Tuesday, July 3, 2012

month of beauty: eating well

I remember days, when my son was five and my girl was two, and I was tired. I remember days picking him up from school and—knowing my husband would be out 'til late teaching—I'd think, "I'll take it easy tonight; we'll have a treat; this will be fun," and off we'd go for a Happy Meal. One cheeseburger with fries and an orange juice. The kids would love their toys and the Special Treat.

Win Win, I thought.

There were more nights like that than I want to admit! Sometimes dinner felt like a mountain. Like a really big mountain with stairs at the top, and then maybe a fence to climb and a guestbook to sign in and a secret password you had to guess before you could even glimpse the peak. What parent hasn't ached some nights for an easy meal?

Now, I suppose I've picked a whole new mountain, because being Vegan and Wheat Free has sometimes felt kind of enormous. It sure felt gigantic when we started. First there was the getting over dairy. What a long love affair that had been (over 40 years for the grown-ups). Oh, the days of pining that followed, the longing looks, the sad love letters! Worse than Romeo and Juliet!

The detox lasted about a week, and then we were fine. But then there was the "Whatever Will We Eat Now?" stage and the "Can A Person Really Survive on Beans (and Lentils and Nuts and Grains and Vegetables and Fruit) Alone?" thoughts. In those first weeks and months I poured over cook books, health books, the internet. Each meal needed to have protein, plus iron and zinc and calcium, Etcetera. I had to make sure there was vitamin C to help absorb the iron and we needed to have our B12 supplements and I wanted the meals to be tasty, so that we wouldn't be miserable. Big deep breaths! Such a big mountain!

But then… it suddenly wasn't so big. Because I discovered some really yummy recipes. I learned there is literally protein in every single grain, bean, nut, lentil, vegetable and piece of fruit you eat (I had no idea). Once you find meals you love, you can make them in a flash.

And trying new things is actually fun, because they are usually insanely scrumptious. And because we are so committed to this choice, the hardest days (when we've forgotten to go shopping! and er, there's a single limp carrot in the fridge and some old mushrooms and only two cans of beans and half a bag of pasta!) are just that—days. And I have learned that eating a plant-based diet is not just a really kind thing to do for animals, but also incredibly, incredibly, good for you.

Do we have easy meals now? Do we ever have take out? Yes, and yes. Easy comes when I've made such a big pot of lentil bolognese that we can use it three days later for a quick pasta meal. Easy is when there's lots of bean mix from the nachos dinner, and I can pop it on rice the next day for lunch, with slices of avocado on top. Easy is snacks of fruit and carrots with hummus and peanut butter on rice cakes and smoothies with mango. Easy, is going to the local Thai restaurant and asking for Pad Thai with no egg and tofu instead. They know us now and cook everything with vege stock.

Easy, is sitting down to a meal and knowing that every bite will be a good one. We are eating so, so well. It feels all kinds of Beautiful.


  1. I am so curious: do you feel that eating this way has improved your health and/or the way you feel? I would love to hear how this has influenced your family, health-wise. (And I know that even if there aren't any huge health differences, just eating more healthily is good for the spirit too.)

    1. Jen, I think it's totally improved our health. We started out being vegan for ethical reasons, and that by itself felt good for our spirit. But since then I've been doing TONS of reading. Turns out, this whole foods, plant-based way of eating is actually really good for us and I'm noticing that in a bunch of different ways. I feel lighter, especially since stopping dairy, and have actually lost quite a bit of weight—I've dropped two dress sizes so far! My husband has lost weight too, which the doctor said was great and something most men his age find hard to do. The kids are slim but not scrawny by any stretch of the imagination, and they yum down BIG plates of food. We all have a lot of energy—the kids tear around up and down the sand dunes at the beach and I've even done a triathlon. Wild! And finally, there's something about sitting down to a meal that you know is incredibly healthy—tons of veges, whole grains—plus has brought no harm to animals. You just feel better for that—you feel all around good to your bones. So that's my long answer! My short answer is: YES! :)

  2. We have a fast food joint that rhymes with McDonalds literally at the end of our street. Surprisingly, we don't go there that often. For Video Boy's birthday, he opted for Subway as a lunch treat (we don't go there very often either).

    Yay for you taking on such a big overhaul of your eating. In much the same way as other people say "oh, good on you for homeschooling, I couldn't do that", I would say I couldn't go all out and go meatless or gluten free.

    BUT, we are trying to go less processed, more wholefood, occasionally meatless, healthy. More beauty :-)

    AND I am very much looking forward to taking on the vegan, gluten-free challenge when you come to visit!! I have lots of beautiful, lovely food planned!!

    PS: everyone should learn to cook ;-)

    1. Ingi, thanks :) I know what you mean about people saying, "I couldn't." When I was in my twenties if someone said I was going to be a vegan homeschooling (unschooling, even) mum, I think I would have Laughed Out Loud. Loudly! Times do change, don't they?

      I think it's great, whatever people do to be more mindful about what they eat. I love your Meatless Mondays! And I can't wait to try your beautiful, lovely food, very soon :)

      And Yes to your PS—you'd know that to be true! (Did you read 3,000 essays on that topic, or did I just snatch that figure out of the air?)

  3. Helena, Will you go back to posting some of your favorite recipes? Every time I make your lentil burgers I think of you. That is pretty powerful when you think about it......I have fallen off the vegetarian wagon but have righted myself and am back to trying my best to live meat free. I felt much healthier and lighter off meat and when I felt that I was not getting enough protein (not the right kind of protein for my body) I took a bite here and there until I was eating more than I was comfortable with. I admire what your family has accomplished and respect your decisions. You are a guide in my journey!

    1. Oh, I will, Jess! Thanks so much for this comment. I love that we have a lentil burger connection—that made me smile! I think we worry that we're not getting enough protein because it's so ingrained in our culture to think that the best, even the only, protein comes from meat/fish/eggs/dairy, when in fact it's in everything we eat, and the healthiest protein, it turns out, comes from plants.

      (Can you tell I've been reading a lot about this? I'm reading The China Study right now. It's amazing).

      I have some awesome recipes I can share. I've got one in mind already. Stay tuned! :)

  4. Your journey to real happy food is inspiring. We are all vegetarians here and eat pretty healthy most of the time, but I do periodically get guilty pangs about supporting the dairy industry. Like you though, the thought of managing without eggs (yikes!) or cheese (especially for Vaila and Katie, who are three quarters made up of cheese) is scary! Zack has been asking a lot about veganism recently and suggested we have vegan days to experiment with how we would cope. Am definitely going to give it a go. It is so true also about the feel good factor of eating whole and cruelty free, even if the benefits are only psychological then that alone is worth it. Am loving your month of beauty posts (they are keeping me up, reading through them tonight!)


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.