Vegan Voyage ep. 1: You are what you eat

I’ve always cared about what I put in my body. Even as a child in the 80s and 90s I would, much to my parents’ exasperation, question the origin of our food, insist on local meats, and wonder aloud why my mother had to slather my bread with “congealed animal fat.” Yep, I was a charmer all right. I’d say “thank god I was cute” but the old pictures my sister just sent last night do not agree with that statement either. (I guess my parents really do love me!)

Through college and my twenties I just naturally gravitated toward vegetarian meals. I didn’t usually label myself “vegetarian” per se, but I pretty much always ordered the veg option at restaurants. I generally cooked vegetarian meals for myself, with seafood featuring occasionally. I never gave it much thought. And when I did, I had to admit (to myself) that being a casual vegetarian may have been healthy for my body, but wasn’t necessarily helping animals or the planet all that much. I knew the filth of the dairy industry, and even knew that it likely wasn’t that healthy for an adult, but the truth is, I liked it. I was that 25 year old with no kids who would still drink whole milk. I ate cheese plates for dinner several nights a week, and ice cream smothered in heavy cream was just another square meal. (If youre not vegan, do yourself a favor and try it!!!) Eggs were another favorite, and I usually prepared them in some form every morning.  But in the back of my mind, for years, I knew a more vegan diet was really the best thing–for me and for Mother Earth.

Six months before finally giving it a go, I was on a 4-day delivery sail with a vegan captain who had stocked the fridge. I showed up one day into the trip so it was either eat his vegan fare, or the sausage biscuits and chicken pot pies stacked in the freezer by the other crew members. I went the vegan route, but the overly-processed tofurky and daiya “cheese” just struck me as unrealistic–not to mention unhealthy. I still rolled the thought around in the back of my mind. But close on its heels was always the thought that “I could never really commit”. I wrote a blog post last August that included a recipe for lobster cakes, and after advising to add extra egg, I jokingly added “we’re not vegan”. Well, a friend from high school reached out upon reading it, and we had an interesting conversation about vegan diets. I thought it over some more. I finally realized that I didn’t have to suddenly “be vegan”. I didn’t HAVE to “be” anything.

So, about 7 months ago, I started testing it out. I decided to just make the best decision possible each meal. If vegan was possible, I’d do it. I found it surprisingly…easy. And delicious. I was eating pretty much what I ate before, minus the cheese. But I didn’t really miss it. If I had, I probably would have “cheated” and “failed” many times. Of all my personal qualities, self-control does not feature at all. But somehow with every meal I found myself able to make the vegan choice. Now, I started this with several caveats in mind. One, I will never be that killjoy at a dinner party or dinner out, questioning every ingredient. When this started, my husband and I had a night out planned at Uni, one of the most fabulous sushi restaurants anywhere. So I did eat some seafood that night. I easily, and without any disruption to our meal, stayed away from dairy and eggs. But I didn’t let that one meal derail me. Because at the start, I knew that nights like this would come along. This was a learning journey, not a prison sentence.

Second, I knew that being vegan in Boston, just blocks away from Whole Foods and their unseasonal array of exotic fruits and every conceivable vegan option would be a very different experience than when traveling or in remote locations on our boat. So, again, I was really just taking it day by day. As I write this, though, I can barely believe it has been 7 months! It really became an easy habit. There are so many amazing products available today, that my kids will even eat vegan cream cheese, yogurt, etc, without noticing a difference. (Before my readers freak out, know that I do, of course, still give them gallons and gallons of dairy, buy them regular full fat cream cheese and yogurt and ice cream, cook them eggs for breakfast, and organic chicken on occasion. There is no reason for toddlers to go vegan!!)

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chowing on some eggs on a road trip…proof that I still feed them 😉

I didn’t feel “bad” or unhealthy in any way, so my motivation was a more abstract notion of health. I wasn’t trying to solve a health issue, lose weight, or have more energy. In other words, I wasn’t expecting to notice a change. But I did notice! I felt fantastic! I had noticeably more energy, my skin looked better, I felt slimmer. Maybe that was thanks to my new energy getting me out the door for more runs, who knows. But at any rate, I noticed some definite changes in how I felt, even though I wasn’t looking for them.

All that said, I am a very lax vegan. If we are sailing and catch a fish, I will be eating it. I will eat some lobster and crab in Maine during the summers. And if we are going out to eat, I will focus more on keeping it dairy free, and less on full-fledged vegan. I generally end up googling “sustainable seafood” (because who can ever keep them all straight!) and ordering something prepared in an otherwise vegan (ie dairy and egg free) fashion. When we are traveling or living aboard Robin Hood, I will adjust as necessary. This winter in the Bahamas taught me a few good lessons in improvisation, and I will share the recipes in future posts. So for now, I am vegan, though sometimes a kind of bad one. If the future finds me traveling through Africa, (just one of many of our travel goals) then you can bet I’ll be eating whatever meat, dairy, or eggs that are offered to me. “When in Rome” still applies to some degree!

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Several months into my “vegan” routine, eating some fresh tuna that we caught trolling off the back of Robin Hood

 

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