Nourishing Tummies (Recipes)

Why We’re Not Vegetarian (or Vegan)

Flat lay of produce

After my last post, which chronicles our journey to a whole food diet that’s basically vegetarianism with a few small meat excursions, you might be wondering, “When are you going to go full vegetarian or vegan?”

This is a fairly logical question, and one that Joshua and I asked ourselves along our journey to cleaner, healthier food. However, the short and very simple answer is a firm “we’re not”.

Why not Vegetarian?

To be honest, we’ve flirted with Camp Vegetarian a LOT since switching to our whole food diet. 90-percent of that has to do with the fact that any meat worth purchasing is pricy. But I’ll be honest, everything about switching to a whole food diet is definitely going to push the boundaries of any food budget.

Prior to my third pregnancy, we could technically say that we were vegetarian. We didn’t buy meat. I didn’t cook with meat. We even make mostly meat-free choices when we eat out.

But vegetarianism is more than not buying meat because that’s not what you feel like spending money on. And in our situation, sometimes we do just want or need a little bit of meat to fill out the schedule. That’s not something that I’m going to apologize for. It’s just a thing.

When I’m pregnant, I find, like most women, that I need a bit more protein in my diet to actually stay full for more than half an hour at a time and stave off hunger and sicky feelings. I’m also very sensitive to certain foods when I’m pregnant.

This is my second pregnancy in a row where the thought of beans all but turns my stomach. For a vegetarian, this is almost certain disaster. So we eat quite a bit more meat than usual when there’s a baby on board. Everyone is happy.

Why not Vegan?

I can extol the virtues of a plant based diet any day of the week. And perhaps if veganism were simply a plant-based diet, I might be more drawn in.

With very young children who are developing essentials parts of their minds and bodies, and as a perpetually pregnant/breastfeeding woman myself, veganism was never a serious option on the table because it’s too limited. I’m simply not creative enough to spend hours combining foods to ensure that we get the essential nutrient mix we’d need as vegans. Plus again, the protein issue.

I’m aware that there are a LOT of ways that vegans attempt do so, but if you’re aiming to be a plant-based vegan who doesn’t eat much processed food, it’s really challenging.

Let’s take meat replacements, for example.

Many vegetarians and vegans give up meat and spend a lot of time looking for meat replacements. There’s tofu, of course, and then all of its endless meaty variations: Tofurky (turkey), chix (chicken), tofu sausages and “bacon”.

Then there are other equally endless Frankenstein meat replacements like the barf-tastic Gardenburger of the ‘80s-’00s – before vegetarianism/veganism became mainstream. There are hip and modern takes on everything from the meat world now, like pulled jackfruit, which is supposed to taste like pulled pork and a whole new crop of companies churning out veggie-based meat-like substances, like Beyond Meat.

While items like this can be a nice ace in the hole to keep in the freezer for day when the kids are going bananas and you don’t want to bother with takeout, there are plenty of vegetarians and vegans who prefer them as often as anyone else might normally add meat into their diets – for many Americans, this is for at least one meal each day.

That’s a lot of processed food, just in the name of meat replacement.

And while I’m willing to dedicate a significant amount of time and money to our plant based diet, the sheer expense and time dedication required to a full-family plant-based vegan diet would have me in the kitchen non-stop, which would be problematic when it comes to earning the money we’d need to support such a diet.

Veganism Isn’t Sustainable

Veganism, at least in it’s most mainstream and accepted iteration, is not a sustainable lifestyle. To maintain a vegan diet, you need to eat tons of fruits and vegetables around the clock. To fulfill this demand, and to add variety and deliciousness to their diets, vegans supplement with a lot of fruit.

I love fruit. My kids love fruit. We’re a very pro-fruit family. However, the fact of the matter is that in most locations, fruit is not a year-round luxury.

Part of my family’s commitment to healthy plant-based whole foods is the sustainability aspect of it, which involves eating seasonally and locally.

Now, we don’t live in the middle of Alaska or something, but the number of weeks in a year where my farmer has fresh local fruit available are far less than the number where there are not fresh local fruits available.

Vegans – particularly those who are Insta-famous – make a large production about how many bananas, pineapples, mangoes, dragon fruit and other (largely) non-native plants they eat during every season of the year. In a country where you can buy and sell anything you want to, whenever you please, that’s a fine way to live.

But foreign produce is hardly kind to the environment and it’s almost never kind to the people who work the fields to provide it for us. And that’s really something I can’t live with.

Sure, I might buy a bunch of bananas when I go shopping, but I check to make sure that they’re sustainably sourced (yes, there is such a thing, though most grocery stores don’t even have this option).

They also aren’t the cheapest thing in the world, making bananas for us the treat that they should be, rather than a practically disposable diet staple because I eschew animal-based products that make my food the creamy texture that many vegans use banana to replicate.

Spending money on cheap, unsustainable produce doesn’t do anything to promote an environmentally friendly lifestyle, which most vegans claim is one of the main reasons to convert to veganism. To me, that inequality is nonsensical.

Wrapping it Up

In reality, everyone (vegetarian, vegan or otherwise) is responsible to know where their food comes from. To understand the plights of the people groups where the endless streams of tropical fruits that we pick from sanitary produce departments actually come from. To get in touch with the local production happening every season around us and how we can invest in sustainable food systems right in our own backyards.

There are certainly ways that I could make a vegetarian diet align with our various food ideologies. I can’t really say the same for veganism, unless someone wants to pay me to hang out in the kitchen all day and find out a way for such a diet to work for a family of four to five people.

I jest, I jest.

Have you considered vegetarianism with kids? Veganism? What are your thoughts? Chime in with a comment below!

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?