Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Some Musings on Hosting

This past September, I had a house-guest for longer than I've ever had a house-guest. I think that he stayed just a bit shy of a month. I whipped out my cookbooks weeks in advance, I sifted through my favourite vegan food blogs and made notes of some old favourite dishes that I've lapsed in making for some reason or another over the years. Having cooked for said guest before, I had few worries that I'd have any difficulty accommodating his taste preferences; having stayed with me before, he was willing to appreciate that the meals I'd be making would be free of animal products.

Coming from a meat and potatoes upbringing in an area he referred to as "dairy country", my guest admitted to me that starches and animal products had made up most of his diet for years, with the starches including such things as white rolls, noodles and pretzels (i.e. as opposed to things like the sprouted whole grain wraps, brown rice and rye crackers I ordinarily keep in my own kitchen). Soy was something dark that came in a bottle that you sprinkled on Chinese food in his home. Raw produce was generally limited to things to put on sandwiches with cheese and deli meat. Sound familiar?

So? What did this whole foods loving vegan decide to do? On top of trying to prove to him (what I'd already, unbeknownst to me, proven to him before) that vegan food can be absolutely delicious, I decided that I would try to prove to him that changing his diet
over and above that would leave him feeling more fit and lively. I would fill him up with whole grains and legumes; I would expose him to a multitude of fruits and vegetables. I would change his life! (Okay, not really, but you get the picture...)

I used whole wheat flour and flax seed in the peanut butter cookies I baked. I made three-bean chili and argued the merits of whole grain rolls and crackers during our grocery store trips. I made soups with chickpeas and whole grain noodles, blending vegetables together to thicken the broth.
I snuck raw greens into fruit smoothies. And to appeal to his omni side, I stocked my freezer with Gardein "chicken" breasts, soy burgers and Tofutti Cuties and I froze and thawed blocks of tofu to marinate for stir fry.

And my guest? He got a stomach ache and a spectacular range of gastro-intestinal issues to boot.

I'd thought I was doing this wonderful thing, Instead, I ended up turning someone's dietary habits completely inside out and going down a path I generally avoid myself by using meat subs to give some of my dishes a sense of familiarity that I'd hoped he'd find appealing. He told me at one point that he ended up eating more fruits and vegetables in a single day spent with me that he'd ordinarily consume in over a month. He was like an an alien who'd landed on a planet with completely foreign foodstuff, even though all he'd done was cross the Canada/US border. In my haste to do too much at once, I'd inadvertently done more harm than good. I'd pushed too hard, too fast and ended up with a house-guest who, halfway through his visit, didn't feel all that great.

My good intentions hadn't been well thought out, mostly because I don't eat a low-fiber diet that revolves around simple carbohydrates, meat and dairy. As he pointed out to
me himself, I'd spent years adapting to eating a high percentage of fruits and vegetables in my diet. I'd spent years integrating various high fiber grains and legumes into it, as well. And he was right. As for soy? Soy is actually something that I've generally phased out of my diet, myself, over the past couple of years because I try to avoid processed foods and because it sometimes irritates my own stomach if I have too much of it. So I exposed someone who was unused to eating it at all (except in the bits that show up in processed foods, or in soya sauce) by preparing it in every other meal? Oy.

It got me wondering if some of the new vegans who make a sudden switch and sometimes complain of digestive issues end up trying too hard to substitute animal products with processed soy products, or maybe go health food store crazy by suddenly discovering that there is edible plant life other than iceberg lettuce. It got me wondering if maybe some of them end up making some of the mistakes I ended up making with my guest.

So we started having basmati rice with the curries I made. Stir-fry became a vegetable-only dish over regular noodles. We bought his and hers rolls for sandwiches. He tried (and liked) almond milk in his morning coffee. We munched on nuts -- almonds, pistachios and so on. And we ate out a bit more, mostly to take some of the edge off my feeling I'd failed as a cook and hostess. There's a huge difference between fixing the odd meal once in a while for friends and asking someone to suddenly change
everything he or she eats for a sustained period. By this I am not referring to the omission of animal products, but instead I'm referring to adding all at once an overwhelming number of foods someone is not accustomed to eating in the first place (particularly when those foods contain a lot more, uh, fiber than the person is used to eating).

But the next time I'll know better. I've learned my lesson and sent heartfelt apologies to my house-guest; I should have introduced him to fewer things and done so more gradually. It wasn't switching out the animal products that was an issue, but it was feeding him too many things all at once to which his system wasn't accustomed. Fingers crossed that he decides to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and whole foods into his diet moving forward and for his own well-being. Fingers crossed, as well, that I did enough repair work and pleased his palate enough to not have permanently scared him off this vegan's kitchen --it's definitely not a mistake I'll repeat. Writers are often told to know their readers and it seems that cooks need to keep this in mind, too!


veganf said...

Wow, that must have been some visit! I wonder what he'd do if YOU visited HIM!

M said...

I actually have done so a few times. He was an excellent host, ensuring that I had plenty of things to eat. And we'd always take a trip to the store to stock up on this or that thing over and above what he'd already obtained for me.

Herman said...

Sudden diet changes may lead to an unbalance in our gut's flora (microbiota) which, in turn, causes all kinds of digestive troubles. And that's most probably what happened to your guest.
He could alleviate the symptoms by taking probiotics daily (since day one or a few days before leaving home). However, even that wouldn't guarantee a trouble-free dietary change. And that's why most dietitians do recommend gradual changes in eating habits.
I think there's not much to do in that situation. The same thing generally happens when we travel to a country or region with very different eating habits than us - a few days or weeks later and our guts will start to complain.
Well, at least now you know what could happen to an omnivore guest so you can warn him/her beforehand next time. No (bad) experience goes wasted. :-)
It was very fortunate that your guest understood what happened to him and did not blamed veganism for his digestive troubles.
Anyway, your article was an excellent heads up for all us vegans which will eventually have to host an omnivore - or even a foreign vegan. Thanks!

M said...

CesarVegan, that's exactly what ended up happening, unfortunately. Plus the increase in fiber didn't help, either. Near the end of his visit, I recommended getting yogurt for him and he had some over a few days. I don't know whether or not it really helped at that point.

Sadly, I'm not altogether sure that he didn't blame veganism on some level for his digestive issues. I honestly think that it had more to do with what was added to his diet, though, than anything removed from it.

M said...

BTW, in case anyone is wondering, the purpose of my blog post was to illustrate that we have to factor in all kinds of things when it comes to food and changes in diet. I didn't, and because of it, my guest paid a price. My post certainly wasn't meant to be a gripe about my house guest. :-)

Adam Kochanowicz said...

This is a fine account. I usually tell newlyvegans to (1) just eat more of the vegan food they already eat (with obvious exceptions), (2) skip the meat analogues at first and find healthy, basic vegan foods to eat, diverse grains, legumes, fresh fruit and vegetables, etc., and (3) find a single "fall back" dish, something they could hypothetically eat and prepare every day if they had to.

Great post.

GB said...

Previously I had similar problems, mostly with raw vegetables. When I ate a substantial amount of them it felt like some very heavy food. I had to consciously push myself to eat them often. Now I can eat a huge bowl of chopped raw cabbage (with other things and with some good dressing, of course) and I don't have any complaint. Too bad we don't have kale here. :-)

Also, I had a somewhat similar experience with fatty foods. Previously I was able to eat foods with sauce or icing made entirely from nuts or oily seeds (like 50 grams of sesame seeds), and I craved for them often, but after reading Dr. McDougall's, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn's and Dr. Neal Barnard's work I decided to eat less of them. Now if I do the same thing as before I end up feeling really nauseated.

So I think it's definitely worth mentioning to people that finding the diet that is optimal on the long run is not necessarily an intuitive process; indeed, it can prove to be quite counter-intuitive. Though, as you also mentioned, it seems that depending on whole grains as the starting base of the diet is a generally safe approach. And, well, it's not that bad at all if the person eats some fresh vegetables and fruits too.

Lucas said...

Those Gardein schicken things gave me terrible long-lasting stomach aches on two different occasions. Did you give him those toward the beginning of his stay?

Lisa Viger said...

Oh, definitely ... adding in all kinds of veggies & raw stuff takes quite a bit of getting used to. Also, when I went vegan several years ago and started eating SO many different things and such a varied diet, I discovered food allergies I wasn't aware of before.

DumbledoresAmy said...

I understood that you weren't complaining. Your intentions for the post came across clearly.

For my first few days as a vegan, I was slow and sluggish although I strongly believe that this was mostly, if not completely in my head. I've never had a digestive problem though. The first day I was complaining about energy loss but when I think about it, I'm positive I had gone days without dairy before. My first few days a vegan were at my friend's 24-hour Movie Marathon and I think I was feeling more left out of the communal snacking more than anything. Marathons since then, I'm a more educated and confident vegan and I'm always sure to bring food that starts conversations!

M said...

Lucas, probably about halfway through. They weren't what was causing most of the problems, though. It really was the much higher intake of fiber (both soluble and insoluble).

I have the Gardein stuff from time to time and it's never bothered me. Sorry to hear that it disagrees with you.

Sherylcatmom said...

Great post! Such an excellent point about gradual change to set new vegans up for success. It also reminds me of the time my parents took my spouse and me out to Sublime in Ft. Lauderdale. My folks got stomach aches and later told me they were unaccustomed to so much fiber in food.