What’s a Vegan?
I imagine most people here in the DFW area wonder what that word really means. You don’t hear it very often in Texas unless some crazy progressive mentions it. The majority of people I tell I’m vegan are those in the restaurant business. That is, the people I’m ordering my food from whenever we go out to eat. Surprisingly, when I go to any non-veg friendly restaurants and try to veganize something on the menu, it’s very rare that anyone working knows what the word “vegan” actually means. In fact, most of the waitresses, cashiers, or servers I speak to, assume “vegan” is just another word for “vegetarian”. They’ll still try to sell you meals covered in cheese.
People also tend to think “I don’t eat meat” means you don’t eat beef. Common questions that follow are “So do you eat fish?” “What about chicken?” Which I find rather humorous.
The truth is, before I actively researched a vegan diet, I had no idea what the word meant either. The first time I ever looked up the word was after Ellen DeGeneres mentioned that she was vegan on her daytime talk show. (Don’t you just love her??) The second time, was when I was researching ways to change my own diet.
A vegan diet actually means that you don’t eat any animal products at all. No meat, no dairy, no eggs… nothing made from an animal. That also means that when they go grocery shopping, they have to read all the ingredients on every label to make sure there are no animal products hidden behind other names. Oh, and lets not forget gelatin which is made from animal bones. No, I don’t just mean Jello. Did you know they use gelatin in Poptarts?! Milk, cheese, eggs, and gelatin are hidden in most food labels, but not all.
Thankfully, chocolate can be vegan.
So are BBQ Pringles.
Even good ol’ Oreos.
It’s amazing the things you learn about the food you normally eat when you start paying attention to labels. It’s no wonder the meat and dairy industries control the food market. They’re everywhere! Which is funny considering how meat and dairy aren’t actual necessities to maintain a healthy diet.
No Animal Products
Anyhoo, vegans don’t eat animal products. (Honey is questionable and there are many people who consider themselves vegan who still eat it, even though it’s made by bees.) Now, there is a LOT of literature on going vegan and how to maintain a healthy diet by doing so. But don’t be deceived. VEGAN does not automatically mean HEALTHY. There are many unhealthy vegan foods out there. (I’d be very surprised if anyone considered Oreos or Pringles part of a healthy diet.) That means you can be just as unhealthy eating vegan as you can be eating whatever you want.
Now you might think “No meat?? Vegan doesn’t sound healthy at all. How do you get all your vitamins?” The truth is, you can get everything you need from a vegan diet, as long as you pay attention. You can lack nutrients no matter what diet you follow if you don’t pay attention to what you eat. Vegans especially should pay attention to getting enough iron and B12, nutrients that normally come from animal products. You can find them in fortified foods like plant-based milks or fortified cereals. However, taking a daily multivitamin no matter what your diet is always smart, just to be on the safe side.
What surprises most omnivores is that getting enough protein isn’t usually an issue. Majority of Americans actually consume way more protein than they need in a normal diet. The average woman needs about 46 grams a day while the average man needs 56, but the average American consumes anywhere from 70-100 grams a day. As a vegan, you get adequate amounts of protein from beans, nuts, and many vegetables (provided you actually eat those things and don’t live off of pasta and bread.) If you’re worried about getting enough, check out this article written by a vegan bodybuilder.
Beginning My Journey
I’m a pretty petite woman, standing at 5ft 1in tall. As such, I’ve spent much of my life, from teenage years onward, dieting to stay in shape. Most people don’t know how insecure I used to be about the way I looked–I was. Very insecure. I was always in search of another quick fix that would make me thinner. I tried everything from diet pills I found on the internet, to obsessively counting calories, to eliminating every sweet and fried food, to whatever fad diet was trending at the time. I’m pretty sure most young women go through this sort of thing. Of course, none of these methods made me happy, and no matter how much thinner I got, I was never satisfied.
The problem was, I was too focused on the way I looked and that number on the scale, when I should have been focusing on my actual health.
I’ll tell you what I’ll tell my own daughters when they’re older–That number on the scale is not what’s important. It’s how you feel. It’s your health. It’s taking care of yourself the best you can. The only way to accomplish that is by eating right and getting a good amount of exercise.
New Years Resolution
In January 2013, after weeks of researching online, reading recommended books, and watching documentaries on Netflix about how to be healthier… I made a new years resolution to go vegan. Not only because it made me sick to learn I was supporting the evils of factory farming, but also because of how promising the effects would be on my health.
Now fast forward three years to 2016. Even though I’m an average 26 year old woman, working a normal 40hr/week office job where I spend all my time sitting, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. My blood pressure is uncommonly low, as is my cholesterol, I have considerable amounts of energy, and with a regular exercise regimen I easily maintain a thin and fit figure. The most noticeable difference, however, is how light I feel. In the past, after eating a large meal I’d get a sad, heavy feeling in my gut. Now, that feeling’s gone. Going vegan was one of the best life altering changes I’ve ever made.
This year another life altering change took place–I got pregnant! My partner James and I hadn’t been dating more than a few months when we found out, but we were absolutely thrilled. Yes, I realize when you look at the timeline it seems strange to say we were “thrilled” to be bringing another human into the world when we’d only been together such a short time. But the truth is, neither of us have ever been happier–but we can talk about that later.
We were due September 19th with another girl–K2! Even though this was my second pregnancy, being vegan while pregnant was new to me, and probably contributed to how very different this experience was. Granted, quite a few differences had taken place from one pregnancy to the next, so there’s really no telling which changes led to what.
One of the biggest differences this time around was how awful the morning sickness was. We’re talking queasy all day every day, leaning over the trash can at my desk while taking calls, throwing up on my shoes while walking out to the car, sickness. Another difference was…. meat. Meat smelled soooo good. Bacon, chicken, burgers, you name it, I loved the smell. Vegan meat alternatives like soy-based sausages and vegan meat crumbles turned my stomach. The foods I normally loved–meals filled with green vegetables–I was loath to eat. Nothing healthy sounded appetizing anymore. If I could have lived off of Arby’s curly fries and chocolate chips, I would have.
Surprisingly, I stuck with my vegan principles throughout the pregnancy. No matter how good those chicken wings smelled, I resisted. And no, it did not adversely affect my growing baby. K2 grew faster than scheduled, measuring ahead on every sonogram. She even made her appearance a month early, but that’s a story for another day.
However, at 8 months pregnant, and after speaking to my doctor about the healing time after a second caesarean, the wheels in my head started turning. My doctor mentioned that after the surgery, protein is what speeds up the healing process best. I knew that I wasn’t eating “healthy vegan” like I used to since being pregnant. Combining the change in taste with my lack in energy from growing a tiny human, I wasn’t cooking much, let alone monitoring how much protein or B12 I was consuming. I knew I wasn’t going to have more time to focus on cooking after the baby came, so I started wondering if I’d have to force eggs or meat on myself to keep healthy.
A couple of days later, I received a phone call from my doctor’s nurse, telling me that a blood test came back and found I was anemic. Granted, this is completely normal for women who are pregnant and can easily be fixed by taking an iron supplement, which I did. However, it bothered me that I wasn’t getting enough of a nutrient I needed through my diet. I had a hard enough time as it is remembering to take a prenatal vitamin. So, I started looking into ways to consume animal products without fully compromising on my ethical beliefs.
Finding ethically raised chickens for eggs was easy. We have a family friend who raises their own hens, and they were more than happy to share their eggs with us. Whole foods also has humanely raised eggs as well, although store-bought eggs are harder to determine “ethical”. Their labeling is very misleading. This article can help you decipher labels to see how ethical the eggs really are.
Meat, however, was a bit harder to find. Wanting to find the healthiest meat option but not being fond of seafood, I focused on chicken, since I consider poultry the next best option. Turns out Whole Foods also has a rating system for their meat, to help you see how humanely raised it is. Or, was, rather. Their rating system ranges 1-5: 1 being no cages, no crates and no crowding, 2-enriched environment, 3-enhanced outdoor access, 4- pasture centered, 5- animal centered, no physical alterations, and 5+ – animal centered, entire life on same farm. Unfortunately, every Whole Foods I’ve been to so far only has chicken for sale up to rating 4, and the breast goes for about $20+/lb, but it’s definitely better than Tyson! (Don’t even get me started on Tyson.)
So there you have it. Currently, I still tell people I’m eating vegan, (and I am, anytime I eat out of the house) but you can’t really consider me one. Although I tend to eat mainly vegan meals (especially if I’m eating out or with friends) I do have eggs many a morning, and I do consume chicken occasionally.
I suppose you’ll have to call me an “Ethical Eater” from now on.
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