Tag Archives: food manufacturing

why vegan? why not.

About a week ago, I read a really thought-provoking post by Turning Veganese about the difficulties associated with fully commiting to a vegan lifestyle. What resonated most with me is what Melissa writes about how difficult it can be when dining out, or really in all social situations in general. I’ve digested the post for the past few days and have been thinking really hard about my own struggles with this new life. It isn’t always easy, and not for the reasons you might expect: I don’t find myself craving cheese or eggs, which really were the entire reason I overstayed my welcome in vegetarian purgatory for so long. Nothing was better than mozzarella sticks or nachos–but I started to realize that what I was craving was more the junkfood than the cheese. I was just plain unhealthy, and my hallmark reason for adopting my new diet was, first and foremost, for my health.

I haven’t really looked back since. I’ve been incredibly happy and I’ve been slowly but surely finding my place in the kitchen. To be honest, I don’t have much of a social life these days so I hadn’t really struggled too much in that department. I found out a little late that most Thai curries contain shrimp paste and even Pad Thai without the eggs contains fish sauce. These are hurdles I crossed and now I know better–and can veganize these dishes from the safety of my own kitchen. I educated myself about casein and whey, which really tick me off because most vegetable-based margarines are not safe for vegans to eat. Who’s idea was that? The more I learn, the more infuriated I become with food manufacturers. I know the knowledge I carry with me now is only the tip of the iceberg: I’m too queasy to dig much further. I cannot watch Earthlings.

What comes with this frustration with the food manufacturing industry is a parallel frustration with the hospitality industry. It bothers me that the restaurants decent enough to list one vegetarian menu option rarely make that vegetarian option a vegan option. I politely neglect to get too fired up about cross-contamination because when dining out at a non-vegan establishment, that’s a risk you take. You’re not able to babysit the kitchen staff. And that’s why I cook as much of my own food as I can. I’ve taken to packing my own lunches and I’m picky about the places I will dine out at. I don’t like to be difficult and I’m quite shy about my needs. I don’t feel that they’re as justified as, say, an allergy, so I try not to make a big stink about anything. I’ve been forced to abandon my favorite mom-and-pop restaurants for this reason: they don’t offer the perk of being able to perform extensive online research that chains offer. I can google Cheesecake Factory Vegan Options and a ton of search results are at my finger tips. I can’t do the same for my neighborhood Mexican joint. It’s frustrating and disheartening and quite frankly, it hurts. I’ve never been much of a fan of chain restaurants, but living where I do in the suburbs, there are very few places where I can safely order a vegan meal. Even in San Francisco, with the plethora of vegan options, we found it difficult to find something after a certain hour in the neighborhood we were staying. It’s a difficult and challenging task we’re charged with as vegans: constantly planning and researching. It’s rewarding because I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m eating cleanly and cruelty-free, but easy it is not.

I have been lax at times. I order the same dish I’ve always ordered at my favorite Chinese restaurant, not knowing whether or not it contains oyster sauce and frankly, too afraid to ask. I eat french fries when I crave something fried. I have eaten honey BBQ sauce in the recent past and I have eaten the veggie delite sub at Subway, knowing that the breads are mostly not vegan. I still have a bag of bleached sugar that I use when baking because I refuse to waste it. I have ordered pastas at restaurants and asked for “no cheese,” not knowing whether or not the server wrote down my request or the kitchen remembered to accommodate it. As a vegetarian, I always joked that chickenstock finds it’s way into everything. Now the enemy is dairy and dairy by-products. Even the foods I buy warn that they are manufactured in the a facility that also uses eggs and dairy. I am not 100% perfect and it’s hard to be 100% perfect.

The difference between me as a vegan versus me as a vegetarian is that, as a vegetarian, I always figured I’d eventually falter and fall back into meat-eating ways if I grew tired of the struggle. I’m proud to report that I feel no such fear in regard to my vegan self. I do not ever want this healthy, clean lifestyle to disappear. It will be an uphill battle and I think the best thing I, or anyone, can do is to keep absorbing the literature and research. The health facts alone point to why this lifestyle reigns supreme. Many people begin their vegan journey for the animals first. For me, it was my health first, but the more I learn, the more it becomes about the animals–and I think that’s what keeps me here.

People ask me why I decided to go this route and my answer now is: why not? I have zero reasons and a million reasons all at once. I couldn’t possibly turn it into a concise or coherent sentence. I know that I’m happy now with my choice and I don’t see a reason to have to defend it. And I’ll try not to be too hard on myself for not always being perfect. I suggest you all do the same.

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vegan vs. omnivore: the battle royale

I became acutely aware of the fact that I am not in possession of any happy, upbeat music. I am an indie rock fan and have plenty of music to be sad to, but nothing to get my spirits up. My past few commutes have consisted of endlessly hitting “next” on my iPod. The best I could come up with was Psychokiller by the Talking Heads. Yikes! If I’m going to have a more positive outlook, it first needs to start with the music I send to my brain. I am open to suggestions. I am not a pop fan (at least a modern-day pop fan–I’ll pass on the Ke$ha, please and thank you), but damnit, if it means lifting my spirits, then bring it.

I am still thinking about (dwelling on) going vegan. I have so many hang-ups, it’s unreal. I’ve previously discussed my fear of failing, but it’s deeper than I think I let on. If I were to go the vegan route, it would be less for my convictions and more for healthfulness. When I examined my life and considered what would make me happy, living a healthier lifestyle was one of the first things that sprang to mind. I’m now inundated with insight about what exactly is going into my body. While researching a vegan red velvet recipe, some knowledge was dropped on me about carmine and I became enraged. I want to be clear about just what bothers me about red food dye coming from crushed bugs: it’s not so much the bugs dying. I dislike bugs. I kill spiders and ants and centipedes (oh my!). Insects are necessary to Planet Earth but that doesn’t mean I welcome them crawling on me. I really hate them. I’m not so much bothered by the fact that they were killed and turned into foodstuffs. What I’m bothered by is that a) eating bugs is an extremely unpleasant thought. and b) I’ve gone 23 years having had no idea about this.

I consider myself pretty educated and well-read. I purposely steer away from PETA, etc., because I know that slaughterhouses are awful and I know that pumping our cows full of antibiotics is disgusting and I don’t really want to see it, because if I see it, I’ll cry (or barf). I choose to shield my impressionable mind from it. But I am at least aware of it. The thing that bothers me most about this carmine business is that I HAD NO IDEA WHAT CARMINE WAS. And I want to assure you that if I saw “carmine” on a food label, here is what my thought process would be: hmm, sounds chemical-y, it’s probably a preservative, but at least it’s not chickenstock so looks like I can eat this! You have to be stubbornly educated to know what goes into your ingredients, and most consumers are passive. For most, slapping on the word “ORGANIC” is enough to feel pretty good about your choices and forget about what goes in to manufacturing the food you’re feeding your body with. This makes me feel both angry at the common ignorance of consumers and angry at the secrecy of manufacturers and the manipulation of using branding such as “organic” when there are virtually zero regulations determining what can be considered “organic” or “natural” or “green” or whatever other buzz words are floating around out there.

Putting my convictions about ethical treatment of animals aside, if I were to “go vegan” it would be more of a dietary choice because I feel that it is my right to know exactly what I am ingesting. Something as wholesome as freshly baked cookies can have such a gruesome, disturbing underbelly. And why is it necessary to bleach sugar with bone char? Is it really the case that if sugar was shelved in all the glory of its natural color, we wouldn’t buy it? It’s ironic to transform something to the color of purity using something so unnecessarily impure.

And while I sit here tackling my own ignorance (I don’t know how I lived this long without knowing about carmine or sugar), I would then have to face the ignorance of my peers. Deciding to “go vegan” puts your beliefs out there in a way that provokes others to criticize. Vegans get a bad rap for appearing pretentious or thinking that they’re better than omnivores (anyone seen Scott Pilgrim?) and this is only because vegan choices are “othered.” People would rather ignore the truths about food production and are, for whatever reason, put off by people who choose to not ignore. If I go vegan, it’s not anybody’s damn business unless I make it their business, but I can see several future conversations with non-vegans where I am expected to present my case. What if I don’t want to talk about my case? What if I want to just do what I do and have it affect only me and my body? I am not going to persuade anybody to give up meat or dairy. I would be happy to speak with an open-minded person who isn’t going to shoot me down, but I’m not about to engage in any verbal spars with people unwilling to accept that I come with peace.

IRL, I have spoken to no one about this except for my boyfriend and my best friend. I have a very openly-vegan coworker and I had several opportunities to discuss my sentiments with her today, but I didn’t bring it up. I don’t want to put myself out there. I don’t want to make this my office’s business or my family’s business. I also don’t feel comfortable putting my body in the limelight. If, for example, I adopted a vegan lifestyle and it led to successful weightloss because I am being more conscious about my food choices, and then say I “fell off the wagon” and started eating dairy and that led to an unfortunate weight gain, my body has invited public discourse. I need to lose weight and I don’t need anyone to tell me that for me to know. If I lose weight and then gain weight, that is not an invitation for conversation about it. This is my battle to fight and I don’t need the negativity or the “I told you so”s that come with a dietary or lifestyle change.

Being vegetarian has prepared me for what I know comes next: ignorance from all directions. A vegan vs. omnivore throw-down is not something I’m willing to entertain. I am a commitment-phobe about most things and that is one reason for teetering on the vegetarian/vegan edge, for now. I am in the research-phase. I am learning. I am trying to decide if something like this is sustainable for me. For once, I am considering a lot before throwing myself into something. This is something I don’t normally do when weighing decisions, and I give myself props for that because educating yourself should be the root of all major life choices.

I shouldn’t have to feel like “coming out” as vegan is the same as coming out as an alcoholic, but in actuality the two are very analogous. If an alcoholic goes out and has a beer, it becomes a topic of discussion. If a vegan goes out and eats a grilled cheese sandwich, stop the presses!–it becomes big news. I don’t want to live in fear of failure and I don’t want to be compared to an addict. I won’t accept that treatment and I will turn a deaf ear to it if and when it comes time to cross that bridge.

And that, friends, is how I feel about that.

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