Like most people, I grew up around meat. It was just what everyone did – including my family and the family of everyone else I knew.
I met my first vegetarian during my freshman year. She was quite a nice person, and I wrote off her vegetarianism as some kind of quirk or slight eccentricity. In short, I haven’t thought much about it. At least not consciously.
Fast forward many years to a day in 1998 when I happened upon an article in The Atlantic magazine entitled “Could Mad Cow Disease Happen Here”. The article discussed the recent mad cow disease epidemic in Britain which required the slaughter of 3.7 million cattle.
That was worrying, but what really caught my attention was the fact that the UK has also banned the sale of certain cuts of beef. Why? Because 27 people had contracted a variant of mad cow disease known as Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease by eating beef products.
As I read further, the article explained that CJD is a deadly nervous system disorder. Unable to contain my concern, I looked up at my husband and shared what I was reading. His casual reaction caused another shock. ‘Yes, that’s why I can’t be a blood donor.’ He then reminded me that before we met, he had lived in Tunbridge Wells, England for a few months in the 1980s, when the first outbreak of mad cow disease took place in Britain.
He was told that he was forbidden from becoming a blood donor. His revelation led to a lengthy discussion that ended with us both deciding to give up meat. However, we kept fish and dairy products. It seemed like a sensible choice at the time.
Fast forward to 2006. Again I read. This time it’s the book by John Robbins “Diet for a New America”. Robbins, whose father co-founded the ice cream company Baskin-Robbins, had turned down his inheritance. Why? After becoming an ethical vegan, he could not in good conscience inherit wealth from his family’s industry.
His book is a revealing synopsis of why dairy products are no less ethical than meat, and in many ways even more so. Until I read Robbins’ book, I didn’t realize that cows had to be forced to conceive in order to produce milk. I felt ridiculous for never thinking about what now seemed so obvious.
So what happens to the male calves? They are separated from their distressed mothers so that their milk is available for human consumption. And the calves become veal.
What happens to the dairy cow when she can no longer produce milk? She goes to the slaughterhouse.
At that moment, our earlier decision to only eliminate meat no longer made sense to me. It made even less sense when I read about the egg industry, which I won’t go into detail about here.
And again I looked up at my husband. Our eyes met. Our thoughts too, because I had already given many details of my reading. Be silent.
Then I blurted out, “I think we should go vegan.”
“Yes,” he replied.
And that was it. The next day we cleared our kitchen of all animal products. Practically it wasn’t a big change as we had left the meat a few years earlier. But for both of us, it was the best and most personally transformative decision we’ve ever made.
Going vegan has paid off tremendously in terms of our health. Despite our ages (65 and 79) we sleep well, have great energy and rarely get sick.
And unlike many, if not most, people in our age group, we don’t have chronic medications in our homes. We don’t spend time in doctors’ offices. Instead, we hike and bike, and I still run several kilometers most mornings.
We chose Whole Foods’ plant-based approach to our vegan diet, which means we don’t eat processed vegan “meat.” For one, these processed vegan foods are still processed foods. So they’re not what you might call “healthy choices.” And they can be expensive, even if they help people make the transition to a vegan diet.
We found that eating whole plant-based foods tastes better, is more satisfying, and is actually less expensive than the standard American diet, which includes meat, dairy, and eggs. Whenever we want to try something new, we simply type “whole food plant-based recipes” into our search box to find an endless selection of easy and appetizing recipes. The bottom line is that we eat a lot of delicious foods without having to worry about our weight because we know that it is the biggest factor in our health. That’s a lot of peace of mind.
I think a lot of people assume that going vegan is a sacrifice. They tend not to think about the remarkable benefits that come from that decision – because they don’t know about it. What I “sacrificed” to become vegan feels utterly trivial compared to the powerful health benefits, peace of mind, and sense of wholeness that awaited me on the other side.
Creamy African stew
(Adapted from The Plant Pure Nation Cookbook by Kim Campbell)
Yield: 10 cups
- 2 onions, cut into half rings (about 4 C)
- 1 large carrot, diced (about ¾ C)
- 1 tablespoon. chopped garlic
- 2 medium to large sweet potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes (about 3 C)
- 1 tbsp vegetable broth
- 1-28 oz. can diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon. curry powder (or more to taste)
- 1 teaspoon. salt or taste
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ⅓ C peanut butter
- 1-15 ounce can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
- 1 tbsp coconut milk (light or regular)
- 2 C chopped frozen spinach
Place all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over high heat (10-15 minutes). Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.
Note: You can also add all the ingredients to a slow cooker over medium heat and cook for 2-3 hours.
Serve as a stew or over rice.
All-purpose, plant-based, cheesy sauce
Yield: 4 cups
- 1 cup potatoes (about 6 ounces), peeled and diced
- ¼ cup carrots, diced
- ¼ cup onion, chopped
- 1 cup broth from cooking the vegetables
- ½ cup raw cashews, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained (or ½ cup kidney beans if you have nut allergies)
- 4 tbsp. Nutritional Yeast Flakes (available at most grocery stores)
- 1 tablespoon. lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon. salt (or more to taste)
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- ⅛ tsp. paprika
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring about 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, carrots, and onions to the saucepan and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
When the vegetables are soft, drain and place in a blender. Add the reserved 1 cup cooking broth. Add all remaining ingredients; blend until smooth.
Use it in nacho cheese dip, mac-n-cheese, topping steamed broccoli, on veggie burgers, or anything else you need a creamy, cheesy sauce.
Note: This sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Deborah Gallagher lives in Iowa City with her husband and two cats. She recently retired from the University of Northern Iowa, where she was a professor of education.
If you have any questions or comments about the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email email@example.com or visit www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp.