By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
If you are a person who eats meat, you can happily go through life with no one questioning your choice of diet. It’s just considered “normal”. But when you choose to eliminate animal products from your diet, well Lucy, you got some ’splaining to do.
I grew up just like most of you, eating a mixed bag of supermarket meats, processed foods, and oh, maybe a few soggy (often canned or frozen) vegetables on the side. Lunch was often white Wonder Bread with processed cold cuts smothered in mayo. As far as I know nutrition was not even a “thing” back then. No one really talked or seemed to know much about it. It just wasn’t on our radar.
Even as I was raising my own family, although I was somewhat more enlightened in terms of the need to serve healthy foods to my family, I was unfortunately getting my ideas of what healthy eating was from the U.S. government, which unbeknownst to me (and almost everyone else) was in the pocket of the very rich and powerful U.S. meat and dairy industries. I, like most moms, was pushing dairy products on my kids which “of course” they needed for calcium to grow big and strong. “Got Milk?” And protein was king! We would all be anemic without all that good red meat in our diets!
And that was just the food I thought was healthy. I cringe now, when I look back at all our stops at McDonalds, our buckets of KFC, and family meals from Taco Bell. I wince when I think how happy I was to treat them to a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. It was just all part of the Standard American Diet (SAD) that it was “normal” to be eating.
And what put a stop to all of that? Well, ironically enough, it was those very kids themselves. When kids become teenagers, they start to experiment with “being themselves”. They begin to explore other ways of doing things than what they were raised with. So, when the first of them announced that he was now vegetarian, I didn’t think much of it. But then one by one they all jumped on that bandwagon. And by the time my youngest came home from his first semester at Ithaca College and told me he was now a vegan, it was finally starting to penetrate into my somewhat thick skull.
I began to learn to cook vegetarian (and then vegan) meals. And at first, I continued to cook meat for myself and my husband. But the more my kids talked about the reasoning behind their dietary choices, the more I began to sit up and take notice. Not only was this diet healthier for us, and (naturally) the animals, but the implications went far beyond that to the good of the planet as a whole.
Right around the same time, my terrible genetic history was beginning to catch up with me. My blood sugar was starting to creep up, my always high cholesterol was getting even higher. Even my always low blood pressure was elevating. Something had to be done! And for me it was not drugs.
At this point I began to research and change my diet, but I was still very much like the average American. I could NEVER live without meat and dairy! What would I eat? Well, I guess I had a head start with this as I had been making vegetarian food for my kids, and we had been eating more and more meatless meals through the years anyway. So, the first thing to go was meat. And we were now vegetarian. And it wasn’t so bad. But no dairy?? No cheese? No butter? No Ice cream?! Who can live like that?
Well, the more I researched the best diet one can eat for their health, the more I kept circling back to the same (vegan) whole food, plant-based diet. Medical doctors such as Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Bernard, and nutrition scientist Dr. T. Colin Campbell were very convincing. They made a very compelling argument to the effect that we do not (as the meat and dairy industries would have us believe) need milk products for calcium, or meat for protein. These nutrients can easily be obtained in sufficient quantities through a plant-based diet. And in fact, consuming milk products (meant only for a baby calf) is actually detrimental to our human health. They also pointed out that we do not need nearly as much protein as the meat industry has hoodwinked us to believe. We can easily obtain the protein we need by eating vegetables, legumes, nuts, and grains, without all that detrimental saturated fat we are consuming when we eat meat.
But could we do it? We finally decided to take the plunge, and no one was more surprised than we were at just how easy it is to eat this way. We cook and eat an abundance of absolutely delicious foods each night, and never feel deprived! And in this golden time of life when many of our peers are complaining daily of their many aches and pains, having surgeries and/or living on a handful of meds each day, John and I are fit as fiddles, energetic, and flourishing…all medication-free.
Victoria’s homemade broccoli pizza with salad fresh from the garden
We don’t go out to eat much, preferring to stay home and cook our own meals, often using our own fresh veggies, grown (organically) just steps from our kitchen door. But in this day and age, most restaurants offer at least a few vegan options to choose from, so finding something to eat at a restaurant is rarely a problem.
I have heard people say that it is expensive to eat vegan, but this makes no sense to me. If you think about it, the most expensive items people typically buy at the grocery store are meats, dairy or processed foods. If you switch to a vegan diet and eliminate these items from your cart, unless you are buying a lot of specialty highly processed vegan foods, such as vegan “meat” (which is not healthy anyway), your grocery bill should go down, not up.
But way beyond the benefits to our individual bodies, we have come to realize just how important this way of life is to the animals involved and to the very future of our planet. If you have ever watched any documentaries about the cruelties of the meat industry, such as Food Inc., you will never want to eat meat again.
And not only would it put a stop to this horrible animal abuse. if everyone were to eat a vegan diet, it would go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions and helping to reverse climate change.
From Stanford Earth Matters Magazine: “Based on the model, [AS2] published in the open-access journal PLoS Climate, phasing out animal agriculture over the next 15 years would have the same effect as a 68 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through the year 2100. Patrick Brown, professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry at Stanford University, says ‘Reducing or eliminating animal agriculture should be at the top of the list of potential climate solutions. I’m hoping that others, including entrepreneurs, scientists and global policymakers, will recognize that this is our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change, and seize the opportunity.’”
So after learning all of this and then discovering for ourselves just how easy and healthy it is to eat a vegan diet, I am not only proud and happy with the lifestyle we have chosen, but have come to believe that it is actually the meat eaters who ought to be on the defensive in ‘splaining their dietary choices. ! I say Go Vegan! Animals are our friends, not our food.
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at email@example.com