Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Strange Thing Happened at Trader Joe's...

Photo Source: Food Hacks
A strange thing happened to me recently while I was at the register checking out at my local Trader Joe's. The woman who was scanning and bagging my groceries remarked about mid-way through, "So, I take it you're vegetarian, right?" I guess it was the week's worth of tofu, veggie burgers, chicken-less strips, dairy-free ice cream and the like that tipped her off. "Yes, actually, we're all vegan," I replied, nodding towards my toddler who was still sitting in the cart, and my infant daughter strapped to my chest in the carrier. "But... how did you do that?" she asked me. Somewhat puzzled and not clear on what exactly she was asking me about, I asked her, "What do you mean? Do you mean how was I vegan while pregnant?" She nodded. I told her that I had no problems at all while I was pregnant. Well, no problems related to being vegan, at least. I indulged my cravings for sweets (especially ice cream), and pizza, I took my prenatal vitamin every day, I didn't have any of those non-vegan cravings I had heard so often about. You know, like your long-time veg friend or friend-of-a-friend who suddenly started craving steaks as soon as she got pregnant and just had to eat meat. Both of my babies were born and continue to be perfectly healthy, so there is no reason to think a vegan pregnancy is difficult or ill-advised. 

This exchange was all pretty normal. It doesn't really happen to me that often, so when a stranger asks about being vegan I am more than happy to share my experiences. But what she said next really surprised me: "I've been vegan about 15 years but I just don't think my diet know... sustain a baby!" Whaaaat???!!!

Her revelation totally surprised me in the moment but later when I was still thinking about it, made me really sad. There are many reasons to go vegan and I assume that she probably does it for the animals rather than for health reasons, so it's certainly not a given that any vegan (including this one) would necessarily be an expert on health or nutrition. But one would think that somewhere over the course of 15 years one might have learned a thing or two about how vegan food tends to be healthier than, you know, the average meat-eater's diet. Something about a long-time vegan doubting herself to the point of thinking that she couldn't sustain a vegan pregnancy made me feel incredibly discouraged. Just when you think that veganism is becoming more mainstream, with countless studies touting the health benefits of a vegan diet, you mean to tell me that there are vegans who themselves don't trust that it's the healthiest possible option? How are we going to convince non-vegans if can't even convince actual vegans?! 

So maybe this woman was just unusually clueless and I'm overreacting, or maybe this particular vegan lives on a diet of Oreo cookies and tequila, in which case she might be justified in wondering if she could nutritionally sustain a pregnancy. But I'm still completely befuddled that a vegan - a vegan who works at Trader Joe's for crying out loud, with plenty of healthy vegan food options literally staring her in the face all day - would find it surprising that another vegan managed to survive two pregnancies without, you know, needing more protein or something

I'd be happy to hear what anyone else thinks about this exchange, as it is entirely possible that I'm reading too much into it or making a big deal out of nothing. Am I? Was this conversation as strange as I think it was? 

Anyway, just to make sure I'm not going crazy in my thinking that Trader Joe's is a treasure trove of vegan delights, here is an actual list of TJ's vegan options, here is a 10 Best Vegan Items list, Vegansaurus's TJ's Pinterest page, and even a vegan TJ's Tumblr. Myself, I'm a big fan of their Soy Chorizo, the Vegetable Masala Burgers, the Speculoos Cookie Butter (duh), and their coconut milk yogurts are fantastic. My son especially loves the Chicken-less Mandarin Orange Morsels (stir fry with some broccoli - delish), and the Japanese Style Fried Rice. Oh, and we just tried their Chili Pepper Sauce and their Sriracha Sauce, and both are awesome! I don't know what took me so long to discover those!

Please stay tuned for the next post in which I preview for you some good things I tested for Annie Shannon's next cookbook. Now there's a vegan mama for you who knows what's what. 


  1. I was a vegan for well over 15 years before adding diary and fish to my diet. When I became pregnant with my first child I started to eat meat. I don't know why I didn't think I could sustain my pregnancies without it, I knew friends that did. Maybe it was peer pressure from other friends and all the comments from parents and in-laws. Meat never agreed with me. I had stomach problems while eating it and I never really gained an appreciation for it, but family meals were easier if I just ate it ,too. Now after 12 years, I have reverted back to a pescatarian diet and I feel lots better. Why didn't I just make the kids vegan too? I wanted to give them the opportunity to make their own life choices as well. They should be able to decide whether or not they want to be vegan. My parents chose my food choices until the day I left home. Not saying parents shouldn't monitor healthy versus bad foods for children but the decision to be vegan or not is usually determined later in life when it is not forced on someone. I try to expose my kids to healthy food choices, but ultimately they will decide what foods work for them. My parents meat oriented diet certainly didn't work for me.

    1. I respect your decisions, but to put forth the idea that raising vegan kids means that I'm not giving them "their own life choices" is preposterous. First, if I fed them them meat, not one person would argue that I am "forcing" meat on them. But if I feed them fruits, vegetables, grains, and plant-based sources of protein, then I am "forcing" veganism on them? That makes no sense. As parents we have the responsibility to feed our children as we see best, and I believe that a plant-based diet is the healthiest choice for myself and my children. They are thriving and healthy, and their pediatrician supports our vegan lifestyle. Furthermore, even though I do believe that it is the healthiest option for my family, that is not the only reason we are vegan. We are vegan for ethical reasons. We don't believe in killing or abusing animals for our food. My son, who is 2.5, already understands the simple logic, "We don't eat animals." Now, to return to your point about "life choices," of course I assume that one day they will be faced with the choice to eat meat. When that day comes, that will be their choice. They will know why we are vegan and if they choose not to be, that's up to them. But as long as I am providing meals for them, they will be eating vegan good things.

    2. You are assuming that I am against a vegan lifestyle and if its not exactly per your view that I am implying that its forcing. I meant that any choice can feel like being forced when it is not what a person wants to do. I know how difficult it is to convince someone how I do not want to eat meat and why I chose at age 9 why it wasn't right for me. I grew up in a culture where they couldn't fathom a child wanting to be vegan, but I can assure you its this hostility you are showing that makes it difficult to convince someone that the life choices I made were carefully thought out. It doesn't have to be so black or white. There can be reasonable dialogue before acceptance. I was against killing animals and I fully believed that that I could balance my diet even as a teen but it was my choice and not my parents. I did feel they forced meat on me and I refused to eat it. I just didn't want to be like them. What if my kids, don't agree with me? What I was saying was I am exposing my kids to both lifestyles and they will ultimately chose as they grow up what they want to follow. My kids are also thriving and healthy. You can not assume that I am criticizing your family and your choices. I think its fine for your family. I was merely replying to your stunned reaction towards another vegan. Not all vegans have the same diet or lifestyle. She may have been curious....not clueless.

    3. But you did imply that it is forcing, in your original comment when you stated "the decision to be vegan or not is usually determined later in life when it is not forced on someone." Of course it feels "like being forced when it is not what a person wants to do," but how is that relevant to what I feed my children? The only foods they know are what I give them, and as I noted, when they are old enough to be faced with a choice to eat meat outside of our home, then they are free to make their own choice about it. As parents we make decisions about what to feed our children, how to treat their health and medical needs, etc. You are the one who first brought out the term "forcing," which seems hostile to me. I agree that the woman at Trader Joe's may have been more curious than clueless, which is why the rest of our conversation, which I didn't completely document here, was about how a vegan diet tends to be much healthier than the average omnivore's diet, and examples of things that my family eats on a regular basis. Of course people have different lifestyles, and maybe her's isn't the healthiest, but my stunned reaction was due to the fact that she seemed to me to be surprised that a healthy vegan pregnancy was even possible. I still am surprised that someone would choose to follow a vegan diet for 15 years and not know that. But as I said in my original post, I really wasn't sure how to read the exchange with this fellow vegan, and wasn't sure if I was overthinking our conversation, which is why I posted it in the first place and welcomed a dialogue about it. So, thank you for reading and for sharing your comments.