When she married Douglas Stetson nearly a quarter century ago, Brenda Stetson began to learn and love the vegetarian lifestyle.
But sometimes, when she least expects it, she still misses scrambled eggs.
“I was from a meat-eating family,” Stetson, 49, of Lowell, said. “I was 21 years old and my husband had been a vegetarian several years. I thought about it and it seemed like a good idea.”
Embracing a vegetarian diet came naturally for the couple, she said.
When their three children — 23, 18, 11 — came along, there was no change in the family’s vegetarian lifestyle. The key is that both parents follow the same diet, she said.
“None of our children ever questioned it,” she said. “They’ve always been brought up on a strict diet, no meat ever. I taught them from the get-go there are certain things in food products that are unhealthy.”
The only snag in the program was a social one, she said. On his special diet at school, the couple’s first son was among a miniscule minority. Only in recent years have vegetarian diets become more common in the schools.
“Now, with my daughter, who is in middle school, it’s no big deal,” Stetson said. “My children have all been raised vegetarian and I have three perfectly healthy, active children.”
Life in the kitchen at the Stetson house is missing only meat.
There is no golden brown roasted turkey at Thanksgiving and no honey ham at Christmastime.
“I wanted our kids to have a sense of tradition at the holidays, so we always have the same menu,” she said. “We look forward to it.”
At Thanksgiving it’s harvest mushroom casserole, nutted rice pilaf, cranberry relish, assorted fruit pies (pumpkin is a favorite) and homemade bread. A spinach tofu quiche, cranberry relish, roasted potatoes, pie and homemade bread is the Christmas holiday favorite.
“For me, this is a moral issue — of not killing animals,” Stetson said.
What the experts are saying
The American Dietetic Association also says vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein.
Higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals) are gained from a vegetarian diet.
Studies also show that a vegetarian mother’s breast milk has significantly lower levels of pesticide residue than a non-vegetarian’s breast milk.
Joan Coffey has been a devoted vegan for more than 30 years, but did not raise her son that way or insist that her husband join her.
“A lot of vegans won’t even cook meat, but I cook meat for my family,” Coffey, 64, of Marietta, said. “My dogs and cats eat meat and wear leather collars. I don’t.”
Her 6-year-old grandson is no stranger to veganism.
“At least he knows what a vegetarian is,” she said.
Her own lifestyle began quite by accident.
“It was gradual,” she said. “I first gave up red meat, then fowl, then fish. A long time later, I became a vegan. It was all gradual.”
Recently Coffey revisited dairy — cheese, milk, eggs — and soon her weight began to increase.
“On May 1, I quit all dairy products. I’ve lost 10 pounds already just by giving up cheese,” she said. “I feel better, have more energy and more of everything.”
In addition to not having any desire to eat animals, Coffey has a wider concern for the world. Most of the livestock that is consumed by humans is grain fed.
“The grain we feed animals could feed a lot of humans all over the world,” she said. “And you can buy a lot of black beans for what you would spend on meat.”
Veganism is easier to practice today than ever before, according to this convert.
“I used to go into a restaurant and ask for a vegetarian menu and they would often ask, ‘Are you from California?'” Coffey said. “I used to get a lot of that, but nobody bats an eye anymore.”
Grocery stores cater more to vegetarians today.
“It’s so much easier than 30 years ago,” she said. “I used to have to make my own burgers from beans. Today we have Boca burgers in lots of variety.”
In matters of health, there is no substitute for the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle, she said.
“I’m healthier than my parents were at this age,” she said.
At the ripe old age of 18 years, Andrew Husk made the decision to try a meatless diet for one month.
“I was really into nutrition anyway and once I got through that first month, I liked it very much,” Husk, 19, of Parkersburg, said.
The decision was a combination of things — a concern for health issues, friends who were living a vegetarian lifestyle and curiosity.
When he was in high school, fast food and burgers were a steady diet, he said.
“The last few years I decided to try to be healthy,” Husk said. “It’s hard, because when you go out to eat with your friends, it’s more difficult, but has been well worth it.”
His favorite food is hummus and vegan cookies.
Today Husk is working on a brand new goal — veganism. He’s giving himself 40 days to adapt to the exclusion of all dairy.
He is beginning a new adventure soon — four months training to work with inner city children through Metro Ministries, based in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s more difficult to be vegan,” he said. “I have to read labels a lot more, but I really like trying new things.”
For those who are just getting started with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, Husk has advice:
“Try it for fun and see how you like it,” he said. “There’s a lot of health benefits and environmental benefits. I’ve lost some weight on it too.”
Unlike many dedicated vegans, Anna Prince, of Marietta, must step away from her vegan lifestyle, from time to time, and return to dairy.
“I am on and off because of weight issues,” Prince, a Marietta psychiatrist said. “I’ve been a vegetarian for years, but when my weight drops, I do eat a little bit of organic meat.”
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy comprise the mainstay of the heart-healthy diet, according to Prince.
“Eating a diet without meat is bound to stabilize weight,” she said. “I grew up in the country where everybody had big gardens and put up fruits and vegetables.”
The bottom line in veganism or vegetarianism, Prince said, is health.
“But far more than physical health, health in the sense of emotional health, a positive attitude, free of being bogged down by depression,” she said. “A spiritual sense that embraces nature’s connectiveness.”
Approach the vegetarian lifestyle with playfulness and fun, or it won’t work, she said. Keep positive images in your head.
Weight loss and better health happens naturally as people follow the lifestyle.
“When we step out in nature we feel instantly connected,” she said. “Our culture is in the midst of so much negativity, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality that grows and pervades,” Prince said. “Instead of looking at our differences, we need to look at our similarities.”
She doesn’t push her food choices on her family, but encourages healthy eating.
“We have a rule that whoever cooks, cooks what he or she wants,” Prince said. “If my husband wants a steak, then he has to cook it.”
Prince calls the vegan lifestyle “a great adventure” and creative.
“It’s a wonderful form of self-love to take care of yourself and eat healthy food.” Brenda Stetson, Marietta Times