Richard Read is the director of marketing for the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts Institute and a self-proclaimed "casual vegan." He recently published the e-book Casually Vegan: A Beginner's Guide to Imperfection. Read spoke with Gambit about what being a casual vegan means to him and how to start off right with New Year's resolutions.
How did you get interested in veganism?
Read: I was a vegetarian for a long time, but I guess I started going vegan about six or seven years ago. Part of my whole approach to veganism is that it's very casual. I tend to be that kind of person who doesn't go cold turkey because it doesn't really work for me. There are these people who decide that they're going to make a resolution on January 1st and stick with it forever, but I'm not big on hard and fast rules on what I can or what I can't do.
It's both a health-related and ethical thing for me, which was the same for me when I was just a vegetarian, although I was a lot younger (then), and I think when you're younger it's a lot harder to think about long-term health issues. You don't really think in those terms yet — of cancer and bone-density loss and all those other sorts of things that we find endlessly fascinating when you hit middle age.
You call yourself a casual vegan. What is that?
R: I try to eat a fairly balanced diet but generally speaking, the stuff that I eat tends to lean more towards a plant-based diet and to eat healthier in the long run. It's a little bit like Mark Bittman's approach — his big thing now is "vegan-before-six" (VB6) in which he developed this sort of modified version of veganism, where he eats vegan before 6 p.m. and then after 6 p.m., all bets are off. I freely admit that I have a weakness for cheese so I stumble quite frequently on the cheese part. But when I'm out at a restaurant, chances are pretty good that I'm going to be left with something vegetarian and that's fine.
I try to balance my feelings about animal welfare with the fact that humans are deeply social creatures. It does not behoove us to start calling friends cruel cannibals for eating cheese or for eating fish or whatever. I personally prefer to lead quietly by example on that front — to take care of my own plate and my own menu and not worry about what others are eating. It's as much a matter of taking care of the humans on my end as it is about taking care of and being kind to animals.
What are some steps people can take to eat healthier in the New Year?
R: I tend to go shopping in bulk. Going to the grocery store and picking up tons of the things I enjoy keeps me from slipping. I find that if I buy a lot of veggies in bulk that makes the temptation to grab an omelet or a ham sandwich later on not as strong.
If you're eating meat, I would try to transition to more fish and seafood, and to start to make that transition slowly. If you're already a vegetarian, or you don't tend to eat meat a lot, then really kicking up those efforts going forward can help. If you've got a few days off or a weekend off, maybe start going through your pantry to get rid of stuff or take it to the food bank. It might also be a great time to go through your closet and start getting rid of some animal-based products that you're not using. I think sometimes it can be easier for people to start going through their wardrobes and medicine cabinets and start their vegan process there.
I think people make it more complicated than it has to be. I also think people are intimidated because they think that it's such a giant lifestyle change. It's really not that big a deal. We are fortunate that we live in a country ... where we've got a lot of options. You don't have to go through radical changes. You don't have to throw out all of your leather shoes at once and you don't have to upend your life to suddenly become a vegan.