In Which Miranda Becomes a Vegetarian

One of my greatest joys in parenthood is watching my children develop interests and passions of their own. All four of our children have what our pediatrician refers to as “big personalities,” so there is no shortage of passion here. Even if we tried to direct it, I’m not sure we could, and each time it bursts forth from one child or another, I feel like I’ve just gotten to unwrap another Christmas gift. I get a real glimpse at where my child’s heart is, and the wonder and awe that this child whom I have the privilege of shepherding through life has his or her own unique convictions and excitements and passions – and that I have a front row seat to witnessing them – is glorious.

One of Miranda’s latest passions is vegetarianism. As a family, we have been almost entirely pescetarian since shortly after Matt’s heart attack. For several months now, though, Miranda has been entirely vegetarian. She was never really a huge fan of fish, anyway, and while the rest of us have always made occasional brief forays into the carnivorous culture in which we exist (primarily related to social gatherings), Miranda abstains from meat entirely.

I remember very clearly sitting on the couch one morning, doing our history reading, and looking at pictures of Vikings carrying in animal carcasses in preparation for a feast. The meat-to-be looked so very…animal-like. I believe that was the moment that solidified it all in her mind with finality. She would not be consuming meat.

Since then, our conversations about vegetarianism generally go something like this:

  • Miranda: I will not eat meat! It is mean to kill animals for food and eat them!
  • Me: I respect that conviction, and we’ll honor that. You don’t have to eat meat.
  • Miranda: No one should eat meat! If anyone eats meat, they should be killed!
  • Me: So…you think it’s evil to kill animals?
  • Miranda: Yes!
  • Me: So evil that anyone who eats an animal should be killed?
  • Miranda: Yes!
  • Me: Doesn’t that seem a bit ironic to you?
  • Miranda: No. Why would that be ironic?
  • Me: Well, you’re advocating for killing people, because you’re protesting that they are killing animals. If you value the lives of animals, do you think maybe we should also value the lives of people?
  • Miranda, looking at me as if that proposal is the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard: No.

There you have it, my friends. Miranda Grace, the ultimate intensifier, has spoken. She is a vegetarian, and the rest of us are supposed to follow her lead – or else.

Either that, or I need to keep working with her on developing some sense of moderation and respect for others’ convictions and the ethical gray areas of life 😉

Our New Diet

In the 2 months since we’ve returned home from New York, some of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten have been about the dietary changes we’ve made. This area was really overwhelming for me at first – I wasn’t sure what changes we needed to make or how to find meals that met whatever standards we were going to follow. My first resource was the American Heart Association’s diet and lifestyle recommendations, which advocate for a low-sodium, low-cholesterol diet, featuring primarily chicken and fish, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. That sounded doable, and in fact many of the recipes we were already using met those criteria.

As we did more research, though, we began to wonder if those recommendations were really the best we could do, particularly with regards to heart health. There seems to be general agreement that consumption of red meat is harmful, but what we began to read was that even consuming a diet high in animal protein in general seemed problematic. The Lyon Heart Study demonstrated that patients following a Mediterranean-style diet (primarily plant-based foods, whole grains, limiting salt and red meat) had significantly better outcomes than patients following the standard diet prescribed for patients with cardiac issues. We watched Forks Over Knives and heard about the China Study and saw and read stories of people who had serious heart disease who had been able to reverse it by adopting a whole-foods, plant-based diet. We read about the better health outcomes, particularly regarding heart disease, that vegetarians have relative to omnivores. The arguments were compelling.

Curried Tempeh Grilled Cheese with Mango Chutney and Tomato Bisque
Curried Tempeh Grilled Cheese with Mango Chutney and Tomato Bisque

We discussed what we were finding with Matt’s doctor, who talked with us about how the American Heart Association’s recommendations are based upon collections of large-scale studies, which necessarily means that they are never going to reflect the absolute latest research. He and other doctors believe that the direction they will head in the next 10 or 15 years, though, is further away from animal-based foods and toward more plant-based foods.

And so, based on the evidence we’ve been seeing as we’ve researched healthy eating, particularly with regards to cardiovascular health, we’ve made some pretty drastic changes. We try to eat fish once or twice a week but otherwise avoid meat when reasonably possible (we’ve had about two servings of non-fish meat in the last 2 months), and we are reducing our dairy consumption (so far by about half). We’re also focusing on consuming whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, oats, and bread made with whole wheat flour. We’re making sure that vegetables – instead of being a last-minute add-on to a meat-based meal – are rather a centerpiece of what we’re eating each day.

Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes
Smoky Chili with Sweet Potatoes

At first it was really difficult to find meals and recipes that met these criteria. So much of what we consume in American culture is based around meat and simple, processed carbs. However, over the last couple months I’ve gotten better at finding, assessing, and sometimes slightly modifying recipes for our health and enjoyment. So that you all don’t have to suffer through some of the inedible meals we’ve tried, I’m including information here about some of the recipes we have enjoyed in recent weeks. In no particular order, these are the vegetarian meals we’ve been enjoying:

Homemade Pasta Sauce
Homemade Pasta Sauce (before its encounter with the immersion blender)

My very favorite new cookbook is Moosewood Restaurant Favorites – do yourself a favor and order it. Seriously, it’s glorious. I believe people should be compensated for their work, so I’m not going to post their recipes here, but I’d encourage you to get it. Many of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed are contained within this book, in particular the following:

  • Thai Butternut Squash Soup (p 58)
  • Thai Noodle Salad (p 100)
  • Southwestern Sweet Potato Corn Soup  (p 56)
  • Creamy Herbed Potato Soup (p 49)
  • Pasta with Asparagus and Lemon Sauce (p 224)
  • Peruvian Quinoa and Vegetable Salad (p 99)
  • Summer Vegetable Curry (p 123)

And here are some of the recipes we’ve most enjoyed for eating fish:

The same cookbook I mentioned above has also been a blessing with regards to recipes for preparing fish. So far we’ve tried and liked:

  • Spicy Caribbean Fish (p 240)
  • Creamy Fish Stew (p 247)
  • Teriyaki Fish (p 241)
Creamy Fish Stew
Creamy Fish Stew

I’d encourage you, if you’re concerned about your health and, in particular, want to enjoy a heart-healthy diet, to do your research about animal-based foods and plant-based foods. So much of what we eat and the diets we advocate in American culture are really harmful to our bodies. Not everyone is facing the same medical circumstances we’re facing, and not everyone has to make the same choices we’ve made, but I think many of us can do better than we’re doing to care for our bodies. So far Matt has lost about 20 pounds and is feeling immeasurably better than he did before, and I’m feeling good, as well.

If you’re interested in pursuing more of a plant-based pescetarian or vegetarian diet, I hope some of these recipes can be a blessing to you in your journey!

post-heart-attack – where are we now?

It seems like these last weeks have flown by, but now it’s been almost 7 weeks since Matt’s heart attack, and I’ve been reflecting on the changes and transitions contained within those weeks.

Perhaps the most obvious are the physical, tangible changes. Matt’s incorporation of regular exercise into his schedule prior to his heart attack was sporadic, at best. Sure, he got in his 10,000 steps a day, but he didn’t have time set aside purely for working out. He has now been going to cardiac rehabilitation 2-3 times per week to exercise, we try to take walks at least a couple times a week on his off days, and we’re committed to fitting exercise into his schedule regularly.

We’ve also completely changed our diet. A big part of that change has been Matt himself – I knew he didn’t make the best decisions with his lunch and snack purchases away from home, but even I wasn’t aware how bad his choices really had gotten (read: how much fast food he was eating). He’s had to stop that cold turkey and now generally takes food from home or gets salads when he’s out.

We’ve made some big changes as a family, too, though. We’ve gone from eating somewhat-but-not-entirely healthy, mostly chicken but fairly frequently also pork meals to eating almost entirely vegetarian and fish meals. We’re trying to center our eating around plant-based whole foods. That has changed virtually all the meals we eat and the way in which I grocery shop. I now need to shop closer to weekly (instead of being able to make it 2 weeks between big grocery shopping trips), I spend a lot more time in the health food section, I read the labels on practically everything, and we’ve added an additional grocery store to our regular rotation, bringing our current total to 3. Meal prep also takes longer.

These dietary changes have been something of a challenge. At first the logistics were overwhelming – I didn’t have any idea where to get good recipes, how to judge whether a meal was high or low in sodium, or any of that. Now that I’m finding my footing in those areas, I can start to address secondary logistical matters (like figuring out which meals would freeze well so I can get back to my time-saving, sanity-saving freezer meal cooking!), but I’ve also found that new emotions are surfacing. I can no longer use almost any of the recipes from what used to be my “go to” blogs for new meal ideas to try. We can’t go to just any restaurant and assume we’ll be able to order something healthy. Getting together for meals with friends is more complicated. It feels somewhat lonely – but it is absolutely worth it. Maybe if you’re 70 or 75 years old and you have a heart attack, you figure you’ve had a good run and you keep living life just as you were before? But with Matt having a heart attack at 39…we’ve really got to make some drastic changes, so that’s what we’re doing. We’d like to keep him around for another 30 or 40 – or more! – years.

I’ve had to face the reality that he really could have died there in that hotel room in New York. I’m thankful I didn’t know exactly what was happening at the time, and I’m thankful I didn’t know the statistics on cardiac arrest survival at the time. And the fact that it happened once means that it’s more likely to happen again – and that’s a scary thought.

I am scared.

But I have a choice. I can let fear control my life and my choices – or I can let love be the driving force behind all that I do. I can’t have it both ways. And thankfully, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). The more I love, the more I choose to operate out of love, the less my chest tightens in fear.

We are trying to be wise and prepared for any scenario. We’re doing what we can – we’re prioritizing exercise, we’re changing our diet, and Matt is taking all of the medications his doctor has prescribed and paying attention to his body. And I’m collecting information. I’ve found out what benefits I’d be able to retain through the university if Matt died. I’m aware of what life insurance he has – and am trying not to be bitter about the fact that we were in the middle of applying for additional life insurance when this happened, and his application was obviously rejected. We’ve talked with our kids’ pediatrician about measures we need to take to keep them as healthy as possible, now that 2 of them have a family history of early heart disease. But we’re still living life – in fact, check back later this week for some exciting news about one way in which we’re pursuing that 🙂 We still want to have adventures and be committed to pursuing God and going wherever He would lead in order to love those around us.

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It’s interesting, the faith journey that has been the undercurrent throughout these last 7 weeks. I haven’t always felt close to God, I haven’t always felt the truths I know to be true – but I still know them. I know that God is in control. I know that He loves me, and I know that He is good. Not once has it even entered my mind to doubt those truths.

If it did…I think I’d wonder if the object in which I’d placed my faith was truly the self-existent God of the universe or just some fictional genie of my own creation. Either God is good even when I don’t get what I want…or He’s not God – He’s simply a super-powered version of myself, desiring exactly as I desire, willing and able to give me exactly what I want. But that’s not who the true God is.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that I’ve always liked – “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” That quote has become more and more real to me over these last weeks. God is not put to the test by Matt’s heart attack; God exists outside of space and time, and God is good – and Matt had a heart attack – and I interpret the latter in light of the former, not the other way around.

And we have much, much for which to be grateful – and gratitude is the overwhelming emotion I feel when I think about these recent events. Matt did survive his heart attack. We have been blessed, oh, so very blessed, by so many friends and family over these last 7 weeks. We’ve been given time to make changes that will – we hope and pray – get him healthier, and we have the means and the motivation to make those drastic changes we need to make. The God we follow is loving and good. We are blessed, and I am thankful.