October 06, 2009
I showed my husband this blog post and told him I really wanted pasta for dinner and he said he'd been planning to make some anyway. When he finally said dinner was ready, I was starving. As I was eating I noted that the sauce was especially good, and asked if he'd made it himself or used a jar. "I made it," he answered, "from your blog."
Ah... I knew there was a reason I was writing this blog!
But why am I writing a vegan-centric blog? Why did I decide to be vegan? Some time ago I did a post about the day I became a vegetarian. At the end of the post was a promise to write about the day I decided to become a vegan, a slightly more personal story involving health issues. Here goes...
My husband and I had been vegetarian for several years before I became pregnant with our first child. We were asked lots of questions at the time about whether I intended to stay vegetarian during the pregnancy (yes), and whether we planned to raise our child as a vegetarian (well, duh). The pregnancy and delivery went well, and our babe was perfect and healthy - only two eyes, not three, as I think my parents expected. Everything was great until about two weeks after the birth, when I got horribly sick. My doctor told us to meet her at the emergency room - she was worried about a post-delivery infection since my fever was so high. I'll never forget the reaction of the medical staff when we entered the room with that tiny baby. It was as if they all went ridged on signal, and started moving towards us. I realized right away what they thought, and told them the baby was fine - I was sick. As quickly as they had reacted to seeing the baby, they instantly relaxed. I was a little miffed at their sudden lack of concern, since I felt so sick.
It turned out I had mastitis, a breast infection. I was given antibiotics and sent home. The infection was like a horrible case of flu with miserable aches and pains, and high fever. When I finally recovered, I tried to be really careful not to let it happen again. But I suffered a long series of these infections, prompting me to seek alternative care, as the antibiotics were exhausting me. There was a homeopathic and herbal pharmacy a block from our house, and from the owner I learned to treat the infections early with the herbs mullein and lobelia . The herbs worked better than the antibiotics, with no after effects, and although I dreaded having an infection, I managed to deal with them, and they became much less frequent as the baby got older.
When our second baby came along, I was hoping not to repeat the infection routine but that was not to be. Not only did I suffer, the baby always seemed to be congested, and he had a series of ear infections. I treated the ear infections with garlic and herbs, and it worked great, but I found the continuous cycle of infection disturbing and frustrating. One day at the herb store the owner asked if I wanted to end the infections instead of just treating them. I asked him how to do that, and he responded that I needed to give up dairy products. I saw visions of pizza floating before my eyes, and told him I already was a vegetarian, and couldn't possibly give up dairy. (Actually, my husband and I been in the "thinking stage" of giving up eggs and dairy products for health and ethical reasons, and were pretty much there with eggs, but couldn't quite make the leap over mozzarella.)
He assured me I could do it, and suggested I give it up for two, preferably three, months - one month to clear it from my body, and another one or two to see if it had an effect on my and my baby's health. Two months seemed perfectly do-able, and I gave it a try. At first I was startled to see how many food products contained some form of dairy. Avoiding it required extreme vigilance, but I was used to reading labels and being vigilant so I adapted.
The first thing I noticed, in addition to not having any infections, was that for the first time my baby's nose was clear. He didn't make snuffly noises when he breathed. After the two months were up, and everything was going well, I attended a parenting group I belonged to, and a friend in the group had baked a cake especially for me. It was made with whole wheat flour and no refined sugar - a big leap for her. I asked if it had milk in it and she said it had a little, but not wanting to hurt her feelings, I had a small piece. I really didn't think eating a small piece of cake with a little milk in it would make any difference. On the third day after the cake ingestion, I came down with mastitis, and the baby had an ear infection. "Weird," I thought. Maybe I could be neurotic enough to cause myself enough stress to bring on a breast infection, but my nursing baby was unlikely to be fretting over a piece of second-hand cake. But still...could dairy really be the culprit?
I went back to my dairy-free, infection-free life. But part of me just had to know if the cake incident was a fluke. I decided to do a little experiment and again eat something with a bit of dairy. The result was the same as the first time. Then there was a third (accidental) slip-up with the exact same result, and I was convinced. That was the day I decided to be vegan. And I've never looked back.
Although a health issue was the motivation I needed to give up dairy, there was really more behind the decision than just health. The cruelty and suffering inflicted on farm animals, and the harsh impact of animal farming on the environment were both factors. I'd been concerned about these issues during the years my husband and I were vegetarians but had not been quite ready to make the leap. Sometimes the truth we know about an issue isn't enough to counteract the strong cultural habits we've acquired. Now when I think of being vegan, the issues of animal cruelty are strongest in my mind. Next comes the environment, and last is health. I think all three are compelling enough reasons to choose a vegan lifestyle.