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Become a Vegan in 8 easy steps.

Step 1- Stop eating Dead Animals - Whoa, that was easy enough. Hey, you're a vegetarian. How about that!

Step 2 - Stop Frowning at me, you're doing a good thing. Changing to a vegetarian diet is healthier for you, for the planet, and for the meat.

You! – A plant based diet reduces the risk of developing A LOT of adult onset diseases; allergies, eczema, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, arthritis, gout, diabetes, and colon, breast, and prostate cancers. The really cool thing is that switching to a plant based diet also reduces the symptoms of most of these nasty diseases if they have already made an unwelcome appearance. (Vegan Nutrition Pure and Simple: Michael Klaper, M.D., Gentle World, Inc., Paia, Maui, HI, 1992, pp. 12 - 13.)

The Planet – By cycling the protein we could be getting from grain through livestock we waste 90% of it. We're wasting water that could be used for cheaper electricity, and polluting water that could be used for drinking. We're clearing our own oxygen-producing forests, and ruining our own topsoil. And on top of that, do you know why the rain forests are being destroyed? They're clearing the rainforests to graze cattle to sell to the United States. (Diet for a New America; John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH, 1987, pp. 350 - 380.) We're over-fishing the oceans so badly there are no unaffected fish populations. We get 1 pound of shrimp for every 10 pounds of ecosystem that is destroyed as it is pulled up from the ocean floor. None of that is worth it.

The Animals – animals that are injected with antibiotics and growth hormones, and are fed pesticide-covered feed plus other animals that have died of disease (this is where Mad Cow disease actually comes from!) are obviously better off if they're not killed for food. And you're WAY better off not eating them. What about free range and organic animals? Well, if animals are being treated humanely, then they’re not being killed for food.

Step 3 - Stop Eating Other 'Food' that comes from Animals. Continuing to eat dairy products, or substituting them for meat is risky. Because dairy products contain almost no iron, simply substituting them into an inadequate diet can lead to iron deficiency. To get your iron, you have to eat your dark leafy greens (way more iron than in meat - remember Popeye), and eating them with vitamin C foods (like a few sautéed onions and peppers, mmm!) aids iron absorption. (Diet for a New America; John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH, 1987, pp. 164 - 165.)
Here's another horrifying fact (sorry). "Osteoporosis is [...] caused by a number of things, the most important of which is dietary protein."(Diet for a New America; John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH, 1987, p. 191.) Drinking your high protein milk actually leaches calcium out of your bones and can lead to osteoporosis.
Also, if you think you really like cheese and butter, and can’t do without it, you should taste it unsalted. I did, and found that what I was really missing was the salt. There are some decent vegan cheeses available now, and olive oil and salt is a fine substitute for butter.

Step 4 - Don't worry about protein. The protein myth is very strong in our culture. Very strong. Fact is, you can get all the amino acids you need from plants, and you don't have to worry about eating certain foods together to get complete proteins. If you eat a variety of plant-based foods and you're getting enough calories, you're getting enough protein. It turns out that it's extremely difficult to design a diet that is protein deficient. You can do it if you eat only fruit, or if you eat mostly 'junk food', so don’t. (Diet for a New America; John Robbins, Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH, 1987, pp. 181 - 186.) And there’s no need to go soy crazy either – so if you think you don’t like tofu (this seems very odd to me, as tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it is cooked in and can be any texture, from creamy to chewy, so until you’ve tried it in everything you won’t really know whether you like it or not) don’t eat it.

Step 5 – Eat Healthy. You already know this – whole grains and beans, dark green, green, orange, yellow, and red vegetables, fruits and berries, especially the blue ones. You should take a vitamin B12 supplement if you don’t already.

Step 6 – Find substitutes for things you might miss. They’re out there. Try to identify what it is that you’re missing first though. A lot of times it’s just a texture. Seitan, for example is a very nice meat substitute because it has a chewy texture. There are lots of meat substitutes available. Sometimes it’s just salt, like the cheese example earlier. And canned mushrooms have a similar texture to hard boiled egg whites.

Step 7 – Order Ingredients. When you go out to eat, scan the menu for the vegetarian items. Be sure to say “no cheese” or “no dairy”, even if it’s not listed among the ingredients on the menu. If there are no vegetarian options, scan for ingredients. A couple of sides of vegetables can make a good meal. Steak sauce is good on baked potatoes if the restaurant only has butter. Pizza with no cheese is delicious once it is properly salted. A lot of times the chef will whip up something special, just for the asking. If there really are no vegan options, be sure to ask for the Vegetarian Menu before you walk out. Then they at least know where they’ve gone wrong. Also keep in mind that most bread is vegan, as is most beer.

Step 8 – Plan Meals around the Grain. When I learned to plan meals, it was always about the meat. First you’d decide beef, chicken, or fish, and then everything else. In vegan cooking I find it easiest to start by deciding on the grain – (brown) rice, (whole grain) pasta, (whole grains) bread, some other kind of grain, or none, in the case of the big salad. Then, add some colors. It’s very simple once you get the hang of it.

Copyright 2008, Linda Mae Dennis

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