Should I go completely vegan?

Having difficulty giving up cheese

Those of you who follow my posts know that I've been a vegetarian for about 16 years. That makes me a veg for more than half of my life. I initially made the switch because I can't phantom eating the flesh of a murdered animal. Of course, it also helps that I never liked the taste of meat.

Recently, I've been wondering if I should go completely vegan. There is only one thing stopping me: cheese.

When I became vegetarian, I didn't even know vegans existed. I never realized that many dairy animals are abused and live in inhumane conditions. Those thoughts never crossed my mind. All I wanted to do was stop eating things that were slaughtered for my meal.

Now that I'm older, I'm more aware of the things around me. Even though I still consume some dairy products (mainly cheese), I do my best to pick products that are produced locally. I want to make sure that the animals are loved and cared for by their owners. I know that many dairy farmers treat their cows like household pets; however, many large, big-name farmers neglect and abuse those creatures.

If I eat an egg, it comes from my in-laws, who give their chickens the best life ever. Seriously, I would love to be one of their chickens. They get to roam all day long, while being fed only the best grain. Plus, they don't kill any of them. Those chickens are a part of their family.

Do I really need cheese and eggs? No, of course I don't. So, what's keeping me from making the jump to veganism? Perhaps I'm just too lazy. Being vegetarian in a meat-eating world is difficult at times. How much harder would it be if I were vegan?

I have to stop posing these questions. Instead, I should do it for my body and mind. I would be healthier if I stopped consuming dairy products. They do contain a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol. I would feel better morally if I never had any of those products again. Unless I'm milking a cow on my own property, do I really know how it is treated?

To be vegan or not to be vegan? That is the question.

Eating vegetarian on Thanksgiving

Go big with side dishes and desserts!

While most of the country is looking forward to a meat-filled Thanksgiving dinner, I am not. For vegetarians, Thanksgiving can be an awkward holiday. Why would anyone want to celebrate anything with a deep-fried turkey, or worse a turducken?

There is good news for us veggie lovers. With a little preparation and creativity, anyone can enjoy some meatless dishes on Thanksgiving Day.

Stick with the basics.

Most meat-eaters I've come across are not adventurous when it comes to trying out new vegetable dishes. If you are offering to bring a few sides to Thanksgiving dinner, stick with the basics. Prepare a creamy pot of mashed potatoes with vegetable broth. Make green bean casserole that is vegetarian-friendly. Toss a simple salad that will complement any main course. It's easy to prepare almost any side dish without meat ingredients, and your friends and family will not taste the difference.

Recreate a holiday favorite.

For me, stuffing or dressing is a real treat. This bread casserole is usually "stuffed" inside the turkey and baked - not a vegetarian option. I've learned how to recreate a "turkey" stuffing by baking the only meatless ingredients in a glass dish. Unless a guest asks, I don't even tell them it's vegetarian. I've never had any complaints over my turkey-free stuffing.

Bring something just for yourself.

If you're worried about not having enough to eat on Thanksgiving, then bring your own main course. You can go wild by eating a Tofurky, while everyone else is chowing down on real turkey. I would bring enough to share, just in case there is another vegetarian present. There is no reason vegetarians shouldn't feel stuffed on Thanksgiving Day, too.

Save room for dessert.

Dessert is my favorite course. The main advantage of desserts is that most of them are vegetarian-friendly. Go ahead and eat another slice of pumpkin pie. Don't feel bad about putting extra whipped cream on that pecan pie.

Remember to pig out all you want on Thanksgiving Day. Even us vegetarians love a huge meal.

Living a low-carb vegetarian lifestyle

Raw fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains are smart options.

Low-carb diets are all the rage. Ever since the meat-fest known as the Atkins diet was introduced, society seems to be on a carb-free kick.

Why, you ask?

Simply put, eating low-carb can help promote weight-loss, while reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes. Seems like a win-win situation to me. One problem, however - most low-carb diets are aimed toward extreme carnivores. These diets are filled with bacon grease and T-bones. Is it even possible for a vegetarian to eat low-carb?

Foods without carbohydrates are those that are high in protein and fat. Crazy that eating so much fat can help you lose weight, but the body processes it differently when carbs are missing. The majority of these foods are derived from animal flesh. As a vegetarian, I really want to see if I can drop a few pounds by eating less carbs, but it may be hard.

What can I eat?

It seems like most full-fat cheese, dairy products and avocados are safe. But I really don't want to live off avocado and cheese omelets for the rest of my life. Plus, I try to avoid large amounts of dairy products. (I dream of one day being able to go fully vegan.)

Veggies do have carbs, but since they are packed full of fiber, they don't hit your pancreas hard, like white sugar does. I need to select vegetables that are lower on the glycemic index, such as leafy greens. Potatoes (my personal favorite) and carrots (another household staple) should be avoided. Hmm...I always thought these foods were healthy.

Fruits have to be eaten in moderation on a low-carb diet. That's not going to work for me, since they are a staple in my cooking. I'm also going to have to limit pasta and bread. I can totally manage that, and I'll choose whole grain over Wonder Bread.

I really want to follow this type of diet plan, but I don't think I can do it without severely limiting my options. Instead of trying to follow the fad, I'm just going to stick with what I know - lots of whole fruits and vegetables, mixed with a moderate amount of grain. If you are a vegetarian that follows a low-carb lifestyle, I would love to hear what you eat on a daily basis.

Adopt a turkey for Thanksgiving

Put your money where your mouth is—or, rather, where it would be.

Vegetarians get a lot of slack. I know; I was one for years. People get defensive asking about your lifestyle, as if it is a personal affront to their own! They’ll demand to know why you don’t eat meat, claim they could never do it themselves, flaunt their meat eating in front of you, and otherwise do weird things. Profess to love purple while they love pink, fine; declare yourself a vegetarian and all hell breaks loose.

But we all know that being a vegetarian can be a very healthy way to live, as well as a way to save lives. There are lots of other ways to save animal lives as well, such as through turkey adoption during Thanksgiving. Chances are, if you are a vegetarian, you already have tofurky or other options on Thanksgiving Day rather than turkey.

Did you know that you can also save other turkeys from being eaten by sponsoring them through various animal welfare organizations, such as Farm Sanctuary? If interested, you can click here to “adopt” a turkey and save him or her from certain holiday death. It costs $30 to adopt one turkey and $210 to save an entire flock. It sounds like a lot, but with this much money, you could save a turkey for the price of about six lattes from a coffee shop.

Do omnivores really need meat at a party?

Hosting meat-free parties

My friends and I like to throw parties at least once a month. We rotate who gets the host the event. Whenever the get-together is at a friend's home, they always make sure to provide vegetarian options for those of us that don't consume animal products. On the other hand, I never provide meat for my omnivore friends if I am hosting. Is that rude of me?

To be honest with you, only one of my friends has ever complained about this. All of the rest don't even notice the lack of animal flesh on the buffet table. I'm a very creative cook, so I like to create a variety of finger foods and side dishes that are full of flavor. While we are busy stuffing our faces with cruelty-free eats, we have a blast playing games and laughing over anything and everything.

The one friend that does miss the meat has learned that I will not purchase any animal products for my house. He despises vegetables (crazy, I know), so he either eats beforehand or just fills up on desserts.

But, he does make a good point. If he hosts the party at his place, there will be something meatless for me to enjoy. Shouldn't I have the same respect for him?

Here's my rebuttal:

1. He's not on a special diet. Sure, he doesn't "like" vegetables, but it wouldn't kill him to try some. This guy has never been diagnosed with an allergy or disorder that would prevent him from eating vegetarian dishes.

2. He's not morally opposed to eating veggies. I don't eat meat for ethical reasons. I can't turn against my morals just to have fun with my friends. Eating a carrot wouldn't make him contradict his values.

3. He's not obligated to provide vegetarian foods at his house. In fact, I've never asked any of my friends to make meat-free dishes - they do it on their on accord. Sure, I appreciate it, but I don't expect it. If there was nothing for me to eat, I would find something to munch on after the party.

What about you? Do you feel the need to offer meat alternatives at your parties? I never will. I live in a strict, meat-free zone.

Watch out for hidden meat ingredients in processed foods

Your favorite "vegetarian" junk food might contain meat ingredients

When I first became a vegetarian as a teenager, I didn't pay too much attention to ingredient lists. For example, if I was eating beans, I assumed that they were just, well, beans. That is not always the case. Unfortunately, many products on the market have hidden animal product ingredients. Here are some foods that may have fooled you.Chips

Most people, myself included, love to snack on salty chips. They go great with salsas, hummus and a variety of other dips. Us vegetarians, however, need to pay attention to the ingredients in these crunchy crisps. While most chips in the grocery store are safe, there are some that list meat products on their labels.

Don't believe me? Check out BAKED! LAYS® Barbecue Flavor. Under "natural flavors," they list chicken as an ingredient. Funny, I didn't realize that barbecue sauce flavor needed poultry to be authentic.

Another perfect example is BAKED! DORITOS® Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips. While you won't see any meat products screaming out on the ingredient list, they are hidden in there. The enzymes that are used in the cheese flavoring are made from pork rennet. Gross.

Processed desserts

Sometimes you don't have the time to bake your own desserts, so you have to pick up a processed treat instead. Be careful. Many of these convenience desserts actually have meat products in them. Seriously. When was the last time you baked a chocolate cake with beef?

Hostess believes that their Donettes® need beef fat added to them. Strange that something sweet would need fat from a dead cow. Why couldn't they use a vegetarian shortening instead?

Oh, and they're not the only ones. The beloved Hostess Twinkies® also contain beef fat. Yep, you better get rid of those right away. With so many other options, it is just unacceptable for a company to hide this in their foods.

Here's some food for thought: Just because a product sounds like it should be vegetarian doesn't mean that it actually is. Always check ingredients, and when in doubt, contact the manufacturer directly for an answer.


Why vegtarians are healthier

Like many, I didn't make the switch to vegetarianism to better my health. Instead, I chose to stop eating meat because of my love for animals. I couldn't fathom slaughtering and grilling up a beautiful, peaceful cow. What I didn't expect was so many changes in my own health. While I'm not a stick figure by any means, my blood draws always come back with outstanding results. So, why are vegetarians healthier than carnivores?We eat less saturated fat.

There are two main types of fats, saturated and unsaturated. While we can break it down further, let's just leave it at these two. In simple terms, saturated fats are bad fats, while unsaturated ones are good. We need fat in our diet, and vegetarians mainly get it from unsaturated foods, such as olive oil or avocados. Saturated fats are found in animal products. They tend to be high in cholesterol and make the blood sticky. Since some amounts of this bad fat are found in milk and cheese, vegetarians can also consume too much bad fat by overindulging. Vegans, on the other hand, have little to no saturated fat in their diet. The American Heart Association recommends that we limit out intake of saturated fat to under 16 grams a day. This is simple to accomplish on a vegetarian diet.

We eat more fiber.

Let's talk about a smelly subject - your bathroom habits. People should have a bowel movement at least once a day. Many, however, only drop a deuce once or twice a week. What's causing the backup? Constipation is usually due to lack of fiber. Foods that contain the most fiber are whole grains, fruits and vegetables. That sounds like a pretty standard vegetarian diet to me! Because vegetarians eat so much fiber, we are usually quite regular. Fiber also cleans out our arteries and other organs of the body. It's very important to living healthy. You won't find an ounce of fiber in a steak. If a carnivore complains about feeling bloated, suggest that they eat a big salad.

Of course, there are even more beneficial reasons to enjoy a vegetarian lifestyle, but these are the most basic. The next time your meat-eating friend claims that Kentucky Fried Chicken is better for you than a vegetable plate, let them know about these health benefits.

Why don't vegans eat honey?

I consider myself to be a vegetarian. By that, I mean I don't eat any products that were created from the flesh of an animal. I still consume dairy. Vegans, on the other hand, do not eat any product created by an animal, whether the creature was killed or not. This limits them to foods of the earth, such as veggies and grains.

While I truly admire vegans (I wish that I could give up cheese), I was always perplexed that they are against products made from honey. So, why don't vegans eat honey?In my opinion, I always viewed honey as something that came out of "bee butts." Sure, that's not exactly right, but it is produced by them in their hives. Bees do not actually die in the honey-making process. I also felt that beekeepers were careful not to harm any bees in the collection process. If bees were not killed nor living in bad conditions, why do vegans not eat honey?

After doing a little bit of research, I soon learned that honey is a heated debate amongst vegans. While most avoid this substance, there are a few that still eat it. Here are some reasons that honey is not considered vegan:

Honey exploits the bees.

When humans enter the beehives to collect and sell honey, they are in turn stealing from the bees. The bees need this honey for their own well-being. If they didn't need it, they wouldn't bother making it. We humans like to take what we want and turn it into products that give us pleasure. Vegans don't support animals exploitation for the "betterment" of humans.

Some bees are actually killed.

No matter how careful the beekeeper, some bees do die during the collection process. The smoke that is used to distract the bees may end up killing a couple bees. While the number is not a lot, a single bee death is too many for vegans. Even though bees are just insects to many people, we don't know how their bodies feel pain. We can't justify killing a few bees for our sweet treat. Will I stop eating honey after this? Probably not; however, I will feel more compassion towards these creatures.

Sloppy Joes - Vegan Style

Sloppy Joes! Who here doesn't think of Chris Farley and Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live when you hear those words?

As a vegetarian, Sloppy Joes were off limits, or so I thought. That's before I discovered a wonderful vegan alternative by Fantastic World Foods. Not only is this product animal friendly, but it's also amazingly delicious.I first noticed Fantastic World Foods Sloppy Joe Mix at my local Whole Foods. It was just sitting on the shelf, staring right at me. I picked up a box, not expecting much from it. Boy, I was wrong. The flavor was fantastic (perhaps that's why the company is named just that), and it was very filling. At my house, we serve it on a bun with onions and pickles.

The mix is also very simple to make. You simply add tomato paste and oil in a pot on the stove. After about five minutes, the ingredients thicken up to the right consistency. The results are eerily similar to the real thing. My omnivore brother loved it.

What's the best thing about it? Well, besides the great flavor, this Sloppy Joe mix is also healthy. There are no foreign ingredients, and everything in the box is fresh. Eating these vegan Sloppy Joes won't clog your arteries. It's crazy that they are healthy because they taste like addictive vegan junk food to me!

The company also makes an array of other vegetarian products, including Taco Filling Mix, Refried Beans and Chili. I've tried almost all of their mixes, and I have yet to be disappointed. Unfortunately, they are getting harder to find at my local stores, so I've been buying the in bulk from Amazon.

Oh, and in case you don't get the Chris Farley/Adam Sandler reference, here's a video. Enjoy!

Adam Sandler - Lunch Lady

Keeping guests happy at a vegetarian wedding

Planning a wedding is one of the most stressful things to do. There are so many small details that are easily forgotten, and it takes a lot of time and patience to get everything in order. It's no wonder that the term Bridezilla has become so popular.

When the big day finally arrives, the happy couple wants to make sure that all of their guests are enjoying the day as well. What about when it's a vegetarian wedding? What can you do to make sure all of the guests are pleased with the food choices?

Keep it simple.

There's no question that some omnivores will be invited to the event. Even if you do not want to offer a meat dish to these guests, don't try to keep the buffet table only full of fancy vegetarian dishes. A person that is accustomed to a hearty steak isn't going to want marinated tofu.

Instead, find some meal options that are still familiar to these guests. A pot of spaghetti with a rich marinara sauce or creamy Alfredo is always a hit. When served with garlic bread and a side salad, all of your guests will leave with full tummies.

Don't brag about being vegetarian.

Just like we vegetarians don't want to hear about how many animals were killed for a meal, your omnivore friends and family don't want to have your vegetarian ideals rubbed in their faces. This is neither the time nor the place. Sure, we always want to convert others, but do that whenever the atmosphere is more personable. Instead, let them enjoy the vegetarian offerings, without bragging about how much healthier the meal is for them.

Just have a good time.

Above all, your wedding is your day to shine. In the end, who cares if Aunt Betty didn't like the choice of entree or if Second-Cousin-Three-Times-Removed Bill wasn't pleased with the cake? As long as you enjoyed yourself, then that's all that matters. If someone doesn't like the food, they can fill up on something else once the party is over.