Like most people, I grew up eating meat. It was just what everyone did — including my family and everyone else’s family I knew.
I met my first vegetarian during my freshman year of college. She was a nice enough person, and I wrote her vegetarianism off as something of a quirk or mild eccentricity. In short, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. At least not consciously.
Fast forward many years to a day in 1998 when I happened across an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled, “Could Mad-Cow Disease Happen Here?” The article discussed Great Britain’s recent epidemic of Mad-Cow disease that necessitated the slaughter of 3.7 million cattle.
That was troubling, but what really captured my attention was the fact that Great Britain also placed a ban on the sale of certain cuts of beef. Why? Because 27 people had contracted a variant of Mad-Cow disease known as Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease by consuming beef products.
As I read further, the article explained that CJD is a fatal nervous system disorder. Unable to contain my alarm, I looked up at my husband and shared what I was reading. His casual response supplied a further shock. “Yeah, that’s why I can’t be a blood donor.” Then he reminded me that before we met, he had lived in Tunbridge Wells, England, for a number of months in the 1980s when Britain had its first outbreak of Mad-Cow disease.
He was informed that he was banned from becoming a blood donor. His revelation led to a longer discussion that ended in both of us deciding to ditch meat. We kept fish and dairy, though. It seemed like a reasonable choice at the time.
Fast forward to 2006. Again, I am reading. This time it is John Robbins’ book, “Diet for a New America.” Robbins, whose father was the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins ice cream company, had refused his inheritance. Why? Because after becoming an ethical vegan, he could not in good conscience inherit riches from his family’s industry.
His book is an illuminating exposé detailing why dairy is no less ethically troubling than meat and, in many ways, more so. Until reading Robbins’ book I didn’t realize that cows must be forcibly impregnated to produce milk. I felt ridiculous for never having thought about what now seemed so obvious.
So, what happens to the male calves? They are separated from their distraught mothers, so their milk is available for human consumption. And the calves become veal.
What happens to the dairy cow when she can no longer produce milk? She goes to the slaughterhouse.
At that moment, our earlier decision to eliminate only meat didn’t make sense to me anymore. It made even less sense when I read about the egg industry, the details of which I will not go into here.
And again, I looked up at my husband. Our eyes met. So did our thoughts, because I had already shared many of the details of my reading. Silence.
Then I blurted out, “I think we should go vegan.”
“Yes,” he replied.
And that was that. The next day, we cleared our kitchen of all animal products. Practically speaking, it wasn’t exactly a major transition since we had already left meat behind several years before. But for both of us, it was the best and most personally transformative decision we’ve ever made.
Becoming vegan has paid enormous dividends in terms of our health. Despite our ages (65 and 79), we sleep well, have terrific energy, and rarely get sick.
And unlike many, if not most, people in our age group, there are no medications for chronic illnesses at our house. We don’t spend time in doctors’ offices. Instead, we hike and bike, and I still run several miles most mornings.
We chose the Whole Foods Plant-Based approach to our vegan food, which means that we don’t eat processed vegan “meat.” For one thing, those processed vegan foods are still processed foods. So, they aren’t what anyone could call “healthy choices.” And they can be expensive, even if they are useful in helping people make the transition to vegan eating.
We found that eating whole plant foods is better tasting, more satisfying and actually less expensive than the standard American diet that includes meat, dairy and eggs. When we want to try out something new, we just type in “Whole Foods Plant Based Recipes” in our search box to find an endless supply of easy and appetizing recipes. The bottom line is that we eat many delicious foods without having to watch our weight, knowing that it is the biggest factor in keeping us healthy. That’s a lot of peace of mind.
I think many people assume that becoming vegan is a sacrifice. They tend not to think about — because they don’t know about — the remarkable benefits that follow from making that choice. What I have “sacrificed” in becoming vegan feels entirely trivial compared to the powerful health advantages, the peace of mind, and the sense of wholeness that awaited me on the other side.
Creamy African Stew
(Adapted from The Plant Pure Nation Cookbook by Kim Campbell)
Yield: 10 cups
- 2 onions, sliced into half rings (approx. 4 C)
- 1 large carrot, diced (approx. ¾ C)
- 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
- 2 medium to large sweet potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes (approx. 3 C)
- 1 C of vegetable stock
- 1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder (or more to taste)
- 1 tsp. salt or to taste
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ⅓ C peanut butter
- 1-15 ounce can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
- 1 C coconut milk (light or regular)
- 2 C chopped frozen spinach
Combine all the ingredients in a pot and cook over high heat until bubbly (10-15 minutes). Lower heat to simmer for 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.
Note: You can also put all ingredients into a slow cooker on medium heat and cook for 2-3 hours.
Serve as a stew or over rice.
All Purpose, Plant-Based, Cheesy Sauce
Yield: 4 cups
- 1 cup potatoes (approx. 6 oz.), peeled and diced
- ¼ cup carrots, diced
- ¼ cup onion, chopped
- 1 cup broth from cooking the veggies
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained (or ½ c white beans if you have nut allergies)
- 4 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes (available in most grocery stores)
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ⅛ tsp. paprika
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
In a medium pot, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Place potatoes, carrots and onions in the pot and allow to cook until veggies are tender, approximately 15 minutes.
When veggies are tender, drain and place them in a blender. Add the reserved 1 cup cooking broth. Add all the remaining ingredients; blend until smooth.
Use in nacho cheese dip, mac-n-cheese, a topping for steamed broccoli, on veggie burgers or anything else when you need a creamy, cheesy sauce.
Note: This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Deborah Gallagher lives in Iowa City with her husband and two cats. She is recently retired from the University of Northern Iowa, where she was a professor of education.
For questions or comments regarding the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email [email protected] or visit www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.