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Ask a Vegan: How to be Vegan in a Meat-Eating Family?

Ask a VeganDear Christine,

I am a vegetarian in a meat-eating family. I would like to be a vegan but its difficult to even be a vegetarian. I am the primary cook in the family and while my husband and kids are supportive, they still want me to cook meat. How can I make my family happy and start to be a vegan? I have 4 kids at ages 12, 6, 5, and 2 — all picky eaters. I would love some advice. Thank you for you time and consideration.


Hi Sara,

Thanks for writing. I understand that change is hard, especially when it involves other people. I find it hard enough to make changes for my sake. Add family to the mix and it can be downright overwhelming. However, it can be done. First, I’m wondering if you have explained to your family why you want to be vegan? It’s helpful to keep an open mind with these types of conversations, so that others don’t feel defensive. Everyone has a right to their own feelings and forcing change on others is a disaster in the making. You may want to watch Vegucated together? It’s a wonderful documentary infused with humor and facts — building bridges for veganism. This film may help open up your family to the idea of eating less meat.

Now to your real question: How can I make my family happy (at meal time) and start being vegan?

Begin by empowering your family in the kitchen. Teach them how to cook. Even supervised youngsters can learn to cook and help with simple tasks. Knowing how to cook will give them choices. If they don’t want to eat what you’re making for dinner, they can cook for themselves. I started cooking at a very early age because I was a picky eater. Cooking is a skill I wish more people had. It will serve your kids well for their entire lives. When people eat at home, they typically eat healthier — less salt, sugar, fat and calories — then if they eat out.  You may find your family enjoys planning meals and cooking together.

Mark Bittman wrote this wonderful essay in the form of a short e-book a couple of years ago called Cooking Solves Everything. If all families cooked together, the world would be a very different place.

An optimal vegan diet includes a variety of plant-based foods. I believe that everyone can find some vegan options they would enjoy, especially meat alternatives since meat is what your family wants. Seitan is an easy meat alternative you can make at home. The kids could help make this. (Soon I will be posting the best seitan recipe I have ever made.) You may need to experiment with different foods. You can also make a game of it by letting your children pick out a new vegetable to try each week. They are bound to find a few they like. Just make it fun for them.

Or, you could simply draw the line. I never had the chance to meet my husband’s mom. I have heard a lot about her over the years including her approach to mealtime. She had six kids and it’s easy to imagine there was at least one picky child in the bunch. When one of her children would say, “I don’t like this”, she would reply, “You must not be hungry then.” There was no special food offered to the complainer. There is truth in her words. She was teaching them to be grateful for the food in front of them. A truly hungry person would eat just about anything. But, we’re spoiled in our culture. We’re used to having our wants met at every turn. It’s estimated that we waste 40% of the food in the U.S., so there’s good reason to encourage a grateful attitude towards the food on our plates.

Or, you could continue “trying” to keep everyone happy with multiple entrees at one meal and drive yourself mad. I believe a happy mom makes for a happy family. An unhappy mom, not so much. Change isn’t always easy but if it’s important to you, then you deserve the opportunity to be successful at making the change.

Keep me posted,

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Not sure of your way around the kitchen?

Empower yourself and learn how to cook. Just like any other skill, once you learn the basics, it just takes practice. And yes, time, but it’s worth it when you can feed yourself healthy and tasty vegan food easily. Before you know it, you’ll be a highly skilled vegan cook and know what’s what in your own kitchen.

There are several cooking schools, restaruants, and other businesses around town that offer vegan cooking classes. I suggest taking hands-on classes, but it can be interesting to watch demonstrations too. Besides taking vegan cooking classes, it’s also a good idea to learn proper knife skills as a starting point. Check out the class schedules at some of the following places for more information. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Cooking Schools
The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square and River North
Fundamentals of Vegan Cooking on May 5 at the Lincoln Square location. Knife Skills offered several times a month for $40–one of the least expensive knife skills classes in town. I took this hands-on class years ago and recommend it for anyone who wants to use knives more efficiently in the kitchen.

Heat and Spice Cooking School in Uptown
Learn how to cook vegan Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisines. I have taken the vegan Thai class and highly recommend the chef and the food. Spicy and delicious!

Cooking Fools in Wicker Park
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule, but this is where I learned to make seitan. Call and ask for a vegan class! Perhaps they will add one to there schedule.

The Wooden Spoon in Andersonville
Currently no vegan classes on the schedule. Call and ask for a vegan class.

Raw Food Preparation
Cousin’s Incredible Vitality on West Irving Park
Interested in the raw food movement? Learn how to prepare raw food and become a certified raw food chef. Check the website for upcoming classes.

Cru Cacao
This raw food catering company also teaches raw food preparation in your home.

More Classes
Lakeside Cafe in Rogers Park
No classes are currently scheduled. Check their website in the future because this local veg restaurant offers inexpensive vegan cooking classes on a wide variety of topics.

Whole Foods
Class schedules vary by location, but I have often seen vegan cooking classes offered. Some demonstrations are even free.

Cooking Shows on TV
Christina Cooks: Check your local television schedule. (It is on Saturday afternoons on my local PBS station.)

Delicious TV Totally Vegetarian with Chef Toni Fiore
Check local listing for TV schedule.

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Celebrating three years!

January 1 marked my three year anniversary of becoming vegan. In more ways than I can count, this has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. When I made the decision, it was all about the food, the clothes, and the animals. I never expected all the great people who would come into my life because of this one decision. I have met the best people over the past three years including many new friends from volunteering (my tribe) and my boyfriend from (more on this later!).

If I would have known then what I know now, I would have made the decision much sooner. Something to keep in mind for the next big decision. Perhaps you are considering going vegan this year? Consider the possibility that this change will grace your life in more ways then you could ever imagine. It’s easier than ever to be vegan in this world. Check out this press release on market trends for proof. So what’s stopping you?

Questions on going vegan welcome and encouraged. Come on…give me something to write about!

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Animal Ingredients List for your iPod

The list of animal ingredients in food and beauty products is extensive, overwhelming, and can seem like a foreign language at times.

For example: Civet is an unctuous secretion painfully scraped from a gland very near the genital organs of civet cats.  Used as a fixative in perfumes. Alternatives: labdanum oil (which comes from various rockrose shrubs) and other plants with a musky scent. (from HappyCow’s Animal Ingredients List A-Z.)

Ughhh. No need to despair. Of course, you can go old school and buy the book, Animal Ingredients A-Z, Third Edition

Better yet, try this electronic version (Save some trees!) that can be downloaded to your iPod. Check out Animal Ingredients List A-Z for iPod. It’s simple to download and includes short instructions for loading to your iPod. The site sources and The Vegan Society for the information. Download it today and the next time you are at the supermarket reading food labels, you can whip out your iPod to check questionable ingredients. Very convenient. After all, it’s easy being vegan!

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Reading material

As you may have read by now, I contemplated becoming vegan for many years. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I just couldn’t commit (but when I did I was there 100%). It seemed like a big deal to give up all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, leather, wool, etc.). As much as I didn’t want animals to suffer I didn’t want to suffer either. I knew if I gave up meat and all animal products I would feel deprived if I didn’t have good, solid subsitutes. I had already given up meat but the rest was a huge leap.

Until I realized all the resources available, I couldn’t imagine myself being vegan. Once I started reading about others who made the change and finding all the resources on the internet, it became easier to envision. There are several books that got me started:

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Voices from the Garden: Stories of Becoming a Vegetarian — Short stories of others who chose vegetarianism and why. Good if you need inspiration.

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet– Good nutritional resource. (Funny story about this book. I bought it a couple of years before I became vegan. It sat on my book shelf and then sat some more. In fact it sat there so long I started to feel it staring at me, so I got rid of it. I obviously wasn’t ready. Must have bought it too soon. So I bought it again when I was ready. Are you beginning to see how hard I thought this would be? I had it all wrong. It’s easy being vegan. Now I know.)

Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook — Good book to help you get through your first Thanksgiving dinner with omnivores and other tricky situations.

Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook– For those who feel like they just don’t fit in.

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