Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the Giving up of the Cheese

By the time I got home today I was running a fever, had a sore throat, and had a good case of the shaky chills. Needless to say I was in no mood to make dinner. So, hot dogs and french fries it was! The boys love to craft these elaborate, yet gross, hot dogs: ketchup, pickle, mustard, plum sauce, and cherry sauce. I did not take any pictures.

A few days ago Alexis asked if I would write something about giving up cheese; the one hurdle many people cannot leap and become vegan. I generally shy away from these kinds of posts because they can come off as condescending and sanctimonious. So, instead of telling you what to do I will just tell you what choices I made. First, let me say that I loved meat and dairy of all kinds. And why not? Animal fat tastes good--that's why fast food is so popular. My transition to veganism began after viewing Supersize Me. Of course, I knew that fast food was bad and generally did not eat much of it. But then I started reading the books of the people Morgan Spurlock interviewed. Meat was relatively easy to give up after reading about its impact on my health and the environment. And, of course, the exploitation of animals on factory farms in the name of profit. I would now describe myself as a pacifist. So, what about products that don't result in the death of an animal? In my opinion, many animals are still exploited and mistreated even if harvesting their products does not result in their immediate death. Plus, I knew from a brief stint with vegetarianism from 1999-2000, I knew that I would just replace meat with gobs and gobs of dairy and eggs. So, I would be merely replacing saturated fat and cholesterol from meat with the same things from dairy.

So I gave it all up. And it was not easy. I had to develop a new set of cooking skills and a new way of thinking about food. I have been cooking since I was in Grade Seven, and while my Mom was all about balanced meals and eating fruits and veggies (to stave of scurvy, she told us), each meal was constructed around meat or dairy. So, if you can't get chicken breasts out of the fridge and plan a meal around them, what do you do? Vegan With a Vengeance was my first cookbook, and Fat Free Vegan Kitchen was the first blog to give me plenty of inspiration. And I hated the fake cheese. I described Galaxy Vegan Cheese as not unlike plastic vomit, and thought Vegan Gourmet was watery and just plain gross. I think VG is OK now, but I really don't feel like dishing out the $5.75 it costs here. But things changed as I lost my taste for animal fat and started thinking beyond veganizing the old recipes I knew. I truly think that the North American diet conditions us to develop a love of fat, sugar, and salt. You only have to see a kid get his first taste of chocolate to understand this. The first time I tasted Silk's soy nog I thought it was vile. The second time I thought, "hey, this is OK." Now, I think it is awesome. I still don't really go for a lot of vegan cheese, personally, but the kids like to have "real pizza." Even then, you really can't lay it on like dairy cheese.

This blog has proved to me just how diverse and tasty the vegetable world is. We have never eaten better in our entire lives and enjoy a wide array of foods and cuisines every week. Veganism is a very tangible thing I can do for the benefit of my health, the animals, and the planet.