Down to Earth Advice from Four All American Vegans
We are typical American family: Mom and Dad, teenaged daughter and son. We live in the burbs. We drive a mini-van. We eat white bread, love baseball and a good barbeque on the Fourth of July. To look at us, you’d never suspect that we are vegan, and that’s just the way we like it. Why? Because we are living proof that the stereotypes so often associated with veganism just aren’t true. Not only can you be a vegan and relate to the average American, you can be the kind of vegan the average American can relate to as well.
Contrary to the images that come to mind when most people hear the word “vegan,” we aren’t health food nuts. We aren’t obsessed with Omega 3s or “gluten free” and we couldn’t care less what grains ancient people used to eat. We don’t visit Ayurvedic or homeopathic “healers.” We aren’t Hare Krishna or Buddhists. We are typical Americans who have made the simple choice to swear off eggs, meat and dairy products, and to consume the abundantly available alternatives to those foods instead. In fact, if you peeked inside our house while we are eating dinner you might not be able to tell we are vegan by looking at our food, either. Our meals look the same as those most Americans eat and in many cases taste very similar, but they are made with alternatives to animal ingredients instead of real ones. We eat hot dogs and hamburgers with French fries, fried “chicken” with mashed potatoes and gravy and BBQ ribs with cornbread and coleslaw. For dessert, we enjoy cookies, cupcakes, jello and, of course, apple pie a la mode.
As long time vegans, the authors of a vegan cookbook and the parents of two vegan-since-birth kids (our daughter, Riley is 16, our son, Willoughby, is 12), we are asked a lot of questions about being vegan. Some of them are simple questions about vegan products, such as “Are there any vegan chewing gums?” or “Do you have any recommendations for a good egg replacer?” Others involve social issues pertaining to veganism such as “How do you handle holidays with non-vegan family members?” or “How do you respond when friends or family are unsupportive of your choice to raise your kids as vegans?” Because some of these issues are common ones, we decided to make our answers public, to start a “Ask a Vegan” column to post our answers to these and other common questions we are asked and to encourage the submission of others.
Is there something about veganism you’ve always wanted to know but didn’t know who to ask? Have you been researching veganism and have questions about it, but are feeling a bit overwhelmed or intimidated by all the dogma unrelated to veganism that is so often associated with it, such as having to swear off processed foods, white flour or sweeteners that don’t meet someone’s preferred glycemic index? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll keep it simple. We’ll keep it convenient. We’ll keep it ethical. And we promise to never, ever scold you for loving your food deep fried or covered with a sugary glaze. In fact, we’ve only got five rules: 1. No meat, 2. No dairy, 3. No eggs, 4. No honey, and 5. There are no other rules.
For us, being vegan is simple, delicious and more convenient than ever before, and we want to help you feel the same way about it, too. We’re happy to help, so please, don’t hesitate to ask!
Here’s a question about getting/maintaining the motivation to become and stay vegan:
I would like to slowly make a change, but I feel that eating meat is normal. I do care for animals and would like to change. So without calling me a killer, selfish, heartless, animal hater and so on, can you help me and maybe I’ll be able to get a little more motivated?
Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on the battle of conscience now raging between your heart and your stomach because that, in reality, is what we believe your question is really all about. Before we get to that issue, let’s address the rationalization you are using to obscure this tension: that eating animals is somehow “natural” and therefore, acceptable.
One of the most potent logical fallacies used throughout human history to discourage progress or change is the “appeal to nature,” the argument that because something is traditional, it is therefore “natural,” and because it is “natural,” it is therefore valid, justified, inevitable, good or ideal. This argument is predicated upon the notion that any human adaptation or change to the traditional way of doing things is bad or in violation of the way things are “supposed” to be. The appeal to nature is satisfying because it resonates with the human propensity to regard natural as “good” and to accept, a priori, the proposition that the world and its inhabitants are subjects of a flawless, grand design or “natural order” we are obligated, for our own good, to obey. Yet deference to this idea can mean that harmful institutions or behaviors that cause needless suffering and death should be maintained simply because they are prevalent or historical. Indeed, virtually all moral progress made by humanity could be assumed to have been prohibited by this maxim, given how the anti-thesis of that progress is what preceded it. As a result, people who have opposed the enlightenment values that have transformed our society for the better over the last 200 years fought such progress using this same argument you invoke, but in different manifestations: it is natural for white people to dominate people of different races, it is natural for women to obey men, and, in this case, it is natural for humans to kill animals for food. Clearly, this argument, when used to justify cruelty, oppression and killing, runs the risk of placing you on the wrong side of ethics and history.
Here’s a thought experiment to better illustrate this point. Were you to get into a time machine and go back 2,000 years to the ancient world (or even the Antebellum South of our own country), you would find slavery of one human by another everywhere you looked. It would be so common as to be woven into the very fabric of society – legal in every government, prevalent in many households, and the basis of every economy. It would be so fundamental to those societies that the values you have been raised to regard as self-evident truths – that slavery is wrong and a violation of every human’s most basic and fundamental rights to freedom and self-determination – would be regarded as preposterous and yes, unnatural. When a practice, no matter how cruel or unjust, is the norm, its prevalence creates the impression of it being acceptable, even preferable. As George Bernard Shaw once astutely noted, “Habit will reconcile people to any atrocity.”
Killing animals for food is an atrocity, disregarding the most basic and fundamental rights for animals we now unequivocally embrace for ourselves, and future generations, the fortunate beneficiaries of the efforts now being made by a small minority to move humanity towards a more compassionate and just future that includes an end to the eating of animals, would recognize and embrace the rights of non-humans in the same, casual manner in which you and most human beings now embrace the concept of human rights. Your confusion as to whether or not animals in fact possess these rights as well and whether or not you, as a human, possess some “natural” right to violate theirs, is a misperception born of the time and place in which you live in which the oppression of animals is so common and widespread, it is difficult for many to imagine it every being any other way, just as ancient peoples could not conceive of future, egalitarian societies based on equality and human rights that now dominate in the West. If you could transport yourself into the future, into a world that has evolved the cultural infrastructure that makes being vegan seem the “natural” and obvious choice; that had, among other things, strong laws protecting the rights and lives of animals and widespread availability of delicious vegan food, the idea of eating animals and their products would be inconceivable. The you of this future would no more attempt to justify the right to eat animals as the 21st century you would suggest that she has the right to own and enslave another human being.
Unfortunately or fortunately for you, depending on how you choose to regard the moral choice that has been laid upon your doorstep, you find yourself born in an age that is just beginning to straddle two worlds: a world dominated by the oppression of non-human animals, and a world where a movement of conscious demanding that humanity do better by the other beings who share our planet has just been born. That you are struggling with this dichotomy – this tension between the values of compassion and kindness which you have been raised to believe in and the growing recognition among some that these values are incompatible with eating animals -– is causing you heartache because it doesn’t appear you really want to change. You don’t want to be inconvenienced by having to change your habitual way of eating, and to be burdened with having to avoid the foods you like and enjoy eating, especially since eating is something you must do several times a day, every single day.
In the end, what this really comes down to is a battle between your heart – which knows better – and your stomach – which wants pizza, ice cream and fried chicken. Dress it up however you may like – attempt to justify eating animals as your “natural right,” but in reality you are simply pitting your own interests (the desire to eat whatever, or more accurately, whomever, you want) against the rights of animals to go on living because your perception of what not eating animals must necessarily entail is overwhelming.
So, really, a more sincere question would have been – how on earth does one go vegan and stay vegan in a world dominated by animal based foods and how do I, a person who cares about animals and recognizes the tension between my values and my current behavior which violates those values, find the strength to do the right thing when temptation to otherwise is literallyeverywhere?
The simplest answer we can give you is that the task at hand is NOT as hard as you have most likely been led to believe it is. It has been said that our greatest fears lie in anticipation, and when it comes to how most people are schooled to think about what being vegan entails, it is understandable (though no less wrong and tragic) why so many people currently resist the notion and seek to rationalize their failure to do so instead.
Today, the manner in which veganism is promoted to the American public is both fundamentally dishonest and highly counterproductive to the goal of protecting animals. New vegans, interested in educating themselves about what being a vegan entails, discover vegan bloggers, vegan magazines, vegan websites and many vegan cookbooks encouraging them to not just stop eating meat, eggs and dairy products, but to adopt a whole host of implied “rules” they must follow to ensure that their diet is also as “healthy” as possible. New vegans are admonished to eat mostly vegetables, brown rice instead of white, gluten-free bread instead of bread made with wheat, agave syrup, stevia or barley malt instead of sugar and all sorts of previously unfamiliar grains consumed by ancient peoples upon which American cuisine – the food you have grown up eating – are notbased. As a result, being vegan, which should simply mean swapping out a few animal, based products (meat, eggs, dairy) for those made from plant sources to create a finished product that is similar in appearance, taste and texture but cruelty-free, is made confusing, complicated and thoroughly unappetizing. Instead of a tasty vegan hot dog in a white vegan bun topped with mustard, ketchup and relish, many vegan proselytizers push a raw food wrap made of seaweed. Instead of a vegan milkshake made with vegan soy ice cream that tastes just like ice cream made from cow’s milk, many vegan bloggers push green smoothies made with leafy greens, flax oil and coconut milk. At Thanksgiving, instead of a seitan roast with a taste and texture very similar to that of a turkey, vegan magazines instruct you to dice up one vegetable and stuff it inside another, usually a squash. The result? New vegans who cannot sustain this drastic overhaul of their diet give up and go right back to eating animals.
Indeed, while studies show that most people embrace a vegan diet because they care about animals, those same studies show that one of the main reasons they fall off the wagon is because they miss the foods they used to eat. That is tragic because there is no reason they should miss such foods – they can be made in a vegan version that looks the same and often tastes just the same or even better than their animal-based doppelgangers. Indeed, those vegans, including ourselves, our many, long-time vegan friends, and our two children who have maintained a vegan diet for several decades, or, in the case of our two children, since they were born, do not follow the kind of diet most people think of when they hear the word “vegan.” Rather, successful, long-term vegans have a diet very similar to that of most Americans, minus the harm to animals. For us, being vegan is easy, convenient and most of all, sustainable. We don’t ever miss the foods we used to eat because we have taught ourselves how to veganize them or learned where we can acquire them in a ready-made vegan version. In short, you don’t have to eat like a health food nut to eat vegan. Processed foods, refined (vegan) sugar, and white flour are just as vegan as raw food, agave syrup, and spelt flour, and you should thoroughly reject any assertion to the contrary, especially if that assertion is in fact destroying your will to do better by animals.
So our advice as to how you can find the motivation to adopt and maintain a vegan diet is to stick to the basic rules, reject the health food window dressing that plagues the vegan movement and blinds people to its taste and convenience potential, and educate yourself about how to keep on eating the foods you love in a veganized version. Learn how to cook delicious vegan food, use the abundant sources on the internet that can direct you to vegan restaurants and vegan choices at regular restaurants. Patronize natural food stores that offer abundant vegan versions of traditional American treats and delicacies. In short, teach yourself how to be a vegan that does not practice deprivation and you will discover that being vegan isn’t difficult at all.
If you do, we guarantee that listening to your better self, the little angel on your shoulder rather than the little devil on the other, will be easier than you could have ever imagined. A good place to start would be with our cookbook, All American Vegan, which promotes this very philosophy and is filled with 90 recipes for familiar American favorites you grew up eating. We also have plenty of free guides on our websites, including links to everything from vegan cosmetics to vegan sports equipment.
Best of luck!
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© 2017 Nathan & Jennifer Winograd