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Area people talk about being Vegan

December 08, 1998

Kellerman and CiszekBy DENNIS SHAW

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Preparing meals can be hard work for anyone, but it takes a special kind of effort for a growing number of people in the Tri-State area known as vegans (pronounced VEE-gans).

Unlike vegetarians, who just don't eat meat, vegans also do not consume anything that comes from an animal, including eggs or dairy products. That can make it tricky to fix meals.

"Getting used to it was frustrating," says Lynn Ciszek of Sharpsburg. "What it took was a change of attitude. I came to view it as a challenge rather than an aggravation."

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But it paid off, and Ciszek is glad she went through the process.

"It taught me to be creative, and now I'm exposed to a huge range of dishes that I wouldn't have thought of before," she says.

Ciszek will eat eggs or dairy products occasionally. But at home, she does all the cooking for both herself and her partner, Alan Kellerman, who has been a strict vegan for 16 years. He became a vegetarian 10 years before that, at age 20, and says becoming vegan was "a natural progression to a life of nonviolence and compassion for all animal life."

He feels many animals that produce eggs and dairy products are mistreated, even though they may not be slaughtered for meat. Besides, he says, "animals shouldn't belong to humans. They have lives of their own."

Another vegan, Ray Sowder of Frederick, Md., agrees.

Sowder's wife, Kim Roberts, says there are other reasons to be vegan, too.

"A diet based on grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables can support many times the number of people than an animal-based diet," she says.

Also, Kellerman feels raising animals has a large and harmful effect on the environment.

"It just doesn't make sense environmentally, in terms of human health, and morally," Kellerman says.

A diet without animal products is not only more healthful, but also helped Dale Considine of Charles Town, W.Va., lose weight. That didn't happen when she became vegetarian, because she was eating more cheese and dairy products. But once she became vegan, the pounds started to disappear.

All of these folks find it relatively easy to eat vegan food at home. But it can be tricky to eat while traveling, and when visiting people.

Considine says it wasn't hard to give up meat.

"I ate less and less over several years, and then it was easy to stop completely. But giving up dairy was harder. It made it very challenging to eat out or eat at family gatherings without packing your own food. This sometimes is upsetting for the host, who often does not understand why you choose such a lifestyle," Considine says.

"Nonvegans seem to accept the omission of meat," Considine says. "However, once you eliminate eggs, milk and cheese, people seem to feel this is almost non-American."

Sowder says there were not enough fast-food options until recently, but that has changed as more restaurants began catering to vegans. But it's still a "social problem," Roberts says, especially "with family and friends at the holiday season. Ouch! It takes respect and adjustments all around to manage this one."

But all agree that it's worth the inconvenience, because of the benefits to their health and to the environment and to their own sense of what's right.

"My spirit feels freer as if relieved of a great and terrible burden," Roberts says.

Each one can proudly point to a wide range of dishes they eat that are both nutritious and delicious, and they're happy to share them with fellow vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.






For information about veganism, and lots of recipes, contact Vegetarian Resource Group at P.O. Box 1463, Baltimore, Md. 21203; 1-410-366-8343; www.vrg.org.

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