Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Good Manners Rule in a Burger King World

As much as I love the vegan lifestyle, I fully recognize that it's not for everyone. Would I like it if everyone embraced it? Of course. But I have learned to show the same respect toward others for their lifestyle choices that I would like to be shown for mine.

Today a boy in my son's preschool class had a 4th birthday celebration, and his mom brought in Burger King meals for everyone at lunchtime. The teachers warned the parents yesterday, in case we would have preferred our child take a lunch from home. I have a feeling they had me in mind; no other parent minded.

I'm ultra-sensitive to my son's being "different" than the other children, so I regularly make a concerted effort to help him identify with the other children while not completely sacrificing our ethics. This means, for us, making a few concessions with food.

Ben is not completely vegan. He eats cheese pizza at parties, as well as birthday cake (which contains eggs). Interestingly, when I first became vegan 17 years ago, and even while pregnant, I fully expected to do everything in my power to keep my future child/ren 100% vegan at all times. I have changed. (That said, he is 100% vegan at home.)

Anyway, so I was correct in guessing that there would be burger meals and chicken nugget meals (the nuggets are shaped like crowns, if you can believe that). So just before party time I made a boca burger on a bun, and 3 vegan chicken nuggets, and I jogged them over to the school. (Incidentally, it's a good thing I intervened b/c Ben is allergic to sesame seeds, and guess what's scattered all over the buns?)

Once there, I met the host mom, and I offered her my help, which she gratefully accepted. Turns out she works at BK, so she probably got a discount on the food. She saw my home-brought goodies and I explained with a smile that Ben is a vegetarian, so I brought special chicken and hamburger. She said "Can he have the fries? Can he have cake?" and I assured her that those were OK. We chatted a bit about this and that, and as it happens, this mom was SO nice. She even invited me and Ben to the birthday party she's having at her home this weekend. I couldn't help thinking that I could have easily alienated myself and made her feel uncomfortable, and how pleased I was that she was so accepting and understanding.

Internally, I stress over potential pain my son might endure due to the fact that he is "different." It was an interesting scene, 15 3- and 4-year-olds eating fast food out of bags while one is eating a Boca Burger on aluminum foil. And it turns out that my discomfort with this scene is just my own. Ben is totally happy not eating what everyone else is eating (unless it's pizza, which he adores, even the vegan variety we make at home). He understands he is a "vegetarian" and we don't eat "real chickens or real cows" or "milk from a cow." A small part of me fears that, ironically, he will be somehow damaged by being the odd man out. But fortunately he is a very laid back kid who has a natural love for animals and can't understand why people would want to kill and eat them. He brings up the topic quite a bit, and I tell him that we don't eat animals but that "when you're a big boy, if you want to eat animals, that is your choice." I also tell him that it is impolite to put down other people's food, as kids this age love to say, "EWWWW!"

I think taking these gentle approaches minimizes conflict, and maybe even gets people thinking about the issues, because they are not put on the defensive.

What do you think? What would you do in this scenario?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Happiness takes effort

I have friends that are perpetually positive, who always seem to glow with happiness. I also know folks who are mierable almost all the time. Today I thought about what the happy people all have in common.

Are they rolling in cash? No.

Would they qualify for People Magazine's World's 50 Sexiest People? No.

Do they have perfect families and careers? No.

Do they have problems? You bet. The three happiest people I know well have problems just like the rest of us. Health issues, family problems, money problems, relationship problems, no one is immune. But they play the hand they're dealt and find a way to smile and capture happiness.

But they all have something in common. And among the most miserable people I know? None of them share this special trait with the happy folks.


This morning, I took a look out the window and sighed, wondering when this rain would finally stop. I had to run errands and didn't feel like dealing with the downpour. But I had to send out the Father's Day cards (since mail isn't delivered on Sundays, it's a challenge for me to get cards out in time for those Sunday celebrations), and of course I had to stop at the bank, the grocery store, etc. So I put on my old running shoes (no sense in getting my newer ones wet) and a rain pullover, threw everything in my backpack and drove off.

I was itching to exercise but wasn't in the mood to try to find parking at the Y (all meters too) and exercise in the musty rooms (it's always musty in there on rainy days). After my errands, I decided do just take a walk in the park -- rain and all. Brookdale Park has smoothly paved paths, lots of trees, and is spacious and clean. So up my hood went and I started my walk. After a few minutes, I started feeling so good (it was 63 degrees, raining steadily, with no wind) that I took off my hood and started jogging. I ended up jogging for about 40 minutes and it was amazing! My mood was so high afterward, and quite frankly I'm still feeling great (the shower afterward helped too).

Sopping wet and driving home from the park, I got to thinking about the power of exercise and mood. I've blogged about this before, and this connection has been studied and reported numerous times. But it's truly amazing to experience it firsthand. I realized that exercise not only helps with mood on a short-term basis, but it appears to have lasting impact one one's entire personality.

And that is the one thing that happy people seem to have in common: they are regular exercisers.

Just from my own personal observations (no science here, just anecdotal), I realize that all of the happy people I know exercise regularaly. And, the relatively miserable people I know do not. Furthermore, exercise is not a chore for these happy people -- it is a break from the day, a time for THEM. One of my good friends starts getting really moody if she skips the gym for more than 3 consecutive days; she absolutely itches to move. And it's not just for physical reasons -- she actually gets moody and snippy if she goes too long without her gym fix!

Happiness is the ultimate goal. It is the main motivator behind most everything we do, at least to some degree. It is linked to optimal health, longevity, kindness and compassion, and doing things we find rewarding. If you feel like you're not as happy as you want to be, and you don't exercise regularly, then make a change in your life. Move your body. I challenge every one of your excuses. No time? Too many responsibilities? Too tired? Have a disability? Almost no one has a real excuse not to move their body in some way that will benefit their body and mind. I've used the excuses -- I have MS, gym memberships are expensive, I have sports injuries that sometimes make walking impossible, I have a child, I work, and the weather stinks. So what. Find a way to move. Whether it's doing jumping jacks in front of the TV in the evening, using a fancy elliptical machine at the gym, going for a bike ride, doing yoga poses in your living room, jumping rope with the kids, swimming laps in your community pool, lifting hand weights (or cans of soup!) or just walking around the block, you will benefit from this effort.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Vegan Sandwich Grill

Call it the George Foreman, the Panini Grill, the Sandwich Grill, or the Indoor Mini Grill: it's a great piece of kitchen equipment no matter what your diet. They run from about $20 to $150, but you can get a decent one for about $40.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, take a peak here. These grills are traditionally known for grilling meats, but more and more of them are being advertised as a cooker for veggies and sandwiches as well.

This is the one I have, and I love it. As the reviews say, it's extremely easy to clean and cooks food FAST! And I got it for only $20 in a store that was going out of business.

The other day I made roasted vegetable wraps and my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

My secret is that I spread the wrap with a thin layer of hummus first. The flavor is like a Mediterranean sauce for the veggies, but the wrap stays nice and crisp on the outside. The veggies were a breeze to make. Simply toss sliced peppers and onions with some olive oil and herbs, and roast in the oven at 400 degrees, tossing every few minutes. For more delicate veggies like eggplant and mushrooms, slice and marinate in a balsamic-olive oil mixture for a few minutes, and roast for a much shorter period (no tossing needed).

For this sandwich, I used a flax wrap, Sabra's hummus, roasted onions and peppers (tossed with olive oil and italian seasonings) and marinated portabello mushrooms (with balsamic BLAZE and olive oil).

I think I'll go make another one!

If you have recipe ideas for a panini grill, please send them along.