If Meatless Monday is a baby step, Mark Bittman’s vegan before 6 philosophy might feel more like a leap.
I thought I’d take a break from usual MM fare today to discuss this. Are you familiar with Bittman? He was the New York Times food critic when—after years of eating to his heart’s desire—his doctor told him his heart and the rest of him might be in trouble for it.
Bittman was 35 pounds overweight, had sleep apnea, high cholesterol, climbing blood sugar, and other more general physical discomforts. His doctor suggested he become vegan—which is nothing short of a death sentence for a food critique. But Bittman knew he had to take his health seriously. After giving it some thought he adopted this unusual diet: Before dinner he would only eat unprocessed vegan foods. Once dinner hit though, it was fair game. After just three months, eating vegan before dinner, reversed all of his conditions—and he’s stuck with it since. For six years now.
Bittman, in turn, has also become an advocate for healthful, conscious consumption. And at the end of the month his VB6 book is coming out with advice and recipes on how to follow this way of eating. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m reticent about food restriction in general, but I think Bittman’s approach has a lot of merit because it does not force you to cut out any one food or category. It also happens to be very close to how I eat already—unless I order in, I almost never eat meat or fish during the day. (Tofu, lentils, veggies and toast are my daytime staples.)
What do you think of the vegan before 6 approach? Is it something you’d consider adopting?
We all have self-imposed limits. What we’ll eat, what we’ll buy, who we’ll buy it from – these are all areas where we set boundaries for ourselves. How do we make our choices? What determines where the boundary is set? From various angles, issues about this have surfaced on NMDL. I’ve seen controversy over Meatless Mondays, but taking fish oil capsules be accepted without comment.
Reviews of products containing carmine may go by with nary a squeak, but some readers express disgust with emu oil. I’ve seen people excited about trying products containing phenoxyethanol, yet eschewing products with parabens.
NMDL was established as a place of balance, where safe, organic, and natural are highly valued, but the special occasion use of even the dirtiest mascara or lipstick could be admitted without fear of reprisal. It’s a place where clean products and companies are celebrated, but it might make sense to use up that giant bottle of dirty shampoo before switching to a clean brand. When I was first coming here, and going through my angrily-throwing-out-dirty-products phase, I thought, why doesn’t everyone just go completely clean? Why maintain anything in our lives that’s less than clean and safe? And then it occurred to me, what the heck did that mean? Everyone has to make decisions about what “clean” means, and perhaps what is clean enough. I think I threw out my newly clean rose-colored glasses after I’d spent weeks detoxing my family and home, and then someone suggested the inside of my dishwasher may contain BPA. That was the moment I could have said, eff it all, and given up. But instead I said, okay, I’ll control what I reasonably can, and be happy with that. Gotta establish those boundaries.
The question of whether animal products can be “clean” or not has come up in comments on several posts lately, so I’ll take a moment to focus there. First, NMDL has never been a vegan site, though certainly the related thread of sustainability has always been part of the ethos. Regardless of my personal choices, I do not believe a product must be vegan to be considered clean or appropriate for a glowing review here.
So, let me answer my own question and discuss some of my personal choices and reasoning. My diet is vegan (except for honey), which is primarily about health but also sustainability. I figure my eating no animal products balances someone else eating lots. I don’t have a fundamental problem with people eating sustainably raised animals, and I do buy meat for my family. But even when I ate meat, I tried to minimize the use of animal products in other areas (including in foods that were not mainly about the meat). It just seems wasteful and unnecessary to use animal products in too many places. I do buy leather shoes for my picky feet/knees/back, though as vegan shoe options get better I may make that switch. I tend to get extremely cold (in a way that makes me less than functional), so I own several down items, with the newer pieces from companies that source only from food animals. I now increasingly seek down alternatives. I buy wool garments from companies whose policies I trust. I occasionally take medicine, all of which has been animal tested at some point. I’m not opposed to all animal testing and believe it has its place in medicine, though I wouldn’t buy animal tested cosmetics. I make sure most items I use, like my work bag, purse, other personal items, and cosmetics and associated tools, are vegan.
So, how do we choose our boundaries? How does one come to a place where it’s okay to eat fish, but not birds or mammals? Maybe it seems a little clearer, at least on the surface, to say one would eat only sustainably raised animals. But does going out to eat with a group, or eating at a friend’s house, or travelling mean that we can ease up on our own rules? I might eat the chicken of not-entirely-known origin if I were travelling, because I NEED to eat. But I wouldn’t choose an animal-tested carmine-laden blush if I forgot to pack mine, because I don’t NEED blush. But what if I’m in my sister’s wedding, and she’s afraid I’ll ruin her wedding pics with my unmascaraed eyes – maybe I’d run to the local drugstore and choose the least offensive they had. So many things to consider.
I can definitely talk myself into a place where this “clean” thing keeps getting more and more complex. But let me try to distill it down to its simplest form. I think that if we just give it conscious thought, if we do our personal best, if we make it an actual, responsible choice and don’t just plod along doing whatever is easiest – perhaps that’s clean living. Or clean enough, anyway.
What do you think?
As we plan to sit around the dinner table this week with friends, family, and lots of food, I thought it was time to address this tricky topic.
A while back one of the lovely NMDL readers suggested I do a post on the social aspects of eating when one eats in a manner not typical. For me, some of this revolves around dealing with other people and their issues, and some of it is pure logistics!
Since I eat in a way that is quite different from most people, I am often reminded of just how worked up people can get about how other people choose to eat.
Please note, I am not addressing eating disorders here, but rather adults making decisions about how to eat. I’ve had many experiences where people have judged me about the way I eat. When I was a much larger person, others would shoot me nasty looks as I ordered a dessert. Since I’ve been a healthy weight for my frame, people still criticize how I eat. Often, it seems as though others think my personal choices are a negative judgment of their choices, though they are not. These are a few concepts I use in my life to help me deal with the complications of eating differently from most people around me.
Don’t let other people try to shame or bully you into eating a certain way. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to live in your body. We should be able to make our own decisions about our own bodies. This covers a lot of things, including food. I hope everyone makes healthy and informed choices, and listens to their body. Sometimes another person will have a genuine concern about your health. If it is someone who cares about you, listen to the concern, and address it respectfully (if you need help, take the opportunity to receive it). Eating disorders are real, but not all atypical ways of eating are disordered. Make an honest, informed, responsible assessment of how you choose to eat, and do your best to make it work.
Be willing to be somewhat flexible. While I prefer to eat raw, as long as the options are vegan and gluten free (my essentials for health), I can manage in a social situation. Figure out where you are willing to be flexible and be prepared for this when you eat with others.
Come up with a dish or two that most other people love, regardless of their dietary specifics. I struggle with this, as I don’t think I’ve ever been comfortable preparing food for others. Some people are great cooks, but it’s not my gift. Every once in while though, I have a hit. People love my slaw, so when I’m invited to someone’s home I bring it. That also guarantees there will be at least one thing there I can eat.
Be ready to discuss/answer questions about how you eat, in a way that doesn’t provoke an argument (unless you want to have the argument). Why aren’t you eating, or why did you bring your own food? I have a lot of food sensitivities. Why don’t you eat meat/dairy? I feel healthier when I don’t. Why do you think you have a problem with gluten? Diarrhea. Okay, that last one is usually my last resort when someone is clearly judging me and seems to think I’m an idiot incapable of making my own choices. Generally my response is more polite.
When eating out, know what’s available in your area, and plan ahead. Use a smartphone app or the internet to locate restaurants that will accommodate your needs (this is great if you go out of town, too). Others often think I can just go to any restaurant and order a salad, but food I can get at most places is just not as nutritious as what I make at home. Plus I have to ask so many questions to be sure of staying gluten free, etc, it’s a pain. If you can find a place that meets the needs of everyone in your group, that would be ideal. There really aren’t many places around me that are agreeable to most people I would eat out with, so sometimes I have to sneak in some of my own food. Sometimes I make sure to eat something that covers my needs before going out, so I can just order whatever is available without feeling like I don’t have enough.
But what about eating at home when no one else eats like you do? I really have no completely satisfactory solution here. I’m in a situation where no one in my house has the same schedule or eats the same food. It can be a hassle, but I’m committed to eating in a way that I enjoy and that makes me feel good. I try to have my family prepare our food together, and share what we can. That way it’s not completely on me to make all the different meals, and we still have some family time. Now that my son is old enough to use the stove, this is somewhat easier.
Are you dealing with these issues too? How?
Happy Meatless Monday y’all! We’ve got Natalie in the house from Toronto, with a super-balanced vegan menu. We love this series, because it inspires us to try new recipes and think outside the box. It’s so easy to get stuck in eating ruts, right? If you like it too, and have yet to send in a menu, don’t delay! Just follow the format below.
My dietary leanings: Vegetarian since January 2007, vegan since October 2011.
My favorite vegetable: Brussels sprouts. Kale is a close second. What can I say? I like my cruciferous veggies!
This morning I ate…
My usual is a kale smoothie with berries, mango, avocado, banana, sprouted chia-flax seeds, almond milk, and some brown rice protein powder, and a slice of chia-flax toast with whatever nut butter strikes my fancy at the time. But since I played hooky from my Sunday grocery shopping, I revisited an old favourite breakfast using ingredients I had on hand: oatmeal with berries, almond milk, sprouted chia-flax seeds, brown rice protein powder, and Udo’s 3-6-9 blend with vegan DHA.
As a mid-morning snack, I had some Sunrise brand peach-mango dessert tofu.
A quick and dirty fruit salad of kiwi, orange and apple slices, mixed berries, and raw pumpkin seeds.
As dinner time rolled around…
I was really looking forward to digging into some red quinoa and black bean salad. Post-grocery shopping, I made a slightly modified version of this Oh She Glows recipe, with corn, tomato, avocado, garlic, cilantro, lime, green and jalapeno peppers. It did not disappoint! Dessert was a leftover birthday cupcake–my mom makes a great vegan carrot cake with crushed pineapple–and some cherries.
Yum! Natalie, want to post that cupcake recipe (if you have it from moms)? Anyone else make good vegan desserts?
We love this menu for many reasons, not least of all becauze Kate just sounds like a lot of fun. Help answer her questions in the comments, and don’t forget to send in your meatless adventures.
Hometown: Los Angeles
My dietary leanings: I eat lots of veggies and fish. Occasionally I’ll eat red meat and goat or sheep dairy.
My favorite vegetable: Sauerkraut! That counts right?
Breakfast: Lately I’ve been having giant breakfasts and I’m loving it. My formula is a green, a protein, and sauerkraut. Today it was kale, brown lentils, and sauerkraut. Picked the kale from my generous neighbor’s garden, lentils are the pre-cooked Trader Joe’s kind (is that bad?), and sauerkraut from a local market. Garnished with lemon and a little olive oil.
Mid morning: After breakfast I’ll normally have tea. Today was raspberry leaf tea because I’m premenstrual and Yogi’s Skin Detox because my face is a mess. Not sure if that works but it tastes wonderful.
Lunch: A large salad with red lettuce, kale, garbanzo beans, a mound of sauerkraut, and a fresh peach. Topped with a homemade apple vinaigrette. Sometimes I put smoked trout (from the same place as the sauerkraut) on this and it takes it from amazing to spectacular. Like- “no sorry coworkers I brought a salad for lunch so go get takeout with me”- good.
Snack: If I’m still hungry I’ll have almond butter on a rice cake. Although I recently realized rice cakes have a really high glycemic index- which I try to avoid to keep myself and my skin balanced. So today I just had a tablespoon of almond butter. Any advice for almond butter receptacles?
Dinner: Normally pretty small since I eat a giant breakfast & lunch. Although when I get stressed I tend to crave large dinners. Today I had sliced persian cucumbers dipped in saffron hummus. 2 slices of sourdough bread with olive oil and sea salt. And more sauerkraut…I need to start making my own I go through the stuff so quickly. Advice? Please help I’m addicted!
After: Wine. The red kind. I’m in the market for a boxed organic red if you have any favorites :)