Meatless menus

Adjusting to a lifestyle without animal products

VEE-GUN Ron Barker flashes the signs saying he’s eliminated animal products from his life. Barker has been a vegan for a year and a half.

VEE-GUN Ron Barker flashes the signs saying he’s eliminated animal products from his life. Barker has been a vegan for a year and a half.

Photo By Tom Angel

Ron Barker wanted to eliminate animal products from his diet for nearly a decade before he finally decided to quit cold turkey, so to speak.

“I felt bad about eating meat for a while,” said the 21-year-old, who works at Storybook Schoolhouse and is the bassist for local post-punk band Squirrel Vs. Bear.

Barker, who’s been a vegan for a year and a half now, jumped straight into veganism because he said it would have been too easy for him to stray from a traditional vegetarian diet.

Vegetarians and vegans are often lumped together, since both eliminate meat. Vegans go further, however, by steering clear of all foods with animal connections, including eggs, dairy and sometimes even honey.

The difference between the two lifestyles means more than just avoiding ice cream for dessert. While both make a social statement against animal testing and cruelty during the farming process, vegans are willing to sacrifice more, as much out of a concern that animals are mistreated in the farming process as a desire to eat more healthfully.

Veganism can be time consuming, especially at first. Learning which ingredients come from animal products, as many vegans discover, can be like trying to read another language.

“I can’t even pronounce half of them,” Barker said. “I just recognize, ‘That’s the devil.'”

Barker quickly added that he was by no means passing judgment on meat-eaters, only that he has learned to watch for red-light words like “monos” and “diglycerides” as ingredients not allowed in a vegan diet.

Kate Silliman, a professor of nutrition at Chico State University, said vegans become avid label readers. Aside from that, they need to do research to find out which nutrients found in meat and dairy products can be substituted by healthful means.

Meat and eggs are both strong sources of iron, which is needed by the body for the formation of blood and more so by women, who lose iron during menstruation. Silliman said vegans can find good sources of iron in green leafy vegetables, nuts and dried fruit.

Vitamin B12, which is found in meat, dairy and egg products, protects the nervous system and keeps the digestive system healthy. Vegans have to rely on fortified foods that include some breakfast cereals, supplements or popular nutritional yeasts like Red Star, Silliman said.

She added that vegans should have little difficulty finding alternative sources of calcium in tofu, green leafy vegetables and nuts.

Perhaps the most interesting way vegans can get their Vitamin D is by simple exposure to sunlight, Silliman said. The vitamin is supplied by the action of ultraviolet B light on sterols, which are small groups of unsaturated alcohols in plant and animal tissues, including human.

Joelle Dennis, a 23-year-old barista at Moxie’s Café and Gallery, became a vegan three years ago simply because she wanted to eat better and said she has enjoyed creating new recipes preparing her own meals. “It makes eating more interesting,” she said. “I’m more appreciative of foods.”

Many vegans discover they can’t rely on most restaurants anymore and that buying and preparing their own food is necessary.

Barker does most of his shopping at Chico Natural Foods but sometimes finds what he needs at WinCo. He said vegan food items like Smart Bacon and Veganaise are usually priced a little higher, but that preparing his own food saves him money.

“It’s probably a wash,” he said. “I may pay a little more in the end.”

But vegans don’t have to spend a lot of money on specialty items. Some canned soups are safe, and even snack-food items like graham crackers, unfrosted Pop Tarts and most dried cereals fall under the vegan label.

Barker said once you learn which foods you can and can’t eat, it’s relatively simple to stick to a vegan diet, but he sometimes craves the flavor of meat. “Every time I ride my bike by KFC it taunts me,” he said.

It’s almost impossible to be 100 percent vegan, he continued. He has managed to stop using soap made with tallow, a hard animal fat commonly used in cosmetics, but said the most difficult part about the vegan lifestyle is eliminating clothing and accessories made with leather, wool or silk from his wardrobe.

It’s an option he said he might explore down the road, but in the meantime he feels he’s limiting his contribution to animal suffering.

“I’m trying to make as much of a difference as I can."