If You’re A Vegan (or wannabe) Please Make Sure You Check These Out

Every good mom wants her family to eat healthy.  Growing up and taking care of others makes you put more emphasis on your own health, and definitely that of the people you’re shaping.  The moment you get pregnant, you are bombarded (usually FIRST) with advice on eating healthy.  If you take natural childbirth classes, the mantra is repeated.  If you breastfeed, the mantra stays in place.  Then when you’re trying to lose the last bit of that pregnancy weight, and the scale won’t budge, there is a temptation to go radical.

Plus, you’re getting older.  You’re more in tune with your body, and your body is more sensitive.  Whereas you once cut corners, now your body acts up if you do.  You might have symptoms you’ve never had before and want to find the culprit.  Or worse, your kids do.  Maybe they have allergies or attention problems.  So you turn to gluten-free and dye-free diets, hoping for relief. You try things you might have heard about and dismissed before, because you’re looking for answers.

The fact is, for whatever reason, many moms naturally start thinking more about diet.  Most moms still do the cooking and meal-prep in their families, and if you are the one buying and actually putting the food on each of your family’s plates, you start thinking about each item you’re putting on there.

There’s nothing wrong with this.  It’s love and survival, built-in to being a mom.  And sometimes a strange culprit is found and rooted out for the benefit of your family.  But I’m writing this post because veganism is now all the rage– i.e. Oprah had her “radical vegan” challenge.  And with all the food books and documentaries hitting the market, there is a lot of concern over agriculture and the meat industry.  I started digging into this area myself because some of my friends were going vegan, and some were just getting very food conscious, and I myself want to lose weight but wanted to know both sides of the story.

After reading some of the most popular diet books out there, and scanning many cookbooks, I am convinced that there are two nutritional trends.  One is “nutritional vegetarianism” and the other is radical veganism.  Nutritional vegetarianism has been around a long time, especially since the 1970s, and covers all those books out there which tout vegetarianism as the way to jump start your body’s metabolism and weight loss.  Usually these books are benign and include a more radical phase to detox your body, followed with a period where you gently add in possible offenders (i.e. eggs, gluten, meat) to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions.  These books vary in intensity and specific recommendations (i.e. some say potatoes are fine, others think they are the devil).  But they generally have a lifestyle change to whole foods as their goal.

Sometimes there are kooky things in there such as various water scams (i.e. Penta Water) that you have to look out for.  Others have more extreme views on chemicals and recommend getting rid of your caffeine, perfumes, soaps, and medicines.  But usually they are harmless and reflect the author’s specific idiosyncrasies.  After you read enough of them, there are several icons that come up fairly regularly and you can decide for yourself whether it’s a scam, a marketing ploy, or well-intentioned pseudo-science.  (Google is GREAT for this.)

As a rule, vegans hate the nutritional vegetarians because they see them as sell-outs.  Which is funny considering that if you are normal American eater, either camp will overwhelm you with their health consciousness and focus on veggies!  To the outsider, it doesn’t seem that there could be much difference between the two camps.  But there is.  My concern is not with the nutritional vegetarian camp.

My concern is with the radical veganism, a la Oprah style recommendations.  I got into some of this literature recently and was almost pulled in.  The promises sound so compelling: no cancer?  better sex life?  solving my sleep problems?  As a mom, much of the rhetoric plays on your fears about your kids’ health (i.e. autism, attention problems, growth problems).  It is easy to believe that veganism (or close to it) will solve all your physical issues.

The more radical the approach is, the more it purports to solve.  It is like conspiracy theory with a “the whole world is hiding something from you” tone.  You probably already believe that doctors can’t solve all your woes, so you’re looking for something that will give you the information you’re not getting.  And the radicals play on this.  They provide the missing pieces to why you’re tired, why you’re overweight, and why you’re experiencing more symptoms.  Where they really excel though, is the broader picture.  It becomes political very quickly, and religious in tone.  By eating in this way, you are saving the planet.  You are downing big agriculture.  You are solving world hunger.  You are stopping global warming.  You are supporting nations overseas.  You are making a statement.

This is where my concern is, and recently I read a very popular author who pretended that all those things weren’t her motivation when it all really was.  Her whole goal was to convert you by playing the diet card.  Covert you to what?  Not just the veganism but leftism, socialism, feminism, environmentalism, and Buddhism/Hinduism.  “Vegangelicalism” is what one author calls it.  New Age religion is very important to these radicals as well.  They are systematically undermining traditional religious mindsets and any conservative impulses you may have.  They want you to feel bad that animals have to die in order for you to live.  They want you to feel like you are an activist through your eating.  They want you to feel bad that your country is more prosperous than another, especially through its businesses.  And they want you to adopt a more humane and multicultural belief system which promotes alternative medicine, evolutionary viewpoints, and new age relaxation techniques.

Their goal is to save the planet and evangelize you to become a believer.

If you think I am making it up, please please please check out these websites. I only found these because I was intrigued by the vegan promises about health and I wanted to see if everyone thought they worked.  I wondered if there would be a small minority of defectors who had tried it faithfully and still experienced fallout: cancer, heart disease, or other health problems.  And I wanted to see how they interpreted that.  But what I found was much more startling.  I found an agenda was taking place beneath Oprah and flashy cookbook covers.

The first link here is one of the most important in the ex-vegan movement.

http://voraciouseats.com/2010/11/19/a-vegan-no-more/

http://www.danielvitalis.com/2010/03/hunter-safety-why-i-am-not-a-vegan/

These are from ex-vegans who are important in the movement and explain the situation far, far better than I could.  You get a sense right away of the blend of feminism, evolution, New Age, animal rights, environmentalism, globalism, and anti-capitalism that they are in.  You get a sense of the urgency and need to evangelize others.

You will also get a sense of the whole neurosis behind the vegan mind.  Veganism is part a result of this mindset, and part a creator of it. You might have friends you know who are deep in this health stuff because they usually betray this mindset.  There is an anxiety, a legalism, an unrest.  There is extreme guilt, extreme self-loathing, and self-punishing going on.  They fly in the face of results.  They punish themselves with food.  They are not much different than an anorexic person— food obsessed and a love/hate relationship with it— and they usually have to stare down depression every day as well.

This is not my own judgment… see for yourself in these pivotal blog posts which have rocked the vegan world.

My conclusion: it is a religion.  It has cult-like following.  If you defect, you are considered a traitor.  One ex-vegan who was revered shut down her comments on her blog because she was getting death threats.  The inner pressure to tow the line and present to the world a happy face is phenomenal.  If you have ever studied Jim Jones, this is not much different.  They can’t let the world know that they are experiencing pain and suffering (self inflicted) because then that would mean that their worldview is faulty in some way… the worldview that includes feminism, environmentalism, animal rights, and third world activism.  They are saving the world, and their diet, which is so prominent an expression of their inner beliefs, must not be compromised.  Some even believe vegans should rather die than cave to the pressure to eat animal products.  The saving of the world is at stake.

Clearly, this is neurotic and wrong.  It is also false.  There are many good anti-vegan apologetics out there, and most of them are not quibbles over whether the human is biologically designed to be an omnivore or herbivore.  Most are corrections to the geopolitical vision they have…. i.e. that veganism doesn’ t hurt the planet, that a world without animal husbandry would be better, that veganism doesn’t require capitalism to flourish, etc.  Many vegans have a worldview actually very similar to Christianity… it has an original state, a fall from grace, and a solution.  It also has an apocalyptic vision of what will happen in the end times, and an ethic of how you should live in order to get there.  And it has heavenly desires and Christian values; the desire to alleviate suffering, the desire to solve the problems of the poor and oppressed, the desire to be in tune with oneself and nature, and the divine force.

But it is a false religion.  And like false religions, it has idols and rules and stiff punishments.  It is shame-based.  Your diet is never strict enough.  It has a lot of infighting as followers find one another traitors (if they deem a certain food kosher) and others gurus (if they discover a new superfood).  It is glorified anorexia, as many followers waste away and purposefully deprive themselves of food their bodies need… but it does this not for self and appearance, as anorexia does, but for the world because the suffering in the world demands it.  It is hypocritical as it saves countless animals from death but takes it from you slowly, as years of depletion exact their cost.

It has an even stiffer cost, as many vegans have alienated friends and family as they have pursued their values beyond the realm of mainstream.  You are lonely and walled off from others and any cultural joy.

I am still not sure how this takes hold in people.  It seems to be mostly younger, white middle class (or ex-middle class) people.  Often they have had a traditional upbringing and/or religious education.  Mostly they are an alternative crowd who rebel against their roots and then expand their followings among middle age or older people who have degenerative problems and are looking for alternative answers.  Or those who are skeptical or critical of traditional medicine/science.   They are the same demographic as those who went hippie, or those who join cults, or those who are radicalized in another way.  White self-haters?  Capitalist haters?  (I’m not sure what causes them to hate their own culture so much, though.  Whole Foods, for example, which has enabled many to go vegan who couldn’t have otherwise, is a successful business and fruit of capitalism.  So are organic food companies.  So are the airplanes, medicine, and technology which help feed and aid the Third World.)

Anyway, if this is you, or if this COULD be you because you have been enticed by vegan promises and led into their worldview, please please don’t take my word for it.  And don’t think I am trying to get you to stop eating healthy.  I truly believe there is much value to us all shaping up and losing weight.  And if that is through mega-veggies, great.  Vegetables are common sense!  They are not political! But please please read these blogs and make sure you aren’t mixing a lie with the truth.  Make sure you are not deceived into false religion.  Make sure you are not ignoring your body’s signals for the sake of idealistic principles.  Make sure you are not entrapped in a world you wish you could escape but feel as though you’re displeasing (God, the world, harmony, whatever) by staying.

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Almond Crusted Pork and Potatoes

Well, my first attempt to get my kids to eat roast pork actually worked out well.  My own memories of pork as a kid are these little dried up cutlets.  So since I don’t have a lot of tenacity when it comes to meat, I looked for something that looked yummy before I had enough guts to try it.  What do you know?  A victory!

I served it with roasted potatoes because potatoes are one of the easiest vegetables for all my kids to stomach.  And they were so simple.  (I added steamed asparagus for the adults).  Don’t listen to the “potatoes are the devil” voices because they are starchy, but you cook them with the skins, so the fiber helps metabolize all those carbs.  Besides, most kids don’t need low-carb diets.

Almond Crusted Pork and Potatoes

  • Convenience: medium long/medium-easy
  • Health factor: 4
  • Yum factor: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lb roast pork (boneless, skinless loin) or get a 3lb and cut it in half.
  • half a bag of almonds (8oz??)
  • minced garlic
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 bag of clean, small white or red potatoes
  • olive oil

Directions:

Pork

Preheat oven to 375.

Unwrap roast and cut any bigger strips of fat off with a knife. (A little tricky).

Beat 2 egg whites (or three, if medium sized eggs) with mixer until soft peaks form.  This took me a couple more minutes of beating than I thought it would, but “soft peaks” are when you turn off the mixer and lift the beaters out, and a little lump or mountain forms without totally melting away.

Crush almonds with a nut grinder or by putting them in a closed ziploc bag and smashing with a hammer (on the floor).  Give this job to a kindergartner because they love it!

Pour the crushed almonds into a bowl and mix some garlic in there.  Then pour onto a dinner plate.   Pour the egg whites into a small dish, like an 8×8 (big enough for the roast to fit).   Roll the roast around in the whites and then around in the almonds, to coat.  Now the silly sounding part: do it again.  Yes, I know it sounds like the egg whites will just wash off your first coat, but it’s not totally true.  Coat all over again with whites and then nuts.

Place roast on rack in a 9×13 pan (line pan with foil first, if you hate clean up).  Press any remaining nuts onto roast.

Cook until 140-145 degrees internal temperature, about 75mins.  You’ll have to check periodically, though, with a meat thermometer, starting at about 60mins.  Getting the roast out between 140 and 145 is the key to eating it without needing sauce =)

Let sit and then slice.

Can you believe it?  The kids loved this!!!

Potatoes

Now for potatoes, it’s easy because they go in the oven with the pork, for the same amount of time.

Scrub a small bag of white potatoes and cut any blemishes out.  Leave any tiny potatoes whole as they are, but cut larger ones into medium chunks, about the size of a lemon or lime wedge.

Pour potatoes into an 8×8 baking pan or dish, and coat with minced garlic and oil.  It’s easiest to mix with your hands, tossing and turning until coated well.

Put them side by side, next to the pork, and let them cook about the same amount, checking for tenderness around the 60 min mark too.  They should be soft and crumbly when poked.  When I did this, they took the full 75 mins, or just a little longer.

Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Raspberry Chocolate Jam Bars

Or should that be “chocolate raspberry” bars?

Ok, they’re not healthy, but they’re really good.  And so simple, you can use any jam you have skulking around.  Easy for the kids to help… that’s important.

Raspberry Chocolate Jam Bars

Ratings (out of 5):

  • Convenience: easy/quick
  • Yum factor: 5
  • Health factor: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 c. flour
  • 1c. light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1.5c. oats
  • 1.5 c. chopped pecans or other soft nut, crushed
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • approx 12 oz raspberry jam (or other preserves)

Optional- 1/2 c. coconut, flaked or ground even smaller

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix flour, brown sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl.

With a pastry blender, press in 2 sticks of softened butter.  (If the butter is a little overmelted, that’s ok, but make sure it’s not total soup.)  Mixture should be crumbly.

The best part!  Have the kids put the pecans into a ziploc bag (zip closed) and smash the nuts with a hammer.  Or something hard they can use, on the kitchen floor.  When they’re all crushed up, add the oats and pecans to the crumbly mixture.  Add in coconut if desired, *although* coconut is a known offender to many little children!

Press slightly more than half of the mixture into a greased 9×13 baking pan.  It will be kind of thin, but that’s ok.

Sprinkle half a bag of chocolate chips on top. (Save the other half for another batch!)

Use a flat rubber spatula to smooth jam all over top of chocolate chips.  This can be a little tricky so if the kids are helping, let mom do this part or the kids turn everything into a big jam ball of chocolate chips.  Just spoon out little bits of jam all over and smear until blended pretty well.  Also, go right to the edges of the pan because the jelly will not melt and spread out well on its own in the oven.

Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture on top.

Bake 25-30 min until slightly brown.  Cool before cutting.

Chicken Tortellini Soup

I had this bag of frozen tortellinis in my freezer which really weren’t that good when I tried to eat them with sauce, so they lurked there until I could figure out how to use them up.  Here was my solution:

Chicken Tortellini Soup

Ratings (out of 5 being best)

  • Level of difficulty: easy/quick
  • Yum factor: 4
  • Health factor: 4

Ingredients:

Main-

  • 1 bag frozen chicken tenderloins (boneless, skinless)
  • 1 carton chicken broth (organic, reduced salt if desired)
  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 small package of frozen cheese tortellinis

Optional- garlic, celery, carrots, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper; one packet of chicken flavored bullion from a Ramen noodles pack, or 2 bullion cubes

Directions:

Boil a handful of frozen chicken tenderloins in pot until cooked all the way through.  Cut chicken into little pieces and save 1-2 inches of the water.

Add in one big box of chicken broth.  If you desire a stronger flavor, and are not adamantly against MSG, add one packet of ramen noodles “chicken” flavoring or two bullion cubes.

Add a can of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed first)

Depending on how much your children tolerate vegetables, add  a small amount of chopped white onion (which is very mild).   You can add 1 Tb minced garlic, some chopped carrots and celery too, for maximal punch, but not necessary.

Add 1 small package of frozen tortellinis.

Boil and then simmer until it tastes seasoned and ready.  Vegetables should be tender all the way through too.

Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with fresh parmesan and parsley only if your children tolerate “flakes” or “specks.”

Safety note: for the youngest children, especially those who reject the texture of pasta, cutting the tortellinis up in half or smaller pieces is helpful.

FOOD FOR LITTLE CHILDREN

Ok, so I have very picky kids.  But it’s not their fault.  I am actually pretty picky myself, or at least was, historically.  Until my third pregnancy when my tastebuds changed rapidly and I was able to eat onions, peppers, and all kinds of foods I would never have touched before, I was a pretty bland palette.  I have a very sensitive stomach too, and I hated being asked to try things when I was younger.  I need to try a new food about three times before I even feel medium about it, especially if it is not sweet.

And I definitely ate only a dozen foods until I was 13.  I had no nutrition, which might explain why I’m so short!

So, needless to say, with four kids now under 7, I am not surprised that they are a little picky.  Not that the rocking food establishment helps either with their “drink milk” and “milk is the devil” type mindset!  All three of my boys have gone through a very long season where they wouldn’t eat meat (except for chicken nuggets) for almost 2 years each.  One of them won’t eat squishy foods, like grapes or pudding.  One of them was allergic to citrus for two years, and my “baby” still doesn’t naturally appreciate most fruits, texture-wise.  They all like sweet things, but they differ as to what else they’ll explore.  Sometimes they’re curious about adult foods (i.e. Caesar salad), and my oldest is finally getting interested in takeout foods (i.e. Dad’s Italian sandwich).  But they have notoriously rejected hot foods, cooked foods, and most cooked vegetables (although raw is usually ok).  Also I’m a homeschooler who prefers to work later in the day and doesn’t prepare more than thirty minutes in advance for dinner.  So, when combined with my NO HYPOCRISY HERE approach, I don’t force them to eat much that they don’t want, and I don’t cook adventurously to have them pick over it.

I just can’t stand that gagging over one bite face!

My husband feels differently, of course, and he is not as attached to my “they need mostly whole foods” approach.  Obviously he never had seven years of grinding his teeth as the pediatrician eyes his children and hums over the height and weight chart!  He eats pretty much what he wants and stays thin, so he can’t understand my anger when everyone hands my kids lollipops and cookies.  We have no “junk” food sweets in the house (i.e. no Fruit Roll Ups or things like that), but they definitely eat chips, hot dogs, and the occasional Wendy’s like every other kid.  Desserts are at a minimum, although this has the unfortunate effect of making them crave them whenever they’re offered somewhere else =)  And I use chocolate chips or M&Ms as a reward a lot, despite ALL the childhood experts who say to NEVER reward with candy!

They’ve never toilet trained four little people in a row or TRIED to get homeschoolers to check their work!

So we’re somewhat of the electic approach, which I suspect is normal for most families.  In general, my kids eat about 50% of a good whole foods diet which is rounded out by little children staples: graham crackers, animal crackers, cereal, chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, etc.  I’m not going to win any healthy kid awards or anything, but I’m happy to have kept them so far free from most cookies and candy, soda, and… uh, TV.  Hey, you have to pick your battles.

That said, long story short, I am just embarking on trying to gently wean my kids (any myself!) onto cooking.  My oldest has now turned seven and is ready to be pushed a little to expand his horizons, especially since he is now eating double the amount that I do!  The crashing realization that he better start being able to eat cooked, easy foods like macaroni and cheese, chili, and lasagna casseroles came down on me a couple weeks ago.  One day, all my boys will be big and needing to eat me out of house and home unless I have some foods stocked in the fridge at all times.  And it needs to be cheap, so no super-size boxes of granola bars which will be emptied in one afternoon!

Since they are picky as a foursome, I thought I’d post some recipes and outcomes here.  I probably won’t get pictures and things going until later.  (If you like that, just feast your eyes on www.pioneerwoman.com.)  Just in case YOU have a picky child or don’t already cook foods for your kids, this is a chronicle of my starting point.  How I become a little kids cook.  Successes and failures.  It will not appeal to all, since I am going to largely stick to my healthy approach but not enough to feed those raw diet gurus.  It will reflect my efforts to give them all the food groups without too much white flour or sugar, or convenience foods, but as simply as possible— given I can only afford to shop on sale at Kroger like every other penny-pincher.  It will also reflect my time, which is “medium” in the sense that I do stay at home but don’t have the inclination to become a true meal planner each day.   And ability, which I would also call “medium” in the sense that I can read and follow a recipe adequately without having any true Rachel Ray or Betty Crocker bone in my body.  Maybe I’ll learn.  Lastly, it will reflect the idiosyncrasies of my children who have never fallen for the “Kids Love It!” labels on recipes.  In the end, I will probably satisfy no-one, but the goal is just to get myself out of the no-cooking pit I have started with my kids =)  I understand– that’s how it goes…  food is personal.

Enjoy my journey!