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Accidentally Vegan

by Kira Sanders
It's been almost four years now since I accidentally became a vegan. I can't say that I really knew exactly what being vegan meant before then. Sure, I'd heard the term before, but thought it was a just another word for hardcore vegetarian. So when it happened, I didn't see it coming. I had no way of knowing how my life was about to change.

My coworker Debbie and I often chatted during our free moments at work. We'd talk about all the normal chitchat things ladies talk about: kids, husbands, the outrageous cost of a good avocado, stuff like that. Lately we had been talking a lot about our changing womanly bodies, and how we hated them. That damn baby weight we hadn't been able to lose even 16 years after the birth of our kids. We talked a lot about healthy eating and changing our carb and sugar laden ways.

We had made a commitment to work on ourselves and would coach each other during the week. Offering up new recipes we had tried, sharing workout tips and thumbing our noses at the latest diet crazes. Come Monday morning, we would take turns acting as the priest in the confessional, listening to each other's scandalous food sins of the weekend.

One morning Debbie came in excited about a book she had just read called Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. She raved about it, saying it was funny, potty-mouthed, in your face, and full of some great health information. It sounded right up my alley so I ran to the store after work that day and picked it up.

I read Skinny Bitch in one sitting. It was while reading that book that I accidentally became a vegan. I didn't know it was going to happen. I didn't know it could happen. It just did. That cute little book with all it's girly humor and curse words, that I thought was going to be another diet book, made me think about things I had never thought about before. How our bodies aren't designed to eat meat and dairy. How we are the only species that drinks the milk of another. How animals are treated in factory farms. What life and death are like for the animals that had been ending up on my dinner plate.

I can even tell you the exact moment that I became a vegan. It was while reading the chapter on factory farming. A story of an undercover animal rights worker and what he witnessed happening to a pig on the kill floor, at the hands of an employee. It brings tears to my eyes now just to recall it. Once I had that picture in my head, I knew I could no longer contribute to that suffering and I never ate another piece of meat again.

So that's how it happened, simple as that, but declaring it and living it are two completely different things. Once I decided that I was going to stop eating and using animal products, I really had to unlearn things that I had been taught all my life. The things my mother always told me; like you need dairy products for calcium and meat for protein. That was how I was raised and was all I knew. What was I supposed to do now?

I spent the next few weeks reading all I could on veganism and trying to figure out how I was going to make this change with my family. I read the labels on all the food in my pantry and fridge and discovered that there were animal products in almost everything I had. I was scared to death at this point. I didn't know any other vegans, except for my friend Debbie, and she was as new to this and clueless as I was. I had no one to ask what the best soy cheese was or how to bake cookies without eggs. Luckily, she and I navigated our way though it in no time.

We continued our weekday chats at work, but they now had a vegan flair. We were sharing vegan recipes and products we had tried. We talked about egg replacers and meat alternatives and and how much better we felt. We no longer had to confess our food sins, because we were no longer food sinners. We were thinking about what we were eating now. We were conscious and compassionate eaters for the first time in our lives and we felt pretty great about it.


It turns out being a vegan is a piece of cake and not scary at all. I will admit, it takes some thought and effort, but it really isn't hard to do once you get the hang of things. Just four years ago, my favorite things to eat were a medium rare petite fillet, scalloped potatoes and crème brulee. I've come a long way since then.

I've learned how to 'veganize' some of my favorite recipes. It can be as simple as vegetable broth in that soup, leave out the beef and add beans. Replace the eggs in the pancakes with a few tablespoons of ground flax and use soy or rice milk instead. Most things are that simple. You adapt very quickly.

There are some fantastic vegan products out there that make the transition so much easier. Since I loved meat before I knew any better, I still like the taste and texture of it. I use soy bacon in BLT's and it tastes just like the real thing to me. Gardein makes these amazing meatless beef tips that I use in stir-fries and stews. Field Roast Grain Meat Co. also has a delicious line of vegan 'meats' that I eat regularly. They have sausage, frankfurters and deli slices that are to die for. The cheese substitutions have been the most difficult. Most fake cheese is just so far from the real thing that it isn't worth using at all. Daiya is a newer line of grated cheese substitute that is as close to the real thing as I have found. It's great to use on pizza and in Mexican and Italian dishes. I am now able to enjoy a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich or quesadilla... two things I had really missed since going vegan.

The vegan movement seems to be more mainstreamed every day. Just like any other health issue, the more often it is talked about, the more people learn and the more they change their perceptions. I am hearing about it on the evening news, talk show hosts and former presidents are tooting the vegan horn, restaurants are offering vegan options and grocery stores are carrying a great selection of vegan products. Hopefully the number of vegans out there will continue to grow and the way we eat, as a country, will begin to change. There does still seem to be a bit of a 'tree hugger' stigma attached to vegans, but I see that changing too.

People go vegan for different reasons. For me, it was out of compassion for the animals and the health and environmental benefits where an added bonus. The reasons are personal and individual, but the outcome is the same. A vegan diet is better for your body, better for the animals and better for the planet. What's not to love about that? I will be vegan for the rest of my life and I have my friend Debbie and that wonderful book to thank for it. Best accident I ever had.

While Debbie and I no longer work together and are separated by the great state of Oregon, we still have our daily chats via text and email. This week we've been talking about our daughter's sweet 16 parties, wanting to see the movie, Forks Over Knives, and the outrageous cost of a good avocado. Here are two of the recipes I'll be sending her this week:


Crunchy and Creamy Potato Salad
1- 1 1/2 lbs. small red or yellow potatoes
1-1 1/2 lbs. small purple potatoes
1/2 C. Vegenaise or other vegan mayonnaise
1/4 C. Coarse ground mustard
1 C. sliced celery
1/4 C. sliced almonds

Wash and cut the potatoes in half or quarters, depending on their size. Put in a pot and cover with water. Boil until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and cool.
When the potatoes have cooled, put them in a serving bowl and add the Veganaise and mustard. Toss to coat. Fold in the celery and almonds. Serve room temp or chilled.

Street Tacos
12 corn tortillas
2 cans of black beans
pinch of salt
juice of half a lime, more to taste
1 TB olive oil
2 Field Roast Grain Meat Co. Mexican Chipotle sausages
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
1-2 avocados sliced

Heat up corn tortillas and keep in a warmer.
Drain and rinse the black beans. Put the beans in a skillet and mash with a fork. Smush them as much as you like. Squeeze the lime over the beans and add about 2 TB of the cilantro and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium high heat until heated through. Add a splash of water if you like them a little thinner.
In another skillet, heat up the oil and crumble and brown the sausage.
Build the tacos as follows: A layer of beans, a bit of Mexican Chipotle sausage, cabbage and cilantro. Top with avocado slices and some lime juice.

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