V is for Vegan
November marks the return of countless holidays, including Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and “No Shave November.” It also marks the return of a holiday you may be less familiar with—World Vegan Month. It’s a time that vegans around the world come together not only to celebrate a lifestyle they have chosen to live out year round, but to educate and encourage others to consider following suit.
And so, in honor of World Vegan Month, what better time to dispel a few myths, and pay homage to members of our own community who are sustaining plant-driven, primarily whole foods diets and empowering others.
But why vegan?
Be it for compassionate reasons, or on behalf of concern for the health of our bodies, minds or the planet, or all of the above, the reasons for adopting any degree of herbivore lifestyle are more than compelling. They are overwhelmingly convincing.
The health argument for veganism can perhaps be best summed up in the book, “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted,” written by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, with the support of his son. Although published in 2005, it is the foundation upon which the ever-growing plant-based diet movement is based. His message can perhaps best be summarized in an excerpt that follows.
“The idea is that we should be consuming whole foods. We should not be relying on the idea that genes are determinants of our health. We should not be relying on the idea that nutrient supplementation is the way to get nutrition, because it’s not. I’m talking about whole, plant-based foods. The effect it produces is broad for treatment and prevention of a wide variety of ailments, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes.”
Since the China Study, there has been a laundry list of research and resources launched into the world supporting his findings, including documentaries “Food, Inc.” (2008), “Food Matters” (2008), and “Forks Over Knives” (2011).
It’s safe to say that whatever platform herbivores are most passionate about, most simply want to share their experiences with others, not strictly in the hopes of converting, but rather to enlighten. After all, there is always new information and it’s a continuous learning process for all of us.
Yes, I said “us,” meaning I include myself in the mix. I have practiced some degree of vegetarianism for an entire decade, and have been a full-fledged vegan for the latter half of this duration. This means for the past five years I have adopted an entirely plant-based diet—one that along with excluding meat, or as some like to refer to as “anything with a face” also excludes animal products such as eggs, dairy, and butter, not to mention animal byproducts that try and sneak their way into the mix.
Although every now and then I must admit that I scout the job listings that national non-profit group Mercy for Animals posts and find myself fantasizing about packing my bags to go work as an undercover investigator—a secret animal-saving agent of sorts, you typically won’t find me throwing red paint on someone’s mink coat PETA-style, sneaking into slaughterhouses in the middle of the night to let the animals run free, or interviewing animals about their feelings, not that there’s anything wrong with any of the above mentioned—it’s simply not representative of vegans as a whole, and personally not my style.
That’s just it—it’s personal to each individual. The beauty of veganism and all dietary and lifestyle choices for that matter is that they are individual choices and personally, although I care about all the associated platforms, I choose a plant-based lifestyle first and foremost for its resounding health effects on my own individual body and life.
Before continuing further, to answer the most frequently asked questions, yes I get my fill of protein and then some. No, I don’t miss cheese even though I am a recovered cheese snob. And contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t cost me an arm or a leg to sustain my lifestyle.
When I first made the switch to vegan, the food options were limited, tofu was still a bit taboo, conversations were infrequent and the support was scattered. Today that is far from the case. On the national front, Forbes Magazine recently listed high-end vegan dining on the list of “Top 10 Food Trends of 2013,” there’s the growing adoption of VB6, or vegan before 6 p.m., and even our own local health department brought the national three-month long Meatless Mondays campaign to town at the start of this year, recognizing a meatless diet as a step in the right direction for reducing the risk of diseases, including heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Celebrity endorsements certainly haven’t hurt bringing veganism into the light either. There’s Alicia Silverstone, author of “The Kind Life,” along with Natalie Portman and Paul McCartney. And of course, one can’t forget Bill Clinton. Although he steps off the vegan wagon from time to time, he has taken a vocal stance on the importance of a primarily plant-based diet for improved health.
On the local eatery front we have The East Hill Yard and Cactus Flower Cafe with vegan menu options, The Magnolia who has adopted a “Meatless Monday” ritual, Restaurant IRON plates up fresh produce from their garden, and Carmen’s Lunch Bar who will send out alerts to the vegans when specials are coming down the pipes. And to top if off, we are spoiled with two full on vegan cafes in our downtown backyard: Sluggo’s Vegetarian Restaurant and End of the Line Cafe.
“What used to be thought of as an ‘extreme’ hippy diet consisting of fried dirt and boiled water, now is recognized pretty much everywhere,” acknowledges Jen Knight-Shoemaker, owner of End of the Line Cafe.
“Along with celebrities, TV chef shows and doctors, I think taking control of your personal health is starting to become more clear to people. You are what you eat is beginning to make more sense.”
Through her meals, Knight-Shoemaker shares her passion for not processed, or boxed, instant alternatives for meat consumption, but rather whole, plant based cuisine—while helping shift both perceptions and stereotypes in the process.
“Plant-based natural food prepared with minimal ingredients allows our bodies to actually absorb the nutrients and eat the food we feed ourselves. We need food to survive. Why make it harder for our bodies to have that?” she asks.
When it comes to preparing plant-based meals that are delicious, Knight-Shoemaker has been offering up palatable dishes for years, dishes that are just as nutritious as they are pretty. The variety included in her dishes has helped dispel the myth that being vegan means eating the same old same old all the time, or what some may consider the dreaded—living off of salads.
“I think a variety of anything is always more fun. With food, a variety makes it seem less of a diet, and more of a meal. Vegan food should be thought of as less of a diet or health food and more of another type of cuisine. Also, you can expose people to more options than just a salad. Which is what a lot of people think vegan is—that you are condemned to eat salads for all of eternity,” said Knight-Shoemaker.
If you walk into End of the Line on a Sunday morning for brunch, you better get there early because the masses line up, and it’s not just who individuals might consider to be stereotypical vegans, or even vegans at all. The room includes individuals of all ages and stages in life.
“I think Pensacola is still growing in the veg-friendly direction. I think places are offering what the people want—vegan, allergy friendly and gluten free options—but not really going out of their way to see repeat business from people with dietary specifics. If restaurants offered a dish that was awesome and just happened to be vegan, non-vegans might enjoy it and everybody wins,” said Knight-Shoemaker.
In addition to wowing diners at her cafe, Knight-Shoemaker offers frequent cooking classes to provide hands on instruction to her patrons, showing them how to recreate the cuisine at home.
“A lot of people think that it is more expensive or that you have to live near a juice bar or eat the specifically ‘Vegan’ labeled food,” she said. “With just a little information and a couple new recipes it knocks that right out of the window. New things are intimidating. Learning a whole new way of cooking can be terrifying. A little guidance and introduction to new products can be very helpful.”
WHAT: End of the Line Vegan Cooking Class: “Holiday Food and Main Course Options”
WHEN: 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18
WHERE: 610 E. Wright St.
COST: $25 per person
DETAILS: 429-0336 or eotlcafe.com
The name Betsy LeGallais first caught my ear when I was sampling some homemade almond milk to go along with my iced coffee at The Bodacious Brew.
Like myself, LeGallais is a vegan. However, she takes things one step further—she lives a vegan lifestyle that is “high raw.”
A caterer, and previous ice cream shop owner, LeGallais has been well versed in the world of food her entire life. As someone who struggled with both systemic and discoid forms of Lupus, after battling intense flare-ups a few years ago, LeGallais overhauled her diet.
“The only thing I knew of to keep off medications was raw foods. I went completely raw and it changed my life,” she said.
When she says it changed her life, she really means it.
“I have had no lupus flares since I went raw,” she confirmed. “I’ve had thyroid nodules completely disappear. I lost weight, it stays off and I don’t count calories. If I’m hungry I eat.”
LeGallais left her nearly decade-long career in Human Resources behind and went back to school for nutrition, becoming certified as a Raw Foods Educator and Health Coach, operating under the name, “Sagacity Wellness.” Sagacity comes from the root word sage, and means the quality of being discerning, sound minded and farsighted.
She now conducts corporate wellness events, prepares breakfast at The Bodacious Olive, hosts a series of onsite classes, and performs one on one coaching and raw food education.
By definition, a raw food diet is a method of sustenance that involves the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed and often organic or wild/living foods. The closer to the natural state your food is in, the more nutrients your food contains. This principle comes as no secret. That said, think of a raw diet as attempting to preserve and enjoy food in its truest form. Still, this does not simply limit you to munching on cold carrots. A raw food diet includes food that is heated or warmed, just not above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Blenders and food processors allow for multi-step recipes to be in the mix.
“Recipes today make it so much more palatable. It’s not all rice and carrots,” said LeGallais. “The food is so beautiful and there are so many things you can do with raw foods—you’d be surprised. I can make a cheesecake you can’t tell is gluten and dairy free.”
On top of being tasty, LeGallais’ cooking classes and recipes bust the myths that it is too time consuming to sustain such a lifestyle.
“You can make it as complex or simple as you want,” she explained. “I can spend an hour in the kitchen doing the traditional cooking class. And I can make just as much food or more spending the same amount of time preparing a raw meal.”
“People will go through a lot of trouble to marinade and make their own bread and all this kind of stuff and they’re afraid to chop a lot of vegetables—it’s the same amount of prep time no matter what you’re doing,” she added.
Along with the time consuming myth, for those who are quick to say it is too expensive, LeGallais begs to differ.
“I think veganism is something people ought to try if not a whole lifestyle at least several days a week to clean up your diet,” she said. “People think it’s more expensive and it isn’t. You can buy a watermelon for the same price you buy a really big bag of potato chips.”
For those just getting started, she offers some advice.
“I try and tell people to eat the rainbow every day. Make sure you have something green, yellow, red, purple—that way you’re getting the different phytonutrients,” she said.
When it comes to cooking classes at The Bodacious Olive, for a “gourmet” touch, LeGallais teams up with fellow culinary instructor Sue Shattuck of Gourmet Mom’s Inc. Together “Sagacity Gourmet” offers a complete living well, culinary experience.
Throughout the month of November, in addition to holiday, and baking classes, the lineup includes a Healthy Lifestyle Series of classes, introducing a different dietary lifestyle through each session. Up next is the Macrobiotic diet, centered on the idea of eating within 100 miles of your location. LeGaillais will be working with Off the Vine, using local organic produce.
“My goal in my cooking classes is if it’s going to be a gourmet meal, it’s going to be organic and not processed,” said LeGallais.
While not all of the cooking classes are strictly vegan, LeGallais uses each class as a unique educational opportunity in relation to the healthy healing properties of foods, and how to incorporate more whole foods into your diet. Participants are presented an explanation of each dietary theory, plus informational handouts and recipes to try at home.
“It’s a lifestyle and not everybody is the same. If you incorporate more raw unprocessed food it reduces the sugars and can affect diabetes and auto immune disease and the list goes on and on—not to mention your weight and your skin,” said LeGallais.
WHAT: Healthy Lifestyle Series: “Macrobiotic Diet”
WHEN: 12 – 1 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12
WHERE: The Bodacious Olive, 407-D S. Palafox
COST: $35 per person
DETAILS: sagacitywellness.com or 529-5513
The local interest doesn’t stop at the restaurants, with health educators or even with food-related community groups. Members of environmental group 350 Pensacola are far from strangers to the climate crisis. However, this month they are welcoming a presentation, showcasing the effects of dietary choices on the environment, exploring everything from aquifer depletion to deforestation, reduction of biodiversity, and soil erosion. This particularly meeting is one with a vegan spin.
“My goal of the presentation is for individuals to understand if they want to help the environment, a vegan lifestyle can be a very large component of that,” explained speaker Marcus Lackey.
He goes back to the UN’s conclusion in a 2006 report that more greenhouse gas emissions come from rearing cattle than cars, with much higher concentrations of CO2.
“The numbers are so staggering,” he said. “The biggest problem is that the gases that are released are much more concentrated in comparison to the CO2 emissions from your car—many times more potent.”
Although food production is something that those on the environmental front are certainly aware of being a driving factor, along with gases from buildings and transportation, it’s something that 350 Pensacola has yet to openly address, until now.
“We’ve never publicly explored the question of diet in relation to climate change,” said 350 Pensacola member Christian Wagley. Wagley notes that everyone is always asking what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint—and this is one substantial answer to that question.
“It’s not that everyone has to become a vegan to make a difference, but eating less meat certainly reduces your carbon footprint,” he said.
“We spend so much time getting wrapped up over plastic bags, or plastic bottles, when really we can make a monumental difference just by forgoing a single hamburger or single car trip.”
Still, Wagley recognizes that suggesting someone take their bike to work or to the store rather than a car, is a far less sensitive request, than a dietary choice.
“What you eat is such a personal thing,” said Wagley. “It doesn’t get more personal than that.”
When it comes to environmental research and activism on the matter, Wagley cites the Union of Concerned Scientists as a go-to resource for those interested in delving in further. Immediately upon visiting their website you are greeted with The Healthy Farmland Diet (2013 report) showcasing the unhealthy farm landscape in our country, and the subsequent effects on the environment.
Additionally, Mary Guiterrez of Earth Ethics wrote a thought provoking piece as a part of the November issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine, titled, “Food Choices for a Healthy Planet” that looks at the environmental impact of diet even further—extending to social issues.
“More than two-thirds of all agricultural land is devoted to growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption. There would be a fairer distribution of food and resources in the world if the food fed to farm animals was used to feed people. If resources from meat production were diverted to other uses, there could be enough food to feed everyone on the Earth,” she states.
Although the vegan presentation and associated dialogue will be largely centered around environmental research and impact of meat production and consumption, Lackey will be bringing his own personal experiences to the table, including showcasing the turn that not only his own health has taken, but the health of his family members. On top of a challenge to help the environment, Mackey will leave attendees with a vegan challenge—similar to one he challenged his parents to.
“There are all these different reasons to be vegan. It’s a very compelling case,” said Lackey.
He sums his presentation up as follows.
“If you care about the environment, this is one very serious thing to consider. Oh and by the way, it could transform your health as well.”
Although Lackey’s experience with veganism began January of this year, he initially began vegetarianism in 2004. Despite his affinity for cheese, he made the switch January 1 of this year to vegan.
Not only did he immediately lose weight, he saw drastic health effects in his own life—including being able to stop taking his cholesterol medication. He then challenged his family to follow his lead, beginning with his mother.
“In March of this year, I challenged my mother to a three month vegan diet because she has heart disease and diabetes.”
Then in April of this year he convinced his father to try it out. A survivor of a quadruple bypass heart surgery and like Mackey’s mother, someone who battles diabetes, he saw a great change in his health, on top of the outwardly visible effects, including weight loss.
“He got off all of his high blood pressure medicine. His endocrinologist said it was the best he had ever seen him,” said Lackey.
On behalf of the lifestyle change, both of Lackey’s parents were able to lower the amount of insulin they were dependent on by 50 percent.
The challenge Mackey extends to those who attend the presentation is one of a similar nature, minus the binding contract. It simply involves a three month commitment to veganism—getting a blood panel conducted before and afterwards.
“This isn’t a military boot camp program—it’s changing your diet,” he stated. “It’s not some sort of ‘loosey goosey’ thing. It’s purely based on the numbers.”
To accompany the presentation, Lackey will be serving a gluten-free quinoa dish so that guests have a true taste of what they are getting into. If you’re not sure you are ready for such a challenge, the presentation is a prime opportunity to learn more about the monumental steps you can take to reduce you footprint, and improve your health.
To read “Food Choices for a Healthy Planet” in its entirety, visit nwfnaturally.com.
To learn more about the UCS: Union of Concern Scientists, visit ucsusa.org.
WHAT: 350 Pensacola Presents: “Veganism Primer: A Healthy Solution to Climate Crisis”
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12
WHERE: Bayview Resource Center, 2000 E. Lloyd. St.
5 Veg-Friendly Go-Tos
Whether you are interested in a vegan lifestyle on behalf of concern for animals, the environment, or yourself, there are so many resources out there, it’s oftentimes hard to know where to begin.
Here are 5 veg-friendly resources, or what I like to consider “go-tos” to help you out along your journey. These resources also serve as myth-busters for those who err on the skeptical side and are not yet quite convinced, or for those who simply have questions regarding how to reap the full nutritional benefits of a vegan lifestyle without leaving yourself deprived of necessary fuel for your body.
The China Study: Although the book itself may be overwhelming in page count, The China Study is not to be read in a single sitting. It is rather a prime resource guide you can return to time and time again. The online community takes it a step beyond the book, and touts itself as the information source for the whole-foods plant based movement. thechinastudy.com
VegNews: You don’t have to be a magazine subscriber to “Think. Eat. Thrive.” vegan with the help of VegNews and its online outlet. Read up on everything from how to be vegan on a budget, to where to take your next veg-getaway. They even have a veg-starter kit available for download to get you going in a few easy steps. vegnews.com
One Green Planet: This online hub is home to a plethora of vegan recipes, product reviews and lifestyle tips to help guide you in making conscious choices that help people, animals and the planet so you can stay up to speed on all the latest and greatest in the vegan realm. onegreenplanet.org
Skinny Bitch: Don’t let the name fool you, this book is a comprehensive look at what we are putting into our bodies. In fact, it was this very book that turned me away from dairy. Since the initial success of “Skinny Bitch,” follow up books include “Skinny Bastard” (so not to exclude males from the equation) and even “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven,” for the expectant mothers out there. They’ve even launched a recipe book by demand. skinnybitch.net
Healthy. Happy. Life.: My own personal favorite resource and inspiration in the kitchen happens to be run by top vegan food blogger and photographer and writer for VegNews Magazine, Kathy Patalsky. On top of managing and regularly updating her own blog, kblog.lunchboxbunch.com, she also founded findingvegan.com.