How long have you been a vegan?
I have been vegan for 25 years. (Alyson is 51 years old). I became a vegetarian when I turned 18 year old, eating fish on occasion. Before that I ate meat. My father had a friend who was a butcher so I was well aware of how meat was processed.
Since becoming a vegan, have you ever strayed (ie: eaten a steak, cheese, etc).
I strayed one time; a long time ago, when I visited my husband’s family in South Dakota over the holidays. They are a bit baffled by my veganism, but they do try to be supportive. They cooked mashed potatoes with margarine for me. I don’t think they realized that margarine still has dairy in it, but because I knew how hard they tried, I decided to have a small serving.
What made you decide to choose veganism as your way of life?
I have a friend in Canada who is a vegan. I remember at the time I was a vegetarian, still eating cheese and eggs. My friend asked me why I chose to be vegetarian. I told him I loved animals too much to eat them, so basically my reasons were for the welfare of animals. He then explained to me how dairy cows and egg laying hens suffer just as much, if not more than animals used for their meat. Basically, he convinced me to go 100% vegan. So the answer to your question is, I am a vegan because I don’t want to contribute to the suffering and killing of animals for my meals.
4) Did you quit eating animal products and by products immediately or did you gradually omit things from your diet?
Well, I started out as a vegetarian, eating fish here and there. I remember one day eating a tuna fish sandwich and for some reason, it tasted terrible and that was it for seafood. I was about 23 years old at the time. When I chose to become vegan, I did it cold turkey. My vegetarian diet was cheese rich, so it was hard to remove that. At the time I became vegan, there were not many good vegan alternatives like there are today. I also didn’t like soy milk. I would say the transition from vegetarian to vegan was really emotional and difficult; I was not 100% sure I could do it. However, the reason I’ve been able to stay vegan are because of my feeling for the animals.
5) What are some the challenges you face being a vegan?
The top challenge is my son, he’s almost 8 years old. My husband is not vegan or vegetarian, he eats meat regularly which is not a problem for me. We decided that when our son was born I would guide his diet, so he was vegan ever since he started eating solid foods. He was diagnosed with tree nut allergies so vegan protein staples like almonds were out of the picture. Because of this, I decided to introduce eggs into his diet. I always buy them at the farmers markets from local sustainable farms. As he’s gotten older, he’s occasionally eaten cheese pizza at parties. I try to send him to parties with vegan options, and so far his friends are really cool about it. Lately, he has been curious about eating meat. This makes me really sad. My hopes are that he decides on his own to remain vegetarian, but I don’t want to him to resent me. He understands that compassion towards animals and eating meat is an oxymoron. For the most part, he eats things like organic tofu, veggies, and brown rice. He doesn’t think it’s weird, I guess he’s just used to it by now. I have to remind myself that I grew up with meat and I made the conscious choice to become vegan. My son also has a lot of compassion towards animals, and lately is a little confused because his dad eats meat. I never wanted my son to feel that mommy is good because she is vegan and daddy is bad because he is not. He has never seen a slaughter-house, so his view of meat is packaged, but he understand that an animal is killed for that steak or chicken breast or pork chop. I’m trying to help him understand why I feel being vegan is a better choice, but I also want to be careful of forcing his hand. (Alyson’s son and husband pictured below)
6) How has your general health been affected since becoming vegan?
When I stopped consuming dairy my whole face changed. My nose looked different, like I had a nose job. I had less puffiness in my face and nose. I also lost a little bit of weight. Just general less puffiness all over. I also starting to notice that my energy level became more consistent. I don’t feel like I’m getting “old”. I honestly still feel like I’m in my 20’s and 30’s. I don’t suffer from the aches and pains that many women my age suffer from. Sometimes I feel like this diet is the fountain of youth. I have more vibrant, clear skin and my mind is not foggy and fuzzy. I have an easier time sleeping and an enormous amount of energy when awake. I practice Ashtanga yoga diligently so maybe that helps too. I do honestly believe that a healthy vegan diet is the best way to go for longevity and quality of life.
7) Are a majority of your friends and family also vegan?
No. I do have some good friends who are a couple that are hard core vegan activists; they are my go to for advice. I am compassionate to my husband who eats meat regularly. My family has tried but just couldn’t do it. Some of my friends are vegetarian, but most friends and family are not. My family will make things that are vegan for me. When I go to visit my husbands family, I almost always bring my own food. Most of the food at grocery stores where his family lives is processed; everything has mayo and bacon. I always have a vegan protein bar on hand, in case I am at a wedding or restaurant without vegan options. But in the city, most restaurants have vegan options. I almost always cook at home.
8) Give an example of a weeknight dinner you might make for yourself and your family?
I don’t touch meat, my husband cooks his own meat. I had a cat once that I would feed home cooked turkey to but that was the only exception. My husband would sometimes get a little jealous wondering why I could cook meat for the cat and not him. I told him she had no way of cooking her own food but he is perfectly capable. Haha! I try to cook something that everyone can eat. My husband works in theater so many nights during the week it’s just my son and I. I cook a lot of steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, brussels sprouts). I make brown rice and quinoa or whole grain vegan pasta with olive oil, salt and earth balance. I’ll add some chick peas, kidney beans or lima beans to the mix as well. Dr Praeggers veggie patties are amazing. I’ll cook tofu or tempeh once or twice a week or grab something from the Whole foods deli counter. During winter I will make a lot of vegan soups. Processed vegan foods like vegan hotdogs are really a summer only thing, for barbecue’s and parties. I try to make balanced meals. Before my son was born, I had much more time on my hands to cook elaborate vegan meals, and I still do during the holidays. I love Quorn (vegan chicken substitute) and Seitan. But for the most part, I cook some combination of veggies, grains and beans. Because of my sons allergies, I don’t use nuts, except peanuts and coconut. I do loves nuts and eat them during the day sometimes, but not in the house. I’ll occasionally have vegan protein bars; my favorites are Lara and Vegavita bars, but I prefer eating a handful of raisins and almonds. I use peanut butter and sunflower seed butter too. I go grocery shopping at the local farmers market in Andersonville once a week when it’s around. I shop at Whole Foods as well, and I’ll go to The Jewel for produce. I don’t generally buy a lot of canned foods. Being healthy and vegan is just not that easy; you have to make the time and plan ahead, unless you want to spend a fortune at salad bars. I always carry some type of food with me. I also juice every day. I’ll make smoothies with fruit, ice and dates, pour it in a Sig bottle and take it with me.
10) What is your favorite vegan indulgence?
Vegan cupcakes!!!! (She loves Maddiebird in Edgewater). I was invited to a marshmallow weenie roast once, so I brought vegan hotdogs and Dandies vegan marshmallows. People loved them! I enjoy most quality vegan ice creams (Better Pecan soy based ice cream is her favorite). George’s Ice Cream and Sweets shop in Andersonville has great vegan options. I love dark chocolate with 100% cacao. I use good life chocolate chips for baking or just eating on its own.
10) Do you consider yourself a vegan activist; meaning, do you try to encourage friends to switch to veganism, talk about being vegan?
Not really. I feel I am a vegan “attractionist”; by just living my life, I hope that I inspire people to consider veganism. It’s funny; usually, when people find out I am vegan they begin apologizing, saying things like, ‘I don’t eat meat that much’ or ‘we try to eat healthy’. Truth is, it’s hard for me to be so disciplined. I work hard every day and do the best I can. I am not a saint, but I get up for yoga early every day, eat healthy and live healthy. I can easily eat crappy but knowing I have to wake up and practice keeps me motivated to keep my meals light. Sometimes my choices are not the best though. I’m only human.
11) Does your vegan lifestyle go beyond your plate (no animal derived clothes or accessories, vegan household and beauty products, etc.)
It’s ebbed and flowed. There was a point when I purchased only vegan shoes, bags and coats; no leather or wool. When I lived in Canada, my feet would get soooooooo cold in vegan shoes, so I started buying shoes and jackets that contain down and wool. I do currently wear leather shoes and sandals, but I don’t shop a lot and I don’t own a ton of stuff. I’ll buy a pair of really great quality leather shoes and they will last me for a really long time. When I buy things, I try to consider what is causing the least amount of harm globally. But it can make you crazy. I have a few things made out of wool that I keep for a really long time. I don’t wear a lot of makeup. I buy most of my skin care products at Mertz Apothecary. I use Dr Haushka and a Japanese line called Chidoriya. I try my best but honestly I am not sure if those products are vegan (at this point I told Alyson about the smart phone app. “Buycott”). I think most people just don’t want to know what is involved in the manufacturing of clothes, shoes, skincare; but once you do start to know you can’t un-know it. It’s a lot of work though.
12) What advice would you give a person who is looking to become a vegan or who might be struggling with veganism?
Be clear why you are wanting to become vegan. Know what your reasons are, and operate from that standpoint. For me it’s about compassion for animals, people and the planet. When I struggle, I remind myself of those reasons and honor my choice. If you choose veganism for health reasons, approach it from that perspective. Read about how to be a healthy vegan. Know what vitamins you should take. B12 is super important. Become educated. And know that there is a transition that happens. Your body might have physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms like I had with cheese. But if you stick to it, chances are you’ll never look back…….
If you live in the Chicago area and practice yoga, I encourage you to take one of Alyson’s class. She is authentic, inspiring and smart.
(Connect with Alyson HERE)