Sunday, February 20, 2011

An unemployed editor starts a blog about vegan cooking.

First of all, I'm not trying to copy Julie & Julia.

Well, ok, yes. There are similarities. She blogged about cooking her way through a cookbook, and that's sort of what I'm hoping to do. However, there are several differences between that Julie lady and me:

1. I hear she's a big bitch in real life. I'm not. Mostly.
2. I am doing basically the opposite of the Julia Child cream & butter experiment...I'm cooking vegan. Yeah, that's right, vegan. It doesn't get any more anti-Julia Child than that.
3. Although I'm mostly using one cookbook as my guide, I'm going to cook only the stuff that I feel like eating (i.e., I'm not cooking every single recipe in the book).
4. I'm actually good friends with the author of the cookbook I'll be using, so I think she'll probably be quite pleased that I'm blogging about it. I hope so, anyway.
5. Those are the only differences I can really think of for right now, since I actually don't know that much about the Julie & Julia lady. I did see the movie, however, so I'll go ahead and state up front to all of you Hollywood producer types that I wouldn't turn down a movie offer if it came my way. I'm unemployed and could use the cash. I'd like Toni Collette to play me, please.


Now, to continue:

There are many tenets of the vegan diet that I believe in:
  • It's healthy for you (well, it is if you are eating a properly balanced diet and not junk food, processed meat substitutes, and candy)
  • It's better and more sustainable for the planet
  • It doesn't hurt animals (although I don't think that you're an evil animal hater if you eat meat and animal products. Personally, though, when I do eat meat, I try to eat free range/organic)
I became inspired to start incorporating more vegan food into my life because of my friend Tess, author of Radiant Health, Inner Wealth. I've known Tess for just over 10 years now (ask me sometime how she and I met! It's a great story!), and she's responsible for feeding me my first organic tomato. I still remember how good it was, and thinking, "So this is why tomatoes are fruit."

I had tried being vegan around that time, but it didn't stick, mainly because I was doing it so my then-boyfriend would like me (stupid). Also, I didn't really know much about cooking, or how to make food that was vegan AND tasted good. So I chalked the vegan experiment up to being young and stupid, and turned back to my animal product eating ways.

A few years ago, Tess published her first vegan cookbook (she's now working on her third), and I bought a copy, both as a supportive friend and with the desire to eat a little healthier. I made a couple of the desserts (of course) in her book and then put it away on my shelf. Not exactly the healthy change I had hoped to make. I was overwhelmed by the prospect of finding and buying all the spices and ingredients I had never heard of, and it was much easier to just walk to the taco stand down the street. Walking to the taco stand cancels out the calorie content of the taco, right? Probably not.

Now, I don't want to make it sound like I'm an unhealthy person who eats at McDonalds three times a day. Actually, I've had great moments of eating healthfully and exercising, and have even competed in triathlons the last 2 years. I like fruits and vegetables, and I probably know more than the average person about nutrition. The problem is, I'm an emotional eater, so any time there is stress in my life, my first reaction is to quit exercising and to pick up the chocolate cake, my drug of choice.

In July 2010, my coworkers and I learned that we were all being outsourced and that our company would close by the end of the year. Thus kicked off the latest round of stress-induced sugar binging as I attempted to start an apprenticeship in a new field, tried to procure freelance work so I could accumulate some extra income and pad my savings, and, of course, finish up my "real" job. Needless to say, I was soon heading down self-destruction highway at full speed, and I finally had a "come-to-Jesus" moment with myself when I stopped long enough to listen to my body and hear it say, "ENOUGH!"

I reconnected with Tess and decided to do her 2-week vegan cleanse. It sounded reasonable to me, as far as cleanses go. Basically, you could still eat. You weren't supposed to be hungry all the time. And the food sounded good. She even made out a handy-dandy shopping list and meal plan for the full 2 weeks. So, armed with my shopping list and fresh determination, I bought all of the ingredients—including all of those spices I had been afraid of years ago—organized my pantry, cleaned out my refrigerator, started the cleanse...

...and quit after about a week.

But, some things had changed:

First: I was no longer "scared" about buying all of those produce items, staples, and spices. I now knew where to find them in the grocery store, and I was actually pleasantly surprised at how simple and affordable the bulk bins made buying them.

Second: I had exposed myself to some really delicious food and mostly overcome my fear of trying something new. And, now that I had all of the staple items in my pantry, I had the desire to try out more of those recipes. Who knew I would ever like something called "Black-eyed peas and kale" or "Bailey's tofish with tartar sauce"?

Third: My job finally ended, I quit my apprenticeship, and cut back on my freelance work so I could find a new job...which left me with ample time during the day to "try new things," such as vegan cooking. A friend of mine even lent me her audiobooks of the Harry Potter series, so I could now re-read the series AND cook at the same time...two great escapes from the unemployment blues.

Soon, I found myself cooking up a regular vegan storm, and before I knew it, I had eaten mostly vegan for about 3 weeks. I felt better, my skin looked better, and I had more energy. I had been posting regular food status updates onto Facebook (probably more than I realized), and several friends suggested I start writing about it.

So, here I am. Writing a blog about going vegan.

One thing I need to clarify, however: When I say I'm going vegan...I'm actually going "vegan-ish." Oprah coined that term recently, and I like it. Rather than proclaim, "I am cutting out all meat/dairy/other animal products from my diet for the rest of my life!" I'm going to try to incorporate more vegan food into my lifestyle. Actually, I think that's the best way to make any change. Deprivation has never served me well. And I want the change to be enjoyable.

And, to be honest, I'm not sure that being completely vegan for the rest of my life is a change I want to make. Never eat Texas BBQ again? Plus, I do lurves me some dairy products. I've more or less adjusted to soymilk, but have yet to find a good substitute for yogurt and cheese (sorry vegans, the ones currently on the market just don't cut it for me). I lived in France, for doesn't come away from that experience without a significant taste and appreciation for "les produits laitiers," and the mile-long aisle they take up in the supermarch├ęs...

But. I would be ok with reducing my consumption of these items, and eating them only if they're organic.

Regardless of definitions, it's definitely time to make healthier eating a more integral part of my life and to strive for some balance. I am now officially "in my thirties," only 8 years younger than my dad when he died. My family has a long history of heart disease, heart attacks, coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer, and dying young. Rather sobering statistics, and I'd rather not become one.

So, my hope is that, through this little experiment, I'll not only find some balance, I'll make new healthy and delicious foods a regular part of my lifestyle.

Food can be delicious and healthy? We'll see.


  1. Love this! My decision to turn vegetarian was phrased as follows: I'm trying to lay off meat. I'd like to eventually be a vegetarian with vegan tendencies. It's your nutrition, no one can tell you it's right or wrong!

  2. bravo, courtenay! i found this 1st post as engrossing as your description of those triathlons. i'm rooting for you, just as i was when running up those hills with you (ok, while sitting in my chair:) so you go, girl!!! oh, and how about some pics to catch the eye?... the vegan book? the fancy spice bottles? and when you fix some meals... the dishes, of course. i look forward to more, court:)

  3. "So this is why tomatoes are fruit." Love it, and I look forward to more of your posts. I might even try a recipe or two :-).

  4. Very cool! I'll be reading with interest. You know I've been vegetarian for 18 years, but I've recently been thinking I might need to try to eat fish. Haven't had the nerve to do it yet, but clearly my current way of eating (heavy dependence on fake meat, which is just pretty chemicals) is not serving me very well. I really want to know more about non-meat healthy eating!

  5. Thanks y'all! It feels nice to write about something that's interesting to me, for a change. I hope the inspiration keeps up.

    Trish, I love your manifesto, and I agree with you 100%!

    Auntie C, have you tried the po-boy substitute I told you about yet???

    Sandra, definitely!

    Amy, very surprisingly, I don't think I've eaten any processed "fake" meat since I've been doing this. It's one of the things I've liked about this book, there are so many really good things to eat that are filling and are still "whole."

  6. This is fantastic CIV! I look forward to your blog and possibly incorporating some new ideas into my cooking. I won't pretend to consider going vegan, but I have finally convinced Ken with my new beef allergy and my affinity for "communities taking care of themselves" to eat local. We get our fruits, vegetables and eggs from a local farm delivered to our door every other week and eat local farm-to-table meats. I am so excited for you and can't wait to see what you come up with!! Heather

  7. I'm soooo excited about your blog! I prefer to call myself a "flexitarian", I try to eat a lot less meat, but I don't stick to the vegetarian/vegan rules (lemme know how the whole cheese thing goes, that's a doozy!). Best of luck!

    P.S. have you read any of Michael Pollan's books? I highly recommend them!