Real Life: I'm a Vegan and Animal Rights Advocate

This is one of our Real Life interviews, in which we talk to people who are doing good for the Earth.

At Zeroish, we believe there are many ways to live sustainably. That’s why our Real Life interview series is one of our favorite parts of the blog. This week we talked to vegan and animal rights advocate Lauren Hambrick

People choose veganism for different reasons, including the toll meat consumption has on the environment, concerns about animal welfare, and improved personal health. But what’s veganism all about? Do you have to eat Tofurky? Plus, isn’t that stuff super-processed and and wrapped in plastic? Can you be zero waste and vegan at the same time? 

If you’ve ever been curious about veganism, vegetarianism, or how to add more plant-based meals to your diet, read on!

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’m Lauren Hambrick, mother and vegan, currently living in the Twin Cities. A divorce brought me here, the last place I thought I would ever live (too cold!), but my son and I love it. I have been vegan for 4 years.

For those of us who don’t know, what is veganism?

Veganism is a way of living which 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 purpose.

What inspired you to become a vegan? 

Ultimately, having my son, Simon, and feeling a connection with all other mammal mothers is what led me to veganism. And since that first moment when I decided to become vegan my way of eating and life in general have changed drastically, for the better. Animals are always the number one reason I am vegan. As a mother I aim to teach my son to be kind to all. All humans, all animals, all life on this planet that we all share.  

Real Life: I'm a vegan and animal rights advocate

Tell us about your process of becoming a vegan. How has being a mother influenced your decision to give up meat and all other animal products?

I think for some people, maybe most, the process to becoming vegan is a long one. At least it was for me. They may not even realize is happening, until the final “lightbulb moment” or “aha moment.” Only when I looked back after becoming vegan did I realize how all these events impacted me.

The first step I can remember was in 2010 when a coworker, who was vegan, invited me over for dinner. I don’t remember the dinner, but I remember the dessert… brownies and vegan ice cream! It was absolutely divine, and I was surprised. 

Later, I met two vegans who were volunteers for the animal shelter I worked at. We had a program where we would build fences for dogs who were kept chained outside by their owners. I became friends with one of these women, and when I went out to eat with her I always ate vegan, too. 

Around this time, I went to New Zealand for my honeymoon and 30th birthday. I chose it for one reason: I wanted to swim with dolphins. I have always LOVED animals, especially sea life. In New Zealand you can go out on a boat into the wild, free ocean in an area where dolphins swim, and jump in the water with them. That’s what I did. It was incredible. I cannot begin to describe the feeling. I didn’t touch them, just swam WITH them, made noises with them, looked into their eyes.

In 2013, I became pregnant with Simon. While I was pregnant I went to see Blackfish in the theater with my vegan animal shelter friend. I cried a lot. Even though I hadn’t given birth, I didn’t know what it was like to be a mother yet, I felt deeply for the orca mothers separated from their babies. I felt their strength and determination to hide from the hunters trying to capture them for Sea World, and I felt their sorrow and anguish when they lost the battle with the humans and their babies were taken from them.

All these pieces and I hadn’t finished the puzzle until after Simon was born.

When I held Simon in my arms for the first time, I changed. And I continue to change to this day, and hopefully for the rest of my life. I had become an attachment parent and loved my son fiercely. At times I would think, what do other mammal mothers do?

Breastfeeding was so important to me and a huge struggle for us. In my early struggles nursing, I watched a lot of Netflix. For some reason, probably my vegan friend’s influence, I watched a lot of documentaries: Forks over KnivesFood ChoicesSharkwater, and Fat Sick and Nearly Dead. Since then, I’ve also seen CowspiracyWhat the Health, and A Plastic Ocean. What spoke to my heart was learning the simple fact (which I should have known from childhood, but was just not learning at age 31) that cows are mammals. Cows don’t magically carry around pink bags of milk that need to be milked my humans (as I was told by my own mother as a child). I instantly felt impassioned and became vegan.

It was easy for me to give up meat, mostly because I didn’t love it to begin with (except bacon, of course). The little milk I used I replaced with plant milk with zero effort. There are countless options. Ice cream and yogurt were the same. I just bought a vegan version. Cheese was my only difficulty. I allowed myself 1 “cheat day” a week, and we always ordered pizza or calzones. On week 4 of “cheating,” as I was eating the cheese filled calzone, I became disgusted. And that was the last I ever ate of dairy. 

Real Life: I'm a Vegan and Animal Rights Advocate

Walk us through a typical day’s meals. What do you and Simon eat? What are your favorite snacks?

We eat very simply partially because it is healthiest, partially for cost, and partially for time! I want to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. I don’t want to waste my time thinking about food. I want to be enjoying life with my son.

I make oatmeal every morning, topped with bananas, some other fruit (changes seasonally), nuts, seeds, cinnamon and cardamom. We have green smoothies everyday around lunchtime. I put bananas, dates, water, spinach, celery, hempseeds, spirulina, and barley grass juice powder in them. Then dinner is either grains and legumes and veggies, or potatoes and a veggie, pasta with legumes and veggies, soup made with legumes and veggies. 🙂 I think you get the point.

Simon and I LOVE food, we eat constantly, and I occasionally make something “fancy.” Tomorrow I am going to make vegan Mac and cheese, which involves many ingredients, but that’s because we have no plans tomorrow, and we’ll have a relaxing day at home.

Real Life: I'm a Vegan and Animal Rights Advocate

Is cooking vegan a lot of work?

It can be if you want it to be, just like non-vegan home cooking.

I think that in the beginning there is a transition period. You are learning what new ingredients are, how to replace eggs in baking, how to scramble tofu, things like that. You may be following more recipes and reading more about food, which can be time consuming.

That all passes. Your life in the kitchen becomes second nature as it once was.

I think it is helpful to have a friend or acquaintance to help you with questions you have, maybe someone to show you around the grocery store to show you new foods. I had a friend like this and it was VERY helpful. I would text her the craziest questions! Vegans (for the most part) all just want to help! I would be ecstatic if someone asked me about veganism and wanted to know more, or wanted help transitioning! I could do it all day everyday!

Is veganism expensive? How can people with limited budgets eat vegan foods?

Eating vegan is not expensive at all. Simon and I eat predominately whole plant foods. This means food in their whole form. Food from the produce section, and grains, legumes, nuts and seeds from the bulk section. We purchase almost nothing from the aisles of a grocery store besides occasional pasta, very few condiments/sauces and occasional baking items like flour or chocolate chips.

We definitely eat at restaurants occasionally, and buy special treats at the grocery store or donut shop, but they are not a staple in our life.

So my advice for being vegan on a budget is to eat whole plant foods. Grains, legumes, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. They are the cheapest foods on the planet.

Also buying food in bilk can sometimes save you money, and I mean large quantity, not bulk section (although that too). We buy bananas by the case for a 10% discount. In the summer, we buy mangoes from the Asian markets because they are cheapest. 

How do you ensure you’re getting the right nutrients on a vegan diet?

Months after I had been vegan I still had that creeping thought questioning… AM I getting everything I need? 

I had a blood test done, and everything was in perfect range besides vitamin D-3, which the majority of the world should be supplementing, so I do now. I also periodically checked On this website you can type in all the food you eat in a day and each time you add something it adjusts the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, lipids, fiber, everything so you can see how much you have already ingested and how much more (or less) you need to eat. It is a wonderful and easy to use website. You just type in banana, and fills in the charts accordingly. Now I am confident. I know Simon and I are getting everything we need, and it’s not even a question in my mind.

Also, this isn’t scientific, but I FEEL amazing. I have energy, my body is in great shape, my hair grows faster, my skin is clearer. The physical benefits are noticeable. I will be 36 in 3 days and I feel better and I am stronger than I every have been.

Real Life: I'm a Vegan and Animal Rights Advocate

In addition to being vegan, do you participate in animal rights advocacy?

Simon and I do very little animal rights advocacy, mainly because of Simon’s age. We have done a protest, we volunteered at Veg Fest, we once cut up donated fur coats to send to animal shelters and rehabilitation centers for animals to use as blankets and snuggle with. We have an Instagram which I try to exclusively relate all photos to veganism in someway, while also showing how “normal” we are. We have visited 7 different farm animal sanctuaries, some multiple times. I think it’s important for him to see the animals that would be killed if we ate them, and also to see how wonderful it is that there are other vegans in the world doing more than us and saving lives. 

If I was not a mother, I imagine my life would be very different. I would be travelling around the world volunteering at all kinds of organizations helping animals and humans. I would protest everywhere, maybe even go inside slaughterhouses and factory farms and film so outsiders could see what horrible conditions it is for animals and humans alike.

I know as Simon gets older we will be able to do more. I want to take him to a vigil where we stand outside a slaughter house to bear witness to the animals arriving on trucks, and I want to feed meals to people in need (the organization I have in mind accepts 5 year olds….so soon!).

When he is much older perhaps we will do the traveling and undercover work I dream of. For now we do what I think is appropriate.

We also do little things that aren’t advocacy, but just kindness. We break for squirrels, make bird feeders, we plant flowers for pollinators, and we give what we can to the homeless. We learn together about the problems of the world and talk about how we can fix them, and how we can help others to do the same.

Real Life: I'm a Vegan and Animal Rights Advocate

Where do you find your favorite vegan recipes?

Veganomicon was my very first vegan cookbook. It’s great because it explains recipes in detail for beginners, like WHY you are doing a certain step or using a certain ingredient. It also contains a chickpea cutlet recipe that is delicious!

The cookbook I used more than any other for the first 3 years of being Vegan is Chloe Coscarelli’s cookbook, Chloe’s Kitchen. (Her dessert and Italian ones are great too!) She has recipes for so many dishes that I think most people ate previously, in a non-vegan form. Dips, poppers, potato skins, meatballs, wontons, soups, salads, pasta, pizza, burgers, tacos, meatloaf, a pineapple rice that I swear I ate once a week for months, cinnamon buns, cake, cookies, brownies. Everything. I have made almost every recipe in the book multiple times.

The Forks Over Knives cookbook is great if you want to also eat healthier than just standard vegan food or processed vegan food. The cookbook uses no oil, and most recipes use maple syrup instead of sugar.

Plant Powered Families is another good one.

And another favorite is the Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids! The recipes are so simple, but still delicious. I have definitely used it for dinner recipes!

YouTube is another great place to find recipes. The Happy Pear is really great and even has a lot of 5 minute recipes, they are all usually pretty healthy too. I used to follow Cheap Lazy Vegan on YouTube too. There must be thousands of vegan YouTubers to choose from.

Where are your favorite places to get vegan food in the Twin Cities?

Oh boy! So many option in the Twin CIties, and I haven’t even been to them all yet in the year+ we’ve lived here! I recommend Search Minneapolis or St Paul. You can search any city in the world on this website. They will show vegan, vegetarian and “regular” restaurants with vegan options!

Lauren’s Mini-Guide to Vegan Dining in the Twin Cities

Pizza: The best pizza is Pizza Nea (although Parkway, Pizza Luce and Blaze Pizza all have options. Parkway recently came out with an all vegan menu!)

Sweets: Glam Doll donuts has a whole case of vegan donuts. Totally Baked Donuts has vegan and gluten-free donuts. Crepe and Spoon has the best ice cream I have ever tasted and great crepes. Almost the entire place is vegan.

Great for Both Vegans and Non-Vegans: Modern Times Café has great vegan food that I am confident a non-vegan would love. Seward Café is good for non-vegans too. Both these restaurants have breakfast options. Foxy Falafel has great Vegan options.

International: We have tried and loved Namaste CaféGandhi MahalGorkha Palace, Jasmine 26, Midori’s Floating World Café, and Victor’s 1959 Café.

Quick Meals To-Go: Evan’s Organic is GREAT! It is in the skyway in St Paul. Only open until 2:30 I think, but walking distance from the Children’s Museum so a nice lunch for those days! I had tacos and Simon grilled Vegan cheese, both were amazing!

The co-ops always have items in the hot bar that are vegan. Whole Foods, The Wedge and Seward Co-op all had vegan menus you could order for the holidays for catering. 

Best Vegan… Butcher? I almost forgot to mention Herbivorous Butcher! They are not a restaurant, just a butcher and “cheese” shop that is vegan. We rarely buy from there, in fact I have never gone in a bought “meat” (just a sandwich occasionally) but this is a great zero waste option because the meat is loose in the case as in a butcher shop and they wrap it in paper, but I am sure they would be more than happy to pack your “meat” in a Tupperware container you bring in yourself.

Best Overall: Eureka Compass. I like the food the best, and I also love that the owner takes it a step further by making farm to table food. He buys from a local farmer and whatever the farmer grows is what is on the menu. The food he gets from the co-op he picks up on his BIKE! He also welcomes you to bring your own plate or bag so he doesn’t waste the bag or paper plate serving you. 

Thanks Lauren! I can personally attest that the vegan recipes from Lauren’s cookbook recommendations are amaaazing… even the carnivorous members of my family take seconds (and thirds). You can follow Lauren on Instagram for more vegan inspiration and pictures of delicious vegan food!  

Do you have any questions about veganism? Want advice on scaling back your meat consumption? Ask us in the comments! 

Jenna Bergendahl is a homeschooling mom of three in Minneapolis. She loves biking, camping with her husband and kids, and staying up late reading sci-fi novels. In 2018 she’s taking on a zero waste challenge, trying out veganism, and catching up on episodes of Game of Thrones. She’s also the editor of Zeroish.

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