Updated: Feb 7, 2021
Pt. 2 of this challenge is for people who would like to take plant-based eating a step further!
A decade ago, I was the young mom of a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 2-year-old. One day, out of nowhere my 7-year-old asked me if what he was eating was “pluck-pluck chicken or... what?”
I found myself confused by the question and quickly responded - “yes mi Lindo, it’s chicken nuggets.”
“Like the ones that have feet and feathers and a heart?” he asked.
*gulp* I hesitated for a moment “yep... just like that.”
He then proceeded to ask me, “Why do we eat chickens? Where’s the rest of him?”
I felt terrible and didn’t know how to answer his inquiries, so I did what most moms would do. I told him the same thing I had been told by my mom as though it was unequivocal truth.
I said “we need to eat animals, it’s healthy for us, that’s why they exist, for us to eat” but as the words came out of my mouth they triggered a deep feeling of unease.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this very innocent conversation morphed into a challenge to prove to my son, and myself, that all of these statements were indeed true and that we were doing nothing wrong.
Kendrick around the time we had that life-changing conversation--he's now 17.
I began to research--I read books and watched videos on the subject. I always knew there were vegetarians and I knew that animals must die in order for us to eat them, but I never really connected this knowledge to the grim reality. I found out there’s a term for this - cognitive dissonance: “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude changes.”
I continued to seek out information, I watched documentaries (I’ll include links below), and read several books like Animal Liberation by Peter Singer and this created the foundation on which I would base my eating choices moving forward but most importantly this specific encounter with my sweet young boy marked a beginning that completely changed the way I would perceive the world around me.
It was only a matter of months before I decided I would no longer eat animals and I would not feed them to my family. A few weeks later after learning about the dairy and egg industries, I also decided to remove all dairy, eggs, and honey from our diet.
These decisions were grounded on firm ethical principles. After learning the truth of where our “food” comes from, we were unable to unsee or unlearn the harsh reality and our lives were forever changed. I believe that’s been the main reason that has contributed to our consistency in living a vegan lifestyle.
Yet, there are many reasons why people choose to leave behind meat, dairy, and eggs and move to a plant-based diet. As we know for many this reason may be the environment and species conservation, for other people it may be their health, or to combat disease, for some it may be as simple as taste preference, or any combination of these. For my family and me, it was ethical and spiritual.
Speaking of spiritual reasons, I’m amazed to see how more and more young children seem to have an innate dislike for meat and dairy. It reminds me of the 100th monkey effect.
Also, when we think of ethical reasons, I’m reminded that lactose intolerance affects around 70% of the world’s human population, the vast majority being BIPOC. Which begs the question about how nutritional guidelines may be hurting disproportionately people of color and minorities in the United States and across the world. You can read more about that here. (Please check out all the links I’ve included above if you’d like to learn more, many of the films are available through popular platforms like Netflix and Hulu).
Considering ditching animal products? Feeling the need to make this kind of lifestyle change? Let me leave you with some lessons I learned and ways I found to ease the transition from status quo eating to conscious mindful eating.
Know your why - Like almost everything in life if you don’t know your reason why, you won’t see the importance of doing anything or following through with your choices. Understanding your reason why is pivotal to successfully changing your lifestyle, whether it’s how you consume food, media, and conversations or staying motivated to do yoga, working out, or spending time out in nature. Why will always be the driving force! I found myself constantly learning, watching footage that was painful to see but extremely important in order for me to stay on track with this complete overhaul of my family's day to day life. I love the work of Dr. Melany Joy and her concept of “carnism”. I found that educating myself became a work of love and a search for truth that extended to all other aspects of my life, which leads me to my second point.
Family - It’s so tough letting grandma know you won’t be eating that “arroz con pollo” or “cheese casserole” because you no longer eat animals or the things that come out of them! Be prepared to be looked at like you’ve grown a third head! Having a conversation with your loved ones as to why you are making this decision is key, but not always the end-all. You will be confronted many times by loved ones that will want you to just try it and say things like “there’s only a little bit of milk” or “we’ve always eaten meat”. Be prepared, by continuing to educate yourself on the topic, to communicate the reasons for your new life choices; not once but multiple times, maybe several times in one night! Try and lead by example and be patient and kind.
Cooking at home - While everyone in my family was adjusting to this new-found knowledge and way of eating, I had the heavy task of cooking vegan meals at home. Ten years ago there weren’t a whole lot of vegan dining out options! Getting inspiration was huge for me here, you will be introduced to many ingredients you may have never even known about, like tempeh, tofu, nutritional yeast, and so many new vegetables and fruits. You’ll learn to use other ingredients in different ways too. For example, the liquid in the can of chickpeas makes great merengue, cauliflower can be used to make chicken wings or cashews can be used to make cheese sauces! Try to make your meals fun, colorful, and simple! A well balanced vegan meal should have lots of colors and be sure to eat generous servings, because plant foods pack fewer calories than animal-based foods so you may get hungry more often, so eat large portions and keep snacks handy. This takes me to the fourth point.
Prepare - Prepping your meals ahead of time can be a huge time saver, having snacks with you so you don’t feel like you need whatever wrap they have at Starbucks or God forbid eat from a vending machine! Also great for when you have little kids, no McDonald’s stops for those beautiful little angels. I would have a few, go-to, easy recipes and stocked up on the staples I would need for them. Then plan out a flexible menu for the week, that I could mix & match depending on what veggies I had in the fridge.
Find Support - I was very lucky that my husband was supportive and open to going vegan, we were blessed to have been on the same page and that my kids were all still pretty young and didn’t really have any issues adjusting because once we learned and understood the reasons why there was no need for justification or explanation. We knew this change was important and we had each other. That doesn’t mean going to birthday parties and sleepovers weren’t tough, it just means we could help each other plan ahead and cope with awkward and uncomfortable situations.
Vegan vs. Plant-based - Veganism is defined as: “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
On the other hand “Plant-based or plant-forward eating patterns focus on foods primarily from plants. This includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. It doesn't mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources.” I think it’s important to understand the difference because one is a dietary choice while the other a moral imperative, and although both can be very healthy, a person eating nothing more than potato chips and Oreo cookies is considered vegan (clearly not something I would recommend, but the animals really don’t care what you eat, as long as it’s not them!).
Don’t Restrict Yourself - Remember you should eat larger portions and tons of variety. This is a lifestyle change so changing your perspective on meals and food is imperative. Learn to eat intuitively, meaning eat when you're hungry, keep nuts, dried fruit, and granola bars around for easy snacking. Try new foods you may not be familiar with. Most ethnic foods are either naturally vegan or can be easily veganized! There are so many great and easy recipes on Instagram, youtube, and online! Here are some great resources:
Have Fun - Enjoy the changes and find fun ways to recreate your favorite recipes. A simple google search with the name of your go-to meal followed by the word vegan will provide you an array of ways to “veganize” grandma’s pecan pie or pretty much any dish you can crave! Also, don’t forget that we are only human! You are doing your best and there will be mistakes. When (not if) you have a setback, for whatever reason, remember you get to choose the next meal and the next snack.
My youngest, Xavier, was 2-years-old around the time we first went vegan. He hasn’t had dairy, meat, or eggs for most of his life--he’s now 12.
Veganism isn’t about being perfect, it’s about minimizing our impact on our brothers and sisters in hooves and feathers, minimizing the harmful effects the animal industries have on our planet, and realizing the negative effects of our apathy and disregard for life has on our collective consciousness!
A couple of years ago I founded Ahimsa Wellness Yoga from a rooted desire to create a safe and loving space to help people reconnect with their inner knowledge in order to begin transforming hardships and limiting beliefs through physical practice, mental exploration, and inter-connection. I feel like veganism and the teachings of yoga have given me a chance to look at things in a different way. This lifestyle change provides me an opportunity to interrupt self-defeating, and negative patterns I sometimes find myself stuck in. The three most defining moments of my life have been becoming a mother, being introduced to the ancient practice of yoga, and understanding veganism as an ethical guideline.
Ten years ago my goal was to adhere to these newfound ethical principles while trying to raise strong healthy boys in a very non-vegan world. After all these years, I can honestly say I have been very successful! My family is healthy, active, and strong! My husband, Terry is 54, 6’0, and weighs 200 lbs (of solid muscle, he would say 😜). My oldest, Alexander, is now 20; my middle son, Kendrick, is 17; and my youngest, Xavier, now 12--they all play sports, rarely get sick, and if they do, recover with minimal medical intervention or doctor visits.
The reality is, in our modern-day society not only can we live vegan without the need for any animal products, but it’s now easier than ever! There are so many vegan products easily accessible at all grocery stores that can help you replace the animal-based ones you are used to. Making the change is as simple as just moving your hand over to grab the almond milk instead of the cow’s milk. There are vegan meats, vegan cheeses, vegan restaurants, vegan leather, vegan beauty products, vegan just about everything! So you can still have all the great flavors and tastes you love and not harm animals, your health, or our planet.
by Francia Groman