THE BLOG
08/07/2014 05:57 pm ET | Updated Oct 07, 2014

My Ease Into Veganese

I have always been a health food buff and gained a reputation among family and friends for my "interesting" creations (aka, kitchen lab experiments). I've always joked that I am the lab rat in my own kitchen before I'd try any creation on anyone else. I would always use ingredients that I gave myself "permission" to eat at various phases of my ever-transitioning lifestyle, as I've slowly progressed towards where I am today -- 99.9 percent vegan for the past nine months. I can't say 100 percent yet, because there have been times when I've given myself permission to revert back to the pescatarian I was just after my lacto-ovo vegetarian phase.

After watching the documentary Food, Inc., I gave up meats, poultry, dairy and eggs altogether, because grass-fed and organic versions were just not allowed in my tight budget (and they still aren't). Besides that, becoming pescatarian was my last-ditch effort to keep a healthy and reasonably cost-effective source of protein in my diet while ditching the cheese and eggs that I blamed for plugging my pipes. Let me add as a side note, though, that pulling the plug on those two items -- cheese, in particular -- is not an easy feat for an Italian-American, born and bred to eat pizza and pasta loaded with that salty, creamy, gooey enhancement of texture and flavor. Nevertheless, in the quest to address those digestive issues that seemed to plague me for most of my life, I thought I'd give pescatarianism a shot. I've always loved seafood, and this was one way to get my fill of tasty treasures from the sea and not to mention, more ideas in the kitchen.

Of course, while doing research on environmental problems and what is being dumped into our oceans, rivers and lakes, I just had to unearth the cautions about eating too much seafood and/or knowing the sources of the seafood I'm eating. Now, because fear is not built into my nature, I didn't give it up for fear of dying a horrible death of mercury poisoning; however, while investigating the long-term health risks of too many toxins in our system, I decided that I might give a totally plant-based diet a chance to prove its long-term merits to me.

I realized that it would take some more extensive research on my part to know how to address all of my nutritional needs without sacrificing flavor and satiation. I certainly wasn't going to listen to So-and-So tell me that some So-and-So they knew was a vegan and they got so sick from mal-nourishment that they had to start eating meat again. That's every reverter's excuse for returning to a diet with which they were comfortable and from which they got their emotional needs met. Yes, you read that right... they don't call it "comfort food" for nothing. Well, it got me thinking as to why eating might be such a huge socially-shared activity. Perhaps what we often ingest in social gatherings is a way of sharing our emotional needs with others, as in the old adage, "Misery loves company." If a huge chunk of super-sweet, fudge chocolate brownie is a source of comfort for me, then why not make a big batch to share at the next potluck with others who may need the emotional "support"?

All poking and joking aside, at this juncture, just thinking of sweets is triggering a need to satisfy my own sweet tooth. I go to the fridge for one of my own gluten-free creations, an organic cornmeal masa cookie made with flaxseed to replace eggs; spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cloves, a pinch of cayenne pepper and pink Himalayan sea salt; creamed with cashew milk and coconut oil; leavened with baking soda (vs. baking powder and its aluminum side effects); and sweetened with blackstrap molasses. My choice of sweetener is actually what inspired the chain of events leading to this blog post.

As I'm currently searching for the healthiest options for sweetening my baked goodies, this morning I went online to research blackstrap molasses. As usual, upon opening my browser, I'm stalked by Yahoo articles with catchy titles that often divert me from my path. This one was right up my alley, though -- "The 11 Biggest Myths About the Vegan Diet, Debunked," by Lynette Arceneaux (July 29, 2014).

Yes, yes, yes and eight more times, yes. Thank you, Lynette, for covering all of the bases for me, so that I can rest my case with those in my own social circles, as to why my hair and teeth do not have to fall out and my skin and muscles do not have to shrivel up, and my energy level does not have to be depleted, once and for all. And contrary to what some of them have accused me of, no, I do not have an eating disorder just because I have chosen to stop ingesting many of the items I grew up sharing with them. I would say digesting, but clearly, I was having trouble with that system, and I would call it food, but many of those items do not qualify under the proper definition of food.

Until I actually became a vegan, I had never realized how much people's feelings are wrapped into what they make and bake. I had never realized how offended people can get when they ask and I tell them why I am no longer eating those particular ingredients. And even though I know that the truest of all my friends still love me, albeit perhaps with "concern" for my eating habits, I have noticed that invitations for get togethers get fewer and far between. Is it in part because I have changed my eating habits and they are intimidated, not knowing what to make and how to prepare it?

It's all good, though. In a somewhat allusive way, this blog addresses my concern for others' eating habits. The only difference here is that I write and share to motivate and inspire and hopefully to blaze a trail for them to follow a healthier lifestyle, so we can one day enjoy new common denominators in our future get togethers. Not that I expect everyone to suddenly dump their meats, cheese and eggs to follow me like some vegan guru or cult leader, because as I said earlier, I'm not 100 percent there yet. However, I observe so many people suffering needlessly by putting themselves at the mercy of unethical physicians who know little about nutrition and tend to overprescribe medication. Becoming more aware of what we are ingesting and putting more thought into our food choices will serve us in our long-range, long-term health goals.

A balanced combination of researching for ourselves, observing and taking note of our body's negative and positive reactions to our choices, and not focusing our attention on foods we're "giving up," but on the rich variety we can enjoy guiltlessly, is one way to ease into this transition. Unlike the processed and plastic "foods" that cause insatiable cravings, every cell in our body will know exactly what to do with the good fats and nutrient-dense calories we choose to put into it. Eventually in my transition, much of my plant-based diet will focus on a higher percentage of raw, thanks to the researched work, dedication and flamboyant inspirations of raw food proponents such as Markus Rothkranz and Cara Brotman. Until then, however, I am still in the process of easing into becoming 100 percent Veganese. Now back to my own research... Where was I...? Oh yeah... blackstrap molasses.

Best of Health,
Joanne of Frank