“Water does not resist. Water flows…Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” –Margaret Atwood
This post has kind of a dramatic title, doesn’t it?
“Confessions of a Gluten-Free Vegan.” Does it make you think I’m about to divulge my deepest, darkest food secrets? The kind that might involve a late-night rendezvous with a pint of So Delicious German Chocolate ice cream and a tub of vegan whipped cream?
Well, my story is not quite as exciting as all that! (Although, thanks to that example, there are now little pints of my favorite uber-rich and creamy chocolate ice cream dancing through my head!) But, this gluten-free vegan is about to disclose some facts about herself of which she is less than proud. What she has learned from those experiences. And how they have turned her into the happy, determined, and proud wheat-free herbivore she is today.
I am choosing to publish this post on October 1 because today happens to be a pretty big day. October 1 is World Vegetarian Day! So, Happy World Vegetarian Day, everyone!
It is also the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month.
And the first day of Texas Go Vegan Week!
That’s why I’m electing to announce today that I have returned to living a vegan lifestyle, a decision about which I am over-the-moon ecstatic! Those of you who follow Cook to Love, my blog dedicated to gluten-free, vegan living, know that I was fervently and ethically vegan for about two years.
But, then I took a short hiatus from blogging. And from vegan living. I reincorporated dairy into my life. And the occasional pieces of fish and seafood. (Those who have followed this blog from its inception know that some recipes on this site once contained dairy. They have all since been altered to include only plant-based ingredients or, if unalterable, have been removed.) Why, you ask? Why would a girl who remains so passionate about all things vegan revert to some of her omnivorous ways, temporarily forsaking some of the ideals that make up the very core of her being? All while experiencing twinges of guilt and shame with every bite, as I see it, chalk full of torture and suffering?
Well, my dear readers, I made a few errors in judgement. I adopted some erroneous beliefs about what it means to be a truly healthy person, inside and out.
I am, however, happy to report that, after a great deal of self-reflection, I have taken decisive action about which of my behaviors will help me live the most compassionate, creative, and empowered life possible. And which will not.
My struggles with my former vegan lifestyle stem from an ever-present physical condition. An unsightly demon that, when it rears its ugly head, wreaks havoc in my life. And renders my physical being, sometimes, incapacitated. Celiac disease. An immune response to the presence of gluten which, unfortunately, does not occur in a vacuum-type setting. A number of celiac sufferers, my self among them, have multiple food intolerances, sensitivities, and concomitant GI conditions. As do those who suffer from all sorts of food allergies and intolerances.
Unfortunately, gluten isn’t the only ingredient that makes me sick. Certain high-fiber grains, cruciferous vegetables, legumes, nutritional supplements, and additives (especially additives–gums, stabilizers, and the like) are also foe to my tummy. In small quantities, however, I find most of these foods quite tolerable. But, I can’t eat any of them daily. Most I can only handle ingesting comfortably two or three times per week.
After awhile, my gluten-free vegan diet, which once contained a few too many of these foods and, I suspect, in the wrong combinations, began making me sick. I felt helpless and dejected. Like my body was turning against me, my ultra-finicky celiac tummy vehemently protesting against the foods upon which I relied for essential vitamins and nutrients. I grew weary of trying to find new plant-based foods, or new combinations of foods, to sustain my vegan diet. So, I am a little ashamed to say, I gave up.
I tried dairy yogurt. And it didn’t make me sick. Since going gluten-free, my gut has healed enough so that lactose intolerance has become a thing of my past. The stabilizers in all manner of nondairy yogurts, however, make me quite ill. (At one time, I attributed my curl-up-in-a-fetal-position-writhing-in-pain reaction to nondairy yogurts to their probiotic composition, but I am now fairly certain that stabilizers are to blame.) I then began trading meals of beans and grains for more easily digestible fish. Adding cheese to my salads instead of avocado. Not because I couldn’t tolerate avocados. But because, once I had introduced animal products back into my life, it became easier to sample more and more of them.
I wasn’t happy, though. I wondered if I was becoming desensitized to the suffering of other animals–the very reason I became vegan in the first place. There were days when I opened my refrigerator, stared at the cheese and yogurt occupying space on its shelves, and considered flinging them into the garbage. I was disgusted with myself.
So, I began examining my motives. Deep down, I knew they were less than honorable, although I’d somehow convinced myself that I needed to supplement my once clean, plant-based diet with a certain number of animal products in order to be healthy, in order to thrive.
Sure, my body can handle most animal-based foods without upset, but my mind and heart certainly can’t. So, I ask you, how “healthy” is it for me to include them in my diet? It’s not healthy. Not healthy at all. Just as I believe firmly that my fitness routine should strengthen and invigorate my mind, body, and spirit, so do I believe that the foods I choose to eat should nourish and energize my whole person. And if they fall short of achieving that end, my dear readers, then they don’t have a place in my life.
I realized that I had not only fallen victim to the erroneous belief that “good health” means having a strong, disease-free body, irrespective of mind and spirit, but I had also lost faith in my creative abilities! It was, after all, out of my own creativity, coupled with the sheer determination to forge my own path to happy eating, that both Cook to Love and The Breakfast Blog were born. It was from those sources, too, that I was able to sustain a fairly varied–and always tasty–gluten-free vegan diet for two years.
So, why don’t I try again, and really test my creativity this time? The joy I get from sharing in the creative spirit of the food blogging community is the primary reason I came back to blogging and now actively maintain two recipe blogs. In fact, none of the wonderfully inspirational food blogs out there would even exist if we were all content to simply defrost the pre-portioned, boxed meals that crowd our grocers’ freezer sections, or reheat the salt- and preservative-filled contents of most soup and sauce cans.
In fact, I’ll bet you wouldn’t be reading this post right now if you didn’t believe that you, too, can use your ingenuity to create delicious, nutritious food. Or, depending on who you are, to embark on a new journey into the world of healthy eating (and maybe…just maybe…vegan or vegetarian eating). Knowing that you cannot rely on the integrity of highly processed, pre-packaged foods to help you become healthier. That, in fact, you often have to create your own meals, from whole, fresh, clean foods–foods that nourish mind, body, and spirit–in order to achieve your health-related goals.
As Margaret Atwood, who I quoted at the beginning of this post reminds us, in order to find non-obvious solutions to those issues that represent barriers to our success, we must confront them creatively. With patience and diligence, work to move around them. To forge our own paths where there are none suitable for us to follow. To become empowered by arming ourselves with the belief that each of us can find innovative ways to dissolve or circumvent the obstacles that lay down in front of us. And that none of us should ever feel forced to do what feels unnatural, for the sake of good health or any other pursuit, no matter how lofty it may appear.
So, on this beautiful Monday, the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I am making a renewed commitment to myself–and to all of you–to continue to find new and delicious ways to eat healthfully, creatively, gluten-free, and, very proudly, vegan.
I wish you all a fantastic Monday!