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 meetup.com 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 livestrong.com, 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...
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).