Omnivores to Herbivores -My Journey into a Blended Family
When your children become vegans, what does a mother do?

"Aren't you hungry tonight?" I asked. It all started one April day as I watched my oldest son push his meat around on his plate. “I've noticed that you don't seem to be eating much meat lately."

"I'm thinking of becoming a vegetarian," Dylan replied. "I'm concerned about the treatment of animals and feel that every life, no matter how small, is equally important."

When he went off to college, I was worried about whether or not he would be eating a balanced diet with enough protein and calcium. He navigated college life fine, aside from complaining about the selection of foods available to him on the meal plan at Virginia Tech. He soon became involved in the vegetarian club on campus. The club worked to inform others about how animals were treated on farms and how they were cruelly processed. He got videos from PETA showing inhumane treatment of animals and showed them to everyone he could. He and his roommate, Pierre, were featured in "Animal Times" when they went on a hunger strike to get the biology department to let students use a virtual dissection program instead of using real animals. They succeeded.

He soon became a vegan, or someone who doesn’t eat or use any animal products whatsoever. This was the beginning of my journey, as I had to become an expert at reading food labels when he came home to visit. Some of the keywords I had to watch for in the ingredient lists were casein, whey, butter, and milk. It was an arduous task at first, but soon it became second nature to me. When we went to visit him, we began to explore how to eat out at restaurants. The easiest menu items were veggie subs, spaghetti with marinara sauce, and bean burritos. That grew boring after a while and we branched out to Middle Eastern foods like falafels, hummus, and tabouli, and Indian foods like curried chickpeas and potatoes.

Two years later, my second son, Justin, joined Dylan at Virginia Tech. He was a real meat and potatoes guy at the time. We took him out to a huge rib dinner for his birthday before we left him in Blacksburg. That was to be one of his last meat meals. Justin was living off campus with Dylan and two other vegans. Dylan proceeded to show Justin the PETA videos and took him to his club meetings. Justin went with Dylan to protests for not only animal rights, but human rights. Justin started trying the vegan lifestyle, but he had a limited repertoire of vegetables that he liked. I was concerned as he was eating lots of potatoes, white rice, and soy burgers, but not much else. I had to learn to let go of his eating habits. After all, he was an adult and capable of making nutritionally sound choices on his own. (Eventually Justin came to appreciate a wider color palette of foods through his own exploration and adapting of recipes.) By the time Justin and Dylan returned home for Thanksgiving, I had ordered a Tofurky (tofu turkey) for their Thanksgiving dinner and had a small turkey breast for my husband and me.

Our third child, Kaitlin, is three years younger than Justin. She had been watching both of her brothers' eating habits change and had always been an avid animal lover. It didn't take her long to become a convert. She seemed to be a natural. We were getting a subscription to Animal Times by then and she read it from front to back. Even as a preschooler she loved vegetables, eating only salad when the rest of us were having pizza in restaurants. She also loved to eat dandelion greens and wild fennel out of the yard when we were gardening. However, she found it much harder to give up milk, eggs, and cheese and was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for several years before going vegan.

In order to make dinner preparation at home simpler, I stopped eating meat except on rare occasions, since it was usually just the kids and I for dinner. My husband was often away on business and was now the major meat eater in our family. When he was home, he would eat his regular fare of meat and vegetables, and eat the children's meat substitutes. He accepted the children's choice to be vegans, but he didn't get into understanding the complete ramifications of living a vegan lifestyle. By contrast, I had learned the difference between vegan burgers and many other veggie burgers that contain eggs or milk products. We bought frozen meat substitutes like bar-b-qued riblets and veggie chops. Occasionally, we sent off for frozen specialty foods like mock shrimp or chicken from an online store out of New York. I did a lot of research on the internet and found web sites where I could buy non-leather shoes for the kids, order vegan treats to send to them at college, and collect recipes to make my own baked goods using soy products instead of milk, eggs, and butter.

My food world has certainly expanded. I can order up a vegan pizza without batting an eyelash when the voice on the other end of the line asks, "No cheese at all?" and I have discovered wonderful ethnic foods I never knew existed. For meals with family or friends, who still feel the need for meat, it is easy enough to add it as a side to the meal.

If you and your family find yourselves embarking on this journey, keep one thing in mind-- no matter what stage you’re in, enjoy the ride. It's really not as painful as you might imagine. The best part is, if you love to cook and eat, it will expand your culinary world immensely.

Copyright 2008 by Jude Eastman Click here to Join the Conversation



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