November 1st marked both World Vegan Day and the launch of Vegan Month. Prior to these events, I’d been thinking a lot about food recently. With a chef-turned-restaurant manager for a husband, and my own experiences working on an organic vegetable farm earlier this summer, food is often a subject we circle back to in this house.
We both have varying views, with some overlap either in theory or in practice. In theory, for example, we are nose-to-tail supporters. In practice, it is difficult to find butchers (because the demand is so low) for the offal of an animal.
Offal is a French word that refers to internal organs and entrails of an animal.
Although I no longer eat meat, my first experience with offal was at a family Christmas in which my husband cooked two rabbits. I ate tongue, liver, and lung. As a meat eater, I believed it was wasteful and illogical to choose to eat the belly, rump, or leg of an animal, but be disgusted by the feet, tongue, or internal organs. The hierarchy of animal consumption is not just limited to pets versus livestock, but bleeds into a prioritized cross-section of each animal’s anatomy. As a result, a lot of the meat on each animal slaughtered for food is wasted.
With all of that waste, my own inability to digest meat, and my own cognizant guilt for eating animals in the first place, I ended up cutting meat, poultry, and game out of my diet completely a year ago.
Despite being a politically charged topic, your food choices begin with your own personal physiological needs.
For years I wanted to eat, well, whatever I wanted. This included meat, but it also included highly acidic produce, neither of which my stomach found easy to digest. It took me years of nightly torment, and a lot of discussions about food and nutrition with my husband, before I made a change. Not only was it stressful to deal with the guilt and trauma of eating the cooked meat, but my body’s inability to digest meat kept me up for hours with a bloated stomach, abdominal cramps, gas, and acid reflux. I ate like this, every night, for years. I simply wasn’t listening to my body.
What did not give me pain during this time was fish. But because my boyfriend at that time, and my own family were not avid fish eaters, I had little experience with consuming fish. Eventually I began incorporating it into my diet, and noticed that my body was able to digest this type of animal without any bloating, cramping, or reflux of any kind. I knew that I wanted to go vegetarian for a year before I had actually done so. Leading up to the change, I lacked the confidence to cut any and all animal products from my diet. As a method of assuring myself, as well as my family that I wasn’t going to collapse due to a lack of the almighty protein, I continued to eat fish a couple of times per week.
What I Eat Now
Shortly after high school I found that I could not digest milk. A few years ago I discovered almond milk, and have recently switched to soy. The large-scale dairy industry (the folks who make butter, cheese, and milk) have incredibly traumatic methods of obtaining cows’ milk. I try to encourage the people I care about to be aware of how much dairy they are consuming, as it is not a necessary source of calcium (it has some, but so does a lot of plant matter) and the practices are both commonplace and terrifying.
We are lucky enough to live in the country, where we can source local chicken eggs. I still enjoy eating eggs and feel that, provided they are from the right type of farmer, can be cruelty-free. There are lots of factory farms across the world, and even in Canada, that force their chickens to stay awake, force them to confined spaces (a cage or crate), and never see the outside world. It is important to me to find a local egg source that does not participate in these practices.
Apart from that, I eat a lot of plant-based complete proteins (they do exist!!!) like quinoa, tofu, rice-and-beans, and hummus-and-pita.
If you are looking to change your approach to food, and what ends up in your kitchen and on your plate, here are some tips!
Listen to your body. At the core of it, you are eating for you.
Get to know what nutrition you need, based on your biology: sex, age, and weight are all factors. If your iron levels are low, maybe you need to supplements, or maybe you need to brush up on the [best sources of iron http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Minerals/Food-Sources-of-Iron.aspx] (Note that the highest amount of iron is found in pork liver, at 13 mg. The highest plant-based source is oatmeal, at 6 mg. The latter sounds far more appealing to me!)
What I’ll Eat in the Future
I would love to share my food goals, and I believe it warrants an entirely new post. I have challenged myself to eat a single vegan meal each day, with surprising success! If you are unable to commit to November’s vegan challenges, why not spend the rest of the month mapping out meals for one single dish each week, or even each day?
Let me know in the comments if you currently eat vegan, or plan to give it a go!