Half Marathon Birthday Present

I’m not really sure what I was thinking.

Actually, I am. I think.

I was thinking about what I’ve had to deal with and overcome physically, mentally, and emotionally over the past five years, and that I wanted to make a statement to myself about what is possible.

With that personal insight being said: I’M RUNNING A FREAKING HALF MARATHON!!!! In three weeks!

The day before my 26th birthday, I will walk, run, crawl, be dragged, or cross that finish line in some other method after plodding my butt 13.1 very slow miles down the Poudre Canyon. I’m definitely not going for time as I’m currently running about 10 minute miles, I’m just going for completion.

I’ve never really been a runner, or enjoyed running, but I do love a challenge and trying something new, and this encompasses both. This will be the first race I’ve ever entered in or run. Most sane people would have started with a 5K, or maybe even a five-miler. Not me. -But if you read this blog often, you probably already have a good grasp of my level of sanity. Or insanity for that matter.-

The training has actually been more rewarding than I would have thought. I started going for runs about two months ago (just because – not for half marathon training); my 2.5 mile starting runs seemed hard and tedious. After slowly working up to five miles, I started contemplating a half marathon. The timing of this particular one was too perfect not to pass up.

My endurance is noticeably up – I’m not huffing and puffing and feeling like dying after three miles. Or even five for that matter (it comes full force around mile seven). It helps to have a running buddy who has been there with me every run and every step of the way, even though mine has four legs and a tail. I’ve also been cross-training with strength and endurance exercises, including CrossFit and boxing. My support system has been great, including friends, co-workers, family, and gym friends.

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My running buddy

It has been a little over two years since my last foot/leg surgery (the current tally being four), and after being told I would most likely never run again.

With three weeks to go, my long runs are at eight miles and increasing to nine this week. I never thought I’d be saying that. Ever.

I’m proud of myself for taking this on, keeping up with the training, and knowing that this is really going to happen. I will run it. I will cross the finish line. I will earn my medal. And I will drink free beer as my reward afterward (and probably a lot of it). Happy Birthday to me!

equinox medal

I think I’ll send my Orthopedist a ‘Thinking of You’ card with a picture of me crossing the finish line.

“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” – George Sheehan

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Let Your Garden Grow!

There’s really nothing better than fresh vegetables.

Except for when you grow them yourself. That extra little touch of TLC and knowing exactly where your food came from makes gardening such a rewarding hobby. I can say that, because as of, well, two days ago, I am a self-proclaimed organic gardener; I’m going to go ahead and add that to my repertoire, and I have the blisters to prove it. I am so excited for the first season of growing my own food and learning what all goes in to it.

Aaron and I decided we wanted to grow our own fresh vegetables this year, and, while he has done this many many many times before, this was really my first time gardening outside of simply watering flowers. Needless to say, I didn’t really know what to do.

We started with seeds and germination stations. Lots and lots and lots of them.

germination

This was one of 7

Leaf lettuce, spinach, kale, green onion, yellow squash, cucumbers, arugula, beans, peas, zucchini, peppers, and carrots.

Keeping everything organic was, and is, really important to us, and we have succeeded so far, even from the seedling and germination process. We wanted no synthetics. The reality is, it doesn’t get very exciting…until you see that first tiny little green sprout – that’s when it gets real. It’s the first miniature ‘hello’ from what will be your dinner a few months down the road.

Once they got big enough, we transferred them into solo cups – yes they can be used for more than just adult frothy beverages. We put a slit in the bottom of each cup for drainage and then potted each plant individually into them. Our original labels got a little jumbled in the germination stations, so we guestimated what a few of the plants were and labeled each solo cup. Needless to say our ‘carrots’ were definitely not carrots, but peppers (which was a pleasant surprise because we thought that they had all died out). Unfortunately, the kale and spinach decided vegetable heaven was a better alternative for them. The plants can actually stay in these cups for a long time, which made it nice until we could find a home for them.

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We got extremely lucky and were able to reserve some brand new community garden beds for the season. We originally ‘rented’ two of them, but quickly got our hands on two more, as we have a ton of plants.

When we showed up, the beds were all dried out and weeded over. And that’s when the work begins. Within minutes we had broken the rake that we brought with us. Thank goodness for Home Depot. After soaking all the beds, we were finally able to pull the weeds and till the soil. To supplement the soil provided, we used Maxfield’s Organic Soil Conditioner, Maxfield’s Organic Planting Mix, and some composted manure. I bought these all at Ace Hardware.  Delish.

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The beginning

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Tilled and supplemented

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Soil, anyone?

Let me tell you, hand-tilling compacted soil is HARD.

After all the beds had beautifully tilled soil and supplements, thanks to yours truly, it was time to start the planting.

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Here’s how we broke down our garden beds:

One bed we dedicated strictly to cucumbers, because we have so many plants. We want to make our own pickles with them, too.

Cucumber bed

Cucumber bed

Pickle recipe

  • For brine: combine 3 cups water with 2-3 tbs of kosher salt, 6 tbs of white vinegar, stir until dissolved. Cut 2-3 full size cucumbers in slices or spears. Layer cucumbers in a dish or bowl (Corningware works well) with sprigs of fresh dill. Pour brine over cucumbers and grate 1-2 cloves of garlic on top. Cover and refrigerate 2 days before eating.

One bed has lettuce, beans, and arugula.

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Lettuce on left. Beans in middle. Arugula on right.

One for yellow squash, since the plants will get large.

Yellow squash bed.

Yellow squash bed

And one for zucchini and peppers.

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Zucchini on the outside. Peppers in the middle.

Obviously we still have several plants left and will be planting them in large planter buckets. And probably giving the rest away that we just don’t have room for.

After hours and hours of gardening and planting 177 vegetable plants (yes, I counted), instead of getting bored or tired, I got the urge and desire to plant EVERYTHING! So I went out and got some broccoli plants, a yellow pear tomato plant, and the last cilantro and basil plant that the nursery had. For potting soil, I used BlackGold Organic Potting Soil. I’ve turned into a planting fiend! It’s addicting!

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Broccoli

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Yellow pear tomato plant

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My one little cilantro and basil plant

I had to make myself stop and call it a day.

The hard part is done. Creating a home for the vegetables was more rewarding than I thought it was going to be and was very successful. I think I’ve found my new favorite hobby. I can’t wait to watch our garden grow!

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What a beautiful view!

Klondike helped, too!

Klondike helped, too!

Do you have a garden? What’s  your favorite vegetable to plant?

Further reading:

Organic vs. non-organic soil

Vegan Diaries – The Final Countdown

Originally posted on http://shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

As of today, I have successfully been a vegan since March 11. That’s about 5 weeks, people! I have been diligent and faithful with minor unintentional slip-ups. And guess what? I survived! It IS possible to go vegan without starving yourself or depleting your body of the vitamins and minerals it needs. In fact, I have eaten cleaner and healthier in the past 5 weeks than I can remember doing before. I didn’t really lose weight (maybe a pound or 2), I didn’t become anemic, and I didn’t join PETA. But I did learn a great deal more about food than I ever thought was possible, and has sent me on a mission to be much more aware of what I put into my body from here on out.

As a way to commemorate my last few days of this vegan challenge, I hosted a vegan potluck where people crept out of their comfort zone and made some dang delicious vegan grub. Simply seeing that vegan smorgasbord brought me great happiness. Some of the scrumptious dishes provided (and devoured) included:

SOOOO much good food and a fun thing to share with friends. Everything turned out great and everyone enjoyed themselves, sans dairy and meat and all.

Learning and researching have been important aspects in this journey. And insanely eye-opening. Among the documentaries I watched, the articles I read, and the book I devoured, I have discovered there is a great deal more about the food industry that is not necessarily common knowlege, and not necessarily advertised. You have to search out the information, take the initiative to read and research it, and have the diligence to apply it to your every day consumption.

A few of the areas that I am much more aware (i.e. a label-reading fiend) include:

  • Corn and its many different masks. Corn is in just about everything at the grocery store, but may be labeled something different depending on its purpose in the food.
  • Sugar and sugar substitutes. Fake, real, or what have you, something sweet is added to many different products that wouldn’t even necessarily call for it. Not only am I looking for this culprit, but where exactly it is on the ingredient label. Remember, the higher up on the list, the more it makes up that particular product.
  • Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Holy yikes! They are in EVERYTHING! It’s hard to stay away, especially because they are labeled as so many different things, but chances are most of the items in your grocery cart contain them. There are organizations and companies out there who will provide labels on their products if they do not contain GMOs, such as the Non-GMO Project.
  • Enriched vs. Unenriched ingredients. Enriched flour, sugar, etc. is processed so that it is stripped of any nutritional value, but is made to have a longer shelf-life and a more concentrated flavor.
  • Artificial food dyes. This is an issue most people don’t necessarily think about. Artificial food dyes are in many foods that you wouldn’t even think of: marshmallows, pickles, chocolate pudding. Not only are most of them petroleum based, the chemical make-up can cause a whole mess of health problems. Although they may be FDA approved, in many other countries a warning label is required to inform consumers that there are unnatural food dyes added.
  • Grass fed vs. not; farm fresh vs. not; organic vs. not.

It baffles me that we must become our own educators when it comes to our food. Many people won’t. We put faith in a system with little question, because we don’t think it would fail us to the point of allowing harmful products to be obtained. That’s just wishful thinking. It’s not about the good of the society anymore; it’s about marketing and target audiences and pretty colors and enhanced flavors. It’s about the money. Bottom line. Priorities have certainly become skewed, and we’re supposed to fall victim unless we have the audacity to go beyond what we’re being sold and dig a little deeper. And I do.

As a recap, these are some of the places I got my information, education, recipes, inspiration, and motivation.

Documentaries

Books

Websites (blogs, recipes, etc.)

Additionally, when I first started this journey, I set some goals for myself. I feel I have accomplished and exceeded even my own expectations. They included:

  • Become more familiar with the vegan/vegetarian community
  • Gain an appreciation for a strict plant-based diet
  • Actually cook a few recipes from the cookbook
  • DON’T CHEAT
  • Be an inspiration (hopefully) for those interested in trying it
  • Learn – I feel like this will be happening a lot
  • Have fun!

I have most certainly learned, become appreciative, and had fun throughout this challenge. It wasn’t all easy and wasn’t all hard; it was an adjustment. My mom has told me she has started reading labels more carefully when she goes grocery shopping. I’ll count that as being an inspiration. Who knows, maybe I’ve struck something in someone else along the way, too.

What now? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. What I do know is that I will be making more educated decisions about what I eat. I also intend to severely limit my meat and dairy in-take going forward. My new goals are to buy local (when possible), stay educated about what I’m eating, continue to read labels, cut out what my body doesn’t need, eat clean, and make choices that will benefit me in the long run. Armed with information, I plan on applying it as much as possible when it comes to food choices.

Whether vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore, it’s important to educate yourself about what you’re putting in your body. If I am to take one thing from this entire experience, that would be the meat tofu of it all.

Vegan Diaries – Comfort Zone

Originally posted on http://shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

Well that’s it. It’s over. I officially give up on this vegan challenge and lifestyle. Sayonara veganness, welcome back meat and dairy!

APRIL FOOLS!

I just couldn’t help myself. *Chuckle*

All joking aside, week 3 has probably been the toughest week so far in this challenge. Not due to a waning enthusiasm for all things vegan, not due to overwhelming cravings for pork chops or cheesecake, and not due to peer pressure or arguments against veganism. It was due to little things here and there that added up over the course of the week: my boyfriend decided he couldn’t hack the vegan lifestyle (proving once again that women are the stronger sex) and went back to eating ‘normally;’ I went to a family dinner that displayed homemade chocolate-chip cookies and cheese-and-meat-laden dishes; above all, I was ridiculously sick and in dire need of comfort food (and an exquisite compilation of cold and flu medication). When I think comfort food, I think hearty, homemade, stick-to-your-ribs food that satisfies some innate insatiable hunger for said dishes, which, somehow also make you feel better no matter how crummy you feel or sick you are. Miracle food, if you will. The problem with most ‘comfort food’ dishes is that they have some combination of meat or dairy in them. I attempted to combat the comfort food stereotype and create versions that maintained the vegan credentials. Therefore, there will be no ‘Eat Of The Week,’ but instead:

Comfort Food(s) Of The Week

Let’s start with the Italian-turned-American-defining dish that can be tailored to innumerable desires, satisfy the pickiest of eaters, and hold its own in the comfort food category: Pizza. There are few and far between who can turn down a piece of piping-hot pizza straight out of the oven, bursting with gooey cheeses and a plethora of delicious toppings, creating a perfect harmony of sweet, salty, and savory flavors delivered directly to your taste buds. You can be as creative or simple as you’d like with pizza, which is one of the love-evoking characteristics. For vegan pizza, there are a few caveats: thou shalt not have cheese, pepperoni, sausage, ham, canadian bacon, buttered crust, or fake-ground parmesan for topping. There are thousands of homemade pizza recipes online. I (sadly) did not take a picture of the final product, but this is essentially how it went down:

  • Homemade whole-wheat, seasoned, agave drizzled crust
  • Arrabiata sauce (now we have sweet AND spicy) – ‘doctor’ up your sauce however you’d like
  • Sautéed portabella mushrooms, spinach, and onions with olive oil and Italian seasonings
  • Sliced white onion, green and red bell peppers, olives, tomatoes
  • Garnish/top with a little sea salt, fresh spinach (you can let it wilt on the hot pizza), basil, and if you’re like me red pepper flakes

I actually didn’t even miss the cheese!

While pizza is a nice start to some comfort food-filled days, there’s one thing that I kept thinking about over and over again.

Homemade macaroni and cheese.

I grew up spoiled. We rarely had mac n cheese out of a box; it was always a deliciously creamy 3 to 5 cheese dish of baked goodness that my mom ruined us with. Others rarely compare, and the boxed stuff is just out of the question. I even made it as my ‘American’ homemade dish for my Peruvian family when I studied abroad. That and guacamole. Separately, of course. They LOVED it! But, I digress. Cheese is nixed from the vegan food pyramid, so I went searching the web for ideas. I found one from Chef Chloe, whose cookbook I bought, and decided to give it a go. It had great reviews and sounded delicious.

Vegan Mac ‘N’ Cheese

I followed this recipe exact, not knowing exactly how these ingredients worked together. The resulting product actually looked like mac n cheese, so that was very exciting! As I dug into my pseudo cheesy noodles and broccoli, delicious as it was, I was a little disheartened. Don’t get me wrong, it had great flavor and texture, but it definitely left something to be desired for the cheese factor. Pushing aside the inclination to compare it to the mac n cheese I’m used to, I embraced the noodle dish I had created. It would be a great alternative for those who cannot have cheese. For those who can but are looking to try something different, go for it, but think of it as a new dish altogether, and not necessarily as the mac n cheese that you’re used to.

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Vegan Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Of course, with comfort food you have to factor in something sweet, and, preferably chocolatey. I found a recipe for a vegan chocolate orange pudding, which fit in line with the comfort food theme. I have never been a fan of jello or pudding (I think it’s a texture thing), but the combination of orange and chocolate kept me coming back to the recipe. It’s about trying new things, so why not?

Chocolate Orange Pudding

The recipe turned out to be a complete disaster, so I’m not even going to post it on here. I dug deep and bribed my inner Betty Crocker to come save me on this one. The final product actually turned out beautifully. This is essentially what I did:

  • 1 ½ ripe avocados
  • Almond milk (unsweetened)
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Agave nectar
  • Orange zest
  • Garnish with small orange slices
  • Refrigerate for at least 1 hour prior to servingchoc orange pudding

Forgive the vague measurements – I literally have NO idea how much of everything I put in there. Like I said, I started from scratch since the recipe led me down the pudding path of Hell (glimpse: fake vegan chocolate chip explosion in microwave, insta-drying to vegan chocolate cement). I do know that I put A LOT of agave nectar to sweeten it. You could use whatever sweetener you’d like. You could also start out with sweetened cocoa powder – the unsweetened stuff was all I had. Additionally, I put the avocado, almond milk, and cocoa powder in the blender to smooth everything out. I added the agave nectar and orange zest separately and mixed everything in a bowl. It turned out so creamy. I would say it made about 3 cups of pudding total. Oh, and HOLY CHOCOLATE GODS THAT’S GOOD!

Eye-Opener Of The Week

DIVE!

This 54-minute documentary takes us in to the world of wasted food. Directed by Jeremy Seifert, this documentary follows a group of dumpster divers who routinely get their food from big name grocery chain dumpsters, and exposes the wastefulness of the American consumer, grocery chain, and producer. In America, 96 billion pounds of food are thrown away every year. That’s about HALF the food that gets produced. “We pressure supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, and corporations to Save More and Waste Less. We highlight the role of hunger, poverty, and waste in society and take this on as an issue of justice, ethics, morality, and common sense. We imagine a world of empty dumpsters, full bellies, and regular people leading sustainable lives.” Seifert attempts to explore hunger in America, the amount food waste, and the large gap that could be closed as a result of wasted food ending up in hungry hands. He talks with food banks that acknowledge they have an annual food shortage, and continually strive to feed those in need. While many grocery stores and chains have agreements with food banks, that’s not always the case and there are many clauses and circumstances that create, what should be an easy process, a convoluted one. This award-winning film is literally an eye-opener to a world of waste that rarely comes to the forefront of current societal issues, and up until now, to my mind.

Director Jeremy Seifert is planning to launch another documentary this year that focuses on GMOs and the companies behind them. With the current controversy surrounding Monsanto, as well as GMOs in general, this film is sure to spark the interest of many. Check out the trailer here.

With a tough week behind me, I can keep my focus strong on the next 2 weeks of this challenge. Sometimes the desires of comfort and familiarity can be a learning curve that force us to think a different way. And sometimes that way is out of our comfort zone.

Vegan Diaries – Hitting Home

Originally posted on http://shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

Yep. It happened. Twice. I went to a restaurant where all I could possibly have on their menu was the hummus appetizer, a salad (modified), or the edamame appetizer. Oh, I supposed I could’ve also had the olive plate, too. I feel stuffed just reading all that…. Then again I failed to research the menu before I went there, thinking that there would most certainly be something that I could eat…besides just a salad. I thought wrong. I even asked my server if there was anything they could do; I was that person. Being a server myself, I was very polite; I didn’t want to push it or come off annoying. Even with all my efforts, my answer came in the form of a strong ‘no.’

But, I learned my lesson and now know to research menus online or call beforehand.

I’ve never before had to think about that, because I’ve never had any sort of ‘dietary restrictions’ (minus going gluten free for a few months). It’s a new perspective to see how difficult it can be to go out for a meal, depending on how accomodating the menu, staff, and chef are. Then again, I have ‘cut’ quite a few things out of an American diet. It amazes me how many things have meat or dairy and cannot be altered because that’s mainly the meal.

It’s funny how another perspective has been changing for me, too. I don’t find more that I’ve ‘cut’ things out of my diet, but that other people just add more to theirs. It may not make sense to many people, but it’s a different way of looking at it. We’ve come so far out of touch with meals that are fresh and natural, free from GMOs and preservatives and pesticides and corn. Does such a thing exist anymore? That being said, I’m becoming more familiar with my grocery store environment (I hate the grocery store), and am learning which brands I trust, which I don’t, and getting very good at reading labels and ingredients. I also am learning my way better and better around the kitchen. At 25, I don’t really cook. It’s not, nor has ever been my thing. Chopping, slicing, dicing, mixing all seem time-consuming and require a lot of patience. But, I’m getting better and coming to terms with it. Baby steps. I have managed to stumble my way through some recipes, and even (kind of) come up with my own.

Eat Of The Week

Kitchen Sink Tacos

ks taco These have pretty much everything but the kitchen sink in them (yay awkward American expressions!). I literally took out almost every vegetable in my refrigerator for the taco/fajita filling. I started by sauteeing onion, garlic, and asparagus in some olive oil. After those became soft I added red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, serrano peppers for some spice, shredded zucchini, crimini mushrooms, black beans, corn, cilantro, and a whole mess of spices (use your favorite taco or fajita blend). While I let that all marinade, I chopped up roma tomaotes, avocado, and lettuce for toppings. Additionally I made a creamy sauce with vegan mayonaise, cilantro, lime juice, crushed red pepper, black pepper, salt, and probably something else I don’t remember (I got the idea from one of my recipe books). They may look a little grey and bland, but these guys are packed with flavor! Use you favorite veggies, or whatever you have in your fridge — they went over extremely well with friends. No meat and all.

Now, I actually have 2 Eats Of The Week. The 2nd one being:

Delicious Vegan Chili

A Colorado March winter day, with 6 new inches of snow calls for a big bowl of chili. I found this recipe and was sold. This was also modified, of course, by adding a ton more veggies, extra beans, and an extra can of diced tomatoes. That means it needed extra seasonings. Taste test to your liking.

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All the veggies chopped up and ready to go

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The final result

Craving Of The Week

I don’t really drink milk in the first place. I’ve been using almond milk for a very long time. For my boyfriend, who’s doing this challenge with me, that has been the most difficult thing to give up. As a frequent milk drinker, he’s finding that other forms of milk don’t really compare; they don’t taste the same. I happen to LOVE almond milk, but he has a little more difficulty adjusting to different foods. When it comes to milk, there are a few things that really stick out to me: we are the only species on the planet that drinks another species’ milk. I find that a little odd. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised on it and don’t have a problem drinking a glass now and then, it’s just not something in my every day diet. While there may be health benefits to a glass of milk a day, there are also cons, including a high carbon footprint, how you actually get your milk, what’s done to it, and what’s done to the cows. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Whats-really-in-your-carton

Eye Opener Of The Week

Food, Inc.

Wow. What a crazy world we live in. This film will not tell you what to eat. This film will tell you what you’re already eating. And that’s even worse. It’s not made to push vegetarianism or criticize someone for eating veal, it’s made to tell you about the food monopoly that we’re encouraging on a daily basis. It’s an industry that compromises food and the best interests of the people by making nutritionally void, chemical filled, artificial flavored meals more affordable than a head of lettuce. And it’s doing it one conglomerate at a time, putting the local, independent farmers, who can actually produce fresh, natural, good-for-you food, out of business.


Facts that really stuck out to me:

  • The average supermarket has over 47,000 items on the shelves. Over 70% of those have corn in them.
  • A chicken can be born, raised in a pitch black environment, loaded with meds and antibiotics, and butchered and ready to eat in 49 days. That’s a month and a half, folks. Their breasts grow so large that they cannot physically walk during their 49-day lifespan.
  • A fast-food hamburger can contain meat from up to 100 different cows. Bettie, Bessie, Barney…..
  • Cows are not meant to eat corn. They are meant to eat grass. Because corn is cheaper and more easily disposable, that’s what they are raised on. In doing so, their stomachs cannot digest the corn, and their stomachs become breeding grounds for E.coli bacteria. The solution? Washing beef in ammonia and chlorine to destroy these bacteria before they are sold to grocery stores. The kicker: it would take only 5 days of feeding grass in place of corn to kill nearly all the E.coli bacteria.
  • We are training fish to eat corn. WHAT?!
  • The USDA is allowed to regulate what constitutes organic food and when your milk is past due, but it does not have the authority to shut down a meat plant if they are selling tainted meat.
  • Food, Inc. took 6 years to produce. In that timeframe, Robert Kenner attempted to interview 50 of the largest food producers in America. Not a single one agreed. These include Tyson, Smithfield Farms, and Monsanto.

I have a newly found appreciation for local farming and intend to do my best to get my hands on independent farmer produce. Quality over quantity and local community support. I’m all for it.

This vegan adventure definitely hit home for me this past week between learning where I can and cannot go out to eat (and knowing I have to do my research), to understanding the importance of local farming and where your food is truly coming from. We don’t live in a perfect world, but we can do our best to make adjustments toward a healthier one.

Vegan Diaries – Removing The Rose-Colored Glasses

Originally posted on http://shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

There are 3 kinds of people I’ve discovered in the past week: those who do NOT like their views to be challenged and will most certainly let you know, including what and how they eat; those who will entertain the idea of a change – they will listen, smile and nod, and maybe in some back corner of their brain store that information for a rainy day; and those who are all about learning something new and attempting to incorporate it into their lives, if even just for a day. I have encountered and handled each of these in the past week.

Apparently, going vegan puts me in a different category than, oh I don’t know, everyone else. I am no longer simply a human. I am a vegan human. I feel like I’m on a display for people to marvel at, ridicule, and everything in between. I have been told I am not thinking this through, that I’m being ridiculous, that it’s just plain unnecessary. I have also been told that people love that I am doing this, that I am an inspiration, and that they support me in this alternative lifestyle. I’m not here to dissuade or persuade anyone of anything. I’m simply eating differently. That is all. I welcome the reactions, positive or not; it proves that it’s getting people thinking and talking. Plus, I have thick skin, so bring it on.

I’m surprised at the reactions I’m getting, but also very interested as to why. I think many of the reactions stem from an absence of information. I’m shocked we’re not more educated on our food, food sources, and what we put in our bodies each and every day. It’s appalling, really. I love answering questions–and actually knowing the answers–when people ask me about veganism, nutrition, and food. I’ve been continually educating myself via documentaries, articles, books, and trial and error.

The transition hasn’t been too much of a stretch so far. I’ve made a few mistakes here and there, but have done very well. My energy levels are good and aren’t interfering with my daily workouts, my job (I’m a server, so I’m on my feet a lot), or my day-to-day activities. In fact, I feel great! My body has become, shall we say, much more efficient, due to the amount of vegetables, grains, fruits, and unprocessed foods I’m eating, but I view that as a good thing.

Even though it has only been one week, I have discovered and rediscovered: my rekindled love affair with avocados, I’m not impressed by vegan cheese, it’s hard to cook for one person, boxed and flavored quinoa and brown rice meals are not my favorite, homemade flavored quinoa and brown rice meals are delicious, you can’t trust bread (so I make my own), read the ingredients in EVERYTHING, Thai restaurants are an easy place to be vegan, spices are fun things to play with, my family was surprisingly willing to try a complete homemade vegan dinner, I have many people standing behind me and supporting me, there is always another way to expand my knoweldge.

Eat Of The Week

Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Soup

soupThis soup was the first vegan recipe I made, and it was a hit! It had just the right blend of spices, texture, and flavor. I changed a few things and added a few things – but isn’t that what everyone does with recipes?! Instead of orange sweet potatoes (yams), I used white sweet potatoes. I’m not the biggest sweet potato fan, so I opted for the less-potent ones. It also calls for garam masala, which I didn’t have (nor did I have a clue as to what in the heck it was – it’s a blend of Asian spices), so I made my own. I blended cinnamon, nutmeg, curry, cumin, turmeric, pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and probably something else that I don’t remember. I added more of this to the soup itself for a stronger flavor. I also added kale for that extra nutritional punch.

Mistake Of The Week

Not all beverages are created equal, even if they are delicious. As mentioned in last week’s post, vegans can drink alcohol, but not all alcohol is vegan. Say what? Some alcoholic beverages can be processed with animal by-products, mostly used for the filtering process. This process voids that particular beverage of all vegan properties. These adult beverages are tricky, though, as they are not required to place anything on their labels acknowledging their veganness, and I fell victim to their ambiguity. After 2 sips of my milk stout beer, the imaginary light bulb over my head went off. The word ‘milk’ triggered it –I know there’s no milk in the beer, people– and I checked Barnivore, a website that informs whether or not a beer, wine, or liquor is vegan. Sadly, my milk stout was not. I sighed deeply, made peace, pushed it aside, and grabbed a New Belgium Fat Tire instead. Not a bad trade off if I do say so myself.

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Craving Of The Week

Chocolate. Enough said. This strikes me as funny, because I’m not usually a big sweets person. I think part of it had to do with the fact that every chocolate anything I ran across had some sort of dairy in it. Stupid subconscious making me want something I can’t have. Yesterday, I emphatically shut up my subconscious and put it back in its place with Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles. SO. FREAKING. GOOD. I had trouble finding the will to stop eating them. I had 3! Ok, ok, I had 5. Oops. They were so worth it.

cookies

What’s better than ooey, gooey, sugary, chocolatey, vegan goodness? Ooey, gooey, sugary, chocolatey, vegan goodness with Homemade Baileys Irish Cream. Also vegan, of course. Although it didn’t turn out quite as thick as I hoped, it was absolutely delicious. I’ll probably let it condense on the stove a little longer next time. Additionally, I added some almond extract for extra dimension. I’m not Irish, but I am Ginger, so this was my unconventional St. Patrick’s Day celebratory meal. I can call this a meal, right?

cookies and irish cream

At least the plate is green…

Eye Opener Of The Week

EARTHLINGS

This award-winning documentary, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, is “about the suffering of animals for food, fashion, pets, entertainment and medical research. Considered the most persuasive documentary ever made, EARTHLINGS is nicknamed ‘the Vegan maker’ for its sensitive footage shot at animal shelters, pet stores, puppy mills, factory farms, slaughterhouses, the leather and fur trades, sporting events, circuses and research labs.”

This film opened my eyes to a reality that the majority of people don’t think about, or choose to ignore. It’s a harsh, uncensored, and shell-shocking angle, but it’s what happens behind closed doors, so to speak. The treatment of animals originally was not one of the reasons for my vegan challenge, but this film reveals actions, situations, and circumstances that I can’t now unknow. It’s a hard film to watch, but I’m glad that I did. I watched it once, and that’s all I’ll ever need. It definitely evokes antagonizing thoughts and second guessing on whether or not a potential future prime rib indulgence is really worth it. Though difficult, I would encourage you to watch it as well. Knowledge is power.

Read Of The Week

The Omnivore's DilemmaThe Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan addresses the question “What should we have for dinner?” in this eye-opening publication. He follows food from it’s source to the table through 3 different food chains: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves. Through personal experience, research, and reflection, Pollan addresses not only what we eat, but how the food we eat today is produced. I am in the beginning stages of this book and am already amazed at the information provided. This book has been recommended to me over and over again, and I’m so excited to finally have the opportunity to read it. I will be doing a book review on it later this month, potentially coupled with a book giveaway on the shrinkingjeans site (fingers crossed!).

Wow. All of that and it has only been one week. My realities have been challenged, altering my outlook and perspective in several food-related areas. Moments of enlightenment, frustration, accomplishment, shock, camaraderie, confrontation, acceptance, and more have all occurred. I can’t imagine what I’m going to come across, struggle with, succeed at, and discover in the coming weeks. This experience is going to put me through the paces, but I plan on enjoying the ride.

One down, 4 to go.

Vegan Diaries – Best Laid Plan(t)s

Originally published on shrinkingjeans.net

vegan diaries

Hello, my name is Melissa and I’m a vegan.

Friends, family, strangers: “You’re crazy!” “Are you out of your mind?” “Why would you EVER want to do something like that?!”

Me: No argument. Possibly. Why not?

I sincerely believe that you can’t knock something until you’ve tried it (within reason). I’m stubborn, dogged, and determined. I’ll be the first to admit it. When I decide to do something, I jump in with both feet, guns blazing, and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ theme music on repeat in the background (in my head). The 5 week vegan challenge that I decided to do starts today. I have taken the past week to research, soul search, food search, and prepare in the best ways I could. This has included: vegan blog reading, cookbook buying (3 in fact!), recipe finding, documentary watching, article researching, advice seeking, tête-à-tête conversating, pro and con evaluating, decision defending, habit adjusting, grocery shopping, label scrutinizing, ingredient dissecting, and life habituating, among other things. I’m just happy I’m not doing this alone; my boyfriend, Aaron, is going vegan, too.

In an effort to truly understand how a vegan diet can affect our bodies, we have taken the liberty to do a few ‘before and after’s: blood work, weight, and photos. We are not using this as a gimmick to lose weight, we’re not doing it as a detox method, we’re not going to throw red food coloring on the next person we see with leather boots or a fur coat, and we’re not tossing out everything in our lives that have something to do with animal by-products. This is simply a health challenge that we decided to take on as a way to see food consumption, diet, and a lifestyle decision from another perspective. These ‘befores’ will have to wait as they have not come in yet, unfortunately.

Seaweed chips

Seaweed chips

Vegans do eat, contrary to popular belief. In order to eat like they -I mean we- do, I had to take a grocery shopping trip. Although it ended up being a little pricey, I bought a TON of stuff and feel very prepared for this journey…or at least the start of it. My grocery cart was packed with more produce than I think I’ve ever bought at one time. It actually felt good. I felt almost smug walking around the store, thinking ‘My cart looks WAY better than your cart.’ There were a few things that I struggled to find easily, though. The item I struggled the most with surprised me: crackers. No joke. I was hard-pressed to find crackers that didn’t have sugar, milk, or some other hidden item in the ingredient list that made me put the box back on the shelf. (Why does sugar matter? Keep reading to find out.) I finally did find some, though. Many products were also labeled ‘vegetarian,’ which I felt was a safe bet on putting them in my shopping cart. At one point, I asked an attendant her thoughts, and she told me that if it did not exclusively say ‘vegan’ on the packaging, there were no guarantees. So I took those out of my cart and put them back. This shopping trip definitely took more labelstime and effort than any previous trips. But, I survived. The items I bought that I’m most interested in trying are seaweed chips (by the recommendation of a friend), vegan cream cheese, vegan butter, and tempeh (which looks insanely unappetizing).

I did not buy tofu.

Not only is this a health challenge, it has also been quite a learning challenge so far. According to the Vegetarian Times, there are 7.3 million U.S. adults who follow a vegetarian diet, and 1 million of those who are vegan. I’ve been doing my fair share of research on a vegan lifestyle, and then some. Now, it’s my turn to be the enlighten-er. Here’s some insight on what I’ve learned (educational, interesting, shocking, weird, and otherwise) in the past week.

You can’t eat, like, anything can you?

Uh, actually, you can. You can have anything that is not an animal by-product. That does mean no meat, dairy, fish, eggs, or honey. Anything and everything else is fair game! The last time I checked, that’s quite a variety of food.

What do you mean you can’t have honey? What about sugar?

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Sugar & honey replacement

Well, it depends on the vegan. Honey is made by bees. Bees are an animal. Therefore, it’s an animal by-product. For all intents and purposes of this vegan challenge, Aaron and I discussed honey, beeswax chap stick, etc., and we decided that we would not cut out products from bees, but simply try to limit them. As for refined sugar, no it does not come from animals, but can be processed with animal bone char to remove color, impurities, and minerals, according to Vegan Action. I love agave nectar, so I’ll probably use that as my honey/sugar substitute.

How are you going to get enough protein?

The American culture is obsessed with protein consumption. From protein shakes to 12oz steaks to protein-enhanced foods, there is an overabundance of protein in our diets, which can actually be harmful to the body and stress out our internal systems. Based on a 1,800 calorie diet, only about 270 of those should come from protein. Don’t get me wrong, protein is an important component of a diet and should be consumed daily. There are, however, many different ways to get adequate amounts of protein without eating meat. Shocking? Not so much. Nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables, tempeh, tofu, grains, and lentils are a few examples of foods that contain protein….not from an animal. An additional fun fact is that quinoa and hemp seeds are complete protein foods, which means they boast all of the essential amino acids.

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Protein!!!

Is a vegan diet even healthy?!?!?!!

The truth is, a vegan diet can be devastating to your health if you don’t keep a balance and variety of foods to sustain the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly and efficiently. I suppose this is true with the ‘regular’ American diet as well. As a vegan, you can have carbs (hallelujah!); however, if refined carbs turn to be the primary source of your daily caloric intake, you are essentially starving your body of all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to function. Carbohydrates are not the enemy. In fact, they are in fruits and vegetables! If you choose to eat them in other forms, opt for the unrefined carbohydrates. Unrefined carbs are in their most natural state, without unnecessary processing that removes water, fiber, and nutrients. This unnecessary processing is called refining. Refined carbs have a longer shelf life and a more concentrated taste. This is the process that most ‘white foods’ have endured, including white sugar, white bread, cereals, white rice, many pastas, bakery items, etc.

What cookbooks did you buy?

These are the 3 that stood out to me the most:

And last, but most certainly not least:

You can still drink alcohol, right?

The simple answer is yes, of course. How else would I get through this?! Just kidding. The more in-depth answer goes back again to what type of vegan you are. Alcohol is not an animal by-product, however, many companies use animal by-products in some way to produce their beverages, mostly for filtering purposes. One way to check if your favorite beverage is vegan is through a site called Barnivore.

For more vegan FAQs (if you haven’t had enough already), check out:

Like I said, I’ve done my research. Maybe I went a little overboard, but I like to be prepared. There are a multitude of resources out there for those interested in learning more; I never ran in to a problem trying to find information. I’m excited for this journey and trying something new. It has already altered the way I look at food, particularly the ingredients in food. I’ve challenged myself, and am challenging you, to look at the ingredient list on a few of your food products at home. It can be quite surprising what is in there, and sometimes what isn’t.

Well, here I go: 5 weeks of changing my habits, changing my lifestyle, and changing my tune to ‘Eye of the (Vegan) Tiger’.

Vegan cheese?! Hmmmm

Vegan cheese?! Hmmmm