What We Do: An Interview with Donna and Henry Deangelis

 

Donna and Henry DeangelisI’m here at Nashoba Brook Bakery with Donna and Henry Deangelis and we’re here to learn about how they switched from eating meat to a vegetarian diet, as well as to learn about the other things that they do in their home to conserve resources. Henry, I hear you’re a big advocate and proponent, which is great. 

When did you become a vegetarian? Or are you a vegan? What is the difference? 

Henry: I became a vegetarian in 3rd grade, a long time ago. I’m a vegetarian which means I don’t eat animals, or basically anything that was a living animal. Being a vegan means not eating animals or animal products, which goes beyond not eating fish and cows, it also includes eggs, and milk. They do not eat anything from animals only plants and it’s very strict.

Donna: Henry was 10 when he became a vegetarian he was the first in our household to become a vegetarian and and he has mostly converted us.

Are you an animal lover or was there some other reason why you made the switch?

H: At first it was because I didn’t feel like I wanted to eat animals, but after becoming a vegetarian I quickly realized there was also a lot of good reasons to becoming vegetarian after looking at the websites and reading the books about it. I soon realized there was a lot of benefits for the earth and benefits for your health in becoming vegetarian other than just because you don’t feel like eating animals. I am definitely now concerned about conserving resources and I feel that there’s been a switch with people who are also now concerned about conservation.

Did you find that once your friends heard you made the switch, that they also switched to vegetarianism?

H: Some of my friends, but it’s tough to do as they don’t know much about it and it’s very ingrained in our culture. It would be a big switch in the daily lives of people which I think its sometimes the hardest things for them to switch. 

D: From my perspective, people think it’s all or nothing. So every step you take makes a difference. You have to acknowlege that if you were doing meatless Mondays for example, you’re making 1 out of the 7th day, 1/7th of a difference. I think the whole idea that you have to be one or the other is an old idea around vegetarianism and was very strident. I don’t think it needs to be strident I think every choice you make at every meal you make, makes a difference. 

Would you please give our readers some ideas as to the best way to start changing your habits and eating vegetarian? 

H: If you want to start, don’t immediately say “no meat” as honestly, this is very hard and you’ll probably switch back in a few weeks. Start slow, try a few days at a time, and that will give you some time to realize some foods that you like. If you do it slower, overall, it will more likely go well. Or you can find your medium, which is, maybe you won’t completely switch to vegetarianism, but  you’ll have a whole lot less meat which is better for you.

D: Exploring the US culture, we are a very meat-centric culture. Other cultures, we realize have meat in their diets but they eat much less. I’ve been traveling, and in India for example, there’s a ton of vegetarian options and few meat options. Or Chinese, or even Italian - pasta for example. It can easily be prepared without meat. There are tons of sauces to experiment with. You can start experimenting by looking at other cultures' recipes.

H: Other cultures have been doing it for thousands of years, so they’ve figured out how eat vegetarian very easily.

D: We’ve been experimenting with different food types, for example, Thai and Korean. We mostly experiment by going out to eat.  Then you don’t have to figure out how to make it and not get intimidated.

H: I know what intimidated me at first was the nutrients. I worried if I was going to get the nutrients I needed. Vegetarians have figured out that these kinds of beans are good, and if you put this together with this, you’ll get all the nutrients you need. So, now after experimenting and trying things I don’t worry about the nutrients much.

D: People get paranoid that there isn’t enough protein. I’d suggest a great book called, “Raising Vegetarian Children”, which cites 5 nutritionists who spell out what you need in a day. People would be amazed by how much protein you get just from foods that you normally eat. So the vitamin B’s are a little more difficult, but if you eat green leafy veggies, and other things with vitamin B, you’re fine. And small portions are all you need to eat. The first year Henry was a vegetarian, he was a skinny kid. Later that year when he went to his pediatrician for his yearly checkup, he had gained 11 pounds! And the pediatrician said “What have you been doing differently?” and Henry said, “I became a vegetarian”. So, it was obvious he was getting the right nutrients to help him grow.

H: It is definitely something you have to work at

What are typical meals that you might prepare in a day?

H: Mom would know this.

D: For breakfast, organic cereals, and if we’re going to have pancakes and waffles, we make them from scratch, it’s not hard to do. It’s healthier and you eliminate all the chemicals from a box mix. We try and do organic as much as we possibly can.  For lunches, Henry has pasta salad, protein muffins, bagels, lots of nuts, veggies - carrot sticks, hummus rolls.

H: It's not much different from typical lunches. Dinners are probably the most different. 

D: We do a fair amount of pasta which we like. We do Chinese stir frys, we also eat "Quorn" products which are vegetarian meat-like products made out of some kind of mushrooms. So my daughter and my husband are non-vegetarians, but we cook “chicken cutlets” and we cook them in a sauce and Henry and I eat the "Quorn" chicken cutlets product. They're very good.  So, if you’re looking for a more normal meal, we use the Quorn products as meat substitutes. They’re at Roche Bros. The other things that are fabulous are Quorn “crumbles” sortof like ground beef. You can make meatloaf out of them, you can make sloppy joes, we’ve made chili. We had chili for a superbowl party and used the crumbles, and people asked us how we could be eating chili, and I told them it was vegetarian chili and they were shocked. They didn’t believe us. 

Do you have a particular cookbook and/or website that you would recommend for people looking for good vegetarian recipes?

H: My parents really like cookbooks, we have a wall full.

D: I like "Vegetarian Planet", by Didi Evans. Its sectioned off in American type meals, and is not intimidating. The one I love is called “The Spirited Vegetarian” by a woman named Mitchell and she uses brandy or wine or other kinds of things in vegetarian meals. Very approachable. She also wrote one on soups which is fabulous. We eat a lot of soups and stews. Another great cookbook for fine dining is called, "Pure Vegetarian" by Paul Gayler. It is visually beautiful. The recipes are complicated. But if you are a foodie and love to cook. It is a way to host a dinner party and have it not be tofu.

Can you tell me if you do other things in your home to conserve resources and what they are? 

D: We belong to the Cousins Field Community Garden and also supplement our vegetables there by belonging to a CSA in Lincoln. We have a Mini car which we bought 6 yrs. ago which my husband uses to commute; I take the commuter rail; we compost all of our stuff; we don’t have a lawn service; we recycle everything. Also, we’re not consumers - we put out a barrel of trash once every 2 weeks for a family of 4. We compost all the leftover food. Concord is fabulous about taking all the recyclable materials such as bottles and plastics that there’s not much left to throw in the trash. My husband does a great job of recycling his clothes - he wears the T shirts until I say, “honey, you really need to throw that away”. 

Lastly, what is the best thing you feel has been accomplished by your becoming a vegetarian?

H: I think it’s just another step, actually a very large step in trying to help the environment and help the world which has implications even beyond the environment, once you start looking. I watched a thing the other day about economics and vegetarians which actually reduces the poverty in other countries and they explained it. It doesn’t seem like eating vegetarian effects the world, but it really does. I think it’s a complicated issue because it’s one that people don’t always talk about. Anyone can recycle, but being vegetarian does demand a larger commitment to something. I feel like you want to be the changes that you want to see.  I particularly enjoyed this video called "How to feed the world"

D: For me, people always ask me, “do you feel different” and I guess I do a little bit, as I’m healthier, as a 58 yr. old woman. Henry convinced me 7 years ago to convert over to a vegetarian, and it’s effected me on a personal level. But I also feel like I’m contributing, in some small way, to solving the issues and helping the problems the world has. When I first started, there were not a lot of people who were vegetarian, and when I went out to a restaurant or functions, there were often not any vegetarian options. And now I feel there is almost never any situation that I’m in that I don’t have that option, even the finer restaurants. I also feel like in the situations that I’m in, I influence other people in a non-direct way. For example, at my work when we’re planning a party, people will say, “is anyone a vegetarian?” I’ll say, “yes I am”. Then there is a vegetarian component that's introduced.  Some of the people at the party will then eat the vegetarian foods and they'll really enjoy it and say wow, that's really good.

H: I think that if it’s something you’re willing to do it has a lot of good impact

D: Henry has a twin sister and we’ve mostly converted her to about 80% vegetarian, which is great. It’s gotten a lot easier to convert. From a marketing perspective, I think they’ve (vegetarians) been too strident in the past thinking it’s an either/or type of thing. But they don’t need to be. I say people should celebrate any successes they have towards becoming vegetarian. Be a “flexatarian”. This is what I say when I’m traveling to other countries. That is, I am flexible with my vegetarian habits so as to not offend other cultures.

 

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