22 June 2012
On Eating More Plants
So far this has been my favorite dish since we started eating more plants. It is a basic pad thai, and I used rice noodles and a pad thai mix from the grocery store, following the package instructions. I also used raw peanuts, and browned them in oil before I sauteed the veggies to go with them, and it was very delicious. I happily ate the leftovers for lunch for several days in a row. Have you ever made rice noodles? Surprisingly easy, and tasty if you use the right sauce.
There has been some discussion in my real life resulting from our decision to do what I am now calling "eat more plants." So I thought I would write a few notes on the subject to clarify some things.
First, let's define some terms.
Vegan: Someone who does not eat any animal product whatsoever, and tries to avoid heavy oils. This means no milk, no eggs, to meat, no cheese. If it is or comes from an animal, they do not eat it. We are not doing this.
Vegetarian: Someone who does not eat the flesh of any animal with eyes. Fish, shrimp, pork, chicken, etc. Those all have eyes, too, not just cows. So Vegetarians do not eat their flesh. Vegetarians do eat some things that are considered animal products. These things include eggs, milk, and cheese. I imagine there is a whole spectrum regarding this, but I don't think it's as mysterious as most people might think.
For the record, we are not strictly joining either camp. We are simply trying to eat more plants. After I read the China Study, I picked up my grocery list off the counter, and it said, "sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese, string cheese, milk, bread, ranch dressing mix" and maybe two household cleaning products. That was a more dairy heavy list than my typical list, but it was a real eye opener for me. One (maybe two) of the food groups was over-represented in our diet, and that needed to change. We are still going to eat meat as a flavoring on occasion, and probably for most Sunday dinners.
We are several weeks out. My weight has not changed. My energy level has not changed. I did have two very tired days, but they occurred at the same time of my normal biological cycle as they always occur. If anything, I have felt a little lighter, like my body had less heavy stuff to work through. I felt like running longer this morning during my usual walk. I felt less dragged down. There was some of the normal trouble with beans at first, but my body seemed to adjust to it after about a week of eating them more often. I had a friend who used to be vegetarian, and I asked her if she still was. She said she was too tired when she ate that way, but it was because she was a "lazy vegetarian." I think she is right to eat what gives her energy, and that lazy vegetarianism is not healthy. But lazy omnivorism isn't healthy either. Fast food and over-processed convenience foods are terrible for health and energy levels.
People keep talking about protein, so I want to make a note on that. There is protein in most food. Protein is composed of amino acids, which our bodies constantly break down and reassemble, sometimes even out of our own existing mass. Vegetables are often more protein dense per calorie than animal products. The only thing that makes it harder to get your protein out of plants is that you have to eat more of them. All of that chewing is a lot of work. There is a lot of talk about how you have to mix and match things to get the complete protein you need, but it is not as complicated as you might think. Eat whole grains along with your vegetables. Include legumes (beans and some nuts) and maybe some some tofu, or tempeh.
Iron is also important, and since we are eating eggs they are a source, but green vegetables like broccoli and spinach are also great sources if iron. If we eat them with lemon (and butter for spinach, wilted in a pan. Mmmm!), the ascorbic acid even aids our absorption. Furthermore, wheat bread and other products are often fortified with additional sources of iron.
I have cooked tofu once a week, and my most recent try was the best. I think I finally dried it out enough. Did you know you have to buy extra firm, wrap it in a towel an hour before you want to cook it, and put something heavy on it to squeeze out the water? Then you can cut it into cute little cubes and fry it up in a stir fry until it is crispy, brown, and tasty. I have had soggy, flavorless tofu disasters in the past, and this is not the same stuff. Add yummy sauce, and wow!
So far, I have loved the variety. The kids have been as picky as ever, and are subsisting on their normal unhealthy fare of fruit, noodles, toast, potatoes, and any animal protein Grace can coax me into feeding her (Tuna! Eggs! Milk! Chicken!). Hopefully their little tastebuds will eventually mature. Scott has been surprisingly open to brown rice and a few of the legumes we've tried.
This is turning into a novel, but I just want to say this in bold.
I do not expect everyone I know and love to eat the way I now want to eat.
If I seem weird talking about food now, it's because I have realized that some people are sensitive about what they have the right to eat, and I don't want to offend. It is a free country, eat what you want. I am not judging you. Eat cake. Be happy. Live long. Prosper.