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What do you mean no ham on Christmas!?

December 13, 2012

For many people the idea of giving up meat is ludicrous,  “You can’t possibly live off of a diet with no meat.” “FOR GODS SAKE YOU’RE GOING TO BECOME NOTHING BUT SKIN AND BONES….. AND WHAT AM I GOING TO FEED YOU WHEN YOU COME VISIT?!” But the truth is you can survive with the animal byproducts injected with disease and hormones. In fact, as of 2011, the number of vegetarians in the US has reached 5%. the number of vegans 2.5%, and the number of people who, like myself, eat meat here and there but tend to stick to a mostly vegetarian diet has reached 33%. (peta.org) I love me some maple bacon girl but when it comes to sausage I’d much rather have a veggie one. I can contribute this to my parents, mom, who ate and fed me nothing but a vegetarian diet and dad, who went hunting with my uncles and loved his meat.

My mom, Judy Brown, had been in the natual foods industry for over thirty years now, has written and published multiple cookbooks, and lives an all natural vegetarian lifestyle. For me it has been nothing but normal but sometimes the questions and comments I get from my friends are INSANE. So I decided to sit down with my mom and talk to her about her journey to where she is and ask her for some help to debunk some of those misconceptions my friends had. 

This is her story.

At the age of 18, Judy came home for what she thought was going to be a normal family and fun filled thanksgiving. But what she got was some of the most devastating news of her life. “I have really bad news- your dad has been diagnosed with colon cancer.” Said her mother. Judy had always been a daddies girl and, not only had she just  gotten the news of cancer in her fathers body but, she also had come to find out that her father was only given six months to live (although he ended up living seven years). It was these turn of events that gave her the drive and motivation to find out everything she could about colon cancer and not only change and elongate her father’s life but also to better her life.

Judy became convinced that her dad’s cancer was due to the plethora of meat that they had been eating over the years.  “By age 20 I was completely vegetarian.  I started first with a strictly raw foods diet and then moved into the Macrobiotic diet, which I followed exclusively for years. I attended cooking classes, seminars, and more to learn about being a vegetarian and cooking with natural foods. “ You would think it would be hard for someone who grew up eating thirteen tacos once a week for “Mexican Night” but for Judy it was something that she knew she had to do and she found ways to continue eating the traditional foods she had become accustomed to into her vegetarian diet. “I grew up with a Mom who was a gourmet cook.  All meals were cooked from scratch.  Every month we had Mexican night, every Saturday was Steak night, and Monday was always “Soul Night” in our house.  “Soul Night” dinner consisted of pinto beans or black eyed peas, white rice that changed to brown rice in the 70’s, kale or collards, and cornbread.  This was a connection to our Southern heritage since Mom was from Mississippi and Dad from Kentucky.  To this day, this is my favorite meal, which made it very easy for me to transition to a vegetarian diet.”

While attending the University of Maryland she obtained her first job in the natural food industry at Beautiful Day Trading Co. It was here that she was able to continue her vegetarian diet and continue her learning and research on the subject and her reasons for becoming a vegetarian became concrete in doing it for health reasons, and not for the reasons of animal rights like many people today. Although, empathetic to the subject.

While finishing up her Masters, in consumer economics, she was hired part time as an economist for the US Department of Agriculture where they allowed her to pioneer research projects on the natural, organic, and soyfood industry. She was the first to do this in the industry and led to published articles and reports, tv shows, coverage on NPR and teaching cooking classes to help spread the plethora of knowledge she had gained.

One day her father said her, “ You know you should be photographing all of these natural, vegetarian recipes you’re making that oneday could go into a cookbook.” She didn’t know at the time but that is what she would come to do in the future while continuing to care for her dad who she made go from a all meat diet to eating brown rice and drinking barely grass (Green Magama).

While attending a natural foods expo she met a man named Bob Holzapfel, from a group known as “The Farm,” who asked her if she interested in writing and selling a cookbook. Within a year she had written and published “Judy Brown’s Guide to Natural Foods Cooking”  This opportunity led to becoming the food editor for “Whole Foods” trade industry. Within 10 years she published over forty articles on the subject.

There are a lot of miconceptions and questions people have on being a vegetarian. The following questions confront some of those questions:

 “How do you survive the holidays without eating a turkey or ham?”

“For me, it’s always been a matter of feeling good. Eating the typical holiday dinner always poisoned me, zapping my energy, and making me want to pass out after eating.  Now, with the veggie dishes included in our holiday meals, I can feel good and energized when the meal is over.  For those who need alternatives similar to what they are use to eating, then Tofurky which has a taste and consistency similar to turkey, is a great choice. I’ve grown beyond that, but it appeals to many people wanting to eat something that tastes similar to a traditional food.”

“What are some misconceptions people have about being a vegetarian?”

“So many people think it must be really hard to be vegetarian.  They tend to believe that its expensive to follow a veggie diet which deters many from trying to do so.  Being a vegetarian actually simplifies life. You learn to “eat to live” instead of “living to eat”.

“Isn’t it expensive to be a vegetarian?”

“It doesn’t have to be that expensive to eat this way. My rule of thumb, whether shopping in a grocery store or a natural food store (which is where I choose to put my food dollars) is that you try and limit your shopping to the periphery of the store and focus on fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, and soy protein and avoid packaged and processed foods. This keeps it more affordable.

“How do you get your protein with a diet that doesn’t include meat?”

“Soy protein, such as tofu and tempeh, provide excellent protein sources. Tempeh is even a great source of Vitamin B12, which can be difficult to obtain in a veggie diet.  It us to be that you could only find natural foods in natural food stores but now most supermarkets have natural food sections. Even most supermarket produce departments now feature tofu and tempeh.  Tempeh is the “meat” in the Indonesian diet made from cultured soybeans.

“Any suggestions for new vegetarians out there or people who are interested but don’t know where to start?”

“I encourage people, especially who are really drawn to eating meat, to look for things they are use to eating and try it in a veggie form, such as veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, veggie sausages, soymilk (now also Rice, Almond, Hemp milk).  Eggless egg salad made with tofu and turmeric (which turns it yellow) is a great alternative to egg salad. Veggie chili is another good idea. Spaghetti sauce and Shepherd’s pie made with veggie crumbles are a delicious alternative to using hamburger in these dishes.”

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