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May 4, 2013

Being a Vegan Pastor, Church at 5: Saturday Morning Coffee

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

Fruit for BreakfastOne of the endless questions I receive when I tell someone I am a vegan is “What do you eat?” To some people who shun eating animal products, they get incredulous when this question is asked. Their answers are usually a little hyper … they get a tiny bit red around the eyes, they begin to sweat, and they rub their hands like a mad scientist. And instead of taking a wonderful opportunity to explain the incredible benefits of eating vegan, many on my side of the line get angry. They fume. They question the motives of the person asking. They make fun of the carnivore’s diet, saying unfriendly things like, “At least a pig didn’t have to die (imagine for a moment, someone holding and stretching the word “die” for effect) to fill my stomach.”

Me? When people ask me that inevitable question, I just answer it with a smile on my face. Instead of telling someone what I don’t eat, I explain what I do eat. I love kale. “You don’t know the great benefits of eating spinach for breakfast,” I crow. Then I tell them how much money I save eating a low-fat, plant-based diet. Yes, I do save a lot money not buying any meat, chicken, or fish; I don’t purchase olive oil or any of that spray oil stuff; I eat very little in the way of processed foods. I buy fruit in season; and the frozen fruit I buy, I pick up at Whole Foods because it is actually cheaper than our other local supermarkets. My favorite section at Whole Foods is the area with bulk products. I drink water, green tea, and coffee.

But the chief reason I eat this way: health. My most recent health work up showed that my blood pressure is normal. My resting pulse is at the lower end of normal. My cholesterol level can testify that without eating any meat, dairy, or added oils, my cholesterol level has dropped to 105 — that is without the aid of any kind of cholesterol lowering drug. When I started my cancer treatment a couple of years ago, I was told I was pre-diabetic (whatever that means; honestly, either I was diabetic or I wasn’t); today, those words never cross my doctor’s lips.

And yes, having the knowledge that no animal had to suffer and die to fill my basic food needs also makes me happy.

While I don’t drink cow’s milk, I do consume unsweetened almond milk and use it in many dishes I prepare. When I was eating Grape Nuts nearly everyday for breakfast, I poured a half-cup of those rock-hard nuggets into a bowl and doused them with a cup of this unsweetened almond milk goodness. I love Grape Nuts. They’re just tiny nuggets of wheat, soy, and barley. Mmmm. Yes, a half-cup has a whopping 210 calories, but it also packs in 7 grams of fiber. These little nuggets will keep you regular.

This past week, I decided to jump back onto the fruit smoothie breakfast bandwagon. Six days a week for months, I drank some concoction of fruit smoothie for breakfast. Packed with frozen fruit, a banana, unsweetened soy milk, and some kind of green leafy vegetable, I was feeling so much mentally awake throughout the day when I was drinking breakfast. When I started to eat Grape Nuts and oatmeal for a majority of my breakfasts, I did feel sluggish, especially as I tried to get out of the house at 6:30am to start my official work day. Starting my day with fruit, unsweetened soy milk, and some green leafy veggies really kicked me into gear.

This Friday morning, I started my day once again with a fruit drink, only this time replacing the unsweetened soy milk with unsweetened almond milk. It has only been two days, and maybe I am reading too much into it, but I do feel mentally lighter than I have in the recent past.

Today’s fruit drink contained the following:

  • a half of a frozen peach
  • 3/4 cup of frozen mango
  • 1 banana
  • 1 navel orange
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • a handful of baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed

This didn’t come from a cookbook; I just threw what I liked in a blender and prayed it would taste good. It did.

For lunch today, I plan on eating sweet potato bisque, a soup recipe that comes from “Forks Over Knives: The Cookbook,” along with a salad of kale, a half of a red pepper, and black beans. Dinner will be a bowl where I combine brown rice, soy sauce, black beans, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans, spinach, chopped tomato, and avocado.

When I tell people that this is what I eat, they usually scrunch up their noses saying something like, “That sounds crazy.”

All I know is that after talking with really good doctors about the issues of diet and health, I think it is crazy to eat a nutrient poor diet filled with animal products, take medications to control cholesterol and diabetes and blood pressure and heart disease, and then as the years go by take more medications and end up in the hospital later in life with my chest ripped open so doctors can bypass an artery blockage. To me, that’s crazy.

Instead, I’ll stick with kale.

Saturday Evening Worship 

Tonight, we gather at Saint Matthew’s for our regular Saturday Evening Worship service. This is our spoken service – there is no music.

I must make an admission: During the past several weeks, I have been rather “talkative” at the start of the service. My announcements go on and on. Tonight, I make you a promise that my announcements will be shorter and more direct. You’ll have to read the bulletin for the complete update.

Sunday School Coming to An End for This Term

Our Sunday School classes are quickly coming to an end. Now that it is May, I’m not pushing parents to bring their children to either our Saturday or Sunday version of church school. Instead, I am urging them to bring their children to our worship services — I will be doing an impromptu “Children’s sermon” at sometime this month. Yes, I am not telling you when. I could do it more than once. But I would love it if parents would bring their kids to church either on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings for the great possibility I will call them up to the front of the church during my regular sermon.

As we enter into the summertime period, I am seriously considering updating our Sunday School program. I will be talking to parents and our Board of Christian Education to completely revamp our youth education program starting in September. Stay tuned for more.

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