Vegan: Yes We Can
Vegetarian activists demonstrate during a "Veggie Pride" event in Lyon, France.
(photo: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images)

Exhaustion. A tough day and I was late leaving work when I realized that it was my night to cook for my vegan housemates. What easy, go-to meal did I have in my repertoire that I could whip up quickly without shopping ahead or thinking too much? Chili? Nope, meat. Omelet? Nope, eggs. Quesadillas? Cheese. Spinach soufflé? Eggs, milk and cheese! Arriving home, I glanced at the newly constructed cooking schedule to find that it was not my night to cook after all. A reprieve. Sometimes work and life collide unexpectedly and serendipitously. This week, as I migrated comments from previous releases of "The Ethics of Eating" show into our current commenting system, I learned, of course, that our listeners are thoughtful, passionate, and diverse. While many expressed appreciation for Barbara Kingsolver's reflection on her year of eating locally, some were outraged at the fact that she referred to slaughtering animals for food as "harvesting" them. Some found her yearlong experiment to be steeped in economic privilege. Still others considered it to be an impractical if not unsustainable way of life given limits of time and energy.

As I read these comments, I couldn't ignore the fact that my current situation roots me centrally in these ideological and spiritual questions. Two weeks ago, I welcomed two new housemates into my home for the coming year. Our intention is to not only share expenses and responsibilities, but to share meals together as well. It won't be simple. They are vegans; I am not. They buy only organic products and shop exclusively at the co-op; I shop sales at a large supermarket. They are home much of the day; I have a full-time job.

Suddenly I find myself challenged with the very questions and decisions that Kingsolver and On Being listeners invite me to face. Some of these challenges expose a lack of clarity in my own belief system, while others expose a misalignment between my held and lived values. So as I embark on my own yearlong experience with (at least partial) veganism, I open myself to these challenges and the myriad questions that accompany them:

  • Is killing a sentient being for food cruel or is doing so simply playing my part in a carnivorous food chain?
  • Am I able to integrate my love of animals and the bond to my pets with eating animal meat and loving a good steak?
  • Am I willing or able to spend the extra money it takes to eat organically and locally?
  • Where will I find the time and energy it takes to work full time and prepare healthy meals?
  • As I settle into the messiness of these questions, I'll start planning ahead about what to serve the vegans this week.

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    Reflections

    I'm vegetarian, not vegan, but I live with carnivores, so we have a bit of the same dance in my household. There are easy, quick vegan and wonderful meals you can make. Start with stirfries, maybe with noodles (make sure they are vegan of course). Soups can be particularly good in the summer (and in the winter - just different soups!) I love just grilling veggies brushed with olive oil in which I've infused garlic. The most important thing is get some good cookbooks!

    Here's a MUST have book for your new endeavors: 'Supermarket Vegan: 225 Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Recipes for Real People in the Real World''. The author is Donna Klein. The recipes stand alone as just plain fantastic, and all can be made by those with the money for organic, locavore ingrediants, and for those without access and on a budget. Enjoy!

    Not to insult the work of the photographer, but couldn't they find a picture that was more flattering?

    Seriously, that looks like the unhappiest group of people I've seen outside of a Phil Collins concert.

    ha ha! so true!

    There's a cultural misunderstanding here. Europeans don't go around with a toothpaste smile like Americans. This has nothing to do with whether the group photographed is vegetarian. Nor are they less happy.

    If you keep a number of stock ingredients in your cupboard, you can easily pull together a meal quickly--and it doesn't have to include animal products. Frozen vegetables are one thing you might want to have on hand. There are about 30 others. Mix, match, combine and voila! Dinner.

    This food dilemma definitely interests me and my quandary about what to eat these days in my life. During this past year, I read or heard that pigs were smarter than dogs. I have two dogs, rescued mixed terriers, chihuahua mom and Jack Russel dad, that are 7 seven years old, sisters, have all the worst qualities of both breeds, but are my companions of choice on most of my days. I couldn't even imagine eating my dogs. When Hurricane Katrina was happening in New Orleans and I saw the pets that were stranded, I knew that if I were ever in a situation where I had to evacuate where I live, I would never leave without my dogs. Even if I had to take water, dog food and pack them out on my front and back. How can I eat a sentient being who is allegedly smarter than my dogs? I have farmer son. He has worked on numerous dairies, is a beekeeper, has run a CSA (community supported agriculture farm), has lovingly raised alot of male calves into adults for slaughter and alot of piglets into pigs for meat. He names each one of his animals, has a relationship with them. They have nice, peaceful lives until they are killed. BUT, I don't feel I could do that. I try to each as much as a vegetarian, if not vegan, as I can. I have not reached the point where I refuse food, whatever it is, when I am in a guest situation. I think it is really important to think about the potential decisions we need to make to make us more conscious of our connections to all living beings.

    Fast, healthful, vegan meals are simple. Think not of a complex dish but of tofu, tempeh, or seitan, along with rice and a vegetable (cooked or raw) and salad. For flavor, a natural food coop has powdered vegetable broth and herbs. If you're ambitious, try curry powder or paste, or (not with curry but with herbs) a spoonful or two of white wine sherry, or Marsala. It is not very different from cooking chicken or sole. Slow food is fine when you have time, but pure, vegan food can be fast in preparation. Then slow down to savor it and the conversation. It's relatively cheap, good for you, and good for the planet.

    Do you notice there are no obese, bloated persons in the photo above?

    Vegetable stir-fry on a bed of quinoa will make your vegan housemates very proud, adding tumeric will give it an extra kick.

    About four years ago I decided to be a vegan, largely because I felt it was a more healthful way to eat. The more I've learned about how animals are raised and how it affects the environment, the more happy I am with the choice I've made to eat a plant-based diet. I don't always buy organic vegetables, but I try. I've actually learned that I don't need to buy as many vegetables as I thought I did, so my goal has been to buy just enough to last me for a week. since I'm not buying quite as much, it isn't as expensive to buy organic. Also, I do the weekly cooking on Sunday or Tuesday (my days off), and I put things into individual portions I can just re-heat up as the week progresses. Good luck with whatever you decide. What a wonderful opportunity, either way, for reflection (and tomtry some interesting new foods)!

    I like Indian food and am slowly being more plant-based in my diet. The cuisine of India offers a vegan so many choices and with so many spices, the flavours are far from boring or bland. Initially it may seem like a lot of preparation with lots of different spices being called for. But I hope you will find it worth it. Of course it always helps to like to cook.

    Hi Anne,
    I have been eating a plant based diet for just over a year and before that had little meat or fish, but liked to eat my eggs and drink my milk. I am now 90% Vegan and am making the final steps now. I have been flirting with this for quite some time and feel so great for making the change! But I digress, and I would like to answer your questions:
    1. Some Vegans will tell you, it isn't the killing of a being that is so painful to deal with, but the way these animals are raised and slaughtered. Much of the food that is readily available to us, even the "organic" meat is from factory farms where animals live in horrible squalid conditions. I have done some reading that suggests because these animals are so fearful as they are led to and being slaughtered that they are full of stress hormones which is then left in the meat for us to eat. Also, that we are eating that fear (more of a Buddhist teaching). There are some that feel, if you are eating meat that is ethically raised and slaughtered, then that is at least one small step in the right direction.
    Of course there is also the fact that these animals contribute a great deal to Global warming, just to raise them (methane gases) let alone ship them.
    2. That is a very personal question that only you can answer. I volunteer and am on the board of directors at an animal sanctuary and I just can't do it. We have pigs, cows, buffalo, lamas, goats, an emu, the list goes on. I hear the jokes all the time how great an Emu burger would be, when in fact she is a sensitive and loving creature. For me, it would be impossible to ever turn back to meat if this was the sole reason. But that is my personal preference.
    3. You may find that it costs less money to eat locally and plant based. Always take into consideration, your body is much happier when it is eating fruits and vegetables that are locally in season. In some areas that can be tough, considering the climate. I have saved a great amount of money since transitioning to plant based. Meat is incredibly expensive.
    4. It takes no more energy to cook a nutritious meal than it does to cook an unhealthy meal. For instance, tonight we will be having tofu tacos. In most circles a taco is unhealthy, at our house it is vegetables, tofu and daiya "cheese" (a cheese alternative)! They are incredible and take only the time it takes to cut the veggies. The tofu cooks in minutes. There are many books and website with alternative recipes. Many of your favourites can be transformed. Vegetarian chili is incredible, add a little tvp (textured vegetable protein) and it's almost like eating meat!! :)

    If you can take the time to read up and educate yourself on the meals, recipes and reasons for doing this (Alicia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet, is surprisingly insightful) and then give it a try for a month, you might notice a huge difference. I love it. The health benefits are out of this world and I will take any edge I can get!! :)

    And, I just realized this is a blog from almost a year ago, but with any luck you will see this and give it a try!
    Best of luck!
    Sue :)

    I would love to hear how it went for Anne Breckbill now that it a a few years later. We are studying Ethical Eating and have been for at least a year. i remind myself of the ethical issues and I wonder if the authors does, too.

    apples