Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bean & Cheeze Casserole

Every once in awhile I take some time and register This is Vegan with different blog and website directories in and around the Internet. Just trying to get the word out, in case anyone is interested in what I have to say. This blog is a simple hobby of mine; a place to talk about what happens in my kitchen as I flip through my cookbooks each week. It does not generate any profit, nor does it have any specific focus other than, "Hey, I'm Mary, and this is my husband, Paul. We don't eat animals."

That genre seems to be categorically missing from blog directories. I'd even settle for an "I Heart Animals" option, but that is missing too. Instead, I often find This is Vegan filed under the "Diet" or "Health/Wellness" categories, neither of which are particularly appropriate. The Health and Wellness one is especially troublesome to me because there is often nothing healthy about what I post and I don't want people to think that there is.

Do I believe being vegan is healthy? Yes. Really and truly. Absolutely.

But am I vegan because it's healthy? No.

I'm vegan because I don't believe it is right to use animals for food or entertainment. So I don't use them. My veganism is simple because it rests on this one principle. As health fads and diets change, which they always do, my veganism holds strong, because it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them - the animals. The fact that I am healthier than I have ever been in my life because of veganism is important, sure, but it has very little to do with why I am vegan.

So, while I'm interested in bettering myself by keeping up-to-date on the latest "what's healthy and what's not" in the world of vegan, I'm not particularly preoccupied by it. Because quite honestly, the information can be so overwhelming and discouraging and is so often framed in such a dramatic fashion that it calls to mind this hilarious Mean Girls moment. One day agave is a good alternative to sugar; the next day it's this highly processed supervillain that will destroy you from the inside out. And if you're caught talking about it, the Health Police will debate you and then they will use the word Cancer and then the conversation will be over. It's frustrating and demoralizing to be constantly bombarded with this kind of information on a daily basis. So for me, I like to learn and make changes as new information becomes available about the healthiest possible lifestyle. But I don't let it consume me or stop me from indulging cookies should the mood strike me.

Because I'm not following an animal-free diet for health reasons, the foods I eat and post about do not always qualify as healthy, although they sometimes do. I do try and maintain some sort of balance, in my life and on the blog. But while I try and eat healthy because that is important for everyone to do, I also like cupcakes made with real, honest-to-God (vegan friendly) sugar even though I know it's poison. I like red wine and Daiya-smothered everything. I'm not very fit. I'm actually not fit at all. I use up more energy hating and avoiding exercise than I do actually exercising. I drink coffee sometimes, even though it leeches important vitamins and minerals from my body, because somedays I need the jolt. I don't do hot yoga or spin or P90x. I don't "look" like a vegan. Or what I assume people expect a vegan to look like. Sometimes I'm a size six and sometimes I'm a size eight. A size two or a size four is probably what society wants and I could probably do it. But I don't have to and right now I choose not to. I'm healthy now; I've got the papers to prove it. The size two would be about something else.

It's so interesting to me, how vegan has become synonymous with health/losing weight in the last couple of years. The press is great and I love that people are getting healthy via an animal-free diet. It really and truly will revolutionize your life, like it did mine. And I do believe that vegans should be healthy because everyone should be healthy, but especially because as vegans we are ambassadors for our cause and are so often the focus of great scrutiny from the mainstream. We don't want to give them any reasons to not be vegan. But I am concerned that the original focus of veganism, which is bringing about an end to animal exploitation, gets lost in the Health and Wellness shuffle. And I worry that some of the members of such an inherently progressive and inclusive movement that is based on the best of all intentions are starting to engage in some questionable behaviour in the name of health, most notably body shaming (this week I'm lookin' at you, PCRM).

But, I digress. That is a debate for another time. Mentioning it is just a way for me to express how uncomfortable I am being defaulted into a "Health and Wellness" category, since on the most basic level my food choices are not motivated by health and wellness at all. And I worry that people might stumble upon This is Vegan and think I am completely clueless as to what foods are healthy, or worse, that someone with serious health issues, someone that needs a little vegan in her/his life, is going to think the deep fried seitan schnitzel that I have posted is somehow nutritionally appropriate. Because it's not. If your veganism is solely motivated by health, that seitan schnitzel never okay. But it is an appropriate way for an ethical vegan to get her junk food on now and again.

How you do vegan is completely up to you. I have the utmost respect for sugar-free, oil-free, gluten-free and raw vegans and I love all of their creations because they are free of animal cruelty and make my belly happy, give me energy, and make sure I kill it at my annual physical. They have added years to my life and made my favourite jeans fit better. I am eternally grateful to them. But they have not motivated me to be vegan the same way that the animals have. And they have not completely ended my love affair with those other animal-free creations that I treat myself with now and again. Because of that I don't like the "Health and Wellness" category being attached to my blog. I don't know enough about the human body to be comfortable giving people health and wellness advice. It's above my pay grade (which is zero) and above my credentials (which are none). I just don't eat animals because I don't think it's okay to.

Basically, what I'm getting at, is if you're vegan for health or weight-loss reasons you might want to skip this post. I could have just opened with that and been on to the food portion of this entry already, but much like my fitness, my ability to be concise is something I need to work on.

The recipe for this casserole comes from How It All Vegan; you can find it on page 114. What you see is what you get. Potatoes, baked beans, cheddar Daiya. I was making especially bad food choices that day because I even used canned baked beans so God only knows how much sugar, preservatives and BPA we consumed that night.

It was delicious though. So very delicious, with it's "down home" diner feel. And no animals appear on the plate, so it fits into the criteria I've given my veganism.

I made a side of agave-mustard Brussels sprouts to go along with it, just to make sure there was at least one green thing on the menu.


Michaela said...

I am vegetarian for the same reasons. I go in and out of veganism and I absolutely love your blog. Keep it up

Sarah B @ Bake + Bike said...

^ Yup, me too. I have trouble explaining why I'm vegetarian sometimes, and your explanation summed it up perfectly.

It annoys me that veg*nism seems to have become somewhat of a health trend, rather than an action to lessen animal suffering. Personally I don't understand how one could go veg*n for a couple of months, and then revert back to eating meat because it feels right. I dunno, maybe I just don't understand people's motivations, but it doesn't seem very well thought out to me.

Thanks for posting this!

Unknown said...

Thank you for that. I literally sighed, and nodded and sighed some more. I'm all about the animals..wishing I had more people to share this with instead of defend myself to. Sometimes loving is lonely but oh so worth it. xo

Kim said...

Positively thought provoking M. I love this post. I do find all of the misconceptions with veganism pretty annoying. I originally went vegan purely for health reasons, but after several months, started avoiding all leather and wool, any skin care products and shampoos and conditioners with animal product in them.
I do balance more towards the health & wellness, but I also love animals and firmly object to cruelty.
Good post =)

Mary said...

Michaela - thanks so much for the support!

Sarah - I am the same way. I could never imagine going back to meat or dairy products, although I do try and be patient/understanding with former veg*ns in hopes that they will once again return to compassionate eating. I think once you eliminate the animal component of going vegan it makes it all that much easier to drop the lifestyle when a roadblock/societal pressure becomes an issue, which is really why I struggle with veganism as a health/wellness movement. I feel like the animals, who are already treated so poorly by our society, are similarly given secondary status within a movement that was originally about the animals in the first place.

Unknown - You're right, it can be very lonely and isolating to try and commit the least harm possible on others since that's not at all how our society was built/functions. But for me, the peace of mind knowing that no one had to die so that I can sustain myself makes it all worth it in the end, as I'm sure it does for you too.

Kim - Health reasons are not a bad reason to go vegan. I'm so glad that people come to this lifestyle, however they manage to come to it - in the end less animal suffering is good in my books, regardless of the motivation. And a lot of people who come to veganism via health/wellness may not have known much about how animals suffer as humans consume, learn it afterwards and become just as passionate about that as they are about health and wellness. I hope the post didn't come across that I somehow didn't think health/wellness was a valid component of veganism, but I think we've talked about this in person before anyway so I'm sure you get where I am coming from. My main concern comes in, I think, when I feel like the movement itself is being abused from within in the name of health/wellness and especially when it's used as a means of threatening or berating non-vegan humans (or even vegan humans) who do not fit into a certain health and wellness stereotype. I don't believe that bickering over what a person should look like has place in a progressive movement like veganism because it is not only offensive an archaic, it also always happens at the expense of the animals and the issues facing them. Compassion comes in all shapes and sizes and the surge in the health/wellness component of veganism is starting to isolate some of our fellow vegans that don't adhere to the strict body size/shape codes that side of the movement seems to have adopted. It also paints the whole movement in a very negative light in the mainstream. I hope that there is a happy balance on the horizon, because health is so important too - you yourself are a great example of that balance! Start that blog, Kim! :D

Sarah said...

I'm also vegan for ethical reasons, not health reasons. I do feel compelled to encourage excercise however - I work out to reduce anxiety & replace the brain cells killed by beer (excercise helps you form new brain cells), but there are other benefits. There are a lot of ways to get excercise which you might enjoy - salsa dancing (or some other type of dancing), ice skating, rollerblading, cycling, Zumba, rock climbing, kayaking, soccer, basketball, badminton, hoola hooping (they have whole classes on that now), swimming, or martial arts. I hope you find something you enjoy doing so you can reap the many benefits. :)

Mary said...

Sarah - No arguments here. I have been blessed with health and ability I have absolutely NO excuse to not exercise. And truthfully I could use all the new brain cells I can get!!!! I actually, once upon a time, ran regularly...pretty much daily. It was great for my body and also great for my mental health too because each day when I got ready for bed I felt like I accomplished something. I injured myself and then got handed a lot of personal life struggles in the months that followed the injury and I just never got back into it once my ankle healed. It is high time I got back into it..I really hope I do find something that I enjoy!

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