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My Mom and Dad: British Vegetarians

Posted by at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)


Mom and DadI really admire my parents. Not just for putting up with my teenage years, but for something they’ve done more recently. They’ve gone vegetarian. Dad is 77 and grew up in London, and Mom is 73 and comes from the Isle of Man (yes, the same place those tail-less Manx cats come from). In Britain in the ’30s and ’40s, meat was something you ate whenever you could. You’d start with the weekly roast on Sunday and then have the leftovers over the next few days in a shepherd’s pie or as “bubble and squeak” (don’t ask). Dad had a particular fondness for bangers and mash (sausage served over mashed potatoes), and Mom loved a nice Manx kipper (salted smoked herring).

Mom and Dad came to the U.S. in the late ’50s, bringing their food preferences with them. (I wonder if their local grocery store knew what a kipper was.) Over the years, they became more health-conscious and started cutting back on red meat. Mom now feels that they benefited from the wartime food shortages in Britain, since without those cutbacks, they would have eaten huge quantities of saturated fat in the form of butter, cheese, and red meat.

In 1995, I went vegetarian. I remember calling up my mom to tell her. After a long silence, she asked, “But where will you get your protein?” I explained how easy it is to get sufficient protein from a plant-based diet and pointed her to John Robbins’ book Diet for a New America. All I was hoping for was to convince them that I wasn’t in imminent danger of malnutrition, but to my surprise, they read the book and stopped eating cows, pigs, and birds. What was really astonishing to me was their willingness to change a lifetime of eating habits and pleasures, with little support from friends and family other than me.

In 2006, I stopped eating dairy products and eggs. Once again, Mom and Dad were concerned about my nutritional prospects, so this time, I asked them to read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study to help them understand my choice. I thought the extensive dietary study chronicled in the book would appeal to my dad’s interest in scientific research. Result: Mom and Dad stopped eating dairy products. This was close to unbelievable, since my mom is a lifelong cheese addict. Whether it’s a tangy Double Gloucester or a crumbly white Cheshire, she loves every mouthful. She made it clear to Dad that this no-dairy thing was on a trial basis only, and she’d quit if she didn’t see some health benefits. Sure enough, her painful arthritis, which hadn’t responded to drug therapy, improved substantially. Mom decided that the sacrifice was worthwhile.

For both my parents, this move away from animal products was very much in line with their interest in health and longevity. They also appreciated the animal welfare benefits of their new diet, since Robbins’ book had made them aware of the terrible plight of animals on factory farms. Dad’s current goal is to live past the age of 100, and I fully expect him to. The man is just unstoppable-he takes no regular medications, goes backpacking with his grandson, and can install a composition shingle roof (with help from Mom) in the heat of summer.

I asked Mom and Dad recently what this whole experience has been like for them. Mom told me it would have been a lot harder to do in the ’50s. She loves all the choices in grocery stores today, like Earth Balance nondairy butter and the meat-free meatballs at Trader Joe’s.  Most of their friends are mystified but tolerant, and Mom and Dad have gotten good at finding options when they dine out-Mom enjoyed sweet-potato fries and a green salad at her recent Texas barbecue outing with her tennis friends. They do get some teasing (“There’s nothing wrong with you a good red steak won’t fix!”), but it’s mostly good-natured.

My parents traveled a harder road than I did in giving up animal-based foods. I had the support of many vegetarian friends, and I grew up in a time when a vegetarian diet was more mainstream. They had a lifetime of deeply rooted preferences to overcome as well as a social network that finds vegetarianism more than a little strange. Watching my parents make this profound change in their eighth decade of life has been truly amazing and inspiring.

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11 Comments

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    Sue says...

    September 21st, 2008, 2:05 pm

    Wow-what a terrific story! How inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

    Gloria Geller says...

    September 21st, 2008, 4:06 pm

    Your posting about your parents is completely inspiring. Thank you for sharing your history and your parents’ history. I appreciate your including references to information that helped them consider and then make the switch in stages to a dairy-free way of life. I say “way of life” instead of “diet” because our food choices affect how we interact with the world (people, animals, the earth). Eating lower on the food chain benefits all of us who call Earth our home!

    Alicia says...

    September 22nd, 2008, 1:07 pm

    Fantastic! Lifestyle changes like these are good for us all. Thanks for the story Lisa.

    Dawn says...

    September 22nd, 2008, 8:18 pm

    You should be so proud of your parents and they of you!
    Very cool!!!!!

    KT says...

    September 24th, 2008, 8:37 pm

    I sure wish I could get my parents to go veg. They have really cut back since I was a kid, but I still worry about their weight, hearts and overall health. Good for you for putting your parents AND the animals first!

    Bill says...

    September 27th, 2008, 8:08 am

    I’m Betty’s brother. I am one year older than her. Nothing surprises me, if she (and Gordon) decide to do something you had all better watch out. I don’t think I will become a vegitarian Lisa but I admire people who do.

    Daisy Hardiman says...

    September 29th, 2008, 12:37 am

    I wish I could say the same…I love the idea of becoming vegan…yes…all the way, however, my husband is very unsuportive of this idea, and I guess he feels threatened that he may have to do the same thing. It would be helpful for him, but he does not belive that the animals are abused, and much less that raising catle is a mayor cause of global warming! I do my best in cutting back…but I feel guilty when I can’t do it because he is around.
    I’m proud of you and your parents!

    Lin and Dave Maxfield says...

    October 2nd, 2008, 4:32 pm

    Lisa,

    What a great story! You truly are a gifted writer and we are so proud of you

    Shellie Richter says...

    October 4th, 2008, 10:02 am

    Lisa,

    This is a fantastic story! Thank you so much for sharing; I can’t wait to forward it to my parents! Like KT’s response, my parents have cut back on meat to an extent, but aren’t even close to being vegetarian let alone vegan. My Harley-riding dad has made the most changes and does eat some veggie meat and rides his bicycle a lot, however I was sorely disappointed and grossed out to see him down a big cheeseburger on their recent visit to see us in Las Vegas. This is the same guy who just had a serious prostate cancer scare, ugh! Being veg IS a way of life, not something to go “on vacation” from. I gave his wife my copy of Skinny Bitch so I’m hoping for the best. Think I’ll recommend Diet for a New America and The China Study, thank you for the links!
    I’m proud of your parents! So many people older people are set in their old ways and habits and don’t want to change even though they know what they are doing is causing them health problems. Kudos to you and your parents for being open-minded and willing to try new things!

    Ann says...

    March 6th, 2009, 8:06 pm

    Your story is very inspiring. If only my mom had believed in me she should have been alive today. You see, she loved chicken livers, pig brain and the curdled blood of pigs. They were brought up that way. She never believed in my convictions of being a vegan. Despite her medications she had her fatal stroke and coma during new year’s eve and finally gave out Feb. 2.
    In her diary she wrote that she became sick because of eating forbidden food.

    Adam says...

    May 21st, 2011, 5:02 am

    What a nice and loving story, I hope more people could change!
    I´m lucky as me and my parents, sister and brother in-law and my English grandmother and 2 uncles and 3 cousins are vegetarian and some friends aswell, so it´s an easier life for us, but even so, my other 2 Catalan grandparents, are not vegetarian, and will be never be, even though they seem to eat a little less meat and cook vegetarian and even vegan dishes, for us and for them, since we became vegetarians. And a suprise, is my grandfather who says he prefers a typical Catalan dish, which consists of macarroni with mince meat and tomatoe paste without mince mince and instead with vegetables and cooked in the hoven! That’s a new invention my grandmother made and it´s delicious! You should try it!
    Adam from Catalonia (a country within spain)

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