Vegan Cooking for the Unenthusiastic Omnivore

PanDogNote: This post contains discussion of meat, dairy, and eggs. If you don’t want to read that material, stop now.
Simply view this unrelated but excellent image of a dog in a panda hat (taken by Ms.TheVeganAsanaJr2, aka Emmie) and then go off on your merry way!

I’ve written before about the challenges of cooking for a multivore family, and that continues to be something that I get asked about frequently and that occupies my own attention, with a family that has vegans, vegetarians, and very committed omnivores. Luckily for me, my family has always been supportive of my vegetarian and vegan journey; however, I think that is partly because I’ve always treated it as my journey, not as a forced march. In this post, I offer some additional tips and thoughts on how to be the primary cook as a vegan in a household where other members are omnivores.

1. Recognize that your choice is about you.

When you first become vegan or vegetarian, you may find that you suddenly know things about factory farms or animal husbandry or meat processing that you never realized. You may begin to feel that if everyone knew these things,¬†of course they would be vegan. That’s wrong and not really fair. Lecturing family members (or anyone, really) about a vegan diet is no different than lecturing others about why they should convert to your religion. People don’t appreciate it and it likely won’t go well. You are the person that you have authority over. Choosing a vegan/vegetarian diet for you is a choice for you, unless the others in your house voluntarily go along (or you have children that you feel are too young to make a good choice).

2. Everyone has their limits. Know theirs. Know yours.

With six children in TheAsana house, we couldn’t afford (literally or metaphorically) for everyone to want a different dinner. So, that just doesn’t happen. But, everyone got a short list of three items that they just could not stomach in any form (we made an exception such that “meat” became a category that someone could say no to). Some people only had one item (i.e. the dreaded mushroom), while others used all three. But, this gave me, as the cook, a clear list of things that I needed to make substitutions for when they were a main ingredient, so that the naysayer had something to eat.

Similarly, if you have not always been a vegan/vegetarian in your current family, you may not be able to stop having meals with meat in the house entirely (particularly in a family that includes children). So, it is important to establish what your absolute limits are. Many vegans can eat at the same table as someone having a meal containing meat. Many can cook meat for others, as needed, but not consume it themselves. In my house, while I will still cook meals containing meat, I will not (can not) cook the “big dead bird” type of meals and limit meat preparation that requires extensive handling. I also can’t do it every day.

3. Be willing to negotiate. 

You probably have full stop no-can-do items (see #2), but after that, there is room for negotiation. If you can’t stand the idea of making hamburger patties, could you cook them if someone else made them or you buy them prepared? Is there someone else in the house who can do some meat prep on the weekends for ease later in the week? Can you establish some compromises on how often meat will be included in a meal? It may seem silly to actually hash it all out, but it really can be helpful in establishing expectations.

4. Get creative!

My grandmother told me that you can catch more flies with honey (or agave) than you can with vinegar. You can also win over more people to the idea of eating vegan food once you show them that vegan food tastes good. This can happen pretty easily if you start with foods where the meat/dairy/egg isn’t the focus and play to the strengths of a vegan diet. Vegan pancakes are lovely, and no one needs to even know until they finish eating. Spaghetti with marinara sauce, maybe even with some TVP thrown in, is a delicious and filling meal. Nachos with refried beans are a fan favorite in a lot of houses, as are bean burritos. And who doesn’t like biscuits and gravy (if it’s you, don’t tell me)? You can also make vegan items that have meat and cheese on the side for adding to the plates of people who eat them (ground beef and cheddar for nachos, sausage with the pancakes, meatballs for the pasta).

Basically, the goal should be that people don’t feel punished or shamed for not having made the choice that you made, and begin to see vegan food as a normal choice, not as an unattractive and overly health option that is primarily berries and leaves.

At the end of the day, there is one person whose eating habits you really get to control, and it’s you. You may be able to draw a line in the sand of not having meat served in your house or not cooking it, but you can’t make others be ok with that choice, any more than they can make you be ok with a non-vegan diet.

I’m a Vegan, But…

vegan-iconI’m a vegan, but I don’t see you as “less than” if you aren’t.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t dislike food.

I’m a vegan, but I do eat things that aren’t particularly healthy.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t always shop at Whole Foods or Wegmans.

I’m a vegan, but I’ve raised omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan children.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t have a weak body.

I’m a vegan, but I can eat at the same table with an omnivore.

I’m a vegan, but I won’t comment on your food when you are eating.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t make a big fuss about what is served at meals I attend.

I’m a vegan, but I like pie, nachos, cake, potato chips, and even pudding.

I’m a vegan, but I understand the reasons for sustenance hunting.

I’m a vegan, but I can still compliment you on your pretty wool tweed jacket.

I’m a vegan, but I’m not sitting in silent judgment of you all the time.

I’m a vegan, but I don’t feel the need to announce it when not directly applicable.

I’m a vegan, but have no dietary vitamin deficiencies.

I’m a vegan, but I will cook for omnivores as needed.

I’m a vegan, but I can still love you if you aren’t.

I’m a vegan.

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Baby’s Got Bhakti: Vegan Organic Gardening with Love

Squirrel by Karl (turnbullsx3) on Flickr

Squirrel by Karl (turnbullsx3) on Flickr

Subtitle: Even Those Dang Squirrels are Divine

It’s been a summer of gardening at The VeganAsana house, for the first time in a long time, and the first time ever with more than a dozen or so plants. And it’s been quite a learning experience.

garden

First, there was the reading and planning. I drew plot designs and looked at seeds. I read about the different problems that could crop up in a garden and resigned myself that I would probably have one of them. But, I was ok with that.

I imagined all of the delicious, home grown, organic food that I would produce for my family, their eyes open wide with wonder at the dinner table (cue choir of angels). This was me in May.

Then in June, things were growing. GROWING in my garden! Wow!

You should have seen it. The plants were beautiful and green and strong.

The sunflowers were immense. The tomato plants were getting huge and the zucchini plants were flourishing.

We were eating pounds of green beans. And if the kids didn’t look at me in amazement when I produced plates of fresh green beans, at least they ate them.

And then July happened, and it all went to heck.

trellisThe squash and pumpkin plants that I planted by my home-built (with help from my pal, Erica – shout out!) trellis started looking a little dodgy. So did the zucchini. I thought they were being overwatered.

I slowed the watering down and waited on the rain to chill out. And then I noticed some odd sawdust looking stuff at the bottom of the stems. Wait a minute! I read about this! (DUM DUM DUUUUUMMMM!)

The dreaded squash borer! Yep, I had squash borer. Boy oh boy, did I have squash borer. Every single zucchini plant was infested. All the pumpkins were too. Almost all of the winter squash, as well. I was not happy. I was not happy at all.

I removed borers from my plants (I couldn’t kill them, because they are beings after all, so I just relocated them). I reburied stems. They died anyway. Four squash plants and two pumpkin plants survived. I thought horrible things about those borers at first, but then I gradually let it go and got back to the idea that they were just doing their thing, eating their food, raising their little slug-babies.

So, ok, whatever, no zucchini for me. And, also, maybe there would be no pumpkin. Right. And it wasn’t looking good for squash. Sure. I’ve got tomatoes!

tomatoesinjuneBut, there was a little hitch in that plan. The mighty mighty (Bosstones? No.) squirrel.

My house is squirrel central. We have had them nesting in our oven vent, living in our eaves, rustling around in our attic, and eating our bird food. It’s squirrel happy town. I just didn’t realize how much they loved tomatoes.

Squirrels adore tomatoes. They will take every single freaking tomato from 12 tomato plants. All. Of. Them.

I cannot even blame them. I love tomatoes too. I like them on sandwiches, alone, in salsa and pico de gallo, and fried up when they are green. I would eat tomato every day and so would the squirrels.

I don’t mind sharing, and at first I thought that maybe they would slow down and just eat their half and left me my half. And, anyway, I still had other stuff.

But then the remaining pumpkin (with little baby pumpkins on the vine, awww) got powdery mildew. And that spread to the squash that were still there. The peppers were too shaded by the tomatoes and stopped growing and I hadn’t thinned the carrots enough, so they were not producing much. And the squirrels were not confining themselves to half.

Bah. Humbug.

So, here we are in September. I have another batch of zucchini plants going and some fall plantings, but my hopes aren’t too high. I did have another meal of fried green tomatoes today (the hot sauce spray seems to be slowing the squirrels down a bit for the green ones, but they still get eaten too fast to ripen), and we’ll see if I get any more.

But, I’m working on my bhakti yoga. Bhakti is about a surrendering to the divine that could mean a God or Gods. Or, it could mean the universal being. But, in any case, it means something about seeing the divinity in self and others. And, I’m pretty sure that includes the borers, and the fungus (among us), and the mosquitoes, and even the squirrels.

So, while I am still going to practice some additional non-harming vegan-like methods of keeping some of my garden for my family next year, I’m not going to be angry at the squirrels for taking the tomatoes or the borers for eating the zucchini stems. Because, they are just doing their thing, and they, too, are divine.

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