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Gemma aka Gnewvegan, blogger at Invitation to my vegan journeyInterview by Cynthia Mosher
Hi Gemma and welcome to VegFamily. Is everyone in your family vegan and if not, what's that like?
Thank you for your warm welcoming into Veg Family. I am the only vegan in my family and I grew up in a meat eating family. There are two other vegetarians although at the time I made the transition there was only one vegetarian. My family had never heard the word vegan before I mentioned it. I also had never heard of the word until shortly before I changed. Having dinners with my family was not difficult because they were accepting of my choice. When I go visit my nan I would cook something we both could have. If I was making pasta with marinara then I would simply bring my vegan parmesan cheese and nan would use her cheese. My nan is cute because she would think "what will I make for my granddaughter". Even though I cook , food is an expression of love in my nans Italian heart. So one day she came up with this roasted red pepper with onions and Italian seasonings which she put into a sandwich. And when I would visit she would sometimes have it waiting. I enjoy cooking and make recipes in the hopes of publishing a vegan cook book one day. I really liked her sandwich so with some variations I made it into a recipe for my book. Things like that are really nice because it is warming to have your family so accepting of your choice. And further heart warming when your Italian Grandma is eating your vegan food.
Did you transition slowly into being vegan or was it an immediate step?
My transition into veganism was done within a two weak period. On September 16, 2007 I became vegetarian. I had not heard of vegans and did not even understand why someone would not eat eggs or drink milk. I was doing research on how to change into a vegetarian lifestyle. While walking to the subway I saw a pamphlet by PETA in one of those advertising bins throughout the city. The title was "Vegetarian Starter Kit"so I picked it up. Well, on the subway I had to hold back the tears because unexpectedly I learned why someone would not drink milk and eat eggs. I went home and got rid of all my eggs and milk. I did go through a period of thinking maybe if I buy cage free eggs or organic milk that would be ok. Or if I find a local farm and purchase from there that would also be ok. I have written about this ideology on my blog. I have met others who thought this same way and I think it is just part of the transformation. After further research I realized it was not any better and gave the organic eggs I bought but did not use to my friend. From that moment I was vegan and the journey has been a wonderful one.
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I discussed family in the first question so I will focus on friends here. My friends have been wonderful and supportive of my change to veganism. They respect my decision to be vegan. We respect each other for our beliefs which makes it so much easier especially when you go out. We order what we want and noone says anything about what anyone is eating. When I have been at my friends for holidays it is great. For example, at a dinner a friend of mine put aside the pasta and left it plain for me because the family made a meat sauce. I brought my vegan butter and used that. She had also put aside mashed potatoes and I used my substitutes. I also bring a vegan dish that I feel people would enjoy so then I have something to eat in case there is not many choices for me. But I love to cook and I like to bring something with me to share. This can also show people that vegan food is just as good as non-vegan (hopefully they like my dish:). At another holiday the host made two dishes that were vegan and that was very touching. Especially when I was the only vegan at the table. Then last year another one of my friends came on a vegan weekend with me to a farm sanctuary. She is not vegan but was vegan that weekend and that was really special to me. The support from my friends has been a wonderful experience.
Is vegan food easy to obtain in your area?
I am fortunate in that I live in a city which has a wide variety of vegan options. I have had readers of my blog express to me that it is difficult in other areas which do not have many of the substitutes that I can find here. If I can not find something at a store then I order things from online. This has probably helped in making the transition easier. My recipes do not all contain things like meat substitutes. I do make a variety of recipes that you could get the ingredients at a local store. But it is nice to know if I want a sloppy joe I can go to the market and buy the veggie protein crumbles I need. There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy a vegan meal. It is so nice when you go into a restaurant and it is all vegan.
How do you handle holidays and birthday parties?
I usually cook for the holidays which has been as the above experiences a positive one. As I have stated there are two vegetarians in my family. My nan really does not like to eat meat much anymore. So this Christmas was a vegan/ vegetarian one and it turned out great. It is always a great feeling when your vegan dishes are received well. I respect my families choices as they respect mine so there will be individual choices like with the parmesan cheese or butter. I made all vegan desserts which went over well. So luckily for me the holidays have been pleasant with both family and friends.
Do you have any favorite cookbooks or a favorite recipe you'd like to share?
As a person who loves to cook I have a variety of cookbooks that I really enjoy. Before I was vegan I would refer to books and magazines by cooks such as Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Daisy Martinez, Rachel Ray, and Every Day Food. One of the goals of my blog is to show people how you can veganize recipes. So I still refer to those books/magazines and either veganize a recipe or use the knowledge of different cultural styles when I create my recipes. I also veganize old family favorites. My favorite vegan books are by Nava Atlas. The first book I bought to help me in my journey was the "Vegetarian 5 ingredient Gourmet". It is excellent, easy to use and really introduces you into a variety of food choices. That was the first time I learned how to use tofu. Then when one of her other books came out "Vegan Express" I bought that one. I can always find a recipe in there when I am just too tired to create that night. I think she is a wonderful cookbook writer and I highly recommend her books. Favorite recipes is a hard one because I have quite a few. I love pasta in all shapes and sizes. :) But to narrow it down there is a recipe by Nava on her blog called "Jambalaya" which I love. Here is the link: http://vegkitchen.com/recipes/soy-sausage.htm
There is a pasta recipe on my blog which is really a comfort food because of the butter but it is quite tasty. And it can serve a family of 4 to 6. Here is the link: http://invitationfrom-gnewvegan.blogspot.com/2008/03/penne-with-peas-and-white-beans-by.html
Here is the link to another one of my recipes that is good for potlucks or a large family, serving ten or more. It is my Fiesta Bean Salad. I also show a picture of Nava's delicious vegan chocolate cake I had made for my nan. I put some strawberries on top. http://invitationfrom-gnewvegan.blogspot.com/2008/07/fiesta-bean-salad-by-gnewvegan.html
Have you met any resistance (or ignorance) when dealing with doctors?
I have had a few experiences where the doctor was either ignorant or skeptical. One doctor who appeared skeptical asked me if I would mind him taking a B12 level and I said sure. I knew I am very careful of my intake and do my best to take in what I need. My levels came back fine and I was happy to take that test to show that being vegan does not mean I am lacking. You do not have to be vegan to be lacking in nutrients. Even non vegan could be deficient in nutrients depending on their eating habits. Education is the key showing people that a vegan diet does not mean I am malnourished. As with anything if you do the research and are knowledgeable of what you need you will be ok. Of course I always advise people to seek out advice from there MD/NP/ or RD if there are other personal medical issues that need to be addressed or if they need guidance in there daily dietary needs.
Do you have any words of advice to offer anyone considering or in the process of transitioning to veganism?
Veganism is a transition like any other transition. There will be ups and downs, times you have that cheese or piece of candy. And that is ok. Do not let anyone make you feel like if you have something one day that is not vegan you are a hypocrite. A very good friend said to me one time if you need to have that "one thing" once a year to be vegan that's ok. At least those other 364 days you are doing more then the person who criticizes you and is not doing anything for the animals. Do not feel like you need to have an excuse or explain yourself to anyone. You do not need one. Ups and downs are normal. You are human and everyone may slip once in a while. I have also found that I have developed an aversion to certain foods. That may happen to you as well. Also do not get discouraged when you are in the store and do not know how to replace this or that. Take it day by day and you will learn the replacements and be surprised that you really can do it. It is like any other learning process. And once you learn it is like second nature. And when you look at it, many foods are vegan. When people ask me the common question of " What do I eat" I sometimes say, go to the grocery store and go to the meat aisle, then turn your back to it. There is a whole store of food and many vegan choices. Not everything we eat has animal products in them. At the beginning of my blog, (link is to the left when you open the main site) is the beginning of my journey. I tell people how I started to learn and that is where I suggest people start to learn. The journey can be a wonderful one and can be done. You may also experience people who may make faces or make comments to you. Sometimes I just do not say anything because you can sense when the person is not ready to listen to information about being vegan. And your reasons for being vegan are your own. Many times I just answer for ethical reasons if asked why. I feel that people do not want to listen to someone preaching especially if they feel pressured. That could be more discouraging then helpful. When the time and place present itself and it is a good opportunity to discuss it with someone, then that's great. I believe education is the key for people to learn about veganism. Just as how you have to take it day by day, in your own way to learn how to be vegan, the acceptance of knowledge may happen in that same way, if it does happen. For the people who say negative things to you remember why you are vegan and that is all that matters. This is your vegan heart, your vegan journey.