It’s official…I have completed my certification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell! What does this mean? Basically that I can continue to rant about how bad sugar, dairy and meat are for you, but now when you ask for my credentials I can flash my medieval-lettered certification letter in the air with a cheshire cat grin. I am still in no way a nutritionist, which would have been a much longer road and one that I never want to take. Translation: 2+ years of cinderblock classrooms with stale pencil air and a whole lot of chemistry. I guess I’m more of a learn-online-in-the-privacy-of-my-own-faery-garden kind of girl.
So to mark this milestone, I’m going to talk about my favorite controversial nutrient. The elephant in the room of vegan nutrition, and the go-to deficiency question (after where do you get you protein…see my answer here) of omnivores everywhere. B12 isn’t a classroom, it’s a nutrient manufactured by microorganisms that dwell in the intestines of animals and in the soil. It is an essential nutrient, which means that we cannot produce it ourselves and therefore must ingest it dietarily. In our pre-industrial past, this wasn’t an issue. Translation: we used to eat dirty vegetables…now we have veggie wash and hand sanitizer. We are so damn sanitary that we can no longer supply our bodies with the minute amount of B12 we need. Unfortunately, the anti vegans of the world jump around and excitedly point their chubby fingers at our need for supplementation of B12 as the proof that veganism isn’t “natural” because how could a perfect diet need supplementation? To them I say, what exactly equates a “natural” diet? If natural means raising sentient beings in a torture chamber with a diet of fish meal, corn and soy, then mercilessly slaughtering them, and stuffing their remains in styrofoam and plastic wrap and selling them to the masses for dinner, then yes–vegans are wholly unnatural.
The issue is not that the vegan diet is unnatural, it’s that our world is changing. Due to our increased fear of germs and the continuing deluge of pesticides on our crops, we cannot find the B12 we need. It’s similar to the epidemic of the Vitamin D deficiency. Our diets haven’t changed that much, we just don’t go outside anymore!
Solution? Eat dirty veggies and run naked with the unicorns in the sunshine.
I get this question a lot. It’s understandable because to most people being a vegan is like getting a sundae without the toppings. “That’s the best part!” they say, “why aren’t you eating it?” Well, let’s imagine for a moment that those rainbow sprinkles, oreo crumbles, chocolate sauce, and maraschino cherries are cows, pigs, chickens, and fish (I do realize that this makes the sundae idea rather revolting). And let’s imagine that those animals had a “typical” life (I’d rather not turn this post into a factory farm expose, but unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably at least heard of a factory farm and the atrocities committed there…Google it with some tissues in hand). You know those commercials with the cows out in pastures under a blue sky? Yeah, that’s definitely not the kind of life these poor animals have. And then imagine that after these beautiful animals are inhumanely slaughtered, chopped up, and sold in plastic packages as steak, hotdogs, burgers, chicken nuggets, etc., you pile them on your sundae and slurp them down only to discover that you are also ingesting pesticides, hormones, saturated fat, and some seriously bad karma…kind of unpleasant, right? And yet, we still continue to eat them, even though there is a wealth of knowledge out there that supports the idea that eating a plant-based diet is better for the animals, the earth, and ourselves. So what gives? In a nutshell…it’s hard to change. Most of us have been raised eating animals and are accepting of the idea that these creatures were put on this earth solely for our needs. This is a gross misconception of course, but when you suggest to others that cows, pigs, chickens and other animals are sentient beings who share our same passion for life, love & family, they look at you as though you’ve lost your marbles. “What would they do if we didn’t eat them?” Umm…live their lives, just like the rest of us!
Here’s something that always baffles me: why is it that we eat some animals and keep other animals as pets? I mean, why don’t we eat dogs, horses, and cats? “Gasp!” cries the fatty with the bacon burger, “How could you eat your dog!” Well, I couldn’t of course, but I don’t see a difference between a dog and a pig, a horse and a cow, a cat and a chicken.
Several years back, my husband and I visited Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, which is the permanent home of hundreds of rescued farm animals who would’ve otherwise been slaughtered. It was a magical experience because I realized the interconnectedness of all beings. The cows reminded me of my horses, nuzzling into my arm with their soft muzzles and long whiskers, the sheep leaned against the fence with their eyes closed while my husband scratched behind their velvety ears, the pigs snored loudly and flicked their legs and tails like dogs in dreamland, and a mischievous, black goat nibbled on my jacket. These animals have been cursed with the titles: food animal, farm animal, meat, poultry & bacon, but they are every bit as precious, loving, and playful as the animals we call pets.
For me, it’s simple….
I don’t want to cause unnecessary suffering. I have been put on this planet for some reason or maybe for no reason at all, but while I’m here enjoying the sun, the rain, the trees, the mountains, and the incomprehensible beauty of this world, I will do my best to live peacefully. The simple fact is: we don’t need meat to survive or to thrive. Sure, back in the cave men days when we didn’t have tools and didn’t know how to farm the land, gnawing on the leg of a woolly mammoth was probably the best solution, but come on people, let’s evolve already! If you could save the lives of nearly 100 creatures every year, wouldn’t you? If you knew that abstaining from animal products (or at the very least moderating your intake) would make you healthier, wouldn’t you? If you could look through the window of a factory farm where innocent animals were being slaughtered, and could proudly say that you weren’t supporting such a horrific industry, wouldn’t you?
I remember the first time I heard the comparison of slavery to factory farming. It was in a pamphlet by PETA, and it really stuck in my head. When you think about how horrible slavery was, don’t you wonder how people could ever do such a thing? But at the time, slavery was a generally accepted practice, and it took a long time for people to wake up and realize that it was unethical, inhumane and completely unnecessary. Enter factory farming and the mass murder of billions (ten billion to be exact) of animals per year for the purpose of filling our bellies.
I wonder if a hundred years from now, we’ll look back on eating animals as we do on slavery…why did we ever do such a thing?
*** my purpose in writing this post is not to make you feel guilty; I just wanted to share with you my personal reasons for living the way I do. Food is personal, and irrevocably rooted in the depths of our individual identities, like politics and religion. Most of my friends eat meat, and I love them just the same, but we each must decide which path leads us to a happier life, and for me, veganism is the road of my choosing. If you feel inspired to incorporate some vegetarian meals into your life, that’s great, and I encourage you to do so. Not sure where to begin? Try having “meatless mondays” every week, or pick one animal and stop eating it for awhile and see how you feel!***
Now that I’ve thoroughly upset you, I will try to make you happy again with another easy recipe! Kale is synonymous with health nuts who live on bark and berries (I have literally been asked if I eat those things...sigh), but that’s fine with me because it’s absolutely delicious! Kale is chock full of antioxidants, cancer preventing flavonoids, and vitamins A, K, and the mineral Iron, as well as having no cholesterol and barely any fat…Hooray! Now, add in some nutritional yeast (cheesy yeast rich in B vitamins) and cayenne, bake it in the oven, and you’ve got yourself some seriously healthy and yummy snacking to do! Wow your guests with this “potato chip” alternative, and then tell them how it’s so annoying that you just can’t seem to put on any weight…
Cayenne dusted cheesy kale chips
1 bunch curly green kale (the red russian variety works too), stems removed & shredded into snacking size, then washed and spun dry
1/2 cup nutritional yeast (buy in the bulk section of Whole Foods, the code is 5176…aren’t I insane?)
a few pinches of cayenne
1 T extra virgin olive oil
sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 325. In a large mixing bowl, mix kale with all ingredients. ***Note: the amounts I’ve given are approximations, so use your judgement. You don’t want the kale wet with oil because it won’t crisp up in the oven, and a little salt and cayenne go a long way. The only ingredient you don’t need to be conservative with is the nutritional yeast, so load it on!***
On a large baking sheet (you’re going to need at least two sheets or you can make it in batches), spread the kale in a single layer (a little overlapping is okay). Bake in the oven for ten minutes, stir kale with a wooden spoon, then bake another ten minutes, until kale is crispy but not brown. Serve as a snack or hors d’ouvre for a small gathering of hippie unicorns.