A month ago, a mother and father of three decided to go vegan. So obviously I bombarded them with questions ranging from their favourite dishes to issues of vitamin deficiency.
It seems veganism is gaining ground and followers at an astonishing rate. The philosophy of excluding all forms of exploitation of animals and maintaining a strong plant-based diet has well and truly hit our shores with no signs of slowing down. As health food shops begin to multiply and gradually stock-up on vegan products that were once non-existent in the Cyprus market, not to mention coffee shops that are finally offering more non-dairy options, individuals who once swore allegiance to souvlakia and souvla are finding it easier to turn their backs on their ‘traditional’ lifestyle.
Stella and Iacovos both 32 and born and raised in Cyprus have three children aged 5,4 and 3. They have agreed to share their experiences as a vegan family so far.
Why did you chose to switch to a vegan diet?
I’ve always wanted to eat healthy and since having kids I have been making more attempts because I want to be able to feed them better quality food. I recently quit smoking and other habits I considered bad for me so I felt the need to do something better in terms of my nutrition, which is a part of my life I have always neglected. After watching the documentary What The Health we began researching and ended up making the decision to go vegan. For me, it’s a lifestyle decision. I am vegan because I respect life and nature. I am 100% against animal cruelty and do not want to ignore it anymore. Knowing and ignoring the torture people make animals go through makes me sad. For my partner, the decision was based on health reasons. A plant-based diet can help you be healthier and he wanted to feel healthier. Even though he’s born and raised within a typical Cypriot family where meat is always on the family table and he loved his steaks and burgers and souvlakia, after watching the documentary something changed. The next morning I found an empty fridge, no cheese, no turkey, no ham and a crowd of three worried toddlers. Ha.
Do you shop more often now your family is vegan?
I definitely shop more from the fresh fruit and vegetables section. But I wouldn’t say I shop more often just different things now. We try to be creative when preparing our food so we don’t worry about what we don’t have, we just make do with what we do. It’s been a great experience for the kids too as they like getting involved and being creative.
What items are considered luxury?
That would be the egg replacement products. Or the vegan cake mixes but these are quite hard to find in Cyprus anyway. Meat alternatives like quorns are luxury items too but again that’s mainly because I can’t find them where I shop.
What items are standard/everyday items?
Tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, hummus, bread products like tortillas, pitta bread. Soya and coconut milk, oats and oat flour because we use them to make cookies and pancakes. Nuts and raisins which we always have on the table, bananas, apples and coconut oil.
Are the kids 100% vegan or just at home?
We feel the kids are too young to understand veganism but we talk to them in simple terms and they know that mummy and daddy are vegans. At home they are vegans- apart from goat’s milk which we are trying to eliminate but it is still part of their nutrition. When we go out they eat whatever they want so if they want souvlakia they have souvlakia. But it’s quite funny watching them trying to wrap their heads around the concept. The other day while we were at the fruit market, my five-year old asked if kolokasi – taro- has meat or if it comes from animals. We just want them to know the basic facts.
We know it’s safe for a child to be vegan but it’s important that parents are well-informed about key nutrients required for growth and development like vitamin B-12 which is widely recognised as being available only from animal sources. Do your kids take supplements? And did you consult with your paediatrician?
Yes, we spoke to our doctor who is completely fine with it. I have a feeling she thinks we won’t stick with it. Yes, we do take B-12 supplements just because I feel better knowing they aren’t missing anything vital. But there are products such as plant-based milks that are enriched with B-12. Being vegan has actually helped me introduce more of a variety of foods to my kids which I believe are packed with nutrients. They may not eat everything yet, like quinoa which they refuse to try but at least they know it exists and will eventually experiment with it.
A vegan diet is less energy dense and kids need loads to get enough energy so how do you make up for that?
They never seem to be low on energy. Ha! They eat a lot of beans and lentils and we prepare cakes with soya and coconut milk and bananas so I never feel they are tired or hungry. There’s always something available for them to eat.
Your favourite foods/snacks/dishes.
– Oreos are first on our list! Yes, they are vegan and we use them in many desserts and even make ice cream out of them.
– Raw veggies (cucumbers, celery, carrots) cut up and dipped into coconut yoghurt and agave.
– Smoothie with bananas, basil, coconut milk, fresh shredded coconut, ginger and agave.
– Sweet potato with paprika and potato wedges with coconut oil and oregano.
– Lentils with sweet potato, onion and garlic.
– Coconut, spinach and cauliflower soba noodles.
– Bowls of mixed veggies like green leaves, beetroot, roasted aubergines with coconut oil, oregano, sweetcorn, hummus and chia seeds.
Which food was the hardest to give up?
I miss white fish but honestly that’s about it. For my partner, it’s ‘kolokithakia me ta avga’ – courgettes and scrambles eggs.
They say it’s hard to eat out when you are vegan. Do you eat out often?
In Cyprus it’s still very hard. But if you say you’re fasting, it’s easier. When you say you’re fasting they give you options like fries, pasta with tomato sauce or grilled veggies but that’s about it. Generally, we don’t go out alot so it doesn’t bother us. The first time I said I was vegan at our local bakery they asked me well, what do you eat all day?! And the answer is so simple: I eat more now than I did before.
Do you try new recipes or stick to basics? How often do you cook hot meals?
We have one hot meal a day, at least. Mainly because my kids don’t value cold meals. Ha! I try something new everyday so I often google vegan recipes but to be honest I have learnt how to create vegan bowls and meals by simply using whatever I have at home.
Finally, it may be too early to notice any major changes but do you feel different during this time?
Poop comes with no struggles and it doesn’t smell! Also I feel more energetic, my skin looks and feels better and I don’t feel bloated anymore. We both sleep better too. Honestly, I regret not doing this sooner.
For more information on going vegan or if you simply want to try it out a few times a week check out these links:
25 vegan recipes for the grill so you won’t miss the feeling of barbecuing the night away.
How to be vegan when your family is not . The basics.
And because we all love Oreos, vegans and non, here’s an easy vegan chocolate Oreo cake recipe.