Part 3 – My Journey to & Beyond Vegetarianism

So in my last post in this series, I was feeling very unsettled and confused because wheat, the major ingredient in my diet, was suddenly being implicated as unhealthy, and the cause of my husband’s Celiac disease.

This Celiac thing turned our world upside-down.

At first I approached it like a random allergy, as if he was allergic to strawberries or latex:  “Bummer!  Sorry you can’t have this pasta….”

So we bought gluten-free pasta–which is expensive–so we would just make two separate types of pasta…  We soon realized just how much pasta we ate!

Now, my husband had been mostly vegetarian for most of the time we’d been together thus far–meaning, he would have meat when it was available, but for the most part ate a vegetarian diet with the rest of us.  He’s the chef in our home, but he didn’t want to frequently cook something that only he would eat.  Also, meat is inescapably expensive–even when it’s the hormone-injected “cheap cuts” at the big-box store.

  • One of the major caveats with having limited funds is that your diet is one of sustenance rather than health-promotion.  Ideally, we’d all eat foods that healed our bodies and supported optimum health–not just survival….but I digress.

As time went on, I read and researched more about Celiac.  I have prided myself on my continuing nutritional knowledge base since I went veg as a teen, but here I was being presented with a glaring discrepancy and confusion.

I didn’t understand how it was possible that large numbers of people could be allergic to something that’s widely promoted as staple of a healthy diet.  I mean, even in my impassioned vegan years, I’d never heard of a “meat allergy”!  Yet there are so, so many people with Celiac–and even more with wheat intolerance.  Some estimates claim that as much as half of the American population is sensitive to wheat!

My oldest son, who loves to critique and analyze the world, likes to ask me about nutrition pretty often:  “Is this good for you?  What about this?  Which one is better for you?  Why?”

When he asked about pasta, “whole grain” bread, rice, cereal….I never had an answer that I felt confident of.  My nutritional knowledge up to that point left me with the weak conclusion that whole grains were “just okay”–i.e, that they didn’t have loads of nutrition but weren’t supposed to be “bad” for you, either.  But what exactly did that mean?

Interestingly, the WIC program advocates “healthy whole grains”, and only lets participants choose certain cereals with “high whole grain content”.   However, a “food product” that’s as processed as dry cereal cannot be a health-promoting food, and so should be eaten moderately, if at all.  Anyway, Dora cereal is one of the allowed “healthy choices”–and if you’ve ever seen that stuff coagulate in milk, you’ll know it isn’t healthy just by looking at it!

I have been a fan of Dr. Joel Fuhrman since before his books were published, and I still very much agree with his central premise that the bulk of your diet must be whole, natural foods in order to be health-promoting.  Ideally, he promotes a vegetable-based diet instead of a grain-based diet–which is sound advice.  However, Dr. Fuhrman doesn’t implicate whole grains as BAD–just as grossly overused in the typical American diet.

  • I knew there was more to the story than just processed/refined grains versus “whole” grains…but what was it?

As you might know, when you turn your attention toward something, it grows within your consciousness.  Law of Attraction and all that..  Gradually, I realized that several of my other friends were avoiding not just processed grains, but grains in general, and I started asking them why.    I checked out Mark’s Daily Apple and bought The Primal Blueprint.

Also, another friend of mine began a journey of her own, called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is a very regimented diet that’s designed to heal your gut.  I asked her about it, and the only thing that stuck in my mind–other than it was often the best prescription for Celiac patients (!)–was that it included an awful lot of meat!

Meat in a diet that is designed for healing??  This grew stranger and stranger, I thought.

Yet another one of my friends lives on a farm, and she’s quite healthy.  It occurred to me that she and her family eat plenty of raw, unpasteurized dairy products, butter, eggs, and yes, meat.  Organic, grass-fed meat from animals that had been gently taken care of, allowed to roam free, and were slaughtered as humanely as possible.   If you know anything about the factory farming operations that most of America’s meats come from, you’ll know that this is about as opposite as you can possibly get from the family farm.

As I started unraveling the hidden mess of questions beyond just vegetarianism-or-not, I learned that even my beloved tofu wasn’t safe.

One of the major fallacies of the vegetarian and vegan movement is that it’s possible to eat so low on the food chain that you’re not impacting the environment at all.  Most vegans I know (and the vegan I used to be!) still eat processed foods that have just as much of a negative impact on the planet and sustainability as the foods they are so diligently avoiding.

  • So what it began to look like is this:  Foods–ALL FOODS–vary widely in their ability to promote or detract from our health, depending on how they are farmed/raised/created.  

Now, if you’re familiar with energy work and the quantum view of the universe, that is so obvious and simple–yet complex.

The positive energy that’s put into raising your own garden, or raising chickens for eggs, or even lovingly preparing a meal (as mentioned in my last post), affects the quality of that food, and carries the positive vibrations with it as we ingest it.  Similarly, mass-produced, over-processed, ready-to-eat, “dead” foods that are regarded mainly in terms of some CEO’s profit margin, carry those vibrations as well.

You don’t need a psychic to tell you that a commercial slaughterhouse is a place that’s thick with the vibration of fear, death, terror.  Animals feel–they are sentient beings, and those residual energies and hormones are present in the animals’ bodies at the time of slaughter, and become part of the meat you eat.  (That’s in addition to the toxic compounds and mega-doses of drugs they inject them with in order to keep the animals alive in such crowded, filthy conditions.  Can we say antibiotic resistance?)

However, vibration and energy go on to give further meaning to another argument that most people like to use to poke fun at vegetarians:

       “Plants feel pain too.”

I used to get so frustrated with people who would say that to me.  As if the “suffering” of a cabbage plant is somehow equivalent to the suffering of a pig or cow.  Absurd, I thought.  Of course those people were just trying to be thorns in my side, saying nonsense to goad me…  But actually, I’ve come to believe that they have a point.  (Yes, really.)

Plants are alive too, but more importantly, everything is energy.  The suffering of an animal is more evident to us than a plant’s because we are biologically more similar, more able to relate.  But to say that killing plants doesn’t matter is to reject the energetic, divine nature of All that IS.  In the quantum view, a rock IS a leaf IS a cow IS a person IS the sun and stardust…

The veg movement is focused on getting people to extend their compassion to non-human beings…but why stop there?  

I was starting to realize that that obnoxious song by Tool, about the carrot holocaust, was not so far off the mark, after all…

  • Life feeds on life.  The solution is not to remove yourself from the equation–that’s impossible.  Everything is energy.  You are responsible for the mark you make upon the cycle of life.  No matter what, the fact of your existence creates suffering in other forms.

You must strike a balance, there is no opting out.

~*~*~*~

So, what does this all mean??  I’m honestly still chewing on that.  🙂

The short answer is, I’m regarding my food choices with a lot more conscious thought now than ever before, and I’m realizing that mindfulness and energetics are essential to my diet.

I’m still learning so much–about raw dairy, fermented foods,  how to brew kombuchaurban homesteading, and raising our own egg chickens, eventually.

I think, lately, that labeling one’s eating habits as vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, etc, is misleading, limiting, and not focused on alignment with one’s body/health/Self.

Eating intuitively, seeking out high-vibe, consciously grown  foods is where I’m at right now.

It means that I’m not really interested in wrapping my identity up with vegetarianism anymore.  My diet still happens to be vegetarian–but the description (and stereotypes, and assumptions) of “vegetarian” is no longer all-that-pertinent to Who I Am…if that makes any sense.

My relationship with food is evolving…rapidly.

consciousness.  _shift_

Here are the links to Part 1  and Part 2 of this series…

My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism, Part 2

So in my last post in this series, I left off at the point where I was a complacent vegan who felt “pretty good” about my choices from an ethical and a nutritional standpoint, and was more or less satisfied with my diet for the time being.

Then, gradually, I lost passion about veganism.  Now, I was never one of those street-corner supporters, denouncing the evils of flesh food to anyone who would listen–but from the start, I had been quietly passionate about lessening animal cruelty and helping the environment–and being vegan was the most tangible way I thought that I could effect positive change.

Somewhere along the line, I lost passion for most other things in my life, as well.  I was in the grips of a deep depression.  I realized that I wanted out of my marriage at the time, and felt that I was trapped in a vortex of negativity and fear.  It took monumental efforts to shift my thinking and move forward from this dark place.  Naturally, things that were not of the utmost importance fell by the wayside during this time.

As I picked up the pieces, slowly, I started to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t have the finances to return to the way I had been eating before, when I was “healthier”.  I talked a lot about my vexing relationship with food at this time in my life here, over a year ago.

Truthfully, we ate pretty well after we mastered the learning curve of having a very strict budget to contend with.  But it was a far cry from my previous, convenient, “fast-veg” diet.

That year–the year I got remarried and had my third baby–I learned to cook spaghetti sauce from scratch, and to cherish the feeling of a full stomach.  I had to re-train myself to eat things that I had worked so hard NOT to eat, or want, or even like.  During that year, I think what kept me on the path of vegetarianism more than anything else was that it was cheap.

I developed a really rotten philosophy about food.  It was arguably necessary at the time, but it’s not easy to just reboot your internal programming and change your diet back to a healthy one after eating addictive crap for over a year.

I also learned a lot about how I regarded food.  I was never a good cook, and mostly I didn’t care about how my food tasted.  For all my high-minded idealism, I mostly just ate whatever was convenient that fulfilled the label of “vegan”, to shut my stomach up when it complained.  When I met my now-husband, however, he showed me a completely different way of thinking about food–one that I am still struggling to embrace after all my negative conditioning!

My husband now is an excellent cook.  He has a passion for good, fresh food.  He’s respectful of vegetarian and vegan diets, but he’s an omnivore.  One of the first days we spent together, he cooked me an unbelievable feast.  I thought, when I met him, that he might end up as a star chef one day–and I still do.

Ironically, the foods that my husband prepares are sometimes full of dairy, fat or sugar–but I feel differently about them.  His intentions of what he is trying to create–something beyond simple sustenance–cause a sort of alchemy to happen to his food.  He is able to infuse the food he cooks with a sort of energetic vibe that makes it fortifying and life-affirming, in spite of what the nutritional facts might say about it.

So I reveled in things I had never allowed myself to try before–like cream cheese, white sauces, homemade spring rolls, and more.  As money became less of a problem, we enjoyed our food even more.  Cooking a big dinner for the holidays has become joyful and amazing–instead of a drudgery, or even something to avoid altogether, like when I was a child.

However, as time went on, my husband’s health issues got worse and worse, but not in the typical “you eat the standard american diet” ways.

Then I met Catherine.  Catherine is my very best friend–and a cancer survivor.  She is passionate about food, but in a slightly different way than my husband is.  She describes her diet as “clean”–and it was very impressive to meet someone who ate like she did, especially to me.  Mostly organics, fresh fruit and veggies, nothing with more than six pronounceable ingredients on the label (yes, really!).

Although, I admit that I felt very uncomfortable when I saw that she ate organic dairy.  Oh no!  Dairy is so unhealthy for a cancer survivor!  I thought.  I never considered that there was a reason beyond that she wasn’t hungry, when she politely declined the pasta I fixed when she came over to visit.  But Catherine blew my mind when I learned that she regarded grains as unhealthy.  What???  That’s the foundation of my diet!  And you try not to eat them at all??.

She told me about Paleo and Primal diets, and I had never heard of such a thing.  Previously, I had considered the diet options of man as being on a sliding scale or continuum, with from least healthy/enlightened to most healthy/enlightened–and you moved up or down that scale mostly related to how much meat or dairy you ate.  Raw veganism was, in my mind, the pinnacle of dietary health, and something that mere mortals like myself were mostly incapable of.

Then we started putting the pieces together, and we found that my husband has celiac disease.  He is severely allergic to wheat, among other things.

Whaaat??The foundation of my diet was being implicated again!  I still had a lot to learn.

Here’s a link to Part 3 of this series.

My Journey to and Beyond Vegetarianism–Part 1

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 17 years–but I’m currently experiencing an inner earthquake of thoughts on health, ethics, nutrition and more–and I need to write about it.  The next few posts are going to chronicle my thought process and dietary evolution up to the precarious, interesting point of view I’m at now.

I first went veg as a teen, along with my mother, who was becoming veg again for the third or fourth time in her life (she had a habit of not staying true to herSelf in the face of ridicule or opposition from those closest to her).  I remember wanting Long John Silver’s chicken strips, and fish sandwiches from Burger King (we ate out a LOT), and then feeling so guilty after eating them.

I had collected a bunch of propaganda buttons with animal rights messages on them:  “Go veg!”, “Animals are our friends”, “Love animals, don’t eat them”, and so on.  I had one that was black and red with big block letters proclaiming “Meat is MURDER”.  I wanted to use that button too, but I felt like a filthy hypocrite every time I’d cave and eat meat again.  I knew I’d be inviting scrutiny of my choices by going “public” with my belief in a veg diet, but I didn’t care.

Finally, the summer after I turned 14, I succeeded with staying veg.  I felt so proud of myself–like I was really making a huge difference in the world.  I even went out with flyers and distributed leaflets a few times.  I organized a library display for our town, highlighting famous vegetarians–and drawing the connections between environmental, ethical and health concerns.  The next year at school, I was made fun of for my new choice, but I didn’t waver.  I also met a few other veggie kids, which really surprised me. I even organized a protest when the school’s science wing installed a new exhibit:  a real-life, dissected, spread-eagled cat.  I had to walk past that thing to chemistry twice a week, and it bothered me deeply.  I collected signatures and got the school paper to write a piece about why we felt it was unethical, and that we wanted it gone. We succeeded in getting it removed.  I wrote a piece on vegetarianism for my school paper, and also got a letter to the editor of a national magazine published that year.  The topic?  Animal rights.  Of course I included vegetarianism as an extension of that concept.

I initially tried to go vegan, but being an already-thin person who had a very sensitive palate, that didn’t last long.  I’d restricted my diet so much that I was hungry all the time, but refused (or couldn’t deal with the textures/flavors) of many healthy vegan foods.  I made peace with being an ovo-lacto vegetarian for the time being, and enjoyed many processed meat alternative foods along with lots of fruits, veggies, pasta and rice.

By the time I was 21, I had read loads of vegan ethics and nutrition books, and I decided that it was time to get serious about my health.  My animal-rights zeal that prompted going veg was now a shared focus with health and proper nutrition.  I decided to cut out milk and cheese (which I already ate only in limited quantities), and eat more raw, whole foods.  While I still ate processed foods without thinking much of it, I felt that my diet was congruent with my ethics, and I also felt that I was eating really well.

This was the status quo for about 2-1/2 years.  What I wasn’t yet aware of is that comfort is sometimes a form of complacency–and mine was about to get disturbed profoundly.

Here’s links to Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

Gluten-free Crock-pot Cornbread Stuffing (Vegan-Adaptable)

Gluten-free, vegan-adaptable crock-pot cornbread stuffing–that’s yummy enough to serve to your meat-, dairy-, and gluten-eating friends.  Really.

This recipe is the culmination of my search for yummy stuffing (like Stove-Top, but even better!) that is gluten-free, so my husband could enjoy it too.  He’s newly gluten-free, and we’re finding that a lot of the gluten-free items out there–especially store-bought gluten-free bread–are expensive…kinda spongy, stiff, and gross.  Anyway, it’s a bummer to have one member of the family relegated to an “equal-but-not-really” dish of his own while the rest of us eat something different.
Also, as a vegetarian of over 16 years (several of those were vegan), I’m always sensitive to those who wish to avoid dairy (and meat!), so I included that in my searching as well.  The recipe is rather labor-intensive in that you’ve got to bake your own breads, but you can start the day prior, and then just throw it all together very quickly.  OR – you could totally buy a loaf of GF-bread in the store and then cube it and toast it under the broiler.  Then you’d only need to bake the GF-cornbread.

UPDATE for 2012 – Bob’s Red Mill makes a cornbread mix that is so tasty – better than the from-scratch cornbread recipe below.  If you can find that, buy that instead 😉

I can personally attest that your meat- and wheat-loving guests will devour this, ask for the recipe, and be shocked when they realize it’s gluten-free and vegan. 🙂

THE RECIPE (really three recipes–two bread loaves, plus the stuffing):

First, make up a loaf of cornbread:

I’m sure you can use another cornbread recipe if you’ve got one that’s already tried and true–but this is what I used.

Gluten-Free Vegan Cornbread

1 cup white rice flour OR Pamela’s Gluten-Free Bread Mix (the orange bag–i used the latter)
3/4 cup stone ground cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar (if making cornbread to eat by itself, add another tsp of sugar)
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

margarine to coat the baking pan (i used Smart Balance)

2 beaten eggs (or Ener-G egg replacer to equal two eggs)
1 cup milk (or soymilk, or coconut milk)
1/4 cup melted margarine

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt) together in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Generously grease the sides and bottom of an 8-9 inch round baking pan or dish with margarine.
In a small bowl, combine the eggs or egg replacer, milk, and 1/4 cup margarine. Add this mix to the dry mixture and stir just until moistened. Pour batter into the baking pan or dish and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

We’ll only be using about 1/2 to 2/3 of this loaf, so you can enjoy part of it now, while you’re working. 🙂
While this loaf cools, we can get started on the next loaf…

Here’s the link to the regular gluten-free bread recipe I used:

http://www.pamelasproducts.com/recipe/Bread_by_Hand_with_Yeast/246.aspx

This recipe is directly from the Pamela’s website, and yes, I use their mix regularly.  If you’re wanting to sub your own bread recipe here, note that the loaf this recipe makes is precisely the size of a regular 9″ loaf pan.  Also notice that even though this is a bread recipe, that it calls for Pamela’s Baking and Pancake mix–i.e. the yellow bag, not the orange.

The only difference that you should make to this recipe is to IGNORE the part where it says to add the yeast to the dry mix.  Just trust me.  I’ve followed their instructions to a T and made a yukky, flat, dense little loaf.  Instead, measure out the 1 cup of HOT water as per the instructions, and put the yeast into that–then let it sit for 5 minutes to activate the yeast (you know, like a normal bread recipe). When it’s time to add the wet ingredients to the dry mix, just add the eggs, melted butter and yeasted water separately.

If you’re wanting this to be vegan, you would just use Ener-G egg replacer (or flax “eggs”) in lieu of the eggs–but in this case, I would measure to be sure I had approximately 1-1/2 total cups of liquid, since Ener-G is typically smaller in volume as compared to eggs.  After the five minutes had passed for the yeast to activate, then I would pour the melted butter and egg replacer in with the yeasted water to measure the total amount of liquid before combining with the dry ingredients.

Savvy?  Okay, moving on. 🙂

Once this bread is out of the oven and cooling, you can get started on veggie-prep and rounding up the rest of the stuffing ingredients:

First, get out your crock pot.  If it’s a 6 quart, great.  If it’s a 4 quart, it will still work fine–but you’ll need to get out a large mixing bowl as well, because you need room to toss the ingredients together very well before cooking:

1 onion, finely diced (size depends on how much you like onion–i used a medium one)
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 ribs of celery, finely diced (or minced, if you’ve got picky eaters)
5-6 fresh*sage leaves, minced (i used variegated sage, from my greenhouse)
1/4 cup fresh* parsley, finely chopped (again, from my greenhouse)
*don’t sub dried herbs, it just won’t taste the same!  Or do–but you’ve been warned.

Prep all veggies and herbs and place into the mixing bowl or large crock pot.

If your loaf of regular bread is cool enough, slice it now. Place 3/4ths of the sliced loaf on a baking sheet, and toast them in a 300 degree oven.  This will take a while, but a slow toasting at a low temperature works better to dry out the bread–which is what we’re going for–so it can absorb flavor better.  You can check on the toast periodically by simply reaching (carefully) into the oven and pressing on a slice.  If it still feels very soft and squishy, it’s not toasty enough.  Oh, and do enjoy the extra few slices of bread.  I put butter and jam on mine. 🙂

Now, add to the mixing bowl or crock pot, along with the veggies and herbs:

1 Tbsp olive oil, margarine or butter (i would melt the margarine or butter before adding it)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary (or you can sub 1-1/2 tsp fresh, if you have it)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground marjoram
1/2 tsp savory
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1-1/2 cups vegetable broth, plus a bit more just in case.

Mix all these ingredients together very well, EXCEPT the broth.

Once your bread slices are done toasting, cut them up into 1-inch cubes and add to the mixing bowl or crock pot. Then take the cornbread, and crumble the rest of it by hand (approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the loaf) into the mixing bowl or crock pot.

Now pour the vegetable broth over the bread, herbs and veggies, and toss VERY well!  If it looks a bit dry, add about 1/4 cup more broth.

Transfer mixture to crock pot, cover, and cook on high for approximately two hours.

Enjoy!