How does a gal from the mid-west, raised on meat and potatoes, graduate from restaurant school, become vegan?
Seems pretty unlikely, huh? I think my parents would say that I’d always been a picky eater, even from childhood. Some of my earliest food re-collections center around refusing to drink milk. I hated it! I recall my parents trying to get me to drink milk: “Show your Grandpa Prehn what a big girl you are, and drink your milk.” I refused, and was grounded at the dinner table for hours. These food battles probably instilled my stubborn streak, or the beginnings of meditation, for I sat there, until my parents finally gave up, and sent me to my room. I believe I won out though, because I was also then punished in the school cafeteria for not drinking my milk, by being sent to the “dunces table” alone. I must have been only in the 2nd or 3rd grade at the time. My first non-violent resistance! After a few days of revolting, Mom was called to school, and she apparently smoothed everything over, as they didn’t do that to me anymore. And somehow, I managed to grow up to be a healthy adolescent, without my daily dose of milk! Do you realize that we are the only species that drinks milk from another species? Most mammals are weened off of their own species milk – mother’s milk – within one year of birth. Mom just stops producing it. It’s simply unnatural!
I also never was much of a meat eater. My whole senior year in high school, I subsided on french fries and orange drink at the school cafeteria. And my family often ate dinner at McDonalds, on our way to watch NBA basketball. I hated hamburger, the staple of the fast food diet, even more than milk, so I lived on apple turnovers, more fries and orange drink for dinner. Not a healthy “vegetarian” diet by any stretch of the imagination. Thank goodness I had basketball to keep the fried food pounds off !!
Through a twist of fate, resulting from my high school being on strike for my entire sophomore year, I was accepted into Cornell University. I was enrolled into their Industrial and Labor Relations School, wanting to be a lawyer or mediator. Those dreams lasted for three semesters, before I transferred over to Cornell’s Hotel & Restaurant Management program, a school I never would have gotten into outright, as I had no experience in the industry what-so-ever. My mom wasn’t an avid cook, and the only thing I knew how to prepare by myself was Kraft macaroni and cheese and chipped beef on toast (or SOS). I loved my new school, and quickly excelled at my cooking classes, eventually becoming a foods teaching assistant.
Now, a handful of things came into play, that ended my meat eating days. First on the list was my Meats Class. I struggled with lab portion, and simply seemed unable to identify the various types of raw meat. I know this may seem crazy, but they all looked the same to me, and it was threatening to put a real dent in my GPA. Then there came the butchery part of the class. I had to question: If I can’t cut it myself, and I certainly can’t kill it myself, why am I eating this?
At the same time, I had a college housemate who was vegetarian, and I began studying what she was doing. We were also fortunate to have the vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, with vegetarian owner and author, Mollie Katzen, being noted by the New York Times as one of the best selling cookbook authors of all time, with over 5 million books in print. Two of Mollie’s cookbooks, “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” and “Moosewood Cookbook” are the oldest in my very large vegetarian cookbook collection. They are easily identifiable, by how worn and tattered they are, and if the house was burning down, I’d grab those.
After graduation, I then moved to New York City, where fresh vegetables at the corner Asian markets were plentiful, and vegetarian ethnic food such as Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian and Mexican, were all delivered to my door within 10 minutes of calling. And there you have it. It’s not like I was going to cook a rack of lamb for myself!
Sometime in there, I clipped this picture from a magazine, and it still stands out for me today, explaining many of the reasons why I choose not to eat meat …. Imagine how the numbers have probably skyrocketed, as these statistics were from 25+ years ago.
The eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion.
It is estimated that a vegetarian saves the lives of 50 animals each year, and a vegan close to 80 animals. One only has to watch the video “Meet your Meat”, addressing the inhumanity of factory farming, to understand the ethical reasons why one may shy away from animal products. This video, produced by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is narrated by Alec Baldwin, a longtime vegetarian himself.
But isn’t meat eating condoned in the Bible? The answer may be yes, however, it is very likely that Jesus, himself, was a vegetarian. Steven Rosen in his book, Food for the Spirit, argues: The writings of the early Christian Church indicate that meat eating was not officially allowed until the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine decided that his version of Christianity would be the version for everyone. A meat eating interpretation of the Bible became the official creed of the Roman Empire, and vegetarian Christians had to practice in secret or risk being put to death for heresy. It is said that Constantine used to pour molten lead down their throats if they were captured. Ironic indeed that pagan Rome would have such a longstanding influence upon Christianity. Buddha strictly forbade the eating of meat.
Notable vegetarians include some of the most brilliant people that have ever walked this planet: Albert Einstein, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Mark Twain, Gandhi, Plato, Charles Darwin, Sir isaac Newton, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Henry David Thoreau, Vincent Van Gogh, and Thomas Edison, just to name a few. American Idol stars Carrie Underwood and Ruben Studdard are two mainstream vegetarians. Have you noticed how healthy Ruben has become, losing over 100 pounds since turning vegan! Way to go Ruben! Check out VegetarianStar.com for more star related news. Even Bill Clinton recently went vegan!
Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.
~ Hippocrates, Father of Medicine
Going Vegan … What, no more dairy!?!
I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian – still consuming cheese, some dairy and some eggs – from the late 1980’s, until 2010. Beginning in 2008, I began going on a partial vegan diet for the first three weeks in November, as a way to “detox” and to get a leg up before the over-indulgence that the holiday season usually brings, even for a vegetarian!
Then in March 2010, as a wonderful Christmas gift from my boyfriend, I went on a theme cruise “A Taste of Health.” Most of the presenters on the cruise are vegan, many representing Macrobiotics, as a nutritional way to overcome disease. Most influential to me was T. Colin Cambell, a Cornell professor, who conducted and published “The China Study”, the most comprehensive study on nutrition ever conducted. In his book and lectures, Dr. Cambell reveals that it is our misconceptions, and over consumption of animal based proteins (including dairy) that leads to early death. These “Diseases of Affluence”: Heart Disease, obesity, breast cancer, diabetes, prostate cancer, and many other diseases, are all a result of our diet!! The link is irrefutable. As an aging individual himself, Dr. Cambell expressed that all humans have the right to die in dignity, and the surest way to do so, is through a whole foods, plant based diet. After reading his book, there remains in me no doubt that being vegan, and not just vegetarian, is the healthiest choice I can make for my body.
Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~ Albert Einstein
On the cruise, I also had a quick encounter with Tony Warble, who is the Associate Director of VIVA, Vegetarians International Voice for Animals. Tony gave a speech surrounding his publication “The Diet of Disaster”, in which he follows up on a 2010 report from the United Nations’ Environment Program (UNEP), which stated that a shift towards a vegan diet is critical for mitigating global issues of hunger, fuel, poverty and the worst impacts of climate change. The panel states: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: People have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” We have essentially run out of land for livestock. Cattle farming is the most inefficient means of protein production on the planet, and is the second largest source of greenhouse gases. We only need to look to Haiti to see what de-forestation is doing to our environment, yet we must deforest to raise animals for human consumption. Did you know that according to Greenpeace, all the wild animals and trees, in more than 2.9 million acres for the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season alone in order to grow crops for animal farming? That’s nearing the size of the state of Connecticut, and three times the acreage of Delaware! I was outraged … But what can I personally do I asked ??!?
The best thing you personally can do, to aid the human race, is to become vegan.
~ Tony Warble
I had no idea at the time, what an impact Tony’s suggestion would have on my life. As a chef, I figured the cooking part would be easy. We’d just experienced seven days of fantastic vegan food on the cruise, and I knew I could follow suit. I didn’t miss dairy one bit! I came home, emptied my refrigerator of everything dairy, and went and located their vegan replacements. Hey, if I can find them at my grocery in the Virgin Islands, I’m sure you can find them in your hometown grocers.
What stands out for me, is the social implications of being vegan. This, I really wasn’t prepared for. By and large, when you say “I’m Vegan”, people often become uncomfortable or take immediate offense; as if in some way, my personal choice means passing judgment on them, which simply is not the case. But, do I wish the world was vegan, or even vegetarian? For the health and spiritual consciousness of our race, you bet I do!
So being vegan creates awareness, whether I like it or not!
As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, it was much easier to go out, and “stay hidden”. Almost every restaurant has some type of pasta which a vegetarian can eat, although sadly, these fat laden dishes are often some of the most unhealthy options on the menu. Many acquaintances didn’t even know I was a vegetarian. Only if I was invited to a friends house for dinner would I have to “bring it up”. Now as a vegan, it’s nearly impossible not to have to mention it, when meeting people for a meal. Vegan options, on most restaurant menus, simply don’t exist. The chef has to make “something special”. Fortunately, most restaurants are more than accommodating, particularly if you call ahead. Friends, too, seem hesitant to invite you over, as they have no idea what to cook for you. Do you just eat vegetables now, many of them ask?
I’ve created this website, not to push being vegan on you, but to get you to question the food and health consciousness of our world at some level, and hopefully to get you to try some healthy plant-based, cruelty-free protein alternatives. You’ll also have some easy options to cook for me and Spencer, should we come over to your house for dinner 🙂 I will say that cooking without dairy, and baking without eggs, has taken some adjustment. But for me, it’s re-invigorated my love of cooking and recipe writing.
Being Vegan does take some planning, and some courage, but isn’t your health, the lives of countless sentient creatures, and our planet worth it?
~ Victoria Prehn
You can learn more about my journey at VictoriaPrehn.com