by Erika Stern.
I just asked my 13-year old son if he had any words of inspiration for other kids who, like him, may have abruptly found themselves in a strange and meatless household, and he does: “Tell them that if their parents tell them they can’t eat meat anymore anywhere, then they should run away from home.” So, 15 months into my vegan journey, that’s pretty much were we’re at in the Smith/Stern household (or, as we call ourselves “The Smerns”).
This lifestyle came to us in one very clean fell swoop. I’ve heard of other families wanting to adopt healthier, plant-ier eating habits who started with Meatless Monday (a very easy and profoundly noble start) or began phasing out one non-plant-based item at a time. Red meat is usually the first to go, then pork, chicken, and maybe fish. Dairy seems to be much harder for people. 99.99% of the people who ask me about my eating habits usually end the conversation quickly at some point by saying, “Oh, I could easily be a vegetarian, but I could never give up cheese!!!” I gave it all up (even cheese) in one day, on July 15th, 2012. It was far easier for me to go in whole hog, as it were, than to slowly chip away pieces of 50-year old established diet. I have no idea why it was so easy for me, but I certainly wasn’t delusional enough to expect similar epiphanies from my husband and son.
So I established a sort of House Manifesto:
1. I’m deeply sorry, but I’m not able to cook meat in the house anymore
2. Any family member can eat whatever they want when we eat out (which we do once a week) without any Guilt or Subtle-Pressure-to-Have-the-Veggie-Burger-Instead.
3. I will not rant or proselytize or preach against meat, even when I hold my family trapped helplessly at the dinner table.
4. I will buy a few items (milk, yogurt, lunch meats and cheese) that are organic and humane so that Young Smern won’t be mortified to invite friends over, and won’t get teased about his lunch in the cafeteria at school.
As a result of this, my husband has happily become a Vegetarian (no seriously, ask him). But no matter how many blogs I read about shiny happy vegan families, and as many “Kids’ Favorite Vegan Recipes” I search for (and I spend many hours doing both) it is very clear to me that my son, although never a terribly picky eater in general, just ain’t gonna eat Chickpea Tacos or Spinach Tofu Calzones for dinner…
…no matter how many diehard vegan moms on the web claim that “our kids just looove this!” (or how delectable they may look to me). He doesn’t even like sweet potatoes, or hummus (?!?!?!) for crying out loud.
So despite the fact that on some nights he smiles at me at 5:45 and asks, “What’s for dinner, mom, sticks and grass?” I have, over the past year found a small collection of vegan meals he really enjoys (or else he’s been lying to me the whole time which, as any parent of a 13-yr old knows, is entirely possible). I cycle through these on a regular basis and try to sneak a new recipe in once a week. We do a knock-off Chipotle bowl with black beans, lime rice and corn salsa; a vegan Big Mac; and oddly enough, he can eat a huge quantity of fresh-rolled spring rolls with rice noodles, avocado, cucumber and carrots (It’s likely all about the sweet chili dipping sauce, but whatever). A hot bowl of chili is always well-received, and I’ve found a few really passable vegan cornbread recipes to go with it. I make a chocolate mousse with tofu that is so incredibly rich and creamy and chocolate-y that he ate two servings before I told him what was in it, and now welcomes it even though he knows it’s tofu. There’s even a fairly creepy chocolate chip cookie pie made of beans that is… out of this world. (Seriously, serve it to your family and then tell them what’s in it.) But I haven’t been able to try black bean brownies yet, despite the global hype.
So far, Young Smern is sort of reluctantly on my team. He’s always been an animal lover himself,
and he genuinely understands that I don’t want an animal to die just so that I can eat it. Had I raised him on a plant-based diet from birth, I’m sure I’d have a shiny happy vegan teen by now, but I dragged him into this at 12, and I can’t thank him enough for the almost total absence of kicking and screaming. He’s just still too young (don’t tell him that) to make the connection between the animals he’s petting and the ones he’s putting in his mouth. Hey, I didn’t get it until I was 53.
Erika Stern is a wife and mother, an artist, a kitchen designer and a new food blogger with no professional experience whatsoever with either food or blogging. But her mother is French and her father is a poet, so everything should work out just fine! She lives in Duxbury with 3 dogs and 23 chickens.