While some people become vegetarian and/or vegan in a singular instant, perhaps after they had a health scare or learned about the realities of factory farming, many others experience an evolution over time. That was true for our family.
In the Beginning
I had a long history of vegetarianism — from the time I was a teenager until I was pregnant with twins at age 32. During that time, being a vegetarian for me was more a case of not eating meat as opposed to proactively eating a lot of whole plant foods. I lived on PowerBars, PBJs, potatoes, and popcorn.
A Step Back
Then, during my pregnancy, my doctor told me that I was anemic and needed to eat red meat three times a day in addition to taking iron supplements. While I couldn’t bring myself to eat beef, I did begin eating chicken and turkey thinking this was best for the babies. Ironically, I could have absorbed more iron from 100 calories of spinach than in 1700 calories of sirloin steak. Increasing my consumption of dark, leafy veggies would have also eliminated the risks associated with iron supplementation.
Family’s First Meat-Free Attempt
Fast forward almost a decade to December 2012 when our family watched two eye-opening documentaries, Food Inc. and Forks Over Knives, about corporate farming and the health benefits of a plant-based diet respectively. Half way through the second movie, Niklas, who grew up on meat and dairy in Sweden, turned to me and said, “looks like January will be meat free.” And that was that.
We went meat free in January, and it was actually easier than we anticipated. We still had dairy and eggs, and I wouldn’t say we increased our vegetables as much as we just eliminated meat and ate more cheese. February brought us back to eating meat, but definitely less of it. We were on the path of being more mindful of where our food was coming from and the chain reaction it had on our health and environment.
Our Daughter’s Inspiration
A year later, our daughter, Linnea, declared that she was a vegetarian. I told her that was great, but, “vegetarians actually eat vegetables!” To which Linnea deadpanned, “then I’m not a vegetarian, I just don’t eat animals.” She has a profound connection with all living creatures, even insects.
I wanted to support this kindred spirit so started doing research on protein and iron needs for children since those are the two most hyped fears around vegetarianism. I read many books and articles, listened to podcasts, and devoured cook books trying to find nutritious and delicious recipes to entice her to eat more vegetables. Ever so slowly, we made progress. Both Linnea and I were mainly vegetarian together until Mattias, who always has his twin sister’s back, joined us. We were now a family of three vegetarians and two semi-meat eaters.
We hodgepodged our meals to fit everyone’s food preferences and allergies, but truth be told, there was a lot of short-order cooking going on which became chaotic at times.
One of the resources I found when researching whether it was healthy for children to be vegetarian was the Rich Roll Podcast. I loved this podcast so much that I went back and listened to almost every episode from the beginning, and in the process, educated myself about the health benefits of a plant-based diet.
The Discovery that Changed Everything
Through the RRP, as it’s fondly known, I discovered for the first time the extent of the environmental devastation caused by the agriculture industry when Rich interviewed filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn about their groundbreaking documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
As an environmentally-conscious family, we were stunned to say the least. Here we had been recycling every scrap of everything, saving water in a bucket in our shower, buying in bulk to reduce packaging, conserving whenever and however we could, and of course spending the extra money on organic, non-GMO foods whenever possible. All the while we had no idea that our consumption of meat and dairy contributed to the leading cause of climate change—dwarfing all forms of transportation combined! This rocked us to our core.
Whole Family Commitment
At this point, we decided as a family that we would not bring animal products into our own our home. We were committed mainly for the environment and health benefits, but our edification continues as we learn more and more about the Animal Welfare, and Global Hunger benefits of a plant-based diet.
What Can We Eat?!?!
I should say right here that when we first committed to becoming plant based, it did feel like we couldn’t eat anything. Now that cheese and eggs were also off the table, our go-to meals from our January 2013 experiment were no longer an option. With neither Niklas nor I being natural cooks, the learning curve was steep! Also, Mattias’ allergies to the staples of vegan eating –such as legumes, nuts, and even hemp seeds — added an extra challenge.
Some of our creations have been big winners while others, “total fails” as the kids say. We are still at the beginning of this journey, but we are making progress and that feels good. The most exciting discovery, however, has been that our food options have expanded exponentially! It’s amazing how many different plants, grains, and legumes we’ve tried and truly enjoyed. It’s been unexpectedly fun trying all these new foods!
Our teenage son, Joakim, who was the staunchest meat eater and the last to join our cause, is now incredibly dedicated and steadfast. He started out pescatarian, but after watching the powerful short, Seaspiracy, realized the health of the planet depended upon the health of the oceans so he tries to be as vegan as possible. Despite the peer pressure of high school (he’s been called “cow-lover” and teased for being vegetarian, much less vegan), he’ll order fries when his friends are eating burgers.
The parents of his volleyball team bring lunch for the matches so the best he can do there is cheese pizza or a grilled cheese sandwich if he wants to participate or bring his own lunch and stand out. Neither option is optimal, but he’s working with what he can. Best of all, he’s willing to try all my experiments and more often than not, he likes them! He even drinks a green smoothie every morning before school.
Our journey continues. We are not perfect vegans all the time, and we don’t pretend to be. We also do not judge others who are not on this journey with us. We would, however, love to broaden the tent and inspire all of us to Eat More Plants. It’s as simple as that!
We welcome you to join our OneGreenSmoothie adventure!