American Family 'Vegan Style' or, Our Vegan Month

It started out as a birthday gift to our turning 16 year old daughter Nicole. She has been vegan since August, immediately after having returned from our 'Month of Meat' in Africa. Not the easiest place to be a vegetarian, where game is served with every meal. A few books and films on the food production industry later, she became a confirmed and committed Vegan.

I went along with her grudgingly. That is probably putting it mildly. As a major 'foodie' who has beat some of the largest men at consuming helpings of delicious standing rib roast, (something about that kind of meat that simply opens up a second stomach for me, what can I say?!) I was not thrilled. Like all families, I have been through some variations of vegetarianism on the part of my daughters, but this was a whole different story. No meat, fish, eggs, dairy of any kind!

The irony was not lost on me. Having spent the last 20 years of my career counseling individuals with eating issues of all kinds, as well as countless families worried about their 'picky eaters', here I was; talk about restrictive and picky! As a former dancer and dieter, I had relearned how to eat well by allowing myself all foods. Countering too much restrictiveness was my cure to healthy eating, and became the cure with countless patients in my practice. For an 'equal opportunity eater' like myself, who has always believed that restriction leads to problematic eating, I worried what this meant: Was it a variation of an eating disorder? Would she be healthy? Would she get overly obsessive?

My rule was that I would help Nicole out if she did her part. She had to be responsible about her nutrition. She did the research to know what she would need to supplement with, B vitamins, amino acids, and figured out what foods would give her the protein and calcium that she wouldn't get from meat, fish and dairy.

Our refrigerator and kitchen cupboards began to overflow with double items; real butter, and non-dairy butter substitute. Tofu, seitan, rice and almond milk next to regular milk, yogurt, fish and meat. The grocery shopping doubled; not to mention the time spent trying to figure out double meals, or a way to create a meal everyone could eat.

I tried to approach this like I would with any phase my kid was going through: Is this a problem, and if so, whose problem is it? Mine or hers? How? I could find no fault with Nicole's behavior. She began to cook and bake. The first few tries were not great, but through time and with better cookbooks she began to turn out some incredibly tasty meals and desserts. Her bake sale goods to fund her drama productions sold out instantly! This was all about taste; forget politics or health; she was starting a movement in her school through great tasting desserts!

Our foray into 'family veganism' came a few weeks ago. Sophie, our 14 year old proposed the idea while dining out at a vegan restaurant during a trip to Toronto: "Why don't we all become vegan for a month for Nicole's 16 year old birthday? As a birthday present?" My husband and I looked at each other, and nodded. Lulu, our 10 year old who already was bringing vegan desserts to her class bake-offs, was totally on board. I figured it would simplify cooking and grocery shopping at the very least, and that I could certainly do almost anything for just a month! It was certainly worth a try for the huge smile on Nicole's face.

We are three weeks into this month. Despite the visions of chicken thighs dancing through my head the other night, I have been able to stick to it. I have no idea what the results of this experiment will yield; Michael reports that his joints feel so much better (less inflammation); Lulu looks forward to eating normal pizza again, and we are not sure what Sophie will do. Me, I know that I need to return to eating all food equally.

But for one more week, yeah, I can handle it. I have discovered a world of delicious dishes and restaurants that formerly I would never have tried.

One thing to admit though, I never did give up half and half in my coffee: no one messes with me and my java.

Happy eating!

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For some great New York vegan restaurants, visit Peacefood Cafe, Candle 79, and Blossom Cafe