The Artist Formerly Known as Vegan Sonoma

Friends, family, beloved blog audience … You may have noticed it’s been quite a while since my last post. You may have wondered – was I just busy? Had I fallen off the blog wagon? Was I going through a period of writer’s block? Was I going through a period of chef’s block? As the silence continued, you may have felt a bit abandoned. You may have wondered how I could be so cold. I am so sorry to have put you through that. Sadly, however, I am afraid that some of you, when you learn the real reason for my distance, may feel even more betrayed. But I have to come clean. I can’t live a lie. It’s time you know the real reason I haven’t posted any new recipes, vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise.

Deep breath …

After I’m not even sure how many years of being vegetarian (and more recently, mostly vegan), J and I have made a huge and shocking lifestyle change. We have decided to include meat and animal products in our diet. There was one very big, very important, very good reason that we made this choice, which I will explain forthwith.

Whew! Feels good to get that out.

There are so many things we both have to say about the whole thing, due to the risk of losing you through the course of what is shaping up to be a rather long post, I’ll state my agenda, and if there’s a topic of particular interest to you, please feel free to jump ahead:

The reason?

Short story: cardiovascular health.

Long story: Two years ago we learned that J – fit, vegetarian, active, moderate J – had insanely high blood pressure. At rest, it would regularly exceed 170/100, spiking as high as 180/110 with fair frequency. As a med-tech copywriter who spends a great quantity of time reading, researching and writing about the connections between various health disorders and cardiovascular disease, you don’t have to say “hypertension” twice to have me flipping out and sermonizing about the importance of keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level. In case you haven’t heard my spiel, I’m here to tell you not to mess around with high blood pressure – it’s a significant first step toward a host of serious issues that should not be taken lightly. I have a particular beef about the fact that its ubiquity has led our society to develop a collective apathy and blasΓ© attitude towards it. “You have high blood pressure? So do I, it’s no big deal.” Not cool, dude. You only get one heart and it has a lot of beats to perform over the course of your many long, happy years. You want that lifelong ultra-marathon of heartbeats to be an easy one, not an uphill battle. So if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, do something. Lose 5 lbs. Walk for 20 minutes every day. Eat more fiber and spinach and bananas and reduce your sodium intake. If you snore, get tested for sleep apnea – it’s a common cause. And if none of that works, take the bloody medication.

Or, if you’re vegan, try eating meat and cutting out carbs.Yep. I’ll explain.*

See, we know about every little thing under the sun you can do to lower your blood pressure without medication, in fact I could recite to you the average drops in mm HG associated with each diet or lifestyle change (e.g., daily exercise = 10+ point drop). We tried every last thing under the sun, and we were very dedicated, and nothing made a difference at all. But the thing is, J really didn’t want to take medication for the rest of his life. So we went about our lives, at slight loggerheads on occasion over our differing opinions on whether he should take medication or not, and over the past two years his blood pressure has stayed firmly planted in the red part of the chart, to both our great chagrin. Since I’m already rambling quite a bit, I won’t go off about how much anxiety, fear and frustration the situation has caused us both. Oh, and did I mention that J’s father died of a heart attack at age 60? Let’s just say the whole situation has been a source of major disquietude.

And then one day this summer, we met a guy who shared a phenomenal tale of losing more than 100 lbs in a very short period of time by adopting a high protein, low carb diet. Before even losing all the weight however, the diet immediately lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol and improved all the vitals that correspond to heart health. We were stunned and impressed. Not so much that we thought we should try it ourselves. Just impressed.

But then we kept thinking about it. And we started thinking about what our diet consisted of. And we started evaluating more critically the ratio of protein to carbs we were getting. And it became increasingly apparent that our diet was imbalanced. And we learned a lot of other things that I won’t bore you with, but all added together amounted to a compelling argument for considering eating meat. So, we took a deep breath and decided to give it a chance.

Results? Next blood pressure reading – 125/85

Within just 3 days, J’s next blood pressure reading was 125/85. Not only RADICALLY lower, but within a completely normal, healthy range. Since then, we’ve measured it regularly and it’s fluctuated and gone up sometimes, but the systolic has averaged towards 140 and the diastolic has stayed under 100. For those not familiar with blood pressure woes, these are significant improvements. Like, kind of unbelievable.

I’m not even going to speculate about why it worked – actually, I am, I think that protein deficiency may have lowered his red blood cell count which can cause high blood pressure – but whatever the case, it did. So. That was that. And now we’re omnivores.

Omnivores? Weird

Needless to say, it is very strange to be living with this new diet. After being vegetarian for most of my adult life, it’s a total identity crisis. Buying meat at the grocery store is such a foreign experience, it’s so surreal. And as I go about my culinary tasks, picking recipes, making grocery lists, choosing to make something that calls for butter and chicken, I feel like I’m doing something totally decadent and illicit, like playing hookie or drinking mimosas at brunch – like I just decided to relax, blow off the rules and let everything go. But I guess that’s kind of exactly what is happening.

Except we’re not blowing off the rules. We just have new rules. So I guess it’s kind of like moving from one culture to another, and now what once was taboo is standard, and what once was standard (in our case, grains) is now taboo. Very bizarre experience. Not without its good points, but there have been some ….

Unexpected consequences

Hey, remember me, the author and chef behind Vegan Sonoma? I think I was a fairly decent chef, if I may say so myself, and my beloved partner J was certainly very talented in the kitchen. How’d we get there? Oh, years of practice. Guess how many years of practice we have cooking meat between the two of us? Zero. So my sabbatical from the blog has been about more than just trying to figure out how to rename and re-purpose it, it’s been about the fact that I haven’t felt like I had any cooking expertise to share with anyone in the realm of the recipes I’ve been making lately. If you want to know how to get more flavor out of your mushrooms, I’m your lady. If you need advice on how to do the most basic thing with the most pedestrian cut of meat, I am going to slip quietly out the back door and go cry beside the barbecue. I have no idea what I’m doing. So what does that mean for my blog? Great question, one that I will answer momentarily, right after I complain about the biggest problem I’ve had …

Cooking meat makes my kitchen stink!

Mind you, I was never one of the vegetarians who gag at the smell of animal flesh. I grew up in Kansas, a land of smokehouses and outdoor grills a’plenty. These things don’t bother me. The once-pleasant aroma of chicken I baked three days ago loitering in my kitchen, however … it gives me a mini-barf every time I smell it. We’ve tried everything – opening windows and doors, burning candles, taking out the trash immediately, scrubbing the kitchen and the sink and everything else immediately – all for naught. What do I need to do, hose the place down with chlorox? JEEZ. I’d welcome anyone’s thoughts on how to combat that problem.

Meanwhile, what’s next for VS?

From the people we’ve come out to already about the meat-eating, one of the first questions has been, “Uh-oh, what about your vegan recipe blog?” And my response has been basically, “Umm, yeeeeeeaaaaaah … first I have to get over my own shock about eating meat, then I need to come out as a meat eater to my readers, then I will probably eventually start posting recipes again when I have something worthy of sharing, but first I need a new name, because I can’t live a double life.” So, here we are. Except I still don’t have a new name. Working on that. Ideas welcome.

As for you, my beloved readers … I know that you are a diverse mix of vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians and omnivores. Some of you will be happy about our lifestyle change (several of our friends have hugged us when they heard the news), some of you will not have an opinion one way or another, and some of you may be disappointed. For the latter category, all I can say is that we made the choice based on what we believe is best for J’s health, because that is more important to us than being vegan or vegetarian. We still believe in being conscientious about one’s diet choices, not just for our own health but that of the environment and economy. We will still strive to use the most natural, humanely farmed, local, and seasonally appropriate ingredients as we can, and we will continue to share our experience as we go about our lives in pursuit of delicious food.

*Please remember that J’s results are not typical. This post is not intended as medical advice or dietary guidance. You should always consult your doctor before making significant diet changes.

14 Responses to this post.

  1. Phyllis's Gravatar

    Posted by Phyllis on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    I have 3 comments:

    1. Thanks for the post. I wondered why you had not posted anything recently.
    2. I’m very happy omnivoreism (is that a word)? has improved J’s blood pressure. Having had serious hypertension issues myself, I know only too well the consequences of this so often overlooked disease.
    3. I know that with a little practice, you’ll soon be able to prepare dishes with meat which are as deliciously yummy as your vegetarian delights.

    And, next time you’re in Kansas, we’ll have a big plate of mountain oysters to celebrate your lifestyle changes!


  2. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Hmmm, not sure I’ll be ready for mountain oysters … ever … but thank you for the laugh and the vote of confidence. πŸ™‚

  3. Geneva Houx's Gravatar

    Posted by Geneva Houx on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    I’m so glad you’re back! I’d been wondering :). Wonderful news about the blood pressure. That’s so scary, and, you’re right, nothing to mess around with! Good luck learning to cook meat – it’s actually kind of fun. And maybe try a fan for the kitchen smell?

  4. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Geneva, apologies, I thought I had already responded to this, but apparently there was some glitch. Thanks so much for your comment! I did try a fan and it helped! Also, apparently cooking out is a great solution to that problem as well … duh … πŸ˜‰

  5. Hillary's Gravatar

    Posted by Hillary on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    I think listening to your body and eating accordingly is more important than any kind of dietary designation, it’s the reason I broke from being a vegetarian as well (the listening to my body part, not hypertension), so kudos to you two for the change!

    I’m sure with practice you’ll fall into a more comfortable cooking routine and hopefully find a solution to the lingering meat smell? Onward and upward!

  6. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks, Hillary, I appreciate the words of support πŸ™‚ It definitely feels like the correct course of action, awkward as it has been at times. It’s certainly getting easier though!

  7. yara's Gravatar

    Posted by yara on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    There are several studies that indicate that higher protein intake is associated with lower blood pressure. However, it does not appear that the type of protein is important. All the studies I found used non-animal sources of protein. However, if J cannot get the amount of protein he needs, then, yes, adding meat makes sense. Higher protein intake is also associated with osteoporosis, though, so make sure you, Z, get plenty of calcium.

  8. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Yara, sorry for the delay in responding. Getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet was very challenging for us, and adding animal products has made it a lot easier. I will definitely be sure to be conscientious about calcium!

  9. valen's Gravatar

    Posted by valen on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Hello! I have just found this blog looking for a zucchini recipe, thanks for sharing your experience… and I really hope you dont put down all the amazing vegan recipes that you have here…just beeing curious; did you try SUPERFOODS?

  10. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you for the comment, glad you found me! I will definitely not be taking the site down, in fact I still have plenty of vegan items to post so please check back! I have been on a hiatus but will be back at it again soon πŸ™‚

  11. mareavegan's Gravatar

    Posted by mareavegan on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    I just found your blog and was disappointed to read this entry. I think your feeling of trepidation and awkwardness comes from knowing that you are supporting cruelty to animals when there is probably another way to deal with high blood pressure. As an above comment pointed out, there are plenty of other sources of protein, not to mention more easily digested. Obviously, you were never vegetarian or vegan for animal rights reasons, or you wouldn’t have considered eating animals. You seriously expect people to sympathize with you because your kitchen smells like meat? Stop cooking animals… pathetic.

  12. Z's Gravatar

    Posted by Z on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you for your passion about the topic, I truly do appreciate it. You are absolutely correct in that my new lifestyle has caused me a great deal of discomfort and inner conflict; I would never deny that. Nevertheless my husband and I have made the decision that we believe to be the best choice for health and happiness based on a combination of extensive research and medical advice. Certainly I do not mean to give medical or dietary advice to anyone else, nor do I expect sympathy – this post is just my effort at staying transparent and honest with my readers while maintaining a sense of humor amidst adversity. With that said, I will leave you with my grandmother’s favorite quote: “Never judge your neighbor until you have lived two moons in their moccasins.”

  13. Di's Gravatar

    Posted by Di on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    OK, I know this is an old stream, but I just discovered your blog. So, Kansas-Girl, if you haven’t already worked this out, why aren’t you cooking your meat outside on the grill, then bringing it in to add to your dishes? And about those mountain oysters Phyllis offered, I think you’ll have the same experience as with the borscht. Eat them without knowing what you are eating and you will love them first, then be grossed out later. Hmmm, but how to plan to eat them without knowing since you know the plan?

  14. zdoerck's Gravatar

    Posted by zdoerck on 08.10.11 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Di, and apologies for the slow response. We did finally discover the convenience of grills, and that has made the issue easier. I am still going to take a pass on the mountain oysters, however. πŸ™‚

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