Two hundred and forty-five

I made it through vegan month!

I started this month thinking that it would very difficult to get through and that most likely I would jump right back in to eating meat at the end of it (“drooling for that medium rare prime rib” is how I put it).  I knew that it would be annoying to have to look at every label, ask chefs what ingredients are in their cooking, to eat at the Irish pub where I work at.  It turned out not to be that hard.

After the first week of detox headaches and the research figuring out what I can eat and what I need to eat to stay healthy, it wasn’t difficult to stick to the vegan diet.  Sure, there were a few times when I felt like I was missing out (Thanksgiving, pizza at work, birthday cake), but generally I loved being in charge of what I was putting in my body and knowing every ingredient that I was consuming.

There were a few significant physical and emotional changes that happened to me this month.  I’ve lost weight, although I don’t have a scale, so will have to check the exact number when I go visit my folks this week.  I’ve been told my skin is radiant and glowing now.  Because of all the fiber, my “number two”s are great (I know, gross, but worth mentioning).  My period symptoms have been less – less pain, bloating.  My mood has mellowed out – I tend to be happier and can deal with upsets better.

I rarely have a craving for something unhealthy.  My need to eat dairy is non-existent and my desire to eat meat is very minimal.  I eat smaller portions.  I feel healthy and therefore, unlike every other month, I wasn’t counting down the days until the month was over.  I loved this month for what it taught me and how it changed me.

Recap of the month

Each day I tried to touch on a different topic about veganism and what that meant to me.  If you want to check back on a certain area, here are some of the big ideas I covered: history of veganism; detoxing (here and here); vegan recipes (here and here); the honey debatequinoareasons to become vegan; interviews with vegans (Amy and Sheri); small town veganism; beer, wine and spirits – are they vegan?; makeup and skin care (and here); celebrity vegans; animal rights; freeganism; vegan travel; vegan clothing; raw foodism; Skinny Bitch and other vegan books; is vegan right for everyone?.

What did I learn?

One of the reasons I loved this month is there was so much to write about.  I though I’d have a hard time thinking of an interesting blog post every day, but there was so much information I could easily do more research and write another month’s worth of posts.  The amount of facts, statistics, reports, blogs, websites, and interviews that I read this month is huge.  Everything I looked at had new information that changed the way I look at food (and beauty-care products), what I consume, and what kind of food is generally available at the local grocery store.  Some of it shocked and appalled me.  Some of it made me happy and inspired me.

I learned that eating healthy affects not only your physical body, but also your energy, mood, and emotions.

Where do I go from here with veganism?

I’m not that good at doing anything”black and white” – I’m a shades of grey kind of girl.  I believe there are exceptions to every rule.  I will definitely be taking what I learned this month and applying it to my eating habits.  I will eat more raw foods, have vegan meals, read labels for ingredients, choose organic produce, and generally be aware of what I’m putting in my body.  I will not be eating any dairy.

I won’t be as strict, though.  If there is chicken stock in something at a restaurant, I won’t make a fuss.  I will have the occasional egg and meat, as long as I know exactly where it is coming from – free range, local, organic, etc.  I will probably still wear leather and keep my warm wool socks.  If I’m at my nana’s house, I will eat what she cooked for me.

I recently became aware of ther term “flexitarian“.  This is someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, but occasionally eats meats.  I’m not much of a label person, but I suppose that is a good way of describing what I believe my diet has transformed into.

Tomorrow I start 30 Holiday Celebrations, starting with World Vegan Day!

Two hundred and forty-four

Is Vegan right for everyone?

Many of you know that I have recently been struggling for the first time in my life with health problems. When I discovered that my problems were a direct result of my vegan diet I was devastated.  2 months ago, after learning the hard way that not everyone is capable of maintaining their health as a vegan, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and gave up veganism and returned to eating an omnivorous diet…” – Tasha, A Vegan No More, voracioueats.com

As I was checking out vegan recipes on VoraciousEats.com the other day, I started reading about Tasha’s journey from being a “vegangelical” to a meat-eating omnivore.  Despite being so pro-vegan, a slew of health problems required her to start eating animal products again (despite many tears and trying for months every alternative possible), and her health returned immediately .

It’s a long but fascinating read on one woman’s story of how both her eating habits and her beliefs changed.  If you have time, vegan or not, it’s a great other side to the lifestyle I’ve adapted over the past month and a good balance to the hardcore vegans I have talked to and researched.

After writing the post, Tasha had tens of thousands of views, hundreds of comments, e-mails and tweets.  She had people encourage her, and others threaten her family’s life (funny that a vegan who is opposed to killing animals threatens human life).  She retorted with another post: Vegan Defector Talks Back, answering questions and responding to some of the negative comments she received.

I think it’s important to show the other side of the vegan story.  Humans do need certain vitamins that can only come from animal products (specifically B12, although this can come from supplements if your body accepts them).  And we are omnivores, coming from the Latin ‘omni’ or everything, meaning we eat what is available – opportunistic eaters.  Therefore, we can thrive on a vegetarian/vegan diet, or with meat.

I’ve read a lot on veganism over the past month and I do agree that it is a great choice to make for your health and your body (and factory farm animals and the environment), as long as you are very aware of what you are eating and making sure you get all the nutrients you need.  I also believe that a little bit of meat, in moderation, and that is free-range, local, organic, and you know where it is coming from, is not necessarily bad.  More on this topic tomorrow for my final post of my vegan month…

Two hundred and forty-three

My first impression of Skinny Bitch (#1 New York Times Bestseller) 

The other day I was sitting in Urban Herbivore in Kensington Market (vegan sandwiches, grain bowls, salads, curries, juices) having lunch and I really wanted to bring out Skinny Bitch and continue reading it (a book I figured I had to read as it’s probably one of the highest selling/most popular books on veganism there is).  I was too embarrassed.

First of all, wouldn’t it be weird to read a “becoming vegan” book in a vegan restaurant?  Secondly, I knew from the moment I started reading it, I hated it.  I don’t hate the message – it’s all of the things I’ve mentioned in the blog in more detail with lots of scientific data and endnotes with all of the sources.  I actually don’t even hate as much the fact that it poses as a weight-loss book in order to get people to start reading, then bombards the reader with how they need to become vegan (my friend bought the book and was taken totally by surprise when the book started talking about animal slaughter).  The biggest problem I have with it is the language.  It’s as if throwing in a few “bitch”, “shut the f__k up” and “fat-pig syndrome” makes it hip.  As if adding “chemical shit storm”, calling meat “dead, rotting, decomposing flesh” and saying “go suck your mother’s tits” will shock the reader into listening to the message.

My second impressions of Skinny Bitch

I wrote this first paragraph before I really got in to the book .  And I still hate the way it is written with words like “big, steamy dump” and “cheap asshole”. But I do appreciate all the facts in each chapter and the message to empower everyone to “trust no one”, read labels, do your research and choose healthy foods to put in your body.  At the end authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin admit the book has nothing to do with being skinny, but instead being healthy and “treating your body like the temple it is”.  That’s a message I agree with, even if I hate the profanity used to get the message across.

Other interesting books to read on veganism

There are quite a few books out there published about veganism.  I bought Alicia Silverstone The Kind Life, but haven’t had time to really get into it.  It does look like it has some great recipes and lots of information in an easily digestible format.  Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis wrote Becoming Vegan, as I mentioned on yesterday’s post.  Click here for a few other books from chooseveg.com.

Two hundred and forty-two

Raw Vegan Food Diet

Raw food is defined as food with temperatures not above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.  Someone practicing a raw food diet would generally eat above 75% by weight of their food intake raw.

Last night I went to a lecture by renowned author, registered dietician and nutritionist Vesanto Melina at the University of Toronto on “Raw Food Diets: What’s True?  What’s Not?”  Being vegan for this month has been fascinating, but I’m not sure I’m ready for a complete raw diet.  It would be hard in the cold winter months to give up hot comfort foods.  And how healthy is it, really?  Are there higher chances of food poisoning?  Can you get enough nutrients?  And what about taste?  Do I have to sacrifice taste for a healthy diet?  I sat down at the beginning of the lecture wary, but open to learning and hearing what this co-author of what the gentleman from the Toronto Vegetarian Society who introduced her called the “bible” for vegetarians (Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, and now Becoming Raw) has to say.

I am so glad I went.  There were some really interesting things I learned about raw and cooked foods and what choices to make to keep food as healthy as possible (with as many vitamins, nutrients, minerals and enzymes intact).  Vesanto Melina is a very knowledgeable woman, who wasn’t there to preach or convince anyone that one way is right.  She was rather explaining different choices you can make, telling you the facts, helping you in whatever stage of nutrition you are at, and then leaving it up to you to come to your own conclusions.

There was tons of information, but here are a few things all of us should know, meat-eaters or not (all from scientific studies and research – see her website for more details, nutrispeak.com):

  • Cooking food destroys enzymes that help in the digestion process, reduces nutrients and phytochemicals, and reduces some of the protective effects of food.
  • Steaming vegetables briefly (and keep the leftover water for stock because it is full of the nutrients lost in the steaming) results in a loss of under 30% of enzymes, so still helps in your digestion.
  • Boiling (in soups, stews) also keeps a lot of the nutrients in the broth and is healthier for you than bbq, baking, grilling or frying.
  • Cooking muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish or poultry, at high temperatures (such as frying or grilling on an open flame/bbq) causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form.  Exposure to high levels of HCAs could cause cancer. (more at cancer.gov)
  • Browning of food (when an amino acid reacts with a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat) such as roast beef or seared steak causes advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which have been linked to diabetes (one of many studies here).
  • Good news, though – cooked tomatoes, for example ketchup, has been proven to help prevent prostate cancer.
  • Not all raw food is good for you, though.  Raw button mushrooms contain agaritine which is toxic to your liver and raw shitake mushrooms contain formaldehyde.  Cook six minutes and it reduces these harmful toxins greatly, or marinate and dehydrate.  Buckwheat greens contain fagopyrin which is toxic to humans and can cause hypersensitivity to sunlight, skin irritation, swelling, and dizziness.
  • Many sea vegetables, like kelp and hijiki have been found to have high heavy metal content, as a result of the pollution found in our oceans.  Arsenic and mercury have been found in high quantities in hijiki and should be avoided.
  • If you decide to become a raw foodist (or even a vegan) you need to take supplements of B12 and Vitamin D (if no exposure to the sun – for example in winter) and make sure to eat Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flax seed oil).
  • Raw foods have been found to benefit arthritis, fibromyalgia, obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Raw foods have anti-inflammatory properties that will help with anyone who has problems in their joints.  The high amount of fiber binds and carries out carcinogens from your body.
I don’t think I will become a complete raw foodist any time soon.  However, I will be thinking about my cooking (or choosing not to cook) choices to help maximize their health benefits.  More raw foods will be finding their way into my diet.  Although I still think you’re giving up a lot of taste in exchange for health!  But our health is pretty damn important…

Two hundred and forty-one

Vegan clothing

I have a confession to make: I’m wearing wool socks.  And I almost wore my leather and wool winter boots, except I thought I’d get kicked out of the vegan store when I went shopping there today.  It’s just so cold today, and my wool socks are my warmest.  You can ask anyone who knows me – I am ALWAYS cold.  It can be the middle of summer and I’ll be cold.  Yesterday night my hands were so cold they started to lose circulation and my finger tips went white.  I’ve had this my whole life, no matter what diet I have, whether I do exercise, what vitamins I take.  I just have to accept I will always be cold.  And once I get cold, it’s really hard to warm up.

I’ve tried every kind of material and the only thing that really keeps me warm is wool.  I know it is completely against vegan rules that I wear the fur of an animal.  I know that I’m cheating.  But when I’m cold everything else in my body gets sore, especially my muscle from tensing up in order to try to keep the heat in, and I’m easily susceptible to sickness.  So I’m going to wear my wool socks.

Where wool comes from…

I have another confession: I don’t really know anything about the wool industry.  My adamant wool-sock wearing comes from ignorance.  I picture sheep living happily, grazing in the fields, then being sheared in the springtime by hand by a farmer and his wife.  With the constant desire for more wool, though, I realize this idealized image in my head is probably wrong.  Here is an excerpt from an interview with Elisa Camahort, blogger for Hip & Zen, on treehugger.com, explaining why vegans feel so strongly about not wearing any wool:

 Lambs born for wool production are castrated, have their ears punched through and their tails cut off, all without anaesthesia.

One might think that wool production is benign…like getting a haircut, and perhaps it was that way before sheep were bred for constant wool production, rather than seasonal production linked to their natural molting schedule. Now, sheep are sheared before they naturally would shed their winter coats, then the wool grows back during the summer months. Many sheep die of exposure (heat and cold) every year.

Worst of all is a technique called mulesing. Merino sheep produce the most wool because they are bred to have the most folds of skin. Unfortunately all those folds of skin become breeding grounds for fly infestations around their tail area. The factory farm solution for this problem is to carve off folds of skin, yes, their skin…hoping to create a smooth, scarred surface where the flies can’t lay eggs. And no, they don’t use anaesthesia for that either.

There is more detailed information about the wool industry on PETA.org.

What kind of clothing can you wear as a vegan?

Some alternatives to wool, suggested by PETA: “cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, and other cruelty-free fibers”.  They also suggest the relatively new wool substitute, Tencel, or “Polartec Wind Pro, which is made primarily from recycled plastic soda bottles, is a high-density fleece with four times the wind resistance of wool, and it also wicks away moisture.”  There are also natural fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and soy.

I will try to find Tencel or Polartec Wind Pro socks (if they make socks) and try them out, but I’m not guaranteeing anything…  Maybe there are ways to make sure the wool socks I buy aren’t from factory farm sheep and those farms who use mulesing?