Those who need to read this the most won't, while those who already are healthy will. That's how it goes, isn't it? Part one of what I assume will be lots more on this topic ....
If you've been wondering why my online booking calendar has been full for a while, I've just returned from a VEGAN CRUISE!!! "Oh, you poor dear", you say, "Did they STARVE you to death?" On the contrary, I've never eaten so much food in my life! And really good food, at that (well except for the pitiful tofu and the sad broccoli and sliced carrots that they put on top of white rice and served to us on a white plate on our "fancy dress" night). Had to skip that one and order me some shrimp! (not vegan). It was a very interesting experience and one I would like to share with you so you may benefit and perhaps learn, as I did.
For those of you who don't know, a "Vegan" is someone who doesn't eat any animals - not even honey since it comes from bees. I would prefer they change their name to "animal-free" since vegan sounds so foreign to most people. In fact, you have been eating vegan all your life, but just didn't know it! Carrot baby food ... vegan. Apples ... vegan. RUM ... vegan. (Thank goodness! I am on a cruise, after all!)
I learned about the cruise from a magazine I pick up on occasion when I'm shopping at the Good Foods Co-op: VEG NEWS. After seeing the ads time and again, one day I got a wild hair and booked it! But I thought I was getting on an ONLY vegan ship - not a partially vegan ship. I was thinking of this as a spa week - one where I wouldn't be tempted by the gelato on our Italian ship! But we had to share with "meat-eaters" on this one. I was a bit disappointed.
I also had some pretty common preconceived notions about who my fellow vegan passengers would be: the hippy-dippy crowd with their dreadlocks, tattoos, Birkenstocks and patchouli wafting through the air - or perhaps skeletons who were too frail to stand, or the "whiny-asses" who say in their whiny voices, "I can't eat that, it's not VEGAN." "Hey pal, drop that water it's not vegan - there's a gnat in it!" And I was sure to get into a fight with anyone who announced that they fed their cat a vegan diet and the cat was fine. (Yep, met one of those, too. Had to get up and leave the lecture before I punched her.)
Before I left, my friend said, "I think you will be surprised.", and I was. Of the 1700 vegans on board, there was every type of person imaginable: old ones, young ones, skinny ones, fat ones, male ones, female ones, single ones, married ones, gay ones, hippy dippy andpreppy ones; healthy looking ones and skeletal looking ones - especially in their eyes. Some were 100% vegan with no exceptions, others were in a range. Some were just in their first year or so as a vegan; while others had eaten that way for decades. Some were on the cruise to learn; and some were hoping to bring new motivation home and try to get their husbands to eat better - especially those who's husbands had already had heart attacks. Lots of vegans became vegan AFTER they had a health crisis: everything from cancer to digestive disorders to heart problems. One lady was diagnosed with cancer and was told she had only months to live - that was 30 years ago! While some were simply health conscious and wanted to learn new recipes.
We also had on board the top researchers and leaders of the vegan movement: Dr. T. Colin Campbell (Co-Author of The China Study); Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (and his wife and daughter - the former firefighter son was not on our ship, but all the family is vegan); Dr. Neal Barnard (promoting his newest book "The Cheese Trap"); Dr. Michael A. Klaper who lectured on the "leaky gut"; Dr. Michael Greger (his latest book is called, "How Not to DIE" - should sell with that title!); PBS TV chef, Christina Pirello who did some great cooking demos; and several top-level competition athletes who are vegan (and big and STRONG!): Robert Cheeke, a two-time natural bodybuilding champion; Derek Tresize (and he was "TREE SIZED"!), a World Natural Bodybuilding Federation [WNBF] Pro bodybuilder; and his wife, Marcella Torres, a mother of two vegan children, a dancer and competitive bodybuilder, who together run the website veganmuscleandfitness.comand operate a fitness gym; and a "local-ish" man from Asheville, Matt Frazier, author and ultra-marathon runner, who's athletic goals and requirements differ from the body builder's, but who keeps up his fitness and stamina with a purely vegan diet of "greens, beans, and grains" ... and fruits and seeds and nuts and other vegetables, too!
Even amongst these top leaders there was a variety in "how" to eat. All agree on not eating animals (for health reasons but also for cruelty reasons and how eating and supporting the cow industries is RUINING our lovely planet --- that is the truth. Even the world-renown chef Ferran Adrià, who began the critically acclaimed restaurant "El Bulli" said in an interview, "I'm telling you, vegetables are the future. It's simple - I love meat so much but every time we eat a steak acres of trees are cut down in Brazil. Veggies have the power to change the world." Couple that with what Albert Einstein said (who was NOT on the cruise!), "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." and you start to understand why so many people are choosing to not eat animals. But what the lecturers differed on was whether to include salt and/or oils in your diet. Christina is Italian, so you will never pry the Extra Virgin Olive Oil out of HER hands! But the heart doctors were vehement that salt - and added oils - would KILL YOU. Then there were the Gluten-Free crowd. So, yes there are people walking this planet right now who don't eat any animal products, do not season with salt, do not cook in oil, and don't eat gluten. I met one of them and she seemed healthy and happy, and she was "over 60". The married fitness couple were in a round table discussion where they took questions from the audience and gave in minute detail how they ate down to the calories per day, the percentage of protein (around 10%), and the XXX-disciplined way in which they time their meals! So if you would like to ask one of these mega-men "But where do you get your PROTEIN?", be my guest. My guess is that they would say, "FROM PLANTS." Google it. Robert Cheeke actually documented on his website EVERYTHING he ate:
I guess it all boils down (pun intended?) that you eat the way you need to eat with whatever genetic pre-disposition or health issues you are having - or want toavoid having.
One lady, who had a heart attack that nearly killed her, went vegan-no salt-no-oil, and it saved her life! She lives near Chicago, and she would not mind at all if you contacted her: Sherry Shrallow email@example.com
People would ask me, "If you're not vegan, why are you on this cruise?", and my typical answer was, "Because I like FOOD." I expected the food to be healthy, and I hoped it would taste great. Wish granted! I'm not a morning person so I missed their too-early-for-me breakfast seating, but I made it for nearly all of the noon vegan 5-course lunches and the 5-course 6:00 dinners! We would have a starter: fresh guacamole with tortilla chips; or smoked shiitakes with balsamic reduction drizzle served with crispy garlic toast (gluten free and oil free version available); a soup course: rich broccoli soup with garlic and lemon; or perhaps smoky sweet potato soup; or Asian coconut curry soup with baby spinach leaves (oil-free version available); then a salad (which one would assume they would excel at): Provençal potato salad with fresh tarragon and capers; and my FAVORITE, shredded kale and citrus salad with pumpkin seed vinaigrette (ooh, wow, that was good!); then we'd move on to the main entree ... if you could find room for more ... cauliflower mushroom tacos with seasoned pinto beans; baked tempeh reuben with side salad; and FINALLY came dessert! Being a chocolate/caramel lover, for me their "sugar-free, only sweetened with maple syrup" desserts missed the mark on a number of occasions, but I did enjoy some terrific citrus-scented brown rice pudding - which I would love to eat for breakfast - and some pretty decent fruit compote/oat/nut mixtures that were good enough to swallow (and frankly speaking, um, my plate went back empty!). Tiramisu it ain't, but hey, we saved the life of a cow and her soon to be veal male offspring, and that's enough to make you be appreciative. The man who created this cruise, Sandy Pukel, also has a book of the recipes from the past 14-cruises called, "Grains and Greens on the Deep Blue Sea" (yep, you can find it on smile.amazon.com. Why smile first? It will donate .50% of your purchases to the charitable organization of your choice! I highly recommend it.) They are celebrating their 15th YEAR next year, and if you are interested, all the details can be found here:
One thing I did get angry about while on this "vegan" cruise, was that the vegans were segregated ... to the back of the bus, as it were. One could only get "vegan" food for a limited amount of time, and only in specific places. I REALLY wanted to eat at a "finer dining" restaurant onboard, called "Eataly". I think it's the same "Eataly" that the celebrity chef Mario Batali is associated with. I LOVE food and always have dining at a celebrity chef's restaurant on my "bucket list". But as I read the menu, I got sadder and sadder: meat, meat and cheese, cheese and meat. I could barely find one dish a "vegan" could eat. "WHY?" I asked myself. Why can't "vegan" food just be food? Why does it need to be segregated from the other food? Why can't I get good tasting healthy food in EVERY restaurant in the world? Why does it need to be such a struggle to get GOOD FOOD??? There is more to life than PIZZA AND BURGERS, PEOPLE! The menus on this cruise proved it.
Do I think there is a HORRIBLE IMBALANCE in how the greedy cow industry is tilting nature away from our favor and toward a place of disaster, YES I DO. One of my first thoughts after getting on board the vegan ship and talking to practicing vegans was that I see why the Earth NEEDS extreme veganism - it's to counter the extreme cow (beef/milk) industries. Do I think extreme is the right way for ME? No, I don't. I believe the middle way is the best way, but even finding your way to the middle is extremely hard in today's fast food - convenience food - JUNK FOOD - world.
It doesn't matter what city or town or dot on the map you're in, you can count on there being a "McJunk food" restaurant there. Sadly, this American trend is taking hold world-wide now. The Chinese want to be like us and WELCOME restaurants like McD's, Wendy's, Arby's - gosh the list is endless. When I went to London, England the imports that I talked to had no idea KFC stood for "Kentucky Fried Chicken", they just like the taste of the SALTY, FRIED food (and I use the term "food" as loosely as it can get). Which also means that they had no idea that the chicken they were eating were from ginormous factory farms where the chickens NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY; where the chickens HAVE THEIR BEAKS CHOPPED OFF; where the chickens are shitting all over each other ... and they are bred to be unnaturally huge, so your chicken breast at Kroger will look like a good deal. To quote our new President, "WRONG!".
I ask you to "Google" factory farmed chicken ... or cow ... or pig ... or even fish. Brace yourself, the days of our grand-parent's farm life are O.V.E.R. It's GROSS, INHUMANE, AND DOWN RIGHT WRONG.
Here's one tiny example, of zillions (and it's the "nice version" - not nearly as putrefying as the visual reality):
Thank you Tyson, Perdue, and KFC for taking what was once a life-giving family farm animal and turning it into a disgusting, immoral, profit-producing nightmare for humanity. (And I didn't need a vegan cruise to learn about this.)
The vegan body-builder mom was talking about how she breast-fed her children, and then weaned them off milk and on to water. She reminded us that no other species of mammal weans it's baby off mother's milk only to transition them to A DIFFERENT MAMMAL'S MILK. Think about it, the cow doesn't say (that is if it's given a natural life and is not on a farm where it's baby is taken away well before it's weaned), "Now little Bessie no more mamma's milk for you, it's time for you to start drinking HUMAN milk." That would be weird.
So how should most of us "normal" people eat? (I use that term since one of the non-vegans onboard used it.) The vegan just laughed it off. She said it's funny how when you tell someone you're vegan, the first thing they say is, "Oh, I could NEVER be a VEGAN." and she replies, "We're not asking you to." It's a choice for the individual to make. But it's also our responsibility as pet-owners, animal lovers, and mammals ourselves to KNOW more about what has happened to OUR food.
I won't ask any of my readers to become vegan. That's not why I went on the cruise and not what this post is about. Nor do I want to turn you off food with some of the books and websites that showcase the reality of what's going on in our nation's meat and milk industries - and it's bloody gross. But I am going to ask you to do one thing:THINK FIRST. Educate yourself. Go to the library and find some of those truth telling books. I dare you to get through one of them, I couldn't. Find some vegan blogs and learn more about eating WHOLE, GOOD, FOOD. Nutritious food. TASTY food. CRUELTY FREE FOOD.
Thankfully, the health-conscience have spoken and cow milk sales are dropping in favor of plant-based milks. Thankfully, the vegan restaurants that began life in California and NYC are finally making their way to us "normal" people. Maybe one day instead of there being a McCrap Burger on every corner, we'll have just one animal-free option???
You can turn your head to the truth about the food - and supposed 'nourishment' - you are putting into your mouth - and the mouths of your children - on a daily basis - and many choose to do just that - but I am THANKFUL that there are those who THINK first, who use their CONSCIENCE when deciding how to feed their families, and not the coupon circular. I'm grateful to those who can - and do - stay diligent and follow a strictly vegan diet. We NEED those people. Our food chain is desperately out of balance. Unnecessary cruelty is happening every day we breathe. More cow farms is not the answer to our children's future - or health.
Did I board the ship as a vegan? No. Did I disembark the ship as a vegan? No. But what I did do was realize that it's all about doing the best you can. I'm lucky in that I don't have (and don't hope to have) any life-threatening health problems. For those who are at a place of crisis, then a vegan, or even macrobiotic diet could be life saving.
I come away from this vegan cruise perhaps maybe not determined to "BE VEGAN" 100% of the time, but I come away with the strength and support to think more about how to get the best nutrients into my daily meals (all 3 to 5 of them!) and how to make some changes that can benefit my health, well-being, and happiness, as well as the gorgeous place I call home: Planet Earth.
I believe I will be writing more about this topic, so stay tuned.