When Vegans Go Bad

A few weeks ago I saw a blog posted by someone who used to be vegan but has gone back to eating animals. I’m not going to mention her by name – she’s had way too much attention already – but she’s not the first person to make big announcements about her dietary flip, and she won’t be the last. It happens every day. Vegans start eating meat, omnivores stop eating meat, dairy and eggs. Hollywood superstars start a raw diet. Fred down the road goes paleo. Mary turns to the Atkins diet. Sandra gets her stomach stapled and lives on a liquid diet. A bunch of firefighters start eating a plant-based diet. People changing diets is nothing new. So why is there sometimes a big flurry on social media when someone who made a name for themselves by “being vegan” eats meat? Does it mean there is something wrong with the premise of an animal-free diet? Or that vegans everywhere should follow suit “for health reasons”? No. Of course not. Being vegan, when done sensibly, is a healthy way to live.

So why am I blogging about this topic? Honestly, it’s because some of the things I read in the ex-vegan’s blog made me laugh out loud – and I’m not just referring to her “Learn How to Attract Money and Miracles into Your Life Now” scheme. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing the lady for changing her diet – everyone has the right to make their own choices – but some of her reasoning made me wonder about her motives in doing this so publicly. And with so much anger. She refers to vegans as “dumb” and “brainwashed”. But honestly, this is coming from a woman who ate food she bought for her cats! Yes, it was cans of tuna, not Friskies or Wiskas, but really? She was so desperate for animal products that she ate her cat’s dinner? And even omnivores should be wincing when she describes eating a rare cheeseburger, ignoring the potential for food poisoning from ground, undercooked meat.

But the bit in her blog that really made me sit up and question her reasoning was this:

It is abundantly clear that it is NOT POSSIBLE for most humans to get the nutrition they need on a strict vegan diet. …Because even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors … what we don’t even understand yet about how combinations of nutrients lead to optimal performance in human beings.” What on earth is she talking about? Even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors? Er….OK. Whatever. But even more remarkable was this statement: ” There may be a few people on this planet who can maintain optimal health long-term on a vegan diet….And I am willing to bet a lot of money those people who can maintain optimal health on a vegan diet are few and far between.

Now here’s the thing. In America alone there are 7.3 million people following a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 1 million of those are vegans. In addition 22.8 million people in the U.S. say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. That’s a lot of people.  http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/. I belong to a few vegan groups on social media, which have 8,000 members between them. There are lots of other vegan groups around, but I have a limited amount of time available for social media things. I started to wonder if, unknown to me, all the other vegans in these groups were taking the 25 or so supplements the angry ex-vegan-blogger had been taking, so I asked them. And the result? Most of us take B-12. Some take plant-based iron supplements. North Americans sometimes take vitamin D. A few people with special requirements due to ongoing non-vegan-related health issues take other supplements. But no-one who replied to my question was a pill-popping junkie. I know this proves nothing, but  it just shows that happy, healthy vegans exist.

Given that there are a million vegans in the U.S, why are the headlines not filled with articles such as “Vegan runners pass out at the start of the Boston Marathon due to lack of protein.” “Vegan mountain climber stops after 1 meter due to lack of energy.” “Brain-fog causes vegan bus drivers to get lost” ? There are many happy, healthy, not-famous, not angry, not pill-popping vegans quietly eating plant-based diets and living normal lives. We’re the ones who won’t be in the headlines or making our fame and fortune on social media.  We’re writers, home-makers, marathon runners, lawyers, dentists, sales associates, doctors, body builders, TV watchers, engineers, dancers, teachers, office workers ……. normal people going about our normal lives, without eating animals. One more angry ex-vegan doesn’t invalidate the vegan diet. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. But in the meantime more and more people are discovering how good it can be to eat a plant-based diet.

Want to know more? Check out these articles. They’re not all pro-vegan by the way 🙂 And no, I haven’t put a link to the angry ex-vegan who’s eating cat food and rare burgers.

Karen 🙂

Vegetarianism In America http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/

16 Million People in the US are Now Vegan or Vegetarian   http://news.therawfoodworld.com/16-million-people-us-now-vegan-vegetarian/

Vitamin B-12  http://www.vegan.com/b12/

New Study Reveals Surprising Benefits of a Vegan Diet  http://www.fitbie.com/2015/03/02/new-study-reveals-surprising-benefits-vegan-diet?cid=social_20150309_41754526&adbid=574940987794944000&adbpl=tw&adbpr=80033564

Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets?  http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/11/do-ex-vegans%E2%80%99-stories-make-the-case-against-vegan-diets.html

I’m not vegan anymore  http://alexandrajamieson.com/im-not-vegan-anymore/

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Mice, Men and Molasses Cookies

Today’s blog is posting itself while I’m away from my desk, hopefully travelling along the Rhine, glass of wine in one hand and a vegan snack (or two) in the other. I’ll be taking a novel or two on my journey with me, along with a selection of informative writing / publishing guides which I’ve put onto my i-pad. I’m not intending to work while I’m away, but you never know. It’s best to take some serious reading material with me, just in case. Or, as sometimes happens, to give me something to read if I happen to hate the novels in my backpack.

I belong to a couple of book clubs, one of which I make it to every time and one of which I seem to miss more often than not due to circumstances beyond my control. I find this very annoying when I’ve slogged my way to the end of a book I hate, such as “Outlander”. It was a huge relief when the book finally ended – had it been a movie I would have watched it on fast-forward, but unfortunately my book’s pages would only turn  as fast as my fingers could manipulate them, which wasn’t as fast as I would have liked. I speed-read a few chapters, but even so I felt as if it couldn’t end soon enough. I’ve also recently endured “To Kill a Mockingbird” (hated it), “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” (my choice, and I hated it), and “Body Surfing” (hated that one too!). On a more positive note, my book clubs have led me to delights such as “The Lace Reader”, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society” and “The Lace Makers of Glenmara”. I was even introduced to “Anne of Green Gables”, which wasn’t part of my British childhood. We had a laugh discussing it after one of our members realised she’d got a copy of the book intended for grade 4 kids instead of the full version. It had a lot of good pictures in it 🙂

So why would I read a book I hate? Well, to be honest, it’s partly to avoid eye-rolling and lectures from my fellow book-club ladies in the small group I attend. I can get away with missing out chunks of a novel if it’s a big group, but when there’s only four of us we really all need to read the book in order to have a good discussion. Although, admittedly, at our last meeting the discussion was very brief and went along the lines of “Who chose this book? What on earth were you thinking?” We’d just finished reading “Of Mice and Men”, and we all hated it with a passion. Dead puppies, dead women, a friend shooting his fellow traveler in the back of the head….this book had it all! Yes, I know it’s a classic, much loved by English teachers everywhere, but it wasn’t exactly an uplifting story. I finished it the day before the meeting and felt so……..soiled…….as a result that I had to bake cookies. As in, I HAD to bake cookies. No choice. And when they were baked, I ate 4 of them fresh out of the oven. I hope this doesn’t become a habit! I’ve seen the book club lists for the next few months, and there are a couple of potential cookie-bake-novels on the list. I can only hope that “Remarkable Creatures”, which I’ve chosen for October when my mom will be visiting from the UK, doesn’t turn out to be one of them, or I’ll have a bit of apologizing to do…. along with some baking 🙂

If you’re in the middle of a book you don’t like, promise yourself that you’ll bake a batch of these cookies when you get to the end. It will make it so much more enjoyable.

 Ginger Farthings

This is my mother’s recipe, and it must have been around for quite a while. Farthings were legal British currency from 1707 until 1960 and were worth one quarter of a penny.

  • ¾ cup vegan margarine, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Vegan replacement for 1 egg (I used 1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water and left for 15 minutes)
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 2 cups flour (use 1 cup wholewheat and 1 cup unbleached white if you prefer)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • extra sugar for coating

Heat the oven to 325’F / 160’C / Gas Mark 3

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy then beat in the egg and molasses. Sift the flour, baking soda and ginger together then add to the butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Take teaspoons of the soft dough and shape into balls. Roll them in sugar and place on a non-stick baking sheet 3” apart. Bake for 10 -12 minutes or until golden brown with a cracked surface. Cool on a wire rack.

GINGERFARTHINGS (Copy)

Karen 🙂

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Hormones? Or Herbaceous Hallucinations?

I hate gardening. I’d rather sit in the dentist’s chair than squat next to a patch of sodden earth ripping weeds out by their roots. Assuming they actually are weeds in the first place. How can I tell? They all look the same to me. And, quite honestly, I think if a plant can be bothered to grow in my garden it should be allowed to stay, at least for a while. After all, the vast majority of things I’ve personally planted over the years have shriveled up and died, so if a plant is willing to grow why should I dig it up? “But it’s a weed!” people cry, as if that makes a difference to whether or not I can be bothered to dig it up. I prefer to use the term “native species”, or say “I like the look of wildflower gardens”, but we all know that I simply hate gardening.

At my last house I had a great, self-sustaining, perennial garden. When we first bought the house a friend took me and my credit card to a garden center, put plants on my cart then later placed them in my garden. “Plant that one there” she ordered. I did as I was told. “Cover the soil between the plants with mulch and leave them alone” she barked. Again, I complied. And 15 years later I had a garden full of overgrown, misshaped shrubs surrounded by a thin layer of well-rotted mulch filled with weeds. But it worked for me. I had plants to look at instead of just a mass of grass (moss and dandelions), and it required no effort at all on my part. Hurray!

So why am I sitting here covered in a thin layer of garden grime wondering if I’ve officially gone mad? Is it middle age hormones playing with my ability to think straight? Or is it something more deeply rooted (play on words here!) such as an overwhelming need for fresh herbs when I’m cooking?

We moved into our current house at the end of the summer last year. The front garden has an assortment of plant-like things which seem to be capable of looking after themselves with little or no effort on my part. The back yard is a sea of moss, dandelions and tiny pretty purple low-growing things surrounded by patches of grass, with no flower beds in sight. Great! Talk about low maintenance! But the side of the house had a mass of weeds, mints and dead things, which even I rolled my eyes at. Good heavens – what a mess! And so, in a fit of blind enthusiasm, last week I set to digging it all up to create an herb garden. I grumbled as I dug. I whined as I ripped up deeply buried roots. I complained bitterly as a mosquito bit me. And I did a good impersonation of the Wilhelm scream when a spider ran up my arm. I did not have a good time! But then I stepped back and looked at what I had achieved, and felt a certain smug satisfaction. There was a long rectangular patch of earth devoid of dead plants and weeds. Success! Stage 2 was to order a big bag of earth to be delivered to my driveway, which my hero-husband helped me transport to my freshly-dug garden. Stage 3 was to buy an assortment of annual and (hopefully) perennial herbs and embed them in the soil. Next came a layer of gardening fabric (I have no intention of weeding. Ever.), a drip-hosepipe on a timer (No, I don’t intended to stand out there, surrounded by mosquitoes and black flies, spraying water around) and a layer of mulch. And there it is! My very own low-maintenance herb garden! And did I enjoy creating it? No I did not. I hated every frickin’ minute of it. But hopefully the plants will last long enough for me to harvest a bunch or two to put into my dinners. In fact I think I might make pasta with rosemary-garlic tofu tonight. Or not. Damn! I didn’t plant any rosemary!!!!!!! Never mind. I’ll wait until something dies then plant some rosemary in the resulting hole. Sigh.

herbGarden3 (Copy)               herbGarden4 (Copy)

When my plants get big enough to be harvested I’ll be drinking hot lemon balm tea while hunting for the “nut loaf with fresh herb stuffing” recipe sent to me by my great-auntie-Nellie back in the 80’s to show her support of my no-meat diet. She found it a bit odd that someone would turn their nose up at a steak and kidney or cheese and onion pie, but she mailed me veg-based recipes anyway, many of which used fresh herbs. I’ll be thinking of her this summer while looking fondly at my plants. As a bonus, Alan has planted a variety of vegetable seeds in his allocated spot, which he will be responsible for weeding. It looks like we’re in for a tasty summer!

herbGarden5 (Copy)

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Sometimes I Hate Being Vegan

Sometimes I hate being a vegan. It can be a total pain in the ass way to live. It restricts where I can eat and what I can eat. It rules out huge sections of food in grocery stores and involves an awful lot of label-reading, doubly so if my gluten-free son is visiting. It causes confusion among my friends and an awful lot of eye-rolling in certain circles. I get mocked, teased and, on rare occasions, shouted at. So why on earth don’t I just give up and grab a chicken leg or munch on a steak sandwich?

Let me try that last sentence again. It’s not “grab a chicken leg.” It’s “grab a chicken’s leg”. Or munch on a bloody slice of a slaughtered cow. Ah. Now I’m beginning to remember why. But sometimes it just seems so damn hard!

Alan and I have just returned from a trip to Montreal, which is the reason for my heavy sighs. We went to see the UFC (ultimate fighting championships for those of you not well versed in such matters) on Saturday night, which required us to find meals in Quebec. French is the first language over the river from Ontario, but it’s not the European French I learned in school. It’s Quebec French, and I don’t understand a word of it. To make matters even more fun, Quebecois apparently can’t understand my French either. I kinda gave up years ago and now claim that I don’t speak French, period. My attitude towards this works fine most of the time, but the knock-on effect is that I can’t read much French anymore. Give me a German menu and I’ll have a good go at it. Give Alan and I something in Japanese and we’ll pour over the kanji, grinning happily every time we find one we know. But if you put me in a Quebec city where everything is written in French I get an instant headache, even if the English translation is written (in a government regulated smaller font) underneath.

Here I am getting a lecture about speaking French by a Montreal statue:  MontrealaskAVegan (Copy)Lunch time on Saturday found two hungry Ontarians wandering along Rue De St Catherine in the newer part of Montreal searching for food. We found many (and I mean “many”) diners boasting about their excellent Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. We found French-style restaurants with the words “cheese” and “cream” written so often that I think sometimes they overlapped. We found cheese panini, pulled pork and quiche. We were just starting to despair when I spotted a sign up a side street with the words “Resto Vego” on it. I accosted two people as they were descending a flight of stairs. “Is there a vegetarian restaurant up there?” Yes, there was!! So up we went. The food was buffet style, and wasn’t very hot, but there was a good selection and at least 4 of the dishes were vegan. Woo hoo! I had Indonesian tempeh, stir fried peppers, bean chilli, rice and a vegan cheezecake, and it was all good. Phew. Omni-Alan was equally happy with his vegan meal. Why can’t eating a plant-based diet always be this easy and tasty?

Fast-forward to dinner time, and we’re seated in a Korean restaurant which had assured me that providing a vegan meal would not be a problem for them. “Korean food is very adaptable” the server said. Alan’s dinner arrived first, and was piled high with thick udon noodles, crab pancake, stir fried beef, salad with an orange dressing, steamed rice, miso soup and kimchee. My dinner arrived shortly afterwards. It was a small bowl of plain rice topped with shredded vegetables and a few pieces of cold tofu straight out of the packet. Alan laughed. “This is why I’m happy to be vegan at home but an omnivore when I eat out.” I could see his point. Sometimes it totally sucks to be a vegan. Thank goodness there would be lager at the fighting later on!

On the morning after the night before, we decided to skip the $18 per person buffet at the hotel and find a diner for breakfast. We settled on one which was clean and friendly, with about 50 items on the menu. Of which I could eat……..three. My choices were dry cereal (they didn’t have soy milk) with a banana, a plate of fruit (for $12!!!!!!) or a BLT without the bacon. There were baked beans on the menu, but they contained pork 😦 I looked at Alan’s plate piled high with a variety of items, then at my meager meal of sliced tomato on toast and understood why people might be reluctant to give up being an omnivore.

montrealBreakfast (Copy)

And as for Sunday’s lunch…..don’t even go there. Old Montreal is a very pretty place to wander around, but totally sucks as far as vegan food is concerned. Maybe locals and frequent visitors know the secret vegan haunts, but as a tourist I found no joy there. We got in the car and left, munching on a bag of chips as we drove, heading for the well-stocked vegan fridge back in the comfort of our home. Being vegan is sometimes a total pain in the ass.

But all is not doom and gloom in vegan-land. Today, back in my old stomping grounds of Ottawa, I headed out to Strawberry Blonde Bakery to buy some vegan, gluten-free, nut free cupcakes for my son’s 21st birthday. They’re delicious, nicely priced, and make being vegan sooooooo easy. Then I walked across the road to “the Herb and Spice Shop” to pick up some vegan “chicken” bites and veggie bacon for Alan to have for breakfasts with tofu scramble. They’re tasty, healthy and cruelty free, and cook in minutes. My next job is to book a table at the Taj restaurant for dinner tonight, happy knowing that they serve vegan and gluten free items and everyone will have a good meal.

ChrisCupcakes (Copy)

The next time someone tells me they can’t be vegan because they can’t give up meat  I’ll remember my meals in Montreal, and maybe have a bit of sympathy for them. But then I’ll recall how easy it is to buy and cook vegan meals at home and my level of sympathy will go down considerably. Yes, sometimes it sucks to be a vegan. But most of the time it’s a great way to live. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and grab a cupcake and a cup of tea. Right now being a vegan doesn’t suck at all!!

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Supplements?

I’m not posting a blog today. Instead I’m posing a question to my followers (I’d appreciate comments) and folks in my social media networks. What dietary supplements do you take? And what diet do you identify with most – omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, raw food, paeleo or something else? I’m looking to get answers from “regular” folks, not mountain climbers, body builders or marathon runners, who have very specialised needs.

So peeps, what pills are you popping?

Answers will help me write a pill-popping blog in the very near future, so watch this space!

Karen 🙂

To fu or not to fu? That is the question…..

I don’t usually get involved in discussions about eating GMO foods, the rights and wrongs of pesticides vs organic farming or get into fights about the dangers of estrogen in soy products. But while working at the Kathy Smart expo recently a lady told me she couldn’t be vegan because she would have to eat tofu and she couldn’t do that because of – you know – all the problems with estrogen. I looked at her blankly, with no idea where she was going with her comments. “You know….estrogens in tofu. It’s supposed to be really dangerous? It gives you breast cancer?” I asked her for more information, but that’s all she knew. Someone, somewhere, had told her that soy products would give her cancer. Personally I would be more worried about arsenic in chicken, heavy metals in fish and salmonella in eggs if I were her, but hey, what do I know? Not very much apparently.

In all fairness, I knew less about the potential dangers of eating soy products than the lady who was using them as an excuse for not being vegan. So to redress the balance, I’ve now spent some hours investigating the matter, and I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Please bear in mind that I used to be a medical research scientist, so I find it really annoying when people make sweeping statements without adding citations to back them up. Or quote statistics without quantifying the size of the study or qualifying what the control group was. A study of 5 people is very different to a study with 5,000 subjects, and a study group of 15 white male college students is going to give different results to one involving 100 people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and gender. It seems that health and nutrition pseudo-science readily ignores the realities of actual science in order to sell more books. I’ve avoided putting links to Dr. Oz shows, popular magazines or anecdotal stories. Let’s try to find some actual facts!

So, is eating tofu as an adult (I’m not getting into the murky waters of breast feeding vs soymilk baby formula today!) likely to give you cancer?

These are some of my findings, based on recent research:

Consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men. This protection may be associated with the type and quantity of soy foods consumed.
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/4/1155.long

Soy isoflavone intake could lower the risk of breast cancer for both pre- and post-menopausal women in Asian countries. However, for women in Western countries, pre- or post-menopausal, there is no evidence to suggest an association between intake of soy isoflavone and breast cancer.
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089288

Animal study shows why long-time consumption of soyfoods reduces breast cancer recurrence
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150419193910.htm

The most recent studies support the idea that eating soy is a good thing as far as cancer is concerned. There are some low-key papers commenting on the benefits of eating fermented soy products rather than unfermented ones, but the actual data to support the claims is thin on the ground.  However, it seems to make sense that eating tofu or tempeh is a better choice than munching on heavily processed faux-meat soy based products.

The flip side of the coin is that some studies indicate that eating soy may reduce the efficiency of thyroid medications. This abstract (written in 2006 – I can’t locate the full article) suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16571087.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on this issue, even though it featured in some chatty magazine articles from a few years ago.

Talking of chatty articles: If facts and figure’s aren’t your thing, check out this light-weight article written by some guy called Mark Hyman. I’m not endorsing him or his ideas in any way shape or form, I just thought this article was pretty good.  http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/08/06/how-soy-can-kill-you-and-save-your-life/#close

Sorry if this blog reads as if it was produced by the soy marketing board, but I’m just reporting what I found. Of course, as an ex-scientist I know that anyone can find research to support whatever theory they wish to propose. The biggest forms of deceit are lies, damn lies, and statistics lol.  I’d love to get feedback from you if you have an opposing view about soy with, of course, current research to back up your claims.

I know that once the Pandora’s box of eating tofu has been opened, topics such as “The dangers of GMOs” will pop out, but they can wait for another day….I don’t think my brain can handle any more scientific research papers today! I’m going to stop writing and cook myself some lunch. Yes, it’s got tofu in it 🙂

Tomato Miso Soup

If you want to turn this soup into a meal, double the amount of tofu and ladle the soup over two bowls of freshly cooked noodles.

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 large king oyster mushroom, thinly sliced OR 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 5 cups dashi or stock (Make sure your dashi is vegan! Look for konbu instant dashi with no bonito)
  • 1 cup (about 225g / 8oz) silken tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red miso
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the tomatoes, leek and mushrooms for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the dashi, tofu and soy sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the miso with a small amount of the stock from the pan and add to the soup. Allow to simmer gently for 1 minute – do not let it come to a full boil. Divide the soup between four bowls and top with green onions. Stir gently before drinking because the miso will separate out while the soup is sitting in the bowl.

tomatomisosoupRepeat

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.