1994 was my first stint as a vegetarian, which lasted about a year..seems like ages ago…Clinton administration, way before 9/11, Pearl Jam and Nirvana days. I was primarily influenced to explore vegetarianism by two good friends (married), who never preached about vegetarianism, but obviously enjoyed it and never seemed to lack for great food. I still had a small apartment kitchen and minimal culinary skill, so logically I loved it when they cooked! I think I believed at the time, why not when it was probably better for one’s body anyhow and it was a bit of a challenge, a way to be different. So, eating veg was mainly for the “cool” factor I suppose. I had never been a huge meat fan, all the way back to the meticulous notes in my baby book kept by my mom (I was the oldest, what can I say?). Plus, I’ve always had an interest in nutrition, ever since my first running days in high school.
Fast-forward 16 years and here I am, definitely no longer worried about the “cool” factor, and still interested in nutrition. I decided in 2010 to look into all the information starting to seep its way into my somewhat fried/non-media influenced/post-graduate school brain–about organic foods, factory farming, etc. I now had the luxury of more time to read and watch movies such as Food Inc. What I read and learned blew me away–and along with internal questions raised by owning my first dog– I knew I never wanted to eat meat of any kind again. I was definitely a vegetarian for life this time.
I guess I’ve been internally struggling with the vegan thing since I made this decision. I had no idea vegan was the new vegetarian…Or so I recently read in this quote in a newish cookbook of mine called Quick Fix Vegan by Robin Robertson: “As a plant-based diet becomes more mainstream, ‘vegan’ has become the new ‘vegetarian’ “. I had to laugh…this was precisely how I was feeling!!! I finally make the jump to vegetarianism for good and now it’s not good enough??!! I was not even fully clear on what vegan meant when I made the change! Sure, I know celebrities had been apparently talking about it for years. But I had hardly followed any celeb news for years. But apparently now even burger-stuffing Bill Clinton was a vegan! (Disclaimer-I did not set out to tie our former president into my post repeatedly, but somehow I have!).
What have I learned through this realization? I feel that the vegan community…which I interact with through the blog world and Internet, VegNews magazine, and cookbooks, seems like an accepting community. Sure, there are über-passionate people, but I have not felt uncomfortable with that. I kind of admire activists in general. It seems in general, the vegan community (which certainly is not a club or a bunch of people with identical views, goals, or spokespersons) accepts people where they are, maybe vegetarian exploring vegan, or a person just exploring a reduction in meat consumption or better health.
I have learned that it’s ok to be where I am. I can own five vegan cookbooks and still make my own decisions about how I choose to be compassionate to animals or eat healthfully. I have also learned that eating vegan or mostly vegan is probably the most healthful way to go. Yes, it’s also awesome for the environment and yes, it’s not that hard to get protein at all. These concepts can be explored anywhere on the web. And I truly feel vegans create the best veg-friendly recipes out there. I was one of those vegetarians who overdid cheese as I cut out meat and vegan cooking provides more healthful (especially less saturated fat) options.
I have discovered through my own explorations of cooking without dairy/eggs I do feel best with minimal to no dairy products. I’m more neutral on eggs. I’m not going to force any more drastic change on my family (two kids in the teen/preteen years here) and I’m not going to grill a friend on the ingredients in her dinner rolls or of that vegetarian soup she is serving. I’m not going to make my mom or aunts any more confused about what to fix for a gathering. I will be ok with a dab of cheese in the bean dip or an egg in my muffin batter. I live in the midwest of the U.S. and I can choose how to participate in my culture, which as most cultures, includes food as an important shared phenomenon. I don’t know many vegans here, and that’s fine with me. I don’t know if there’s a name for what I am describing (my philosophy) and I really feel a name is not necessary. It’s ok and that’s where I am today.
The “old” veg cookbook collection!
PS…this is the first post I’ve managed to create on my iPad. I still can’t get the pictures exactly where I wanted, but I hope it looks ok. I’m also curious how you feel about this topic and welcome any and all comments.