Attempting to remain a plant-strong vegan in the deep south would make for a good comedy. Recently, John and I took a trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama for our semi-annual vacation. In the past, we looked forward to the many fresh fish choices compatible with our Mediterranean meal plan. However, we knew that adhering to a vegan diet in this area of the country might certainly present some interesting challenges.
We tried to plan ahead. The result was Plan A & Plan B.
Plan A – Have breakfast at the condo with our own foods and recipes. Our first trip upon arrival was to a couple of local markets. We were delighted to find a grocer near our condo with a decent supply of vegan-friendly food items.
Plan B – Research food options for those times (and there were many) when we would be away from the condo. I installed a vegan app on my phone to help locate appropriate resources and researched local food venues ahead of our trip. Not many choices appeared on my app, but many Asian, Mexican and Indian restaurants typically have vegan-friendly offerings or the ability to modify a meal to vegan specifications.
On our first evening, weary from many hours on the road, we visited the local pub at our resort. The only food possibility on the menu was a crab-stuffed tomato.
“So let me get this straight,” said the waiter, “You want crab-stuffed tomatoes without the crab?”
“That’s correct,” I replied.
I saw his eyebrows twitch. “No fish?”
“No fish,” I confirmed.
“We have cheese,” he countered.
“No cheese,” I said.
Although his surprise was obvious, the waiter accommodated our request without any issues and the tomatoes were so tasty that we returned the next night for more. Our waiter wasn’t there, so we proceeded to explain to the new waiter the events from the night before along with the complete set of instructions.
Did I mention that the tomatoes were fried? Whoops – I think the halo just fell from my head. Technically, the choice may have been vegan (no animal products) and the tomatoes may qualify as a whole food, but the “fried” part is not the healthiest preparation option – just a tasty one.
Which brings-to-mind a couple of other recent dilemmas, such as:
- The suspicious “buttermilk” strategically located in the middle of our pancake batter ingredient list
- The eggs and dairy products that I “know” are hidden in restaurant pasta and bread
At a recent event, I spoke with another self-proclaimed vegan hoping to reclaim my halo.
“Don’t you feel so much better since you made this diet change,” she gushed.
“I do,” I replied. “The tasty recipes have been a pleasant surprise.”
“I really like having salmon once a week to augment my primary diet of whole fruits and vegetables,” she added.
I suppressed a laugh. I am not aware of any plant by the name of “salmon.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks to my son’s wedding. Pizza and pop were on the rehearsal dinner menu. John and I loaded up on salad (after we removed the pepperoni) and fruit. I had brought a cup of iced tea and John opted for a diet soda. Still hungry at the end of the evening, John decided to have some pizza crust.
“I’ll bet that crust has egg and milk in it,” said one observant friend at the table.
“Is diet pop vegan?” one family member asked.
Both the observation and the question were thoughtful and valid, illustrative of two important points.
- Not everything that technically qualifies as vegan is healthy. In fact, you can follow just about any diet plan and still not have healthy meals. You can be vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, etc. and still consume a wholly unhealthy diet devoid of whole food, plant-based options consumed raw or prepared using healthy methods.
- In an imperfect world, options present in shades of gray, not black and white. Many choices will have pros and cons. The choice will be yours to make.
Shades of Healthy Eating
When John and I embarked on this journey, we put in place one research-based absolute with one philosophical clause:
- We would pursue a whole food plant-based diet as the foundation for our vegan aspirations. This means that our choices overwhelmingly favor vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, lentils and other naturally occurring foods over processed items that may qualify as vegan, but are not healthy. This also involves preparing foods, when not consumed raw, in healthy ways with attention to limiting potential pitfalls associated with the use of oils and sodium while favoring beneficial components such as fiber. Research supports whole foods and plant-based eating as key to obtaining and maintaining health. This commitment represents our research-based absolute.
- From a philosophical standpoint, we would pursue this journey within the many shades of gray present in our choices and circumstances. This means that we move forward with grace and freedom versus rigidity and judgment, viewing our new commitment as a true learning journey. In a structure that provides excellent healthy choices at least 95% of the time, there shall be no chasing of halos after a rare diet soda, egg or other wayward item. The goal was never about perfection. The goal is health and enjoying the life we have been given.
If that sounds complicated, here’s the bottom line. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in your journey towards a healthier life, even if it includes salmon disguised as a plant. What does matter is the choices you make most of the time and whether those choices support health – mentally, emotionally and physically. Strive to be closer to that goal today than you were yesterday and closer still tomorrow.
Note: The image in this post depicts a recent favorite breakfast – a medley of fresh asparagus and quinoa on a fresh bed of spinach complimented with tomatoes, onions, carrots, pumpkin seeds and a splash of Asian dressing. This delightful meal is no more difficult than many standard meat-based breakfast options but infinitely healthier. Don’t be afraid to experiment; learning is a process and can be lots of fun. Enjoy.
Did You Know?
We think of quinoa as a grain that we cook and eat much like rice. However, from a botanical standpoint, quinoa is much closer to spinach, chard, and beets, than it is to grain. What we actually consume are the plant’s seeds, although the leaves also are edible.
Quinoa is a complete protein, containing all 9 essential amino acids. This lovely seed works well as a stand-alone alternative to rice or pasta and “sprinkled” on top of other dishes and salads.