Vegan Deli

Vegan Deli  by Jo Stepaniak

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Raising Vegetarian Children
by Jo Stepaniak, M.S.Ed., & Vesanto Melina M.S., R.D.

Raising Vegetarian Children

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Do you have questions about being vegan? Send them to Jo using this easy form. She would be happy to address your individual concerns as well as general inquiries about vegan ethics, philosophy, practical applications, and living compassionately. Jo cannot respond to questions about nutrition or answer questions that have already been addressed in the Archives

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Handling Parental Conflict

As a vegan, I go through a lot of hassles with my dad. He has no sympathy for the torture and suffering of animals. He does not believe that the vegan or vegetarian diet is healthier than the meat-eater's diet. He thinks that the brain can only function correctly when it has animal protein. He also believes that we need meat to be strong, have energy, and learn. If you could direct me somewhere that I can show him proof that he is wrong, I would greatly appreciate that.

Many people are misinformed about veganism or know very little about it. What we don't know can seem frightening or threatening and may cause us to be apprehensive, skeptical, or defensive. This is especially true for issues related to diet.

In addition to the emotional attachment that most people have to particular foods, there are endless myths perpetuated about nutrition and health that have permeated even our most highly regarded institutions and medical establishments. Yet we have only touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of nutrition science; we know significantly less than what there is to know. Information is changing almost daily, and what we are discovering is that, at least for the time being, there are no absolutes. Nevertheless, people tend to cling to the patterns they believe are true, whether or not science bears them out.

There is no point in trying to prove that your father is wrong and you are right. This will only result in a futile battle of the wills, endless verbal sparring, and a lot of useless, potentially explosive anger, none of which will draw you closer or make you respect one another more. The vegan tenets of doing the least harm and eliminating suffering include you and your father as well.

You cannot change your father's mind and force him to have sympathy for animals. Compassion begins in the heart. If your father's heart is not open to this notion, thrusting it upon him will only breed indignation and resentment. Actually, it is not necessary that you and your father agree on this issue as long as you honor each other's right to have separate points of view. Neither of you needs to acquiesce to the other's position in order to maintain your individual convictions.

It is irrelevant whether a vegan or omnivorous diet is more healthful. The truth is, a person can be well or ill following either one. Many factors are associated with physical fitness, and diet is only one of them. A vegan can have very poor eating habits, as can an omnivore. It is unfair to promote the belief that vegans are inherently healthy (or at least healthier than omnivores) because it is not necessarily true. Vegans are predisposed to congenital disorders, environmental hazards, and acquired diseases the same as the general public. However, a well-balanced vegan diet along with other healthful lifestyle practices (such as regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and minimized stress) may provide some protective benefits in ways that the standard meat-centered diet cannot. Still, vegans do get sick, and some develop heart disease, cancer, and other debilitating ailments. To blame these maladies strictly on diet does these people a grave disservice and merely burdens them with unwarranted guilt. For the record, vegans are not superheros and will not live forever. Nonetheless, our mortality can and should make us more sensitive to the fragility of all life.

But what if a vegan diet had no health benefits whatsoever? Would you still subscribe to a life of dynamic harmlessness? My guess is that you would, and that is the bottom line. The issue, then, is less about veganism being "better" than it is about simply being a healthful and ethical alternative. And this, of course, is demonstrable.

There is no evidence that the human body requires nutrients from specific sources in order for them to be effectively assimilated. Humans need protein, iron, calcium, and so forth, but the body does not differentiate whether these nutrients come from animal products or plant foods. There are several excellent reference books that contain in-depth information about vegan nutrition that can serve as guides for your own meal planning as well as provide scientific support for the soundness of your diet. These include "The Vegan Sourcebook" (by Jo Stepaniak, with a comprehensive nutrition section for all stages of the life cycle by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD), "The Vegetarian Way" (by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD and Mark Messina, PhD), and "Becoming Vegan" (by Brenda Davis, RD, and Vesanto Melina, RD). The first two books also include a number of vegan recipes.

In order for your father to tolerate and accept your choice, you need to exhibit a mature approach. This includes acknowledging your dad's concern for your health by demonstrating that you are capable of devising and following a well-balanced vegan diet based on current nutritional guidelines, which are outlined in the books mentioned above. It includes buying special food, if you have to, and being willing to prepare your own meals, if necessary, without complaining. It also means that you can restore harmony and let your dad save face by refraining from trying to prove him wrong. Even though your father believes that meat is necessary for optimum mental and physical functioning, he will realize on his own that he is mistaken if you improve your scholastic achievement, help more often around the house, and work at keeping your mind sharp. This will take some effort on your part, but seeing is believing. Nothing will convince your dad more that veganism is rational and sound than the example of your own glowing health and personal accomplishments.

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