I've mentioned in a few posts now that our family is vegan. I get asked the same set of questions fairly often, so I thought I'd talk about these in this post. To reiterate, this means we don't eat or buy anything that used to be an animal or that came from an animal. This excludes insects though so we do use honey upon the rare occasion.
Were you always vegan?/Were you raised vegan?
No. Neither Bry nor I were raised vegan, or even vegetarian. We have been eating as vegans since October of 2009, which is almost a full four years.
Are you vegan because of your oldest son's food allergies?
No. As a matter of fact, we had adopted the vegan diet six months prior to the allergist appointment.
How do you eat?
Very well as a matter of fact. Bry does all our cooking, something he has a natural talent for. A lot of people believe that a vegan subsists on celery and water and that's just not true. Actually, people who become vegan without prior research often will eat that way (the stereotype exists for a reason...) and then wonder why they're not satisfied and healthy. The core of our diet is: whole grains (wheat, brown rice, quinoa), vegetables, and legumes (chic peas, pinto beans, soy, etc.). Bry has lots of vegan cookbooks and plenty of tasty, healthy recipes to choose from.
Where do you buy groceries?
From the grocery store. Heh. We shop at a regular supermarket just like everyone else. Not everything we buy -must- be bought at specialty store. Most supermarkets these days have a huge variety of foods that accommodate all sorts of different diets. We have a Costco membership too. Actually, we buy a lot of frozen vegetables in bulk from there; very good quality. We do shop at the health food store, I make a trip there every other week to stock up on the items that the supermarket doesn't carry, because they don't carry everything unfortunately. Lastly, we buy some of our groceries online, and if we need a very specific item for a special reason, we go to the Vegan Essentials site. An example would be doughnuts. Our older son's preschool did a "doughnuts with dad" day last year and they provided the doughnuts. Buying a vegan doughnut in a shop or bakery is pretty impossible here in West Michigan so we ordered them in advance and they were mailed frozen. We kept them in the freezer until the day they were needed and then Bry pulled out a couple to warm up and frost (they came with glaze) and then took them to the preschool. Turns out, the school only bought the little doughnut holes so my guys had the biggest doughnuts. Doughnut envy...
Is it more expensive to eat that way?
It depends. If you buy a lot of pre-packaged vegan food, as in most of your meals are already prepared and frozen, yeah it is. Those are specialty items and they cost more and we usually only buy them on the rare occasion - like doughnuts with dad. To give you a comparison, if we want to buy a frozen pizza that is vegan, we can. That exists, but it's around $10 whereas a Jack's frozen pizza is less than $4. So we will typically make our own pizza which is a lot cheaper than buying a prepackaged frozen one; but no more expensive than a non-vegan family's homemade pizza. When we buy vegetables, we buy some frozen, and some fresh, and as far as fresh vegetables go, we shop for what's in season because that is almost always cheaper. For us, buying ingredients to make meals at home is not more expensive.
Do your kids eat vegan?
Yes they do. It's perfectly healthy for them to eat this way. Just as we make sure that we are getting the proper amounts of nutrients in our diet, we make sure the kids are getting what they need too. Our pediatrician knows what our diet is like and we've had discussions about accommodations that need to be made. For instance, from age one to age two, a child needs an increased amount of fat in their diet for healthy brain development. Most commonly, they get that fat from whole dairy milk. Soymilk is lower in fat than whole dairy milk, so we made sure to add peanut butter to the daily menu to account for the difference. Between age three and age four, our older son grew 4" in height when the average at that age is usually 2". Because we have such a variety of vegetables and grains in our diet, our boys are two of the least picky eaters I've seen. It helps too that the rule in our house is: Daddy is -not- a short order cook. If you don't like what's for dinner tonight, there's always breakfast the next morning. If they're hungry, they'll eat; if not, they won't and that's fine too. Both our boys take a multivitamin, just as we do. It helps make up for any deficiencies on days when they choose to eat less.
Is it healthy to eat that way?/Are you getting enough protein?
Yes and yes. People don't think of vegetables and whole grains as being protein foods but they -do- contain protein. And we eat a lot of those in our house. Legumes are also protein rich, and what's more, they contain lysine. Lysine is one of the amino acids and aside from legumes, it can only be found in animal-based foods. All of the other amino acids are easily found in a plant-based diet, lysine is the tricky one. I actually buy supplements from the health food store and take one each day. It's a habit I got into while I was pregnant with our younger son. I needed to get enough lysine for me and the baby and it was impossible to do that through foods alone when I was dealing with nausea and heartburn. Back then, I would take three daily. We do take vitamins and supplements, but most people do whether they're vegan or not.
Can you eat out?
Certainly. In the age of technology there are websites that a vegan looking to eat out can visit to see what foods are safe at which restaurants. Here where we live there are several vegan friendly restaurants. Many of them are local independent businesses and we've found these places to be very accommodating as far as providing information about their ingredients; that's important because of the food allergies too. There are a few chain restaurants though. Red Robin for example offers a vegan Boca patty as a substitute on any of the burgers on their menu. BD's Mongolian BBQ has several meatless protein choices and they will also make sure to grill your food separately. Noodles & Company has some dishes on their Asian menu that are vegan. Subway has two types of bread that are dairy free, some sauces that are vegan friendly, and a large variety of vegetables. Those are the ones that are located here in our area that we tend to frequent. Bry has to travel out of state for business on occasion and he's eaten pizza at a chain restaurant called The Mellow Mushroom. He says it's delicious, but they don't have franchises in West Michigan.
Is it just about the food?
No it is not. We do not buy leather products or wool. Certainly no fur, but then most everyone would agree on that one these days. We also have to look at products like soaps and lotions, even candles. Most bath products are no longer tested on animals, but that doesn't mean they don't use animal oils or milk as ingredients. I buy soy candles and honestly, I've found these to be cleaner burning. They also don't give Bry a headache like regular candles.
Why did you decided to become vegan?
This is always the toughest one to answer because of how the idea originated. My late mother-in-law was diagnosed with a brain tumor and in the course of her treatment, the doctor advised that she would see better results with a plant-based diet. Bry got some books did some research to find out why that might be. I'm not going to get into the reasons here, but if you think you want to know, go find the book The China Study. Some of the other books dealt more with the...I'll say humanitarian reasons. Again, I'm not going to get into that, but if you think you're interested, I'll recommend the book Eating Animals. Want to know why I'm letting you make the choice? It's because I'm not a "loud vegan" or an "evangelical vegan". Our family has chosen to eat a certain way, and that works for us. Other families choose to eat in other ways, whatever works for them. It's hardly my place to tell anyone how they should or shouldn't eat, that's an incredibly personal choice. I'll repeat, the foods people choose to put in their bodies is personal. To put it in baser terms, I won't "yuck their yum". I tell our older son that just because his friend's family chooses to eat meat and eggs and dairy, doesn't mean they can't still be friends; it only means our families have made different choices.
Best advice: If you are thinking about an alternative diet to the typical North American omnivorous one, research it thoroughly. Make sure you're going about it in a healthy way or you could make yourself sick.