Saturday, March 27, 2010

Interviews: Dan: Veganism As A Step Toward Health

CYoFC:  Describe your current diet/lifestyle (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, freegan, flexitarian, omnivore with vegan tendencies...etc.).

Dan:  I am an omnivore with vegan/vegetarian tendencies.

CYoFC:  When did you begin incorporating these vegan/vegetarian tendencies?

Dan:  Can't really say, I've been leaning a little bit more towards veganism for a year or so.

CYoFC:  What prompted you?

Dan:  Health primarily. I'd like to get more energy out of my food, and I've been trying to be mindful of food as fuel, rather than simply automatically snarfing what tastes good. But another factor is taste. I've had some incredible vegan dishes that, upon successful replication at home, have become things I crave. Like Sambussa filling. Sooooo goooood.

The fact that decreasing meat intake helps lower my environmental footprint is nice too. There's also exposure to disease. There's one nasty disease after another associated with various kinds of meat and processed foods.

CYoFC:  Have there been any challenges to decreasing your meat and dairy intake? If so, what were/are they?

Dan:  Not really. I mean depending on where you are and who you are with, access to vegan options can be bothersome. But if you eat anything and simply try to lessen meat and increase the veggies, you can make do anywhere with ease.

CYoFC:  Do plan on continuing to eat this way - that is, as an omnivore with vegan leanings? Or do you think you'll make any changes?

Dan:  I probably will [stay this way], though at some point I might become vegan. I've been cutting certain meat products out of my food entirely, and while I don't avoid them if that's what's there and I have no other choice, I never seek them out on my own.

The most likely thing is that I will become more vegan, switching from say 80% omni: 20% vegan to 60%: 40%, etc.

CYoFC:  Why should other people consider adopting vegan dietary ways?

Dan:  Its a simple change. To go from omnivore to having one vegan meal a week is easy, and it will have an impact. Maybe that becomes two vegan meals a week, or just having more veggies and a smaller serving of meat. You'll feel a difference, and still get all the nourishment you need. As for the environment, imagine the impact if everyone in the US just made one meal a month a vegan meal.

CYoFC: Do you have any tips or advice for new those wanting to incorporate vegan changes to their diets?

Dan:  Don't jump, take it slow and be sustainable. Find dishes you can make yourself that are quick and delicious. Or find vegan options at local eateries. I've discovered that general tso's tofu is so much better than the chicken, and that's one more dish I can get that is wicked tasty, and something I'd pick even if I wasn't thinking about vegan or vegeterian options. That's what you want, a dish you'd like for its own sake. Then another, and on and on.

CYoFC: Good advice, Dan. What are some of your favorite foods? The people want to know!

Dan: General Tso's Tofu, Sambussa, Samosas, Veggie Chili, Vegan Crab Cakes, Veggie Pizza with thin sliced onions, peppers and tomatos. Cinnamon carrot soup with chicken-flavored stock. Crunchy raw veggie wraps. Veggie Lo Mein. Vegetable dumplings. Tofu Drunken Noodle.

And, my non vegetarian favorite foods as well (these will be tough to give up, suggestions for vegan alts most welcome!): Chicken chili, buffalo wings, chicken soup with matzo balls, chipotle beef tacos. Crispy grilled montreal steak. Fried yellow curried salmon.

CYoFC: I'm also a huge lover of Tofu Drunken Noodle. As for your fave non-veg foods, well, TVP and seitan can be great substitutes for chicken in a soup. Seitan (a.k.a. "wheat meat"), when seasoned right, can also be a great on its own, and because it has a meat-like texture and consistency, it may satisfy some of those steak cravings. Morningstar makes frozen "beef" crumbles made of soy, which can be great taco filler. I'm not sure what to tell you about that salmon preference!

Lastly, a question often asked of those with a veggie-oriented diet: are you getting enough protein?

Dan: Yup.

CYoFC: Thought so.

Dan, 27, hails from New York City.  He's currently a Tech Consultant/Executive Director, and enjoys comedy, writing, yoga, taijiquan, sleeping through his alarm in a warm bed on a cold day, and cooking for people.

Interviews: Adam: No Longer Eating In Ignorance

CYoFC:  Describe your current diet/lifestyle (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, freegan, flexitarian, omnivore with vegan tendencies...etc.).

Adam:  I'm too unconventional to "label" myself. But under duress, I'd have to call myself an aesthegan, a vegan who only eats foods that are pretty. Mostly, I guess, I'm a vegan. But under certain circumstance, like being out of the country, or being taken to dinner by my wealthy Korean boss in Vegas, I will eat what it put in front of me and like it, damn it.

CYoFC:  Aesthegan, that's clever! Getting down to business, though, for how long have you been a vegan?

Adam:  I became your run of the mill vegetarian 9 years ago, at age 25, and have been vegan for the past 2.5 years.

CYoFC:  What prompted the choice to become vegan?

Adam:  I became vegan, like most folks, for too many reasons to articulate, but the decision was one that was always on the verge of being made, mostly by virtue of the fact that many of my friends and loved ones have long been either vegetarian, vegan, or highly conscientious about the food they put in their body and the larger impact that we make in deciding what to eat. It became increasingly difficult to casually dismiss what I've learned about the local and global implications of eating in ignorance.

CYoFC:  Were there any challenges to becoming vegan? What about current challenges of being vegan, or aspects about veganism that you don't like?

Adam:  The most amusing and perplexing challenge that goes with being a vegan--and this was true of being a vegetarian too--is the reaction many people have when they discover that I don't eat meat or dairy. I'd be sitting at the break table at the record store I used to work at, eating whatever, a salad, and someone would invariably comment on my diminutive meal, to which I'd respond by confessing my whatever-ism. Some folks would immediately take on an air of resentment, as if I were implicitly judging him for eating a hamburger, as if he were made to feel embarrassed and resented me for putting him in that position. I'm not judging you by eating an animal-product-free diet. It has nothing to do with you. If you're genuinely curious about why I'm a vegan, I'm happy to share. Otherwise, enjoy your hamburger.

There are no other challenges, unless I'm in Texas, visiting my girlfriend's family, many of whom are old and conservative and want to feed me eggs and bacon and biscuits, and sometimes I cave because I love them and want to make them happy.

CYoFC:  Do you plan on remaining vegan? If so, what motivates you to remain vegan? If not, what motivates you to change?

Adam:  I have no plans to change my eating habits. I don't know what motivates me to remain vegan other than those factors that contributed to my becoming vegan originally.

CYoFC:  Do you have any tips or advice for new vegans?

Adam:  Do your own cooking and take joy in your cooking. If you find that your body is rejecting your new diet, don't stubbornly cling to it out of ideological prejudices. Your health comes first.

CYoFC:  Favorite foods?

Adam:  French fries. Bagels smothered in hummus and layered with avocado and heavily peppered. Seitan jambalaya. Raw kale salad with tahini dressing.

CYoCF:  Delicious! Describe what the giving-up-cheese process was like for you.

Adam:  It was like taking off uncomfortable shoes and putting on worn-in sneakers. I never was big on dairy. I do miss the occasional pizza with garlic, tomato, and basil.

CYoCF:  Great image. One last question: Are you getting enough protein?

Adam:  Yes, thank you.

Adam, 33, is a doctoral candidate in English from Los Angeles. He digs bicycles, records, literature, and beer.

Interviews: AJ: "I Think, Therefore I'm Vegan"

CYoFC:  Describe your current diet/lifestyle (vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, freegan, flexitarian, omnivore with vegan tendencies...etc.).

AJ:  Vegan. A no-honey, no exceptions vegan.

CYoCF:  For how long have you been vegan?

AJ:  I was a pescetarian for 10 years and February 3, 2010 will be my 3 year veganniversary. Typically celebrated with a feast of delicious vegan food. Oh wait, that's every day.

CYoCF:  Veganniversary, I love that! What prompted you to become vegan?

AJ:  After 10 years of being a fish-eating vegetarian, I started dating my partner, who, at the time, was a real vegetarian. We had both lived in vegetarian/vegan co-ops as undergraduates and knew that being a vegetarian (especially me as a not real vegetarian) was basically pussy-footing around what was basically an issue of oppression and equal rights. We're lesbians so we are perhaps more sensitive than average to these issues and it seemed hypocritical to want an end to oppression of sexual minorities while ignoring other oppressed populations. So we decided to go vegan, postponed it for a bit, gorged ourselves on non-vegan food, then took the plunge. As we started to concurrently educate ourselves about the food industry, we were confirmed in our initial reasons to move towards a compassionate lifestyle.

CYoCF:  Right on. Were there any challenges to becoming vegan? What about current challenges or aspects about veganism that you don't like?

AJ:  Yes, naturally. I miss being able to get a slice of gooey cheese pizza at Rays Original when I'm home in NYC, I miss bagels and lox with a schmear, and spicy tuna sushi. However, these "sacrifices" are nothing compared to animals unwillingly sacrificing their lives. And in actuality on a day-to-day basis I hardly miss these foods because (and this leads me to my more pressing challenges) there is a great variety of delicious indulgent vegan foods, which people who are not vegan do not realize. I dislike that restaurants are unwilling to provide vegan options on a regular basis (I can cook delectable vegan treats, surely professional chefs can do the same).

I absolutely HATE that when I tell people I'm vegan they tell me all the reasons they are not vegan. An inability to consume sufficient calories to support whatever crazy metabolism you believe you have is a bogus excuse. So is not being able to get enough protein - there are successful vegan body builders, if they can get enough protein, so can you. Additionally, not being able to give up (insert food here) is a similarly bullshit excuse.

You are asking other living beings to be tortured and killed for your lifestyle. That is a fact. You have choices about what you eat and you can make the choice to give up whatever you say you cannot live without. That is another fact. Don't argue with me about it. Don't tell me about it. This is about oppression, this is about power inequality, this is about torture and cruelty. If you support these things and are hell-bent on continuing to support these things, keep it to yourself around me. If you have an open mind and are serious about learning more about farming practices and the food industry, I'm happy to discuss it with you.

CYoCF:  You're so clearly passionate about this issue, and it's admirable. Do you plan on remaining vegan? If so, what would you say is the crucial motivating factor for you?

AJ:  I have the symbol for "therefore" and the word "vegan" tattooed on my arm (as in "I think, therefore I'm vegan") so yeah I do plan on remaining vegan. I remain vegan because it's the only choice for me in my dedication to a compassionate, cruelty-free, green lifestyle. I cannot ask for an end to my oppression as a lesbian, and a woman, and continue to oppress other living beings. Animals feel fear and pain. The argument that animals are lesser beings or somehow less deserving of equal rights is the same argument that has been used to justify inequality (racial, sexual, gender, ethnic, religious) throughout history.

CYoCF:  As a fiercely committed vegan yourself, tell me, why should other people go vegan?

AJ:  If you care about the environment, it is the single most important contribution you can make towards protecting the planet. If you care about equal rights among humans, extend that caring to all living beings. Educate yourself, there are plenty of printed and electronic resources. Skinny Bitch is a really accessible (if somewhat blunt) resource.

CYoCF:  Do you have any tips or advice for new vegans?

AJ:  Keep going! You have made a really important decision for your own health (I haven't even touched on that, but yeah being vegan is much healthier than any other way of eating) and for the health of those around you. Surround yourself with others who support your decision - other vegans! They will cook for you, take you out to other restaurants and continue to affirm your decision and provide you with even more reasons to continue this lifestyle. And continue to educate yourself - the more you know about how animal products are derived the more you will be affirmed that your decision is the best one, really, the only one.

CYoCF:  What are your favorite foods?

AJ:  PASTA!!! I've always loved pasta, noodles of any kind, and of course it's a good basic for any vegan. Thai noodles, veggie lo mein with tofu, Italian style spaghetti & meatless balls, and Mac n' Cheeze (I'm on a quest to find the best.... Chicago Diner and Soul Veg in Chicago are tied for lead). My partner's vegan nachos are also up there! Veggies of all kind. Anyone who thinks vegan cooking is boring, doesn't know how many crazy veggies are out there and the billion different ways to prepare them all (and add them to noodles).

CYoCF:  So much goodness and yet none of these contain cheese, which is commonly a favorite food. Describe what the giving-up-cheese process was like for you.

AJ:  The toughest part were two foods that are important to my background as a New York Jew... NY Style Pizza and Bagels and Cream Cheese. I did enjoy cheese before going vegan and I won't lie and say it wasn't hard, but after I learned more about the dairy industry, my decision was affirmed to me. And I found amazing substitutes... avocado and/or hummus on a sandwich can be great instead of a creamy cheese, loading up pizza with veggies and a good soy cheese (Vegan Gourmet is the best I've found) is great and much healthier! and bagels with hummus with tomatoes, onion, capers and some tapenade is a great brunch! These days, I really don't miss it. Yes, I walk past Ray's Original in NYC and it smells gooooood, but then I remember the cute little kosher/vegan place a few blocks away from my parents' in NYC and give my business to them. And honestly, their pizza place smells just as good, if not better!

CYoCF:  One last question. Are you getting enough protein?

AJ:  More than enough!!! non-animal derived protein is not only more efficient to produce (the same amount of land that produces 1 lb of beef can produce 13 lbs of soy protein), easier to digest and more rich and varied, but it's incredibly easy to get in a diet without thinking too hard. I eat beans in a lot of varieties, tofu in all its incarnations, seitan, tempeh.... the list could go on. This question is my pet peeve and indicates to me that someone knows very very very little about nutrition.

CYoFC:  "You need a lot of protein" is a message most Americans hear from early childhood. But what is "a lot?" (Not to mention, how much is actually too much?) And where are the "best" protein sources found? We are often told the answer is meat, but you bring up evidence to the contrary. These are important but rarely discussed points.

Thanks, AJ.

AJ is a pro-choice, atheist, vegan, tattooed, lesbian. As she puts it, she is "everything your mother warned you about." She's also the edgy-yet-eloquent author of Queer Vegan Runner.

Interviews: Muckford: "I Never Changed My Mind, I Just Stopped Thinking About It"

CYoFC:  For how long have you been vegan?

Muckford:  Roughly ten years, but not uninterrupted. I backslid into vegetarianism for a little while, as I tried to make the adjustment to dating/living with an omnivore... then I met another vegan, which helped motivate me to get back on track again. Like anything else, it's easier to keep up with it when you've got a support system. (I was spoiled early on by a wonderful husband who'd been vegan for many years, and was able to accomplish all kinds of delicious culinary feats.)

CYoFC:  What prompted you to become vegan?

Muckford:  Well, I guess there was both a gradual process, and a more immediate catalyst.

From the time I was an infant, I loved animals of all kinds. At age 4, when I first learned that hamburgers were made from cows, I remember bursting into tears and refusing to eat them. My mother told me that while in her house, I'd eat whatever she fed me -- but when I turned 18, I could eat whatever I wanted!

Throughout most of the rest of my childhood, I somehow got gradually desensitized again. Eating meat was just something that everybody did, as a part of "normal" everyday living. That made it easy for the moral objections I had as even a youngster to slip into the back of my unconscious. I never really /changed my mind/... I just stopped thinking about it.

As a teenager, I began to think a little more. Philosophically, I agreed with the idea that other animals have as much right to be here as we do, and that we should avoid causing them pain. Inexplicably, however, my abstract philosophical leanings didn't actually translate into a concrete lifestyle change until I met my husband (now ex).

Prior to meeting him, I don't think I'd ever /heard/ the word vegan before. He explained what it meant, and his reasons for choosing the vegan lifestyle. Once I was enlightened as to the horrible way that factory farms operate, and the cruel and unnatural conditions the animals are often kept in (cages so crowded they can't move, deprivation of fresh air and natural sunlight, debeakings, etc), I felt I couldn't in good conscience do /nothing./

CYoCF:  Were there any challenges to becoming vegan? What about current challenges?

Muckford:  There were some foods I really missed at first -- cheese and crackers used to be one of my all-time favorite snacks. But a short moment of gratification isn't worth supporting a corrupt industry and causing innocent creatures to suffer. I do my best to remind myself of that fact. Other people probably would have thought I was a somewhat unlikely candidate for vegetarianism, as I've never been a particular fan of vegetables. And it's true that at first, I was kind of a junk-food vegan. I subsisted largely off of peanut butter sandwiches, pasta with marinara sauce, and vegan doughnuts... but over time, I gradually exposed myself to new foods and tastes, and discovered some absolutely /marvelous/ additions to my dietary repertoire.. including hummus (which I may never have tried if not for my veganity!) and cous-cous (mmmm, give me some of that five-spice moroccan cous-cous salad...). In time, I even began incorporating more vegetables (spinach is great if you saute it with vegan margarine and garlic... kale is great steamed, as a leafy bed for some "shells and chreese", a Nature's End mac'n'cheese substitute).

But probably the biggest challenge to becoming vegan, and maintaining the lifestyle, are social pressures... a lack of understanding from friends and family about what veganism is, why it's important to me. Friends sometimes feel inconvenienced by having to choose restaurants that serve veggie dishes, or feel awkward or embarrassed as I rattle off a list of questions concerning ingredients to the waiter. Then there are the occasions like office birthday parties... when well-intentioned folks have purchased or prepared a cake for me, and I can't eat it. Those can be a very delicate situation to navigate. Each person handles it in his or her own way. I think the key to remember is that it's most awkward at FIRST -- if you inform the people you meet about your veganism, and explain to them what it means, they won't be taken by surprise, and thus won't be as likely to be irked or offended. Some friends have actually really enjoyed taking up the challenge of making vegan dishes and desserts for me. Others, I simply reassure that they don't have to worry about me when hosting parties at their house and such -- as I'll bring some dishes of my own, or will "bring my own baggie." It's perfectly possible to handle the socially awkward moments, especially with experience, but I do still think it's probably the most difficult thing about maintaining a vegan lifestyle. You may also face strong criticism from some, especially at first. Often, those we are closest to (who liked us perfectly fine the way we were BEFORE) resent even the smallest sign of change. My mother called me a "fanatic" when first she heard about my veganism. Nevertheless, she gradually adjusted to the idea, and nowadays there's always a tub of hummus and a carton of soymilk waiting for me in the fridge when I drop by to visit!

CYoFC:  Why should other people go vegan?

Muckford:  Well, in addition to the animal welfare-related ethical concerns, there are environmental reasons... and health ones. High cholesterol runs in my family, and has been a problem for me (along with my weight) since I was a child. A combination of vegan diet and regular exercise brought my blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides in line for the first time in my life. From studies I've read, a vegan diet seems to reduce the rates of all of the most common causes of death in wealthy nations: obesity, heart disease, come cancers. I think it closely approximates a Mediterranean diet, which is touted by many health professionals as a model diet to follow in terms of its health benefits.

CYoCF:  Do you have any tips or advice for new vegans?

Muckford:  Take it one day at a time, and don't get upset with yourself if you make the occasional slip-up or mistake. There are lots of foods and other products with hidden animal ingredients. You just do the best you can and learn as you go. There are many great vegan resources on the web, and you can always try seeking out some local vegan groups on or a similar social networking site.

CYoCF:  One last question.  Are you getting enough protein?

Muckford:  Some days I get more than the recommended daily value, and some days less. I sometimes track what I eat on, and that helps to give me an idea of how I'm doing. "Smart dogs" (the tofu version of hot dogs!) and veggieburgers are a good way of giving myself a mega-boost in a day when I'm falling short, and I loooove Bolthouse Vanilla Chai Protein Shakes! I haven't had any problems.... but I do take a vegan multi-vitamin to be on the safe side (I had problems with anemia even in my pre-vegan days, so I try to be particularly careful to get enough iron). When you buy vitamins, don't forget to check if they have fish-derived or gelatin ingredients. (I've accidentally bought brands that do on several occasions.)

CYoFC:  Sounds like you know how to get your protein just fine. You might also like to try incorporating more beans into your daily diet - any kind will do: lima, pinto, garbanzo, white, black, black-eyed peas, navy...

Thanks, Muckford!

Muckford is currently completing a psychology internship in the NYC area, and, thus far, has specialized in working with adults with chronic severe mental illnesses and the homeless population. He also enjoys hiking, reading fantasy and sci-fi books, and other "ultra-geeky" pursuits (such as playing Atari-2600, and joining the occasional Dungeons & Dragons game).