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Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Today, rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur Jay Z has asked for my advice on his 22 day experiment with veganism, with wife Beyonce joining him.
Okay, well, I should clarify…
Jay Z isn’t asking for my specific advice, but he is asking his fans. Given that only about 2.5% of the American population identifies as vegan, I happen to be part of that curious minority who lives the plant-based life every minute of every day.
While I’m already witnessing on the Internet a wave of criticism for his decision to try out, and possibly stick with, the vegan lifestyle, I happen to be one of the few to actually have some good advice for Jay Z.
Because when it comes to being a vegan, I know what I’m talking about.
I’m not a heckler in the crowd who mocks veganism by saying, “We’re all going to die at some point, right?” Instead, I am a living science experiment for everyone to see.
This very week makes 9 months that I’ve been a vegan (an extremely strict one, too: no honey!) and 2 whole years since I’ve been a vegetarian.
Of course, my dive into the plant-based life was several years in the making, since I started out 5 years ago by going kosher (no pork or shellfish).
And that journey led me here.
So, if by some chance Jay Z happened to read this letter I am privately writing to you today, what would be my best advice for him?
It’s not about what you “can’t” eat, it’s about what you can.
I break it down into the 6 “Vegan Food Groups” or what I call, “The Big 6″:
Vegetables, fruits, beans, grain, nuts, and seeds. As a vegan, you can eat as much of those 5 things as you want. And it doesn’t take long before you realize that those 6 things are so full of protein, fiber, “good fats” and “good sugar” that you aren’t left wanting for more.
Basically, and this is only my theory, being a vegan means your cholesterol intake is more than 0% (from good fats, like avocados, cashews, coconuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, etc.) but less than 1% (because of no animal fats). I think part of the reason vegans feel so much better after nixing animals products is because they are no longer experiencing another living (at one time) animal’s cholesterol and fat running through their veins.
Based on how much better I feel after having become a vegan 9 months ago, I believe the human body functions perfectly on more than 0% but less than 1% of the daily allowance for cholesterol. (One large chicken egg alone equals way more than half of the daily allowance.)
Yet, I don’t believe everyone should “go vegan.” It’s something you have to want in your heart, especially after having watched any of the following documentaries on Netflix:
Forks Over Knives, Hungry For A Change, Vegucated, The Beautiful Truth, Dying To Have Known, Supersize Me, and Food, Inc.
Also, it’s important to listen to your appetite. If you’re craving a big, fat, juicy cheeseburger, ask yourself what your body is actually craving.
A large cheeseburger contains a lot of (and by that I mean way too much!) protein and saturated fat.
So, out of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, which have a lot of protein and fat?
Protein: Vegetables and beans.
Fat: Nuts and seeds. (That includes avocados, cocunuts, and cashews; all of which are in weird food categories.)
But after all that, you’re still craving something sweet, like soda or candy?
Well… how many servings of fruit have your had today?
Craving sweets is your body’s way of telling you that you need the nutrients of fruits, which are packed with “good sugar” (as opposed to Monsanto-drenched high fructose corn syrup) and fiber.
The bottom line is this, your body tells you which of the “Big 6″ (vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds) you need.
The problem is, if you’ve grown up with the Western Diet of eating highly processed foods, at first, your brain only knows to speak to you in the form it recognizes by experience.
So you have to retrain your brain on where to get the best source of the nourishment it’s actually wanting.
Granted, this means there’s no such thing as a “quick bite from the drive-thru” anymore.
In the likeness of how Dave Ramsay says you have to tell your money where to go or it will tell you where to go…
You have to plan your meals out days in advance. You can’t leave it up to the mercy of a busy schedule to dictate what and when you eat.
That’s why Mommy keeps a schedule on the fridge so everyone knows all week “what’s for dinner.” (Most of her recipes are from the flawless vegan recipe website: Oh She Glows.)
Anyway, that’s what I’d tell Jay Z if he happened to somehow be reading this.
But, hey, you’re my son, you live with me and know all this stuff already first hand. It’s “normal” to you.
Or, I should say… It’s a plant-based life for us!
Note: This is an opinion piece of the author and does not reflect Parents magazine or the medical establishment.
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How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
Sunday, December 1st, 2013
I’ve noticed that in the 2 years our family has been vegetarian, and for the 9 months that I have been a strict (!) vegan, I have less and less of a desire to talk about it publicly.
While I’m definitely passionate about living this alternative lifestyle, which is often misunderstood and (until recently) poorly represented, I know I have become tired of explaining it to people.
I have found that in an effort to simply answer the curious (and sincere) questions I get from people at work who see me eating my vegan lunch (which I always eat cold because I don’t believe in using microwaves), it becomes difficult to simply explain my lifestyle without making the other person feel like they have to defend themselves.
Like I’ve said before, I don’t want other people to convert to my lifestyle. Instead, I want people to eat what makes them happy. I eat only plants because that makes me happy, but I respect people who don’t eat the way I do… because that’s 98% of the American population.
But I have to get better about communicating this lifestyle to those who ask. I need to be more upbeat about explaining my food choices… but again, only when people ask, because I never want to come across as “preachy.”
So here it goes…
One of the questions I get is, “What do vegans and vegetarians eat for Thanksgiving?”
As the pictures in this letter demonstrate, I suppose we can eat all sorts of things- given that they don’t contain meat (for vegetarians)… or cheese, eggs, milk, insect-based food dyes, or gelatin (for vegans)… or honey or petroleum-based food dyes (for strict vegans, like me).
I think a lot of my challenge in having this conversation with people is to make it clear this lifestyle isn’t about what I can’t have… but instead, all the things I can have.
For Thanksgiving this year, another plant-based family brought over several dishes to combine with ours, to have quite the vegan spread.
Since some at the dinner were vegetarian and not vegan (like you and Mommy), cheese and milk were available, but not included in the ingredient list for the dishes.
Based on what I remember from looking at these pictures, we had salad, green bean casserole, lasagna, lentil loaf, bread, apple cider, hummus and pita chips, and stuffing.
And for dessert… chocolate pie, cranberry pie, and apple crisp. (You were quite excited… so excited, you got serious!)
In an age where Google is king, vegan recipe websites like Oh She Glows make it really convenient for us to find solid meal ideas that are as easy (or as complicated) as Mommy needs them to be.
We didn’t have to go this fancy for Thanksgiving, but it was sort of a fun challenge for our family. I bet next year we’ll just do a salad, veggie lasagna, and chocolate pie.
But at least when people ask me if I had a big Thanksgiving this year, I can honestly say yes.
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Monday, September 2nd, 2013
2 years, 9 months.
These “before and after” pictures actually pretty well illustrate the cure for Mommy and I not being able to get home improvement projects finished, in the little amount of time we have together as a family.
By the way, it’s completely unintentional that this letter to you has by default become the 3rd consecutive one to talk about my parents, who you know as Nonna and Papa. (And there might even be a 4th after this.)
But just as our 2 and a half hour trips to their house serve as a sort of “time out” for us, it’s their trips to our house that serve as the perfect time for Mommy and I to complete “major” projects; just the opposite. Instead of relaxing while they are here in town… we are productive!
Exactly 3 months ago, it was a backsplash.
As for Labor Day weekend, we painted our living room and installed brand new curtains; taking down the blinds. And because we made such good time, we decided to paint the downstairs bathroom, too.
During all the labor, there was always one adult to entertain and play with you, while the other three worked on the project.
In case you’re wondering why I’m not featuring any pictures of our home’s new makeover, it’s because I know in the upcoming months, the pictures I daily take of you playing downstairs will be featuring the changes.
There will be more than enough… too many, probably…
So instead, I wanted to point out a notable milestone in your life. As a reward for completing our projects early, we decided to do something we never do as a family.
We went to “the city” and dined out.
It’s funny how the last time I remember being in the heart of Nashville, not just on the outskirts of the city limits where we live, was at last June when we went to that random drum circle.
Our family never goes to the city and we never go out to eat.
But this weekend, we did. And it went well!
I was telling Mommy, how a year ago, if we were to have done this, we wouldn’t have made it through the entire meal without me having to escort you outside and distract you from being restless.
However, at 2 years and 9 months, you are able to handle dining out.
Hashtag, “I didn’t see that one coming.”
Admittedly, the fact that Mommy and I let you have a vegan chocolate cupcake certainly helped the situation.
Seriously, this is epic for me, as your Daddy.
I feel so accomplished after this Labor Day weekend!
We painted the living room and the bathroom, put up a new curtain rod and curtains, and you proved you can handle going to the city and dining at a restaurant… way past your bedtime.
The plan was to officially potty train you this weekend, too. Oh well…
With the grandparents in town, we were able to be very productive in other ways.
Actually though, I think we might need a completely separate trip where they come up and the only project is just to potty train you. Not a bad idea.
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Sunday, July 28th, 2013
2 years, 8 months.
I know, I know… After having just written to you a few days ago “Never Talk About Politics, Religion, Or Food You Don’t Eat,” the very next day I followed it up with “A Parent’s Prayer For Wisdom, Humility, And Grace,” which is obviously religious in nature.
And now here I am writing about food we don’t eat.
Of course, my point was that when do we talk about politics, religion, and food we don’t eat, it should be done in a way that’s inclusive, not exclusive. Plus, it has to be a conversation with someone who is already curious or open-minded enough to want to hear what you have to say.
I suppose anyone who has read the title “Non-Dairy, Plant-Based Options For Eggs, Cheese, Milk, & Butter” wants to be here, so I’m going to give this a shot.
As a quick refresher, it was about 4 and a half months ago that, sort of accidentally, I refrained from eating eggs or dairy for a weekend.
It was no coincidence that my severe sinus pressure, which had plagued me constantly since 1992, disappeared. Not to mention, whereas I used to be horribly allergic to cats as well, I can now pet and hold a cat without sneezing, coughing, itching, getting watery eyes, or having a headache for the rest of the day. Plus, I used to regularly get severe sinus infections with congestion and fever… that’s all gone too.
I don’t know the science behind this, I just know it’s been true for me. Needless to say, I have continued not eating eggs or dairy since that random, fateful weekend.
That had to be a bit challenging for Mommy at first, as you can imagine, because that meant she had to rethink all our meals, as well as which ingredients we kept in our fridge and pantry.
But Mommy is great! She has totally embraced this lifestyle change, and now, both you and Mommy are more non-dairy and plant-based as well.
The biggest help for her was a food blog called Oh She Glows. What a lifesaver! It has been really good about helping us understand the non-dairy, plant-based alternatives for the ingredients we use to depend on.
So, since our family’s meals are made without eggs, cheese, milk, or butter, what do we use instead?
I see this question asked frequently on Facebook, as several people I know have children with food allergies.
Here’s a quick cheat sheet for what we do for these following American food staples:
Eggs in dessert: Applesauce or chia seeds.
Eggs for breakfast: Avocados.
Dairy milk: Rice milk and coconut milk. (I’m not loyal to a certain brand for either.)
Cheese: Avocados, unsalted cashews, or unsalted sunflower seeds.
Butter: Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread Original, which is non-dairy and plant-based, consisting of a natural oil blend from palm fruit, canola, soybeans, flax, and olives. Not to mention, it’s also non-GMO and gluten-free.
Since you and Mommy still do consume some eggs and dairy, our meals are constructed in a way that eggs and dairy can be added to the meal if desired.
Okay, then, that’s how our family survives without eggs and dairy. Any questions?
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