October 06, 2009

The day I decided to be vegan / veganmofo 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.

22 comments:

  1. That pasta looks beautiful! I loved reading this post about how you gave up dairy. Not only is the dairy industry viciously cruel to the animals it uses and discards, but dairy is so dangerous to human health. I wish more people knew this! Thank you for this post.

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  2. That's a great story about why you became vegan. Thank you for sharing!

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  3. mastitis was the start of my vegan journey as well, I had it twice and that was more than enough, the second time had me in bed for several days.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and your pasta looks lovely!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

    I used to have more health issues too when I still consumed dairy. I had frequent cold/sinus problems and I used to have IBS. Once I cut the dairy from my diet those problems magically disappeared. I bet if more people would cut out dairy if they knew how much better they would feel!

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  5. Tasha,
    Thanks for your comments. Most people who happily consume animal products don't want to know the truth. I sometimes try to encourage people to read books like "Diet For A New America" by John Robbins, but am met with resistance.

    Brandon,
    You're welcome. Thanks for reading.

    vegfoodforthought,
    It's too bad doctors don't suggest giving up dairy to their patients with mastitis. My doctor didn't believe there was a connection!

    Kiersten,
    I agree that many people would feel better and be healthier if they cut out dairy. Unfortunately, the dairy industry has a pretty solid grip on the market, and has convinced people of the health benefits of consuming its products.

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  6. It's official. You are my new favorite recipe site. I am drooling....

    It's amazing how animal products really affect your overall health. I'm vegetarian, but I will say that once I cut dairy out the joint pain I used to suffer virtually disappeared.

    A mainstream read "Skinny Bitch" is really converting the uncovertable...there is hope! ; )

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  7. This is a great story! I never had the mucus thing. I always just really hated milk and eggs. Stuff made with them was tolerable but in the basic form...blech.

    Glad to hear your story, though.

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  8. Keidoo,
    Thanks!

    Monique,
    I drank gallons of milk when I was young. But the baby I wrote about in the post just turned 29! I've been vegan a long time.

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  9. Cutting out dairy while breastfeeding is becoming more common which I think is great. One of my omnivore friends who didn't know that I was vegan even suggested that I cut out dairy as long as I was nursing for the baby's health. I thought that was pretty cool.

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  10. Wow, mastitis sounds truly awful. So glad you got rid of it permanently and have found a much healthier way to live! And that pasta looks great (how lovely that your hubby reads your blog!)

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  11. Zoey,
    I'm really glad to hear that. I think there is concern about causing allergies by exposing the nursing baby to milk proteins.

    Ricki,
    It's both good and bad. I'm trying to encourage him to read other blogs, too, so he won't make the same things over and over!

    Debra,
    Thanks for your comment!

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story! One of the reasons I started cutting back on dairy even before I became vegan was because I got recurring ear infections. Even beyond the animal welfare concerns, there are so many reasons to stop drinking milk.

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  13. cardamom,
    You're welcome. I was hoping it might help someone with a similar problem. I hope cutting back on dairy helped you ear infections.

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  14. Thanks for sharing this story, Andrea. It's so important to remember that cow's milk is not good for humans. Whenever I think "mmm, feta...if it's free range and organic it can't be that bad..." (I don't think this way often, but occasionally), I remember how sick I'd feel after eating it.

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  15. Mary, I know what you mean. I was amazed how pervasive dairy products are when I tried to avoid eating them. It's astonishing how much of our food supply is held under a cow. With all that encouragement to eat dairy, it takes a lot of thought and research (or personal experience) to believe it's not healthy.

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  16. Andrea-just discovered your blog and LOVE it (esp. the vegan Passover recipes)!! I turned vegan over a month ago after being ovo-lacto for 18 years.

    I was wondering: do you have any favorite calcium-rich meals? I'm growing tired of kale-collard-potato soup!

    Also, have you gotten bone density exams? What does/did your doctor say when he/she found out you were vegan?

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  17. Hi! I just discovered your lovley site! My husband and I have just gone Vegan! It's day 5 today! We are excited but also quite challenged as our children are finding the transition difficult. We have been batteling a host of food allergies and medical issues for a long time so the dietary change should not really be that severe as we already avoided dairy and eggs. Taking the rest of our lives completely free of animal products is more complicated though. Thank you for posting your personal story it is very inspiring!

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  18. But - I'm confused by your story because I've been vegan for years and have had mastitis several times.... I'd never even heard of a connection between diet and mastitis. Interesting!

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  19. It does seem odd, doesn't it, how everyone's body reacts differently to different foods. One person will react violently to tree nuts, another to soy, and a third to garlic. I had an omnivore friend whose young son always had inflamed, red chapped cheeks. Her doctor suggested she stop giving him eggs, and within a few days, his cheeks were normal. Giving up dairy stopped both my mastitis and my son's ear infections. I believe many health problems are connected to diet, but finding the connection isn't always easy.

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  20. You know what, I'd never read this before! What an interesting story! I'm glad I happened upon it - only took me about 279 visits! :-)

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    Replies
    1. There are all sorts of things buried on this blog — probably on yours, too!

      Delete

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