Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Going vegan is a tricky business. As I’ve indicated earlier, I was a relatively easy candidate to go vegan, but I still met some challenges and required a bit of guidance here and there.  For me, I had been eating a vegetarian diet for several years, had a few vegan friends to coach me along, loved to cook and had a general interest in health and nutrition.  

In contrast, veganism is a bit of a stretch for many, for a multitude of reasons. Our culture’s coming around, but for many, going vegan doesn’t make sense, and no one can really blame them. Such a difference in dietary habits is a huge commitment, requires some research and often changes one’s entire look on how and why they eat the food they do. 

As I’ve indicated in an earlier post, my old lady is going vegan. She had a tough year health wise, and in order to help her get her overall physical health back on track, she’s decided to give veganism a go, along with an exercise plan. In preparation for her vegan voyage, she and I had a several concerns that aren’t unlike those that most consider before going vegan. 

1. Learning to eat differently. Though Mom eats very healthfully, she admits that she wrestled with a food addiction for a large portion of her adulthood. Since leaving those problematic eating habits behind, she eats a relatively balanced diet with a focus on lots of fresh, healthful food. However, faced with a host of new sources of protein and nutrition (like soy and legume-based proteins, non-dairy milks, etc.), she admits a bit of apprehension. “One of my biggest concerns is if I’m eating the right amount of protein and calcium,” says Wendy (my mother). “I don’t really know how the vegan sourcing of these foods translate from what I already know about nutrition.”

2. Knowing what’s vegan and what’s not. “Lots of the foods I like obviously aren’t vegan, but learning about how to read food labels all over again is a bit overwhelming,” says Mummy. 

3. Vegan food on the go. Mom’s a high-school vice-principal and, correspondingly works long hours. Like anyone with a high-pressure job, sometimes the thought of coming home and preparing a macrobiotic, healthful vegan meal for one is a bit daunting. So, putting together some quick, easy, healthful vegan eats ideas for Mum is job-one. 

4. What Mum calls “texture.” Though she’s open to eating a variety of foods, there are several food textures that are a big turnoff. As such, some legumes and soy products aren’t her cup of tea – mostly her sources of protein. This is likely one our biggest challenges, as Mum needs to try and work with her icky-factor a bit to maintain a healthful vegan diet with lots of variety. 

5. Learning about vegan nutrition. Mum still holds some pretty antiquated notions about calorie and carb counts from her dieting days. With veganism, however, a lot of that stuff doesn’t quite hold in the same manner it does with an omnivorous diet. For example, any Atkins-based notion of no carbs is dangerous for anyone, especially vegans. Similarly, “fat-free” vegan offerings are similarly problematic, as a food plan filled with good fats from nuts, avocado, and our protein sources are imperative so we don’t under-calorie ourselves, and keep up stores of omega-3s and other essential enzymes and nutrients. 

6. A recurring “disinterest” in food. “There are some days when I just don’t have any interest in food,” says Mom. “There are definitely times when I wish like there was a pill that could take care of three meals a day.” Phoning in your nutritive needs for a couple of days as a vegan can leave you fatigued and your nutritive needs unsatisfied. As some plant-based sources of some of our essential vitamins are in less quantity than animal-based sources, vegans need to keep on top of their nutrition. 

All of these concerns, replete with our signature mother-daughter squabbling, will be discussed in the next couple of weeks. I'm positive I likely forgot something in this post, so keep an eye on the comments as I'm sure Mum will chime in regularly. And by regularly I mean often. In the next post, Lindsay her Mum work out a basic meal plan, and go grocery shopping!

(In the spirit of the NBC/Conan O'Brien fracas in these past weeks, the above photo was taken in February 2008 at a Conan taping in the 30 Rock Late Night studio in NYC. Of course, pictures weren't allowed to be taken in-studio, but Mum went for it anyway.)