In this episode, you’ll learn about what two vegan identifying dietitians think about veganisim and mental health within this space!
References Mentioned In this Episode:
Definition of Veganism from the Vegan Society
Lex: What I’m hoping is that we eventually shift towards not needing a label for it. . You know? Like: e get to a point in society where it’s, you know: I do identify as like a vegan, or I’m just Lex who just doesn’t eat these products, you know?
Christine: Right. Cause now it’s so easy to not do that.
Christine: Welcome to the Plant Powered You podcast! This is the resource for all things vegan nutrition. I’m Christine, your host and vegan bestie! And I also happen to be a dietitian.
As a disclaimer, this podcast is just providing education and a bit of entertainment.
If you have any questions about your health or diet, talk to your own healthcare provider. Our full disclaimers will be linked to in the show notes below (also here) . Now let’s get to the episode.
Hi Lex. Welcome to the podcast!
Lex: Hi, Christine. Thank you for having me.
Christine: For sure. So excited to talk to you because today we are talking about nuance within veganism, and I thought you would be the perfect person to talk about that because you have a unique perspective I can’t wait to dive into.
But first I wanna share a bit about Lex. Lex Pizzarello is a clinical dietician in long-term care, as well as the owner of Veg RD Nutrition, LLC, where she offers nutrition counseling for plant-based/plant-based curious folks using intuitive eating, cooking skills, and heart healthy habits.
When she isn’t reading the nutrition research or trying out new recipes. She loves gardening, yoga, and giving her cat way too many treats.
Alexa has been vegan for seven years and vividly remembers the days of soy creamer being the only non-dairy milk option in the grocery stores.
Speaking of soy, Lex learned quickly after exploring veganism that she has a soy allergy, and that must have been so hard because soy is in so many vegan products.
So I think a good starting point would be to ask you like, how did you come to be vegan? And in that story: when did you learn that you had a soy allergy?
Lex: Yeah, so this is kind of a funny story/devastating! Since I was a kid, I had issues with eating meat. I think a lot of people that I talk to now- their story is kind of like, “oh, I can’t give up cheese,” or “I can’t give up meat.”
For me- even as a kid, it was something I wasn’t really into, so it was really easy for me to transition once I became an adult and I realized that this could be in my hands and I could cook for myself and make my own decisions: it was pretty easy.
But I did take it slow. I got really into reading nutrition research, watching the documentaries, and it kind of just felt right from when I could remember being a toddler with meat in front of me, and not wanting to have anything to do with it.
Christine: Wow. that’s really early.
Lex: Yeah, for sure. I have really vivid memories of feeling so conflicted about it, about all of it. And so then, slowly found my way, took it really slowly, and then I started working at a vegan restaurant in Manhattan, and nd learned very quickly that I was allergic to soy.
Christine: I bet.
Lex: Yeah. And it was one of those things where I was like: oh, maybe it’s something else? Maybe I have a bug, or maybe I’m just stressed out? That’s why I’m so sick.
And so, yeah, I had to kind of like, navigate the whole soy allergy while transitioning into veganism. So it’s definitely been tough.
Lex: But you know, it’s just: I have to be more vigilant. Most people, I feel like when, like as a vegan, when you go to a vegan restaurant, you’re like, “oh, I can eat everything, this this is great! I don’t have to ask them what’s in this for me.”
It’s like when I go to a vegan restaurant, I have to really ask them what’s in it! So it could kind of be annoying, but I’m so used to it.
Christine: You kind of already shared, you know, some of the challenges with going to the restaurant and stuff. I can imagine that going to parties for example is also tough too.
Do you take your own snacks or how do you manage that?
Lex: Yeah, I always have snacks on me. I always have protein bars on me. I always have some sort of protein source within reach because I never want to go to an event or go out to dinner and feel like not satisfied or like disappointed, uneasy, or take a risk and be like, oh: let me just have it and like maybe I’ll be fine.
So yeah, I always have stuff with me.
Christin: And when we talk about protein rich foods: I know some people like to say “everything has protein.”
Well, a lot of foods do, but do they contain enough to get that satiating effect from protein?
For example, Seitan is probably gonna keep you more full than gummy candy, right? It is.
Christine: So yeah, that’s good that you make sure that you think about protein and include them in your snacks that are soy free.
With the whole soy thing: I tell people I don’t avoid it because I think it’s bad. If anything, please eat double for me! (laugh)
Christine: it hits a lot of some nutrients of concern that vegans have, you know, like lysine, sometimes calcium, said they (soy) have calcium. So it’s a great food in that way. But yeah, if it’s causing you issues, then there’s several other ways to get those nutrients.
Having gone through these challenges, practicing veganism and having a soy allergy, do you think that anyone can be vegan?
Lex: That’s such a good question. Yeah, I think for a lot of vegans: the answer to that is yes. I think there’s a population within veganism that just thinks this is how everyone should be. And I don’t know if I agree with that.
I think it depends on so many factors.
Lex: It depends on like where you live and your economic status. I think there’s definitely ways to diminish the ways that you contribute to animal suffering and eating more plants and not eating as much meat or dairy, but I think to expect that everyone can do it, I don’t know. . I don’t think thats very reasonable. Especially if you have like: if I had an a gluten allergy and a soy allergy, I don’t know if I could do this!
Christine Yeah, that would be tough.
Lex: because I rely on, seitan and those sources of protein that don’t have soy in it.
Christine: Hmm. And then just some people like you said, with digestive issues, maybe they can’t eat a lot of beans, right? And then I think the other challenge comes to: How do you use beans?
Let’s just face it: In the US a lot of our education about nutrition centers around animal foods. So to tell someone, you know, “well just don’t eat meat and switch to beans,”- even me, I consider myself more educated, I tried cooking dried beans the first time and it didn’t work out very well. And I’m kind of embarrassed to say that, but I was a little discouraged. You know? This is like one of the cheapest foods I should be able to do this! But, you know, I learned about canned beans and I learned about, cooking.
I’m just actually not the best cook, I will say! If anyone’s looking for vegan recipes, it’s not on my blog! I like to, to do the articles, but not the recipes.
But, you know, we need to address these educational barriers, I think. And yeah, access. Not everyone has the same access.
Lex: yeah, there’s a lot of people that you know, who don’t like even know what seitan is, for example.
And even though it’s been around for a long time and it comes from plants and it’s, you know, to me it’s not like a crazy concept, but to other people it’s like, what is that?
Christine: Yeah. What is that? What do you do with it, you know?
Lex: Yeah! There’s definitely an education barrier for a lot of people.
Christine: Yeah. And shout out to your Instagram, by the way, because I think it’s cool that you post some of your recipes!
Like I think I saw your vegan kind of chickpeas salad (spread), on there, and I was like, oh, that’s cool cuz I have all these ingredients, you know, I can do this!
And it, I think it’s just awesome to try to make it more simple. Give some recipes where people can just look in their pantry and use that stuff instead of these like, obscure ingredients.
Lex: Right! And that’s definitely like what I’m leaning towards more now too, is just…
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t have a lot of time anymore to cook. I used to be home a lot more, and now it’s very minimal. O Sundays I have to meal prep something for lunches, and I’m just being more realistic, you know? What’s cheap, what’s best, what’s gonna be balanced. Things like that.
It’s embarrassing how much of that I eat. I genuinely eat it like every single day for lunch.
Christine: Oh man, yeah! For me it’s the tofu “egg” salad sandwich. That is one of my favorite things. It’s so easy.
Lex: Yeah. Similar, vibes between them.
Christine: Yes. And that’s why I liked it cuz I was like, oh, you know, this will just be a different option, but a similar kind of flavor in my opnion.
So I think back to the “can anyone be vegan thing,” if we look at the definition of veganism from the vegan society, and I’m sure people will be familiar with it, those who are listening to this, but I’ll just read it. And it says,
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living that seeks to exclude- as far as is possible and practicable- all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other, other purpose, and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.Source: https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism
So when I read it, you know, I feel like there’s a little bit of/ a lot of questions, unfortunately to me then some answers if we’re we’re gonna say vegan is one thing because it says: “As far as possible and practicable.”
But then it says you dispense of all animal products in the diet. And you know, to me, I think there’s a lot of nuance within that because let’s take for example: food coloring.
Some vegans avoid… what’s a popular candy that… Nerds?
Christine: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So some vegans are are fine eating it and they don’t care about the coloring and others are like, no, you know, that’s been tested on animals and then some of us avoid body wash that was tested on animals, but eat the nerds?
I think what I’m trying to say is that: it can be sometimes hard to agree or identify all of these things, and we just do the best that we can with our own understanding of the philosophy. You know: what makes sense, what is practicable for us?
And it’s, it’s like, we just have a lot of that where it’s hard to say: what is one set definition?
What do you think about that?
Lex: I think what stands out to me is the “as far as is possible” statement. You know?
And I think that’s something that I’ve had issues with in the vegan community is: I think the second that you bring in the emotions of like guilt and shame when it comes to food, then really, you’re not caring for yourself either, you know?
Lex: You have to really make sure your attitude and your mental health is good too. So if you’re in a constant state of shame and guilt because you’re not like this “perfect vegan,” I don’t think that’s helping anyone, you know?
Lex: It’s not spreading the message and it’s not getting people to kind of like join you on the journey. And so I think it’s really important to-I think for what I’m hoping is that we eventually shift towards not needing a label for it, You know?
Lex: Yeah! Like I mean, we to a point in society where it’s like, you know, I identify as like a vegan, but like, or I’m just Lex who just doesn’t eat these products, you know?
Lex: Cause now it’s so easy to not do that. You know? Because I think that label really keeps a lot of people away.
Christine: Oh, for sure. It did for me with, with my transition: it would be like, whoops, you know- you accidentally eats something.
Or like, even now, I’m gonna be completely honest: my husband, he eats eggs and dairy. And we’ve decided that our children will as well, until they get to a point where they understand and then they can decide, and I just thought in my mind… my husband and I, we are their primary role models and how can I explain to a child what he is doing: but I am not, without it being about health? That’s not what it is for me! There’s benefits of a vegan diet, but there’s also benefits of other plant-based diets!
Anyways, different topic! But yeah, so they do eat the eggs and dairy and sometimes they don’t finish it.
And if my husband is done or he doesn’t wanna eat it or whatever, I’ll finish it. And so you’d see that maybe I’d have “non-vegan foods” on some days, but that’s not even an issue for me! The intention is not to buy non-vegan products unnecessarily. Now I understand others might have a different opinion and that’s fine. I Still consider myself vegan even with things like that, you know?
Lex: Yeah! And I commend you for even saying that and sharing that because I definitely have been in similar situations. There’s been times where- because of my soy allergy that I was in situations where I was like, I have nothing to eat. Like I could only eat eggs.
And that’s happened over like a couple of times over the past few years or since I’ve been vegan. And that’s why it’s hard to like use that label sometimes because, especially when I was like working in the vegan restaurant in Manhattan, I was working with a lot of people that weren’t vegan at all, you know?
Lex: But then some that were really, really hardcore that, to them, us sharing that would be like: you’re not vegan then.
Christine: Mm-hmm. You’re either in or out, right?
Lex: Right! And I don’t like that, you know?
Lex: and like, with what you said before about: It’s about your intention.
Lex: My intentions are good. No matter what: That food’s going to be thrown out, you know?
Christine: Yeah, exactly!
Lex: And you’re following your intuition and you’re doing what you feel is right. You know? And it’s all about intention
Christine: For sure! I think we need to talk about this so much more because, if we go back to thinking, “oh, we’re out of the vegan club,” like how much anxiety is that? And for new vegans- how discouraging is that?
Maybe they’ll just wanna go back to what they were doing before, for example: Like, I can’t make a difference.
Lex: . Yeah. And when I talk to people that are kind of transitioning, I get a lot of “I went to, you know, so-and-so restaurant and then I found out later on that it had eggs in it and like I couldn’t believe it.
And I’m like: it’s okay. Like it’s okay! You know, your intention was there. Your intention is that you’re trying to do your best, as far as is possible. And, you know, there’s no reason to feel guilt or ashamed like this is food, this is nourishment. And you’re doing your best and I really want to just take that confusion and shame out of the whole situation because it really turns people off from it. I see it all the time.
Christine: Oh yeah. It helps us be better advocates and if anyone doesn’t get anything else from this: there’s really no vegan food police out there.
You know this, it reminds me of something I heard on Unnatural Vegan’s channel. In one, of her episodes, she said something along the lines of… we talk about labels, but in some ways too, there is a benefit from the label, right?
Because if you say you’re vegan, instead of saying like you’re vegetarian, I don’t know about you, but if I said I was vegetarian, I might have less of a drive, you know, to try to reduce my animal products, you know, as much as I can, for my health.
Whereas if I say I’m vegan, I feel that, not like the club mentality, but like: That’s my mindset.
Lex: Yeah, those are two di very different things.
Lex: And I think the label kind of comes in handy in certain situations, like if you’re going to a party or you’re going out for dinner it’s a lot easier to have that label because it’s like: then everyone kind of automatically knows how you’re gonna approach food.
Lex: Versus if you weren’t, then you kind of like, I don’t eat that, Oh, I don’t eat that. I don’t eat that.
And I hate that whole, like, “I don’t eat that.” It’s like I’m choosing not to eat that, you know?
Christine: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Lex: And so, yes, I think sometimes the label’s really convenient, but then other times it could be really toxic.
Christine: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Speaking of which: “ethical vegans.”, We’ve heard that term a lot.
What do you think about that term?
Lex: I think that term… I don’t have many issues with it because I think it gets more complicated if people are just vegan for health reasons.
Lex: So, because I’ve had, like people I’ve worked with in the past that they were just doing it for health and that could get a little tricky. You know, because like you were saying before, there is a ton of health benefits, but just being vegan in general does not make you a healthy person at all.
Christine: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Lex: You know, so I think from an ethical standpoint, it makes it a lot easier to, easier to kind of like navigate those decisions.
Christine: Yeah, I think so too. I wish there was a better term because when I, I don’t know… when I, maybe, when I first heard ethical vegans, I thought, well, oh! Are they more moral than other people? And we know that is not true! You know, there could be ethical vegans who are, you know, racist and homophobic and all that.
Lex: Oh, I could talk about that all day! Like ethical vegans that are ethical for animals, but not for humans.
Christine: Yeah, in a sense, I, I like that we have a term to denote… I think the point was to denote, “ethical vegans” from “health vegans,” people who just are on the vegan diet and they don’t follow the full philosophy, you know, the clothing, whatever.
I notice that even some of them might be fine with like, say, um, buttermilk bread or whereas a vegan is probably gonna be like no.. But I think it’s useful to have two terms to denote those types. But yeah, I wish we had a different term because that makes people defensive sometimes.
Lex: Yeah. When it’s used, it kind of puts somebody on like a pedestal or like they’re above other people because their morals are better or whatever it is, you know? So I totally feel you on.
Christine: Yeah. So for anyone who’s listening, I think that there’s two ways you can look at: Can everybody be vegan? One way is somebody who’s looking at the definition and says, okay, you know, as far as practicable for me, I can be vegan.
And then someone else looking at it and says, well, it means not eating any kind of animal products or using animal based items-that’s what being a vegan means, and I tend to go with the, the former because it, you know, nobody can be a perfect vegan.
I’ve heard that, you know, there’s like some products used in toilet paper or something like crazy like that.
Lex: Yeah, I heard about that like yesterday I think!
Christine: Did you?
Christine: See, we’re still learning stuff even as we’re vegans! But at the same time, what else are you gonna do?
Christine: what else are you gonna do… So, um, I think we just have to be accepting of that, and I think that makes the movement more… I don’t wanna say attainable… attractive?
Christine: Yeah. Approachable, yep! That’s a good word.
And the other thing is that I think it wins over more people, because even if someone is like, well, you know, I can’t give up every animal product, maybe they’ll be pushed to like just, you know, do more plant-based things, eat more plant-based, and not buy leather anymore. Things of that nature. I think we need to give that more credit than we do, frankly, (as vegans). They’re (non vegans) making a difference too.
Christine: And we can’t deny, right?
Lex: Yeah, for sure. And I think that’s why the. The use of, like “plant-based” now is so popular. There’s a lot of people that just use that and I, I respect that too, you know?
Lex: Plant-based. And it’s kind of is a little nuanced of a word, but I think that could be a good thing, you know, because I think not enough people talk about like mental health and veganism…
Lex: And people wanting to do what they think is right, but not wanting to put themselves in a box because mentally they know it might not be the best for them.
Christine: Yes. And I think it’s just more accepting for people as well.
If you want to say that you’re vegan, then it’s really up to you as an adult how you interpret that definition, right? There is no “vegan police.” I think this imaginative vegan police turns people away from the message. Um, If you’re an adult, it’s important to make your own decision and take into account what is possible and practical for you.
And so in closing, I just have some fun ending questions that I ask everybody, and that is:
what is your favorite thing to eat at this moment (because it can always change).
And if you could pick one famous vegan to eat it with, so that can be an activist or a celebrity, or you know, someone in the health space, who would you?
I recently tried Sri Lankan food, and it like, blew me away. So many vegan options. And I wanna go back. I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Christine: Oh, is that like Indian food or is it different?
Lex: Yeah! It’s very similar. Just a little slight different flavor profile, but similar like curries and, you know, things like that. Delicious, and I kind of wanna pick two people.
Christine: Okay, sure. Let’s, we’ll say two people.
Lex: Okay! One of them would definitely be, I think he’s still vegan: Benedict Cumberbatch. Oh,
Christine: Oh yeah! he might be!
Lex: Yeah, I know he definitely was! I pick him because one time had a really awkward interaction with him when I was working at the vegan restaurant.
Christine: Did you, you met him! Oh, that’s crazy! You have to share about that!
Lex: I didn’t realize it was him. It was super busy. I was super tired and it was like a fast, casual place. And we had weird rules. And I told him that he asked if we could like cut his sandwich in the back and I told him no. I was like, you could use a plastic knife.
I was like, and then I turned around and like all of my coworkers were like, do you know who that was? And I was like, what? And I looked up and he’s really tall. And I was like, Oh my goodness. But also just,
I mean, I would wanna clear the air with that because I haven’t lived that down to this day.
Christine: Yeah! Hey, if you’re listening back, Benedict! Lex is clearing the air about that!
Lex: Yeah! But also just like, I think the way he’s a little bit older and how he’s kind of like navigated, I would love to talk to him how he’s navigated, kind of having that be a very personal thing for him, for not to be something that he is very open about, like why he chooses.
And then I would love to have that conversation at the Sri Lankan restaurant. Yes. WithBilly Eilish as
Christine: Oh yes! Uh huh.
Lex: I really commend her for the way that she kind of is very authentic, very young. And has somehow struck the perfect balance of being vegan, young, and having people be intrigued about it and making it very approachable and people being very curious like, oh, this is like this thing that, you know, she’s pretty passionate about, but not in your face. And I have a lot of respect for her for that.
So I would just love to have a little conversation with the three of us.
Christine: Yes. Yeah, those are definitely people I would wanna meet too. and Yeah, I’m so inspired by Billy, like, you know, with she’s, young, well, she’s younger than me! But you know, it makes me have hope for this, the new generation because…
Lex: Me too.
Christine: It’s just good for the animals, the environment… There’s a lot of “doom news” going on, but I have some hope I will say.
Christine: Well cool! Before you go, where can people learn more about you and learn about your counseling services?
Lex: So you could learn about my counseling services on my website, which is VegDietitian.com
But, I’m pretty active on Instagram, as you know. I like to post a lot about cooking and food and trying new vegan things. And I like to share a lot of research too. So you could kind of find everything at my Instagram, which is also at @VegDietitian.
Christine: Awesome, and if you’re looking for one-on-one help, you know, we talked about Lex and her soy allergy, I think that’s super important to meet with a dietitian to go over some more complex situations like that.
Lex: Yes, individualized.
Christine: Yes. Thank you so much, Lex, for your service to this population and for being on the podcast!
Christine: Thank you so much, Christine. This was really fun. It went so fast.
Christine: Wow. That was an awesome conversation that I had with Lex and a little bit nuanced! If you enjoyed this episode, please give it a five star review on Apple Podcast. Be sure to subscribe. Don’t forget to check out a PlantPoweredYou.com: It’s your free dietitian created resource for all things vegan nutrition.
Until next time. Have a great and fantastic day.
If you enjoyed reading or listening to this episode, you might be interested in our other interviews going over topics like:
Communicating with Your Doctor as a Vegan
Nutrition for Vegans who Lift
Intuitive Eating and Veganism
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