From Vegetarians to Meat Eaters to Vegans!

This is the tale of how our eating has evolved, and why. It’s about the permutations of thought, the pursuit of good health, and best of all, the adoration of delicious meals. What I share with you below is a sort of testimony as to why my husband and I now aspire to be vegan and how we got here. 

[DISCLAIMER: This should be the longest post on the blog, explaining the back story.  I will surely write about things other than recipes from time to time, but hopefully they will be much more brief.]

My husband and I met over 11 years ago, in France. It’s a romantic story, but not the one I want to tell here. When we met, we were both vegetarians. I loved vegetables and had never really eaten much meat since I became a vegetarian when I was only 10 years old after seeing a movie about animal cruelty and crying my eyes out. My doctors were fine with it, and I was perfectly healthy… When we started dating seven years later, we were both eating meat. We had grown tired of not being able to eat whatever was offered to us, of having to place special orders, and what can I say? My husband LOVES bacon. I did, too. He makes amazing bacon-grease fried tacos. Can’t lie.

We were happily wed, and blissfully eating whatever we pleased. We ate out frequently, I ate a lot of pizza as a youth minister, and we generally didn’t think much about our food. Sure, we debated over menus and drooled whenever we smelled the mexican food cooking from our favorite restaurant (inconveniently located just a block away from our tiny shoebox of an apartment in downtown DC)… but our thoughts were primarily based upon what would taste best.

I thought of myself as a healthy person. I had been vegetarian for 10 years, and I loved veggies. I thought milk was good because it gave me calcium, and always tried to get my mother to drink more of it. Not the usual kid, I guess. My parents were interested in nutrition, but as much as my dad would talk about the benefits of vitamins and whatnot… the random bags from McDonald’s or a candy wrapper I’d find in his car seemed to take away from his presentation of seeking good health. I don’t blame him for that. I definitely take after him, and Matt reminds me that randomly having terrible foods for you is still terrible. Even if it’s less frequent than the average joe’s consumption.

While I was pregnant with our first child, we took a fantastic natural birth class which did wonderfully to prepare us for labor (it’s called the Bradley Method). To their credit, they also include teachings on nutrition during pregnancy. However, I think the information they share is sadly outdated and mistaken. Despite following many of their recommendations, I did have to laugh out loud when we discussed ways to make sure we got our necessary daily requirement of butter. I couldn’t believe they weren’t joking.

After giving birth to our daughter, we were elated to have successfully had an all natural, vaginal birth in a hospital. But I felt huge, and my body felt like a giant blob that was somewhat out of control. We went to the wedding of two of our friends only four weeks later, and I felt like I couldn’t dance; as if I were a squid trying to stand on my legs. As the months passed, I grew more and more tired of this peculiar feeling of not fitting into my body. I wanted to lose the baby weight. I didn’t want it to take years, and I didn’t want to do it by eating LESS bad food. I wanted to learn about proper nutrition and lose weight healthily.

Thanks to google, I purchased the book Eat to Live, by Dr. Fuhrman. My husband made fun of me as I ate some raw cookie dough while reading about nutrition… but it hadn’t yet sunk in yet, and perhaps some of me knew that this was going to change the way I consumed food. And part of me didn’t want to change. I love cookie dough! But this book enchanted me. It was factual, compelling, and not ashamed. It didn’t just blindly tell me what was “bad” for me (which really translates to “when you eat this, feel guilty”) and what was “good” for me (what you OUGHT to be eating, and ought is never a fun word to hear)… He was pretty in-your-face, and at one time even compared eating these poisonous substances allowed in food (like hydrogenated oils) to going into an alleyway to shoot up with some heroine. He said that it’s your choice, but don’t be delusional and think it’s anything better than that. You’re essentially doing drugs.

This shocked me. In a way that I very much believe I needed, even wanted, to be shocked. I didn’t want to just pour on the guilt or irrationally limit myself to “fist sized portions”. I have small hands. Does that mean I get to eat less? And why the size of a fist? How is a fist of ice cream about as good as a fist of broccoli? I wanted a fist in my FACE, from the frustration of years of meaningless formulas and judgement. My mother wanted me to lose weight to be prettier, for her sake as well as my own; my dad wanted us to be healthy, but would gladly indulge in anything delicious and bad for you if it was readily available. I love them both, and owe them much credit to having started me on a healthy path… but none of us are perfect, and I think I got confusing messages from them about what it meant to be healthy. This book wasn’t confusing. It opened my eyes.

And I quickly, healthily, lost weight and began to feel fantastic. I did Dr. Fuhrman’s intensive six-week weight loss plan (while breastfeeding!), which was almost more of a challenge than a diet. Eat as many vegetables and fruits as you possibly can, in part by eliminating unhealthy things you would otherwise use to fill up your stomach. I lost about 30 pounds thanks to eating well, and realized that I was pursuing optimum nutrition. My husband did it with me after reading the book, and also lost some weight – though not as much. I blame it on the amount of raw cashews he enjoyed daily 😉 But really, I’m sure it was because he was much closer to a healthy weight than I had been. I now weighed less than I had before I got pregnant. It was a pleasant surprise to me.

But I was admittedly really happy when those six weeks were over. I hadn’t been creative about how to make what I could eat delicious. I’d make nice salads, but I didn’t have dressing because you can’t have oil on the diet. There are ways to make fantastic dressings without any oil, but I didn’t make them. So I happily enjoyed meat from time to time after that, enjoying cheese and flexibility.

As friends began to read this book too, the ripple of my pursuit of health and contented-ness in my own body seemed to influence others. It was exciting. One friend, Brin, who also read and was moved by Eat to Live, highly suggested that I follow it up by reading Eating Animals by Jonathan SafranFoer. She went from being a big meat and cheese person to eating a vegan diet and encouraging her family to do the same. (She now writes about “matters of food and faith“) Though I liked eating meat, I decided I ought to at least give it a try.

I was happily surprised by how creatively written and personable the book revealed itself to be, and appreciated the evolution of factual information paired with personal testimonies from people with varying views. It wasn’t as one-sided as I had expected, but it was definitely a bit traumatizing to learn about factory farming in-depth. I found that I couldn’t read it before bed anymore… but I still really wanted to read it, and felt like I needed to. My husband, Matt, read it also. I think the most powerful conclusion I took from reading this book (after Eat to Live), was that the only reason remaining for me to eat meat/dairy/fish was for taste or sheer laziness. After all I’d learned about the disastrous effects of trolling the ocean for fish and killing such a tremendous magnitude of sea creatures to produce a comparatively minuscule “catch”, I couldn’t really justify my love of sushi. Is a momentary bite of decadence worth brutally damaging our biodiversity? Essentially, his ethical and environmental reasons behind not consuming animal products compelled me deeply.

It has been just over a year since Matt and I did our intensive six diet. This New Year, instead of trying out a temporary diet, we decided to try to make a permanent life change and see how it goes. We decided to see what it would be like to be vegan. Could we really do it? We know we fail, and we have learned all too easily that animal products are used in almost everything. It tends to cost more to buy the few options that don’t have casein, butter, eggs, or milk in them… But we were compelled more by our convictions than our pathetic bank accounts.

I used to think that vegans were silly, in a way. Surely, they were misguided for thinking it was a healthier lifestyle. It seemed so unnecessarily complicated to me. So uninviting, so limiting, so narrow. I thought vegans were just trying to be counter-cultural. To stick it to the man, as it were, with food. In fact, I even told a co-worker when I was a barista and drank all the free milk and fancy lattes I wanted, that I knew God didn’t want me to be vegan because I loved cheese too much, milk was so good and my body responded so well to it!

But I had never lived without milk. How did I know? I was shocked when I stopped consuming milk and noticed that I could sing more easily. My voice would soar over high notes when just a few weeks prior, I would have had a hard time reaching it. I had never experienced life without dairy. In the same way that I thought it was silly when people told me they could “never live without meat” while I was vegetarian and knew they surely could if they wanted to try, I began to realize that maybe I had been just as closed-minded about being vegan. I was judging something I’d never tried before.

As the information piled up, Matt and I were more and more moved towards veganism. The big kicker for us was watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” After seeing that, we knew we had gone too far and couldn’t go back. We were in a new land, and we were surprised to find that we were rather happy about it.

We feel fantastic, and in the past year, I have noticed my ability and interest in cooking as well as baking skyrocket. Learning to cook vegan meals and trying to use less oil, salt, and refined sugars has been a bit like learning a new language. But I’ve found that our food is actually tasting better: both because taste buds have grown more sensitive now that we aren’t relying on excess salt, fat and sugar to appease them as well as because we’re making great recipes. I don’t see things as “off limits”, instead finding vegan variations or adapting recipes to be healthier (like using whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour). For example, I want to try making vegan homemade Bailey’s, and have already made vegan mac n’ cheese and vegan pizzas.  I never thought of myself as a cook, but now I find that I actually kind of miss it when Matt cooks for us. It’s an exciting new adventure, and being able to eat meals and desserts without any guilt or portion limitation while feeling fantastic, looking better than I have in years, and not having to worry about a scale has been exhilarating.

We refer to ourselves as “aspiring vegans” now, because although we do want to be vegan, I think it’s a striving process: a continuing evolution that shouldn’t be more about my identity than it is about eating for optimum nutrition and enjoyment. We aspire to be vegan because we know that unfortunately, we will fail sometimes. And maybe, just to be polite or out of ignorance, we’ll allow a little animal product to enter our bodies. We anticipate some failure, but strive to attain our goal. And so far, it’s been a delicious one.

I decided to start this blog because my interest in food has become an obsession of sorts. (Yes, I am currently pregnant, and that certainly adds to this fascination) As I share more about what I learn about food, health, and awesome recipes, I find that using my family centric blog probably isn’t as logical.

So my goal for this blog isn’t to be preachy, overly informative, or wordy. I mostly want to share my enthusiasm and adoration of food with you, as well as having an easy format for sharing my favorite recipes. If it’s too complicated or takes too long, I don’t find it very enjoyable. I prefer simple, nutrient-dense, delicious recipes and these are the sorts of things I will share here from many different sources and I hope you (and your families!) will enjoy them, too. I won’t share anything I haven’t made (and adored!) myself, and I’ll try to always include a picture of how it turned out.

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5 thoughts on “From Vegetarians to Meat Eaters to Vegans!

  1. You write with such clarity and humility, Hawley! I cannot see our family becoming vegan (never say never, I guess!), but I look forward to reading your blog in hopes of gaining some inspiration, knowledge, and recipes. If it’s something that’s so important to you, it’s definitely worth my while to learn from you:). I know you probably hear these inquiries from non-vegans a lot, but I’d love to hear more about two things:

    1) how you provide a fully balanced diet for yourselves.
    2) how you approach food with E. We’ve tried to help L become a very adventurous eater. Thankfully, we’ve succeeded so far (she pretty much eats anything we set before her and loves most everything–be it heavily spiced foods, asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, almonds, etc.) and I would love to hear your tips to help her become even healthier.

    Looking forward to reading!

  2. Hawley, I love reading your posts, and I find this new blog of yours particularly well-timed. I have been a meat “localvore” since August, primarily due to concerns about factory farming. I loved on a dairy farm for over a year, so I have had the opportunity to experience the perils of large scale animal operations. But I also have been reading a lot about nutrition, and I did watch Forks over Knives. Knowing the toll that animal products take on my body, as well as on the environment, and also actively wanting to not be a consumer of products produced in cruel conditions are all motivating factors for me to make the slow switch. Like you, I’m not being completely militant about my eating choices (yes, there are times when being polite has to factor in). I also used to think that I could never give up meat because I love it too much, but now when I look at a piece of meat I think about the life of the animal from which that meat came. It’s much easier to say no when I realize that what goes into my mouth is a direct representation of my values; I can no longer passively consent to practices that I don’t think support the highest good of humans or animals.

  3. LOVED reading this. Exciting to hear you’re on a new venture. My husband’s favorite author is Safran Foer and he read “Eating Animals” 2 years ago. We’ve been (mainly) vegan ever since. The one question that sticks out in my mind (b/c I have more and more pregnant friends these days) is: how are you getting enough protein w/out eating eggs or fish? I, too, don’t eat either (I’m basically a vegan but eat cheese from time to time). Did you discuss with your doctor? Is eating beans, tofu, veggies enough? Thoughts. 🙂

    • The short answer? Yes, I get enough protein. The long answer? Well, it could be pretty long… haha! It’s quite easy to be unhealthy – on any diet – and being vegan can take a bit more dedication to learning about nutrition and food to ensure that you’re getting what you need… but I have personally not had any problems with my own health or with the responses of doctors. Our pediatrician was very supportive and has been extremely pleased with Eden’s health. Notably, she just got tested for iron (something toddlers can often be deficient in – even those who consume animal products) and had a 12.6 when 11 or higher is considered healthy. Americans tend to be obsessed with animal protein, not realizing that vegetables also have protein. A simple way to look at how to be a healthy vegan, I think, is to be sure to consume a plethora of vegetables, to vary them, and to take a multi-vitamin to make sure you’re getting enough of those harder to get nutrients, like Vitamin B12. The reading I’m doing right now about vegan nutrition (for anyone, but especially children and in families) talks about how it’s not as simple as we’re made to think as far as eating more of a nutrient being a good thing. For example, Americans consume a large amount more calcium (from animal products, but overall), than Asians… and yet Americans have a significantly higher probability of developing osteoporosis – so the source of calcium may be more important than the amount. (Kale is a great source of calcium, by the way!) My midwife has been very encouraging of my eating as well as our pediatrician, which has been a great encouragement (and honestly? A surprise!)… It’s definitely a good topic of discussion to have, and I’ve been amazed at how much better I’ve felt this pregnancy from the beginning than I did while pregnant and consuming whatever I wanted (including lots and lots of milk, eggs, and cheese!). Not only physically do I feel better, but I feel more confident and think my weight gain is healthier and more flattering 😉 So, yes – eating beans, tofu, veggies is enough as long as that is paired with avocados, nuts, seeds (though I don’t eat a lot of seeds, admittedly), and whole grains.

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