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Going Veggie: A Twelve-Step Program
by Constance Young
From About Town Magazine www.abouttownguide.com

My name is Constance Young and I have been a vegetarian for over forty years and a vegan for about 15 of those years. 

            No, I am not suffering from some addictive disease that requires a confessional. I am a vegan by choice. Let my clarify—vegetarians abstain from eating animal flesh (meat, poultry and fish) and so do vegans, but vegans also avoid all other animal products, including eggs, milk, cheese—and we don't wear leather or fur. Veganism is a lifestyle choice based on an ethical conviction. I am a vegan because I love and care about the welfare of other animal species and do not want to harm them. But please don't stop reading here. People also become vegetarians for other good reasons. Perhaps you too are contemplating the switch?

The three reasons

These are the three basic reasons why people become vegetarians:

·        Health. People who are vegetarian have a greater life expectancy and fewer chronic diseases. They have less heart disease (about 30% less), fewer strokes, and less cancer and suffer less from allergies.

·        The Environment. In general, meat production carries a larger environmental burden than vegetable production. Animal agriculture requires loads of soil, water and energy, and contributes largely to deforestation, soil erosion, climate change caused by the greenhouse effect, water pollution and the loss of biodiversity. According to the book A Diet for a New America by John Robbins (son of the ice cream magnate and owner of Baskin Robbins), livestock production in the United States consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire population of the country. By cycling grain through livestock, we end up with only 10% as many calories as would be available if we ate the grain directly.

·         Animals. Most animals raised for food live short and barbarous lives in factory farms where many never see daylight or walk freely on grassy fields. They end their lives badly, before their time, in brutal slaughterhouses. 

If you are considering becoming vegetarian—or merely cutting down on your meat consumption— you have probably thought about at least one of the above facts. Making the transition, however, can prove tricky. Here are 12 steps, based on what I have learned during my journey to veganism, which I believe can help ease your journey in “going veggie.”

1) Make a List (of Your Whys and Why Nots). First think about why you are reading this article. Have you thought about becoming a vegetarian? What are your reasons?

• Write down your reasons WHY you are considering going veggie in simple clear sentences, like:
        “I think that eating more vegetables and fruit and less meat can make me healthier and help me lose weight in a healthy way,” or 
       “The money that I save from eating meat and fish could be used to help feed people in Third World countries who are starving.”

          • Then write down WHY NOT—the reasons you want to continue eating animal foods, in sentences such as: “I like the taste of meat and love to cook meat, fish and poultry dishes” or " It could upset my training routine.

 • Put the reasons WHY you want to go veggie on your refrigerator or in another prominent place and refer to the list frequently to help motivate you.

2) Overcome Obstacles.  During this step, confront all of the reasons you think it’s difficult, or unreasonable, to go veggie. Take your list of WHY NOTS, or why you think you cannot achieve this goal, and consider  it. For example, it you wrote down “I like the taste of meat and like to cook meat,” find vegetarian foods that taste like the meat you love and learn how to cook with them.

3) READ UP. Search the Internet or read magazines or books on vegetarianism. The Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society can provide recipes and books as well as free Vegetarian Starter Kits and other free literature. See the listings in the sidebar for a wide variety of resources.

4) Haunt Health Food Stores. There are health food stores in Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Hudson, and elsewhere in Dutchess, Ulster, and Columbia counties and the Berkshires. If you can’t find a health food store near you, look for the special Health Food section of most supermarkets. I have found people who work at health food stores to be very helpful; they will point you to certain foods and even tell you how to cook them.

5) Buddy Up.  Ask a vegetarian friend for help with questions or recipes. Or, contact the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, which has started a “Veggie Buddy” program. Call Joan (518-828-8223) or Robbie (845-876-2626) for information about how you can be assigned your own veggie buddy to arrange cooking sessions, help you shop, and perhaps join you for lunch or dinner in a veggie-friendly restaurant. Even if a restaurant is not a so-called vegetarian restaurant, I have found that most good restaurants will accommodate vegetarians, though you have to be willing to ask. This is where a veggie buddy can come in handy; most of us have become experts at getting what we want when eating out. On several occasions I have gone to the finest restaurant in my town, which had no vegan items on the menu, and asked for a vegan dinner. They have come up with masterpieces that were the envy of my meat-eating dinner companions—on one occasion they made cous cous with well spiced local vegetables; another time I was served a delectable stuffed eggplant.

6) Dispel Protein Myths. The first question people invariably ask me when I tell them I am a vegetarian is “How do you get enough protein?” Let me put this myth to rest. According to a Zogby poll conducted in 2000, in an estimated 2.5% of the U.S. population can be considered vegetarian, and about 4.5% of Americans do not eat meat, yet there are virtually no cases of kwashiorkor (protein deficiency disease) in this country. Although for many years I have not eaten what many people consider the top protein foods (meat, cheese, milk, fish, or eggs), I am quite healthy for my age. High plant protein sources include nuts, soybeans and other beans, legumes, grains and rice. I do take a vitamin B12 supplement because vegans can have a deficiency of this vitamin and I try to eat foods that are fortified with, or are high in B12 (such as tempeh and nutritional yeast), which can be purchased at health food stores. I also take a calcium supplement and vitamin D because I am post-menopausal and loss of bone is a frequent problem in women my age as estrogen dwindles. I also try to eat vegetables high in calcium. Ounce for ounce cooked beans provide almost as much calcium as milk. Also grains such as amaranth and some fruits are high in calcium and many soy milks and other vegetarian foods are fortified with vitamin D or calcium.

7) Learn to Love Tofu. Tofu, or soy bean curd, is a common and inexpensive soy product that is available in nearly every grocery store. It is a high quality, and complete protein, with all eight essential amino acids. There are two varieties of tofu. Firm Tofu is more versatile; in fact, some people consider it as versatile as a potato. Silken Tofu, which is rather custard-like, can be used to make a whipped cream substitute and can be used in soups. It does not fry well.

What else can you do with tofu? How about a breakfast scramble, veggie chili, or low-fat pumpkin pie? Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you add to it. According to nutritionist Donna Ziobro of Wake Forest University, research shows that soy protein in tofu can help prevent heart disease, breast cancer, and some menopausal symptoms. And tofu is just one of several good sources of soy protein. Other sources include soy milk, soy powder, miso (a soybean paste) and tempeh (fermented soybean mixed with grain). Tempeh is one of my favorites. It is very nutty and I stir fry it, put balsamic vinegar on it, and use it as a sandwich or in small pieces in salad

8) Make Friends with Seitan.  Many people have never heard of seitan, which is wheat gluten—the protein component of wheat. Seitan, which is high in protein and low in fat, is a good stand-in for meat in many recipes. If you’ve ever eaten mock chicken, beef, or pork in a Chinese restaurant, it is very likely made of seitan. Experiment and use seitan in much the same way you use meat or poultry; most health food stores carry both a beef and/or a poultry type.

9) Buy Beans and Legumes.  There are assuredly as many types of beans, legumes, and recipes on to how to use them as there are readers of AboutTown. Edible pod beans (such as green snap beans and Italian green beans) are rich in beta carotene and vitamin C. Shell beans (such as lima beans, soy beans, and fava beans) are excellent sources of protein, potassium, and iron and are high in vitamin C. Other legumes include peas, lentils, and peanuts (which are eaten as a nut). Beans are a boon to diabetics because they are digested slowly and cause a more gentle rise in blood sugar.

10) Value Variety.  Learn to use herbs and experiment with them.  Try new herbs and new vegetables. Use a vegetarian recipe book, or just experiment. Stews, soups and stir frys are reliable ways to try new herbs, legumes, and vegetables. Don’t forget fruits—try new ones in salads (fresh or stewed), pies or over soy ice cream.  

11) Get a Plan.  Are you the snail (slow moving) type or the all-or-nothing type? If you are a slow mover, then you might want to take it slowly, biting off one chunk at a time. I became a vegetarian, then a vegan, quite slowly. First I gave up eating veal, then pigs, then red meat, then poultry, then fish. Years later, I stopped eating eggs, cheese, and milk. I guess I am a snail type. Other people I know went vegan overnight after seeing some movie or reading a book (usually Diet for a New America). Whichever way is best for you is fine and you will be healthier for it.

12) Eat What You Love and Love What You Eat. Give yourself a prize; you deserve it. Treat yourself to your favorite dishes. Don’t just eat a food because it is not meat—eat what you love. Don’t worry that pasta or nuts may be fattening (that is pre-vegetarian thinking). Don’t be afraid to repeat foods you love; eat them every night if that pleases you—but perhaps in smaller amounts or with a slightly different twist or change. If you love soy ice cream, don’t be afraid to eat it; it has all the protein of ice cream made with milk (maybe even more) but has none of the saturated animal fat. If you are worried about not getting enough protein, eat whole grains, beans, tofu, and nuts, and stop worrying. If worrying is in your nature, take vitamin supplements (especially containing B12) as a safety net.

Resources to Get You Started

Books:
 Diet for a New America, by John Robbins (Stillpoint Press)

The Cookbook for People Who Love Animals (Gentle World,)

Websites:

• The Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society: www.mhvs.org

• For recipes, etc. www.all-creatures.org

• For a listing of vegetarian websites go to www.all4vegan.net/arlinks.htm.

• For basic information about vegetarianism and health www.vegforlife.org/health.htm

• For basic information about vegetarianism and the environment  www.vegetarisme.be/php/milieu.html?menu=eng&s=3&ss=4&sss=1

• “Exploding the Protein Deficiency Myth,” by Tom Salsberg www.veg.ca/lifelines/janfeb/protein.htm

• “Got Tofu” abclocal.go.com/kfsn/health/healthwatch/health_071704_tofu.html

• “The Under-Appreciated Food - TOFU” www.naturalchoicejournal.com/Articles/articles/TofuArti.htm

• For seitan recipes go to www.innerself.com/recipes/entrees/seitan.htm or vrg.org/recipes/vjseitan.htm.

We welcome your comments:

(d-5)

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