The Only Vegan At The Table
Adopting a whole foods, plant-based / vegan diet can have more than just an impact on your physical health and positive effect on the environment and life of animals. It can alter your interactions with others. Being the only vegan at the table at work functions or at family gatherings can make you feel like an outsider – and can subject you to ugly comments from those that don’t understand your reasons for choosing to eat differently than you have in the past and how your dining partners currently eat.
As a food and wine writer, I know first hand how rude people can be. When I adopted a whole foods, plant-based / vegan diet with the hope of getting rid of a litany of health problems, I became the topic of inappropriate and unprofessional comments. At work, I had writers tell me that I should no longer write about food since I was not eating “real food” (aka dairy milk, eggs, chicken, beef, etc.), and I had chefs flat out tell me that they discourage vegan diners. Why would someone turn away good, paying business? On the personal front, I had a friend tell me that she couldn’t invite me to dinner anymore because she didn’t know she could make that I could eat. Seriously?! Has no one ever heard of a salad or spaghetti with tomato sauce?
I was astounded to find that people were so closed-minded to the truth. So many felt offended and threatened by what I ate. It wasn’t like I was force-feeding my friends kale and spinach salads. Actually, I did the opposite. I encouraged people to follow their heart. I suppose that upset them because it forced them to think about what they ate and nobody wants to think that they are part of a process that harms another being or depletes the Earth’s resources. I tell people what I eat and I believe people have free will to do as they please. They have to come to the realization for themselves how their diet impacts their health and the world.
In an interview with Dr. Neal Barnard, president of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (VegWorld Magazine Nov./Dec. 2015), he shared an interesting view of human behavior.
“Surprisingly, hearing the truth—even very loudly—has little effect on human behavior. Culture, not truth, dictates most people’s actions. And that’s understandable. If a sheep had to decide whether a low growl really was a wolf, calculate the likelihood of an attack and estimate the wolf’s running speed, he’d be eaten before he could figure out what to do. Instead, he follows the fleeing herd. People are much the same. If a doctor points out that this Stone Age habit of meat-eating causes heart disease, colon cancer, and many other problems, people are not likely to look up the research studies, consider the evidence, or take any action whatsoever. They are likely to do what they see their friends and family doing because their brains are hardwired to find safety in what numbers of people do. But the situation is not hopeless. It means that we have to work to change our culture in all its facets: we need to show scientific evidence, get celebrities and thought-leaders involved, make movies, and do everything else to show that our culture now embraces plant-based diets. That’s what happened with smoking, and eventually, we reached the tipping point. We’ll get there with food, too,” said Barnard.
Culture is having an impact on the restaurant industry. In an article by Lisa Jennings in the June 13, 2011 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News it was noted that even though the number of people calling themselves vegan is small, the number of concepts offering vegan meal options is growing. In the article, Greg Dollarhyde chief executive of the then seven-unit Veggie Grill chain based in Manhattan Beach, California said, “It’s about serving delicious food that I’m going to feel good about eating later – and food that will be good for the planet. We’re redefining American comfort food.” As of Sept. 2016, Veggie Grill has grown to 28 units and has expanded to markets outside of California.
Fast-forward a few years and you will find that I am not the only journalist who has adopted a whole foods, plant-based / vegan diet. While I have decided to make this a lifestyle change, there are others who have chosen to adopt the diet part-time. New York Times journalist and multi-book author Mark Bittman has opened the minds of many to consider a healthier diet with his book “VB6” (Vegan Before 6 p.m.). Former Los Angeles Times journalist Mary MacVean test-drove a vegan diet for 30 days last year noting that Los Angeles didn’t have just six vegan restaurants but 60.
You might think it is easier for those in Los Angeles to enjoy excellent vegan fare with restaurants like Crossroads Kitchen but this isn’t “California Dreaming.” The love of good food that is good for you and the planet is spreading across the world. Many chefs in the main metropolitan cities have noted an increase in diners requesting vegan dishes. And chefs are stepping up to the plate by providing creative, tasty dishes that would easily satisfy a staunch carnivore and some are adding meatless options to their menus.
According to the Nov. 16, 2015 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, some of the hot food trends to watch for in 2016 are veggies, compressed produce, and cucumbers. San Francisco-based hospitality consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co. was quoted in NRN.com, “Vegetables are the hero this year. People want less animal protein and are requesting that veggies are ramped up to their fullest creative potential.” The results of using sous-vide machines to change the texture of melons and root vegetables “are becoming staples in both high-end and casual establishments.” Adding “texture, coolness and freshness” to dishes are cucumbers. They are considered the “it” vegetable.
I reflect back to January 2013 when I attended the Get Healthy Marshall Health Fest event in Texas. If I had not attended, met medical and nutrition pioneers Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Michael Greger, I shudder to think where I would be now. Most likely, not writing . . . My health was a mess. By adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet, I saw my type 2 diabetes disappear along with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. I no longer have a medicine cabinet filled with prescription drugs, vials of diabetes test strips and button-sized Band-Aid bandages.
The friend that I mentioned earlier in my article that couldn’t figure out what she could make for me to eat has admitted that since I have adopted a vegan diet, she now enjoys more salads and has created a few vegan dishes. We made persimmon bread and I enlightened her on baking without eggs (we used a flaxseed/water mixture and the bread came out moist and yummy.)
I would highly encourage you to start the month on the right foot by adopting a whole foods, plant-based / vegan diet. You will add years to your life and life to your years. And if you see me sitting in a restaurant, feel free to join me – at least, I won’t be the only vegan at the table.