, just maybe, if he keeps this up and works hard, these new lifestyle  changes can even reverse the damage already done to his heart. I am hopeful that it will!

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A while back PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) offered $1 million to any company or person who could come up with a cost effective way to produce cloned meat on a large scale, the goal being that people could still satisfy their meat cravings, but that animals wouldn’t have to be slaughtered for that purpose.

Well, it looks like we’re getting closer and closer to being able to produce “meat with no feet”.  “The Washington D.C. research firm New Harvest is just one group developing the technology to actually clone meat cells without the need, expense, or health concerns of raising entire legions of beasts to slaughter.” If we could produce cloned meat in controlled environments, it could mean amazing things for our environment, human health, and for the animals that people currently eat.   In this country alone, we raise about 10 billion animals each year for food.  Those 10 billion animals have a profound effect on the environment during their lives, but that could all be avoided with cloned meat.  More importantly, those animals suffer greatly during their short lives, only to end up at a slaughter house where they will be killed for food.  They experience pain and fear just like you and I would, and they want to live just as much as we do. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could?  I mean, I’d prefer if humans just stopped eating animals out of their own morality, but second best would be if they ate meat that didn’t come from a tormented soul, but rather from a petri dish!

So, would I eat meat with no feet? Would other vegans and vegetarians?  If I knew that the meat was humane and safe, I wouldn’t have a problem with it ethically at all.  The thing is, I think I’ve lost my taste for meat now. I know I have, actually.  So I’m not sure I’d go back to eating it even if I knew no one had to die to produce it, but that’s mostly just out of personal preference now — I wouldn’t have a problem with anyone else eating it.

What do think? Is it too weird?  Would you support this research?  If you are vegan or vegetarian, would you want to eat this meat? If you’re an omnivore, would you make the switch?

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First of all, Happy New Year!   My apologies for being such a terrible blogger as of late. I went on vacation and then the holidays hit and I got lazy, what can I say?!  I’ve definitely had some things to blog about though, so here we go:

Over Christmas I went home to my family’s farm in North Dakota.  I usually bring some food along when I know I’ll be there for that long (5 days), but this time I didn’t bring much because I had been sick and didn’t do the greatest job of preparing for the trip.  I figured I’d be able to find something to eat, even if it wasn’t ideal.

One night in particular I decided to make some black bean tacos.  I made enough for my parents to eat as well, because I think cooking good vegan food for people is one of the best ways to show them what veganism is all about – that we still eat great food, it just doesn’t have animal products in it.  Anyway, I cooked this meal but ended up eating alone – in this case, mostly just because my parents weren’t hungry.  But over the holidays I felt sort of left out whenever we sat down to eat.  I had my own “special” food, which was nice and all, but I couldn’t participate in the food traditions I grew up with, and it sort of made me feel isolated.  Sure, I was still there celebrating with my family, but it just wasn’t the same.  It made me realize how lonely it can feel sometimes to be vegan.

Lonely or not, though, I wouldn’t change my decision.  I don’t WANT to eat our traditional foods anymore: creamed corn, smoked sheep meat, beef meatballs, buttered potatoes, etc.  They make me nostalgic on the one hand, but basically just gross me out on the other.

I don’t have any major insight on this, really, I just was thinking about how even though being vegan can feel isolating or lonely sometimes, I still know it’s the right thing for me to do.  I guess that’s why they say doing the right thing is rarely the easy thing.  Plus, on the flip side of that loneliness is the fact that I’ve met a lot of really great, fun people because of my veganism. The community I’ve built here is great and feels anything but lonely!

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Check out NJ.com today for a great article posted today about veganism.  It starts out with this: “It is almost impossible to have a conversation with a vegan and not want to slam the door in disgust on your own entrenched eating habits.” From there, I knew it was going to be good.  I love reading pieces on veganism that are so positive, instead of reading about how “restrictive” and “difficult” it is.  It’s especially nice reading something like this written from an omnivore’s perspective.  Hooray for the Times of Trenton!

The article talks mostly about the ethical and health reasons for going vegan.  I have the ethical part down,  but reading this (among other things) has prompted me to think more about how my diet has and/or can affect my health.  Even though I feel like my diet has been more healthy since going vegan, I know I have a lot of room for improvement.  So, I’ve decided that it’s time to make my diet more healthy. I’m going to eat even more vegetables and whole grains, and cut back on some of my “treats”, like potato chips and french fries.  I seriously didn’t lose a single pound going vegan, and that just seems wrong, considering how much cheese and candy I used to eat. What gives? Perhaps it’s the other crap that’s still in my diet. Time for a change!

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I heard this, or variations on this, a lot when I first went vegan. And you know what? Not long ago, I was saying the exact same thing – so I totally get it. I thought I could never, EVER give up my beloved cheese. I used to eat a LOT of cheese – mozzarella, cheddar, blue, pepper-jack, goat cheese – basically any kind of cheese I could find, I would eat. I loved it. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that they can’t imagine me ever giving up my cheese. I mean, I used to have entire parties that were centered around wine and cheese.

Honestly, cheese was one of the reasons I didn’t think I would go vegan. Well, that and milk chocolate, but that’s another story. I thought “ok, maybe just being a really strict vegetarian who eats cheese here and there is enough”. And you know what? That surely would have made a difference. I lowered my carbon footprint significantly just by giving up meat, and in not eating animal flesh, I was saving the lives of countless animals. Awesome, right? Well, I felt pretty good about it, to be honest.

But the longer I kept eating dairy, the worse I felt about it. I was helping a lot of animals, sure, but I was still contributing to the suffering of countless, helpless, beautiful, individual “dairy” cows – cows that I didn’t NEED to harm for my own benefit. I ate cheese because I liked it, and possibly because I was addicted to it. According to research done by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM):

Several scientific teams have shown that the principal protein in cheese, casein, breaks apart during digestion to produce abundant amounts of morphine-like compounds called casomorphins. Biologically, these opiates appear to be responsible for part of the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nature designed breast milk to be highly desirable (addictive, even) so that babies will want more of it and can keep growing big and strong. And humans continuing to consume casein in dairy products makes us big too – except we grow fatter, not stronger.

At any rate, the point is that I DID give up cheese. I broke the addiction and finally went vegan and I’ve never felt better. And eating vegan? It’s really not that hard. You just have to commit to it and do a little research and voila! You’re vegan! If you’re struggling to go vegan, just know that the cravings for animal products do go away, and please know that you CAN do it. If I can give up cheese, you can give up anything. Seriously.

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You know how when you know you shouldn’t do something but you really, really want to how all of a sudden a lot of seemingly reasonable excuses come into your head to justify it?  Well, I used to be that way with animal products until I decided that was really not working for me anymore.  Now I am the exact opposite. For example, today on my lunch break, I went to Origins and bought way too many skincare products that I don’t need. I justified this by being all “oh my gosh! Origins is cruelty free, and I should TOTALLY support them in that effort!”  So, $75 later I had some fun face lotions/cleansers, and maybe, just MAYBE a paw balm for my dog.  Yes, that’s right, I bought $15 ALL NATURAL paw balm for my little dog’s comfort.  Because, um, I should support Origins!  And tell me what dog doesn’t enjoy a good paw massage, right?  (Ok, maybe not…he kind of looks at me like he’s really irritated when I’m doing it, and then tries to lick it all off later. Woops. Good thing it’s all natural.)

I do the same thing with food now.  “If it’s vegan it must be healthy! I can eat whatever I want. Look at how compassionate I am!”  My expanding waistline might disagree with that justification, but that’s not really stopping me, now is it?  Part of the problem is that suddenly I have a desire to bake all the time. I NEVER liked baking when I was an omnivore – ask my family, they’ll tell you what a shock it’s been these past few months when I show up with freshly baked vegan muffins or cupcakes.  The thing I like about vegan baking is that it’s so much more creative than regular baking.  There are several substitutes for eggs, in particular, that make it fun to experiment – does this recipe use silken tofu, or Ener-G egg replacer, or flax seeds?  So much fun! (Oh god, I think I’ve turned in to a baking nerd….I never thought I’d see the day). 

At any rate, while eating vegan baked goods makes me feel a lot better about what I’m eating, I still can’t deny that it’s not the healthiest thing I could be eating – and yet, no guilt!  Has anyone else had this problem after switching to a vegan diet, or am I the lone weirdo??

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Last night I made some pretty tasty vegan fajitas. Olde El Paso and I made them together, actually. I cooked up a couple of boca burgers (chopped up), some red & green peppers, onion, garlic and some pinto beans, threw in the the El Paso mix and voila! Topped it off with some lettuce, tomato and salsa and devoured three of them (the tortillas were teeny tiny, I swear). When I was at the grocery store tonight and contemplating making these, I realized that this would be the first time I had Mexican food without cheese. Mexican food without cheese?? You can’t do that, I thought to myself! But guess what? You can!

It got me thinking about how many times we eat things just because we’re used to them, and how surprisingly tasty it can be to just try something outside of the usual repertoire. Prior to going vegetarian, I really didn’t eat much in the way of vegetables. Once I cut meat out of my diet, I was kind of amazed at how much my taste buds seemed to change. All of a sudden all these “weird” foods started to taste really good to me. Don’t worry, I still don’t like broccoli (I mean COME ON), but I do like a much wider variety of foods now. It’s kind of awesome. The switch to veganism was much the same. After going vegan, I realized that while sometimes I miss the idea of cheese, I don’t actually care to eat it anymore, and really, the fajitas didn’t need cheese to taste good.

I definitely used to be that person who said I could NEVER stop eating cheese. That really was the one thing that held me back from taking the leap from vegetarian to vegan, but now that I have, I realize that it was quite a bit easier than I thought. I still enjoy my food when it’s not smothered in cheese. No, really, I do. One thing I’d recommend, I guess, if you are contemplating giving up cheese or some other omni food is to just take little steps towards it. I started out by getting Chipotle tacos first without sour cream, and then I eventually eliminated the cheese from the mix too–baby steps! (Ok, so I have had Mexican food without cheese, just not homemade, now that I think about it.)

Bottom line: try new foods – they might just surprise you! (If my mother were reading this right now she would definitely question who the author was, because this seriously sounds nothing like pre-veg Mindy. Wow.)

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VeggiesI didn’t become a vegan overnight. I didn’t even become a vegetarian over night. Rather, it was something I thought about for a long time before I actually committed. After mulling it over for the better part of a year, I finally decided to stop eating meat all together in July of 2007. During my year of contemplation, I gradually started eliminating meat from my diet. First it was pork and beef, both of which were relatively easy for me to give up because I’d always known how unhealthy they were. I was still eating turkey and chicken, however, and wasn’t quite sure how I’d give those up–they were a pretty big part of my diet at that point. Still playing with the idea, though, I started trying to have vegetarian meals whenever I could. I really didn’t know much about a healthy vegetarian diet, so I knew I’d have to read up on it to make sure I did it right and didn’t end up gaining a bunch of weight or feeling tired or whatever (both of which can also happen on an omni-diet, obviously). As it turns out, I started to enjoy cooking – something that had never been a favorite pastime of mine. I loved the idea of making myself healthy, filling vegetarian meals, and enjoying my food so much. My taste buds seemed to change – I was liking foods I had never been particularly fond of, and it felt pretty cool.

I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone compared making a huge change in diet to getting married – you have this big day where you decide “Ok, this is it! I’m doing it!”, and then after that you just do it because you’ve committed. That made a lot of sense to me. When I was eliminating meat from my diet and learning about vegetarian cooking, I was kind of “dating” vegetarianism, until once day I decided “hey, we should get married”. Luckily, vegetarianism isn’t a person who can (and likely would) turn me down. We were partners!

It was the same thing with going vegan: I dated it for a while, and then just decided I was going to do it, and there would be no turning back. Now we’re in love…or at least I am. Let’s not worry about the details, okay?

Anyway, the point of this all is that I think baby steps are okay – in fact, they’re to be celebrated. A couple of my girlfriends (big shout out to Sarah & Becky) have both been taking their own baby steps. Sarah’s working on cutting at least some of the meat out of her diet and Becky’s a full-fledged veggie now. I am so proud of both of them, because I know what a struggle it can be, but I also know how worthwhile it is. I’ve never felt better in my life.  Sure, a lot of that is emotional because for me, eating animals just got to be kind of painful. I felt emotionally lousy every time I was doing it, to the point where it just wasn’t worth it anymore. I think that’s what psychologists might call my “conscience”, but let’s not get too fancy here. Basically, I just had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing – that was enough for me.

Whatever your reason for taking some of those baby steps (or in Becky’s case, pretty big leaps!) – health, the environment, animals – keep on steppin’! Knowing that you’re doing something good for yourself, the earth, and all those little piggies and cows and chickens will make you feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

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