About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eight Easy Ways to Screw Up the Vegan Diet

So I've been experimenting with the vegan thing. No surprise: vegetarian is easier than vegan. I don't have a problem making the big, obvious choices: portobello mushroom burger instead of beef, tofurkey instead of deli turkey, Buddha's Delight instead of Kung Pao Chicken, tofu and veggies instead of meat lasagna, rice milk instead of cow's milk. Except for the last one, I'd been making the other choices fairly consistently for the past 20 years.

I'm not, by the way, claiming to have been a perfect vegetarian for all that time, just that I've often preferred vegetarian options over meat ones. Anyone who knew me during my grad school years knows that my husband and I were "economic vegetarians," people who at home never ate meat simply because it was cheaper to plan meals without it. But the vegan thing is much more challenging, both because there are so many places where dairy creeps in, and because I like it. A few examples:

#1: The salad dressing. Admittedly, I was at McDonald's with my oldest, and that establishment is not the easiest place to go vegan. The meat-free, cheese-free, tasteless salad was my choice, but my salad dressing had milk products in it (as well as corn syrup, which is in EVERYTHING). I figure I had about a tablespoon of salad dressing. (Far less than what comes in the packet they give you.)

#2: The coffee with milk in it. I know, I could have driven farther to find a Starbucks, but that would have been wasting gas, and isn't that a shame too? So, I got my coffee at a place that did not have a non-dairy cream or milk alternative. Sue me; I had a tablespoon or two of real cow's milk. I hate coffee by itself. And I didn't feel like tea. Whine, whine, whine.

#3: The lure of the local gelateria. My kid got a scoop, and I tasted it. Delicious, by the way. Add up a teaspooon of milk to my daily tally.

#4: Eating what's already in the fridge before it goes bad. In the time-honored tradition of avoiding throwing away things already purchased, I've had a (gasp!)real yogurt or two since I started this (though not on the same day). The hard-line vegans will say it would have been better to throw it away. However, I come from a long line of people who believe that a penny spent should NEVER be thrown away. Throwing out those yogurts would have felt like flushing the money down the toilet.

#5: Being the polite guest. My brother-in-law, not knowing I've started this vegan thing, orders pizza. Regular, old, cheese and meat pizza. I hate being a rude guest, and I was seriously hungry and had a two-hour drive ahead of me. I ate a piece (cheese only).

#6: Ignorance. I chose what I thought was a dairy-free gelato option at our neighborhood's overpriced gelateria. Turns out, even the sorbettos have 5% milk solids in them. Sigh.

#7: Failing to find acceptable alternatives. For breakfast, after a piece of fruit, I like cold cereal with milk. I've tried milk alternatives, and although I've settled on one that I can tolerate in coffee (vanilla rice milk), I haven't found one I like with cereal. I guess that's about 1/4 cup per day of real cow's milk, without fail, even on days when I make no other vegan "mistakes."

#8: Saving money. Strict vegan is EXPENSIVE! The other day, I bought the following: organic bananas, two containers of coconut milk ice cream, Hershey's chocolate sauce, four cans of organic cat food, Boca burgers, two containers of coconut milk yogurt, soy cheese, tofurkey, an avocado, and non-animal-tested shampoo and conditioner. I bought these items at a well-known chain, one that specializes in organic, locally grown stuff and is frequented by those who are well-heeled. They accept no coupons, even for things that you can get in the bigger chains. For that ONE bag of groceries, I spent $65. That is seriously far more expensive than the non-organic, non-vegan alternatives. (I estimate three or four times as much.) My husband would have a heart attack if he knew. Please don't tell him. And I assure you that such spending is not a habit of mine.

Clearly, we cannot do the strict, vegan, organic thing for the whole family, at least if we want to stay on our budget. We don't, by the way, eat out much, so it's not like we could "trade" going out for eating in. We also already don't eat meat at every meal -- I'd say four out of seven nights, we don't have meat at dinner. But even if it were just for me, it's a big expense, and one I feel very conflicted about. Is it right for ME to go vegan, spending more money on MY food, than on the food for everybody else? Seems very weird to me. Not to mention that it's just plain odd for the mom to eat differently than everyone else. Family meals should be about sharing food. Not preparing different dishes for each person.

For now, I'm siding with the argument that the good is NOT the enemy of the excellent. Eating less dairy is good, though eating no dairy might be excellent. Eating more organic is good; eating all organic would be ideal. To the stalwart, evangelical vegans, I probably appear to be a cheater or, worse, somebody who doesn't "get it." I think I do get. I've just made different choices, hopefully defensible.


  1. "What is food to one, is the other's bitter poison." Lucretius (c 96 BC - 55 BC) De Reruma Natura

  2. My daughter was a vegan and may be again when she comes back from Africa.(no way she could even be vegetarian there) A vegan diet is very hard and expensive to maintain and definitely more difficult for us to provide here in my smallish city than it is for her in Seattle.


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