Vanessa Bremer has been practicing healthy eating for more than 31 years. She started by changing her eating habits and becoming a vegetarian. Then, seven years ago, she went a step further and adopted a vegan lifestyle. “I guess the stars aligned, and I made the changes. The summer between graduating from high school and starting college, I became a vegetarian. There were four main reasons for that,” explained Vanessa. The first two came from her experience at work.
“I was working at a temp job that summer in refrigeration. It was my responsibility to type all of the FDA labels containing the ingredients on packages of frozen foods. That brought my awareness to what is truly in processed food products. I also worked as a Spanish interpreter for families working in the processing plants that summer. With that job, I learned how animals are executed and how the meat is processed.” She then left for college with this newly obtained knowledge. “At college, I gravitated towards people choosing healthier lifestyles and was introduced to the vegetarian and vegan ways. I learned how animals are used in product testing, and it isn’t always for the good of humanity to find cures for sickness,” explained Vanessa.
Granted, the reasons for going vegetarian and vegan are there; eating from a whole foods lifestyle and not all processed foods have tremendous health benefits. Animal rights and considering how they are executed in packing plants, and used as test subjects, are all legitimate reasons for changing. But what about the personal sacrifice of giving up all of the great food and tastes?
“Growing up, when we ate meat (red meat), it was usually hamburger. We were a busy family, on the go and a budget. We ate a lot of bologna, hot dogs, and frozen pepperoni pizza. I just felt that giving that up was not all that difficult when I could see all of the benefits of going vegetarian,” said Vanessa. She may have been able to give up the not-so-healthy meat choices, but she couldn’t give up butter and cheese so quickly. So, going vegan would have to wait a while.
Her college years and the first few after graduation were Vanessa’s time to learn and shine in the kitchen. “It was the 90’s. Moosehead was the cookbook that was in high demand (vegetarian and vegan recipes). I also got ideas from Mother Earth magazine and Primitive. It was a lot of trial and error trying to cook 365 vegetarian meals. But cooking at home wasn’t difficult. I fixed a lot of meals with rice and beans,” said Vanessa.
It was also during that time that Vanessa got married. “My husband was a traditional meat and potato eater,” explained Vanessa. However, he was also very supportive and witnessed the benefits he saw vegetarian living was giving Vanessa. “When trying to help someone convert to vegetarian or vegan eating, it works best to ease them into it. You don’t want to hit them straight up with scrambled tofu. It would help if you learned how to convert some of their favorite meals to vegetarian or vegan. I won my husband over with vegetarian enchiladas. Once he tried and liked those, he was willing to try more options,” stated Vanessa.
Healthy eating at home is easy when you are the one doing the cooking. However, when the couple goes out to eat, then challenges might occur. “Restaurants here in the Midwest are very accommodating. I look at the menu and try to pull the ingredients together. Take a strawberry/chicken salad. I’ll ask them not to put feta cheese on it or chicken. And could they possibly add some artichoke hearts and mushrooms? Once your body adapts to not having meats and dairy products, it forgets how to digest it.”
Vanessa, her husband, and their son have lived in the Siouxland area for a little more than a year now. Before living here, they lived in California, Texas, and Virginia. “Restaurants try to be very accommodating. Texas was the most difficult place where we lived. Going out to eat could be challenging. They didn’t have a lot of meat substitutions available for customers, and Mexican restaurants used a lot of lard in preparing their food items,” said Vanessa.
Digesting cheese, cream, and butter became an issue as years passed. “As I got older, I started to become lactose intolerant. I took it as the universe saying it was time to bite the bullet and go completely vegan,” said Vanessa. She and her family have lived the Vegan lifestyle for the past seven years.
“When you meet people, don’t expect them to be the ones to navigate towards your lifestyle. Initially, people usually react by saying they could never give up so many of their favorite foods with meat and cheese. When I go out, I bring a bottle of my homemade salad dressing or pack a veggie burger.”
Vanessa said that by learning to cook vegan and vegetarian, you learn how to substitute ingredients into food to give it the flavors people are accustomed to. “People are never upset or frustrated. They didn’t realize until after eating that it didn’t have meat or dairy, but it tasted good. You have to start slowly winning them over with dishes they are familiar with and fix it vegan or vegetarian.”
Although Vanessa sticks to her vegan eating and has no desire to return to eating any other way, her husband and son have their days when they cheat. “My son loves gummi bears and worms, so he still eats those occasionally. And my husband loves a good hamburger, so he may have one when we go out from time to time.” It is all about finding what works for you.
By Amy Buster