Recently we had our first vegan Thanksgiving. And guess what? We ate pretty dadgum good. Not a shred of meat, a drop of dairy, or a smidgen of egg, and we celebrated like most, with thoughtful preparation of a variety of dishes that both maximize nutrients and celebrate the bounty of the harvest. Without meat and meat by-products, we threw out all the old standbys and tapped into a network of other vegans for the new holiday standard.
If the Thanksgiving feast could be done vegan-style, then I’m im. Full-tilt.
Most challenging for me hasn’t been the change in diet but rather the questions and comments that fly once someone catches wind that not only I but my kids and husband have adopted a vegan lifestyle.
It has certainly been enlightening. And fun. Here are a few of my favorites, with my practiced responses.
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1. ”How do you dine out? I’ll bet you make exceptions.”
We do, some. But only for the kids (they get pasta with alfredo sauce on special occasions). My husband and I don’t, however, as it defeats the purpose of protesting through personal choice. I ask every waitstaff, “What do you have besides salad that is not cooked with any animal products?” and if they can’t point to something on the menu, we walk out and eat somewhere else. Another person touched by veganism, deed done.
Dining out in the heart of meat-eating America does pretty much suck. Once, a self-proclaimed vegan friend ordered cheese enchiladas with refried beans (probably cooked with pork) and rice right after we just discussed how hard it is eating out as a vegan. My meal was more thoughtful, if less filling — tortilla chips and a big bowl of pico de gallo. (By the way, the $1 tip cost me more than my meal.)
2. “Where do you get your protein?”
Same place as gorillas and elephants do. Really. Leaves and the parts of the plant above the ground (besides the fruit) are the plants’ factory, where it makes food from sunlight. These parts are chock full of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and bulk fiber. And protein. Yep. Leaves. Flower stalks. Stems. Eat a lot of these and I swear you’ll never be lacking. Go ahead. Look up broccoli, dandelion, collards, turnips and greens, beets and greens, and any edible leguminous plant in a nutrition index. See for yourself.
3. ”Don’t you have to eat a lot of beans?”
Nope. Legumes and grains are indeed excellent protein sources, but not entirely required where a varied diet already exists. But we still eat ‘em anyway, because they’re delicious. When prepared properly (many must be soaked or even fermented before consumption), they are high in fiber, and contain minerals and essential amino acids. My favorites are split peas and lentils, mostly because I don’t have to remember to soak them overnight first. They cook in less than an hour.
4. ”I see you drinking green drinks sometimes. What is it?”
As a boost to times of extra activity (tennis matches, working out, hard yard labor), my husband and I both supplement with vegetable-based protein (spirulina, hemp, rice, or pea) that can easily be shaken with water into drink form when we need it. It’s quick, bio-ready, and it works. How many 185-lb 50-somethings do you know that can deadlift nearly twice his weight in free weights several days per week? I know one. He lives in my house, eats my salads, and sleeps in my bed.
5. ”How do you stay so skinny?”
Plants don’t make you fat. It’s the not-plants that do that job. I’m the same size as when I married my husband nearly 20 years ago before squeezing out four kids. I’m 10 pounds over my high school graduation weight. Certainly, genes have something to do with it, both my parents were skinny. Truth is, I don’t eat a lot of junk food or processed foods. I literally salivate over nicely arranged salads and bowls of steamed greens. Olive oil and fresh garlic with toast is my “chocolate sauce.” A healthy metabolism is fueled by plants and exercise.
6. ”If you were already mostly vegetarian already, why go vegan?”
Because it starts the conversation of why we have mindlessly turned living, breathing, beings into widgets just to satiate our taste bud. Those who want to know more, ask. Those who don’t, keep the curtains closed. (Wouldn’t want to ruin that willful ignorance.)
7. ”Do you even like tofu? It has, like, no taste.”
Au contraire, mon ami, and the Asians are onto something. We love tofu, and miso, and tempeh, but it is not the bulk of our diet — greens are. To make our own tofu, we first soak organic soybeans almost to sprouting (required to release the anti-nutrient, phytic acid) and use the electronic kitchen slave for all the work. As a bonus, we get a bit of milk to drink (we prefer half-and-half soy and almond) and the leftover strained pulp (okara) is a great filler for baking no-egg vegan brownies. It save us the cost of an organic tofu cake from the grocery, which may or may not have been fermented properly for consumption. Tofu can be eaten plain, in soups, stir-fried, roasted, grilled, or any number of ways. It’s just yummy.
8. ”Aren’t you worried about getting complete protein?”
No. You might be referring to essential and non-essential amino acids. Again, it is eating a varied diet that fills these voids, not so much making sure you eat this food with that every time, every day. Here is a nicely compiled list, and even before we became vegan, we were already eating nearly all of the items on it regularly if not seasonally. Meat-eating Americans don’t even have to think about it. They are spoiled in getting complete protein by eating meat or eggs because (guess what?) the animal gets them in the plants they eat, served up in the form of sacrificed flesh. We’re just cutting out the middle man and all the energy, land, and water resources that go into “growing” it.
9. ”Being vegan is too much work. How do you live without cheese?”
Yes it is, but that’s okay. Oh, and easy cheesy on the second one. (Just why is it that humans do not drink human milk anyway? I digress.) Unless you are in a position to humanely raise or hunt, then slaughter and process your own meat, or harvest the eggs and milk from your own animals, like it or not — even if you buy just one organic, factory-farmed egg — you are part of the problem. The animal welfare issue is paled by the larger, more nefarious environmental concerns the industry also carries with it. Buyers, beware. Change starts with you.
10. ”Come on. Chickens, pigs, cows, they’re just animals. They’re not humans.”
Yes, exactly, living breathing animals. And no one (even the wackiest PETA rep) is claiming that they are even on the same plane as humans. But if we can live healthy, productive lives without bringing harm to others, why wouldn’t we?
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What’s the craziest question you’ve been asked as a vegan?
The most common? How do you respond?