Hi Carmen and welcome to VegFamily. Is everyone in your family vegan and if not, what's that like?
My husband, Harry, and I are both vegan, but also both come from non-veg families. Both of our families have been quite supportive, and my younger sister became vegetarian.
How long have you been a vegan and what led you to become a vegan?
I've been vegan for about seven years, and it took me quite a long time to get there. When I was eight I made the connection between animals and meat, and stopped eating cows and pigs. My parents were okay with my being a "vegetarian" as long as I ate a little bit of chicken every so often. I gradually ate less and less meat, as I realized I couldn't justify eating chickens but not eating cows. If it felt it was wrong to eat some animals, what made it okay to eat others? When I was sixteen I decided to become a true vegetarian, but my mom said I first needed to do some research to make sure I knew what I was doing. I ended up learning a lot more about animal rights, factory farms, and veganism, and before I knew it I realized I had no choice but to become a vegan.
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Are extended family and friends supportive of your lifestyle? If you recently transitioned to veganism, how did they react to your change in lifestyle?
When I first transitioned to veganism my friends and family were a bit skeptical. Most of them had never heard of a vegan before and, like most people, didn't understand what could possibly be wrong with milk and eggs since "they don't kill the animals to get milk and eggs". Slowly though my loved ones started to accept and understand me and my choices, and many of them have even tried being vegan for a short period of time. We just got married and had a completely vegan wedding (down to non-wool tuxedos, a vegan wedding cake, and even all-vegan alcohol). Our families and friends knew us well to expect a vegan wedding, and we received so many complements, especially on the food! It was great to have their support, and even more wonderful to know they truly enjoyed themselves.
My husband and I are actively involved in VegMichigan, a statewide vegetarian organization for which he is the president and I am a board member. Through the group we have made a huge group of vegan and vegetarian friends. Between our vegan friends and our completely vegan home, we often forget that most people still eat meat! We are reminded of that, of course, when we spend time with our non-veg family members and friends, but they are all very respectful and supportive.
What do you find the biggest challenge in living a vegan life?
To me the biggest challenge is the apathy of the general public towards issues of animal welfare. I find it very discouraging that many people simply don't want to know or employ the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy. I've learned to deal with this by a joyful and healthy example of what it means to be vegan, rather than being angry, resentful, or aggressive in proselytizing veganism. I'm never afraid to share that I am vegan, but there are a lot of people who do not want animal rights messages or graphic images thrown in their faces. I have engaged in many uplifting and inspiring conversations about veganism simply by provoking others' curiosity, I think it helps to plant a seed about going veg in a non-threatening way.
How do you handle holidays and birthday parties?
Holidays with the families are pretty easy to handle. Our families always provide plenty of vegan food for us at holidays and birthday parties, and since I love to cook I'm either helping in the kitchen or bringing several dishes to share with the family. In my family we celebrate birthdays with the birthday person's favorite meal, and when that food choice isn't vegan there are always plenty of other options or a variation on the dish for Harry and I. As for birthday cakes, my friends and family have declared that vegan baked goods taste better than the traditional stuff anyway, so I almost always make dessert.
We don't have children yet, so we haven't yet had to deal with the child being invited to a decidedly non-vegan birthday party. When the time comes I will be using the VegFamily forum to see how other moms have handled the situation! If the family was one we knew closely I might offer to bake the cake as my contribution the party.
Do you have any favorite recipes or cookbooks? We'd love to have a recipe from you!
My favorite cookbooks are The Artful Vegan and The Millennium Cookbook from Millennium restaurant in San Francisco. Their food is heavenly, but way too complicated to make for a standard weeknight dinner. I also love Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Veganomicon. Vegan Planet was my first vegan cookbook and it is still one of my favorites because of all the variety in the recipes. And for baking and desserts, I love The Joy of Vegan Baking and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
Since I love baking, here's the first vegan cookie recipe I created:
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 t baking soda
3/4 cup Earth Balance margarine, softened (or any other non-hydrogenated vegan margarine)
2 T vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup soymilk
1 T ground flaxseed
2 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 12-oz bag non-dairy semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly
Combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl
Beat margarine, vanilla, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy
Add maple syrup, applesauce, and flaxseed to the margarine and beat until well combined.
Add in flour mixture and soymilk alternatively, beating well after each addition.
Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips
Drop tablespoons of dough on cookie sheets
Bake for 7-9 minutes. Allow to cool one minute on cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely
Do you have any words of advice to offer others in the process of transitioning to veganism?
Through our work with VegMichigan, Harry and I meet a lot of people who are in transition toward a vegetarian or vegan diet. We always assure people that every step towards a plant-based lifestyle is a step in the right direction, and commend them for their effort and progress rather than nitpicking every detail that might have been overlooked. One of the most helpful things for new vegans is having a support network of fellow vegans (either in your area or online--try finding vegetarian groups through www.meetup.com) and learn all you can about veganism so you can feel confident in your decision and also so you stay healthy. Take a B-12 supplement, get some sunshine, and eat your green leafy vegetables!
It can be easy to get discouraged or overwhelmed while transitioning to veganism or as a new vegan. Transition at your own pace--you don't have to be a perfect vegan overnight! Stay hopeful, stay joyful, and carry your new-found peace within you.
Cynthia Mosher is the Editor of VegFamily, the Magazine for Vegan Family Living.