Becoming mostly-vegan ~ Following an authority I could trust

Post two in an eight post series.

When we got married there was really no discussion about who would do most of the cooking in our house. It was going to be me.

We discussed a lot of things before getting married. We talked about home educating our future children, we talked about money and finances, we "scored well" on a values-compatibility test taken as part of our pre-marital counselling.

Before getting married we decided I would stay home with our kids and Damien would financially support our family, as least for the foundational years of our children's lives. We held traditional ideas about gender roles in marriage and our personalities and ambitions didn't conflict with those gender roles.

I don't remember that we even talked about who would cook, it would be me, of course. If I was home all day with the kids and Damien was out at a job, coming home at 6pm, it simply made sense to us that I would prepare most of our meals.

Even the three years before we had kids, while I was working part-time and finishing my degree, also part-time, I did most of the cooking. I wanted to be a homemaker and cooking seemed part of that job.

During his young adult years Damien had eczema and other allergic conditions. This was back in the 90's and there wasn't the same kind of information or diet plans available for autoimmune conditions. But Damien is a researcher and a deep diver and cares about his bodily well-being. And so he didn't accept the "there is no cure" answer for eczema, given at the time.

He tried various elimination diets and his research led him to the dairy connection.

During this time, early in our marriage, I picked up a cookbook at a discount book sale. I didn't look through it much before purchasing, it was only a buck or two, but the title intrigued me 300 Delicious Low-Fat, Plant-Based Recipes.

This was the late nineties so low-fat diets were the healthy way to eat. And we were already eating a low-fat diet - skim milk, fat-reduced this and that.

I started to read through the cookbook. I was always looking for new recipes in those days, and came to find out the author, a board-certified medical doctor, advocated no animal products, whatsoever. I was shocked. I would actually cross out the "soymilk" listed in the ingredients of some recipes and replace with "skim milk".

Damien wanted to try going dairy-free in our home but I was pregnant with Celine at the time, and no way Hosea was I going against all the advice given to pregnant women to consume dairy products. Even my midwife told me I should eat more ice cream. (I didn't gain a lot of weight with my babies. And I think she was trying to fatten me up.)

When Celine was one year old we moved to New Jersey. We drove across the continent in that move and it felt like we ate one heavy roadside restaurant meal after another. We felt pretty gross when we arrived in NJ, just in time for the heat and humidity of July 4th.

Damien was still struggling with eczema. That "crazy" cookbook I bought had introduced him to the McDougall Diet and he was really intrigued, we both felt we needed to re-boot our diet after our cross-continent move and I said sure, why not?

All the recommendations we read (in books those days, not the Internet) were based on sound evidence. The stories of people's health transformations were convincing and compelling. I didn't want my husband to suffer anymore. And so even though I was pregnant with baby number two, we jumped ship from the standard North American diet (our low-fat, healthy version) to a low-fat vegan diet, specifically following Dr. McDougall's recommendations.

I love Damien, then and now, and I wanted to be a good wife and support his health and his beliefs. I was the cook of the household and if plant-based eating was going to work for us, I had to be on board. Although it took me almost 2 years to come around to the idea from when I was pregnant with Celine, I jumped in wholeheartedly. One of my callings is to support my husband and if this was what he wanted and would address his health issues, then yes, I'd do it.

It was a new challenge but it wasn't all that hard in a community context because we had moved far away from our family and all the meals-based family gatherings that come with that. We just struck out on our own.

Looking back on this part of the story, I love us so much. Our determination and courage, our "togetherness" in forging a new trail in our family. We were walking where no one in our families of origin had gone before. We were doing the same thing with home births and homeschooling and it just felt right. We were becoming the Damien & Renee Tougas family.

Damien's health improved, the "incurable" eczema vanished. Damien lost weight. We were young and healthy. And I was cooking to support this vision. I was feeding my family well and I felt good about myself doing that.

At times, I also felt isolated and alone, in the broader culture, always having to return to my convictions over and over again, internally, in the face of that resistance. I didn't have familial resistance because of the distance between us but I live in North America, vegan is not normal, and I felt the cultural disconnect.

But I have a strong give-a-middle-finger-to-the-system bent in me. And this tendency of mine serves me well every time I decide to stand against the flow.

My personality type plays a lot into when and how I will make decisions that go against the norm.

If you're familiar with the Enneagram, I identify most strongly as type 6 and my nature is to align myself with trusted authorities to find a path to security. However, I will also counter or oppose this alignment if I feel convicted about something. I believe this is a self-defense mechanism against irrational loyality and misplaced alliances, which can be a weakness of type 6.

When it came to changing our diet, seventeen years ago, I internally had to align myself with a new authority in order to feel confident enough in the face of cultural criticism and resistance. Aligning with that authority gave me a sense of security in what I was doing. And that authority was my husband.

Although I'm naturally inclined to follow the authority of those I trust, and to be very loyal those people, when it came to my husband I was helped along by my religious beliefs. Following my husband in diet preference (and other things) fit so well with the Christian teaching of wives submitting to husbands. This was a double whammy for me of security found in following authority, the authority of the Bible and the authority of my husband. Talk about finding safety and comfort!

I had an authority I could trust (my husband), supported by my religious beliefs, and he had found an authority we could trust (doctors advocating a vegan diet), and everything lined up rather well for me. Follow my husband, follow my faith, and all will be well.

And it was well for quite a few years.

Next post: Falling apart.

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