This weekend, I found out that my parents have gone feral.
We haven’t lived in the same city for almost 10 years now, so with months between visits, I have become accustomed to things changing. Jobs come and go. People put on weight, only to have lost it by my next visit. The house gets renovated, new neighbors move in, and haircuts are switched up. Ditto with pets. Ditto with babies.
What I didn’t expect, however, was for my parents to go vegan.
Now, I understand that inciting the wrath of vegans is a pretty serious situation, so I’m going to clarify a few facts early up.
- They are still eating meat on the very rare occasion. So they’re more Paleo. But it’s not as much fun to tease someone about being Paleo, is it?
- They have adopted the vegan diet for health reasons, not to be trendy.
- Even though my parents have become accidental vegans, my mother hasn’t yet become a blue-ribbon, preaching hippie: so please, hold the onslaught of angry vegan tirade. She comes in peace.
- I am vegan friendly. I also come in peace.
For the past few months, there were murmurings on the phone from my mother about this new diet she and my dad were on. Lots of leafy greens, colourful fruit, that sort of thing. As it was for health reasons, it was designed specifically for a particular ailment. There were strict rules, and lots of them.
And yet, nothing clicked until Mum and I were trawling the hallways of Chermside shopping center in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon. We were chatting through recipes for dinner that night, and I was throwing out health bombs left right and center.
"Vegetarian, gluten-free lasagne?"
"We can't have dairy."
"Pastry-free broccoli quiche?"
"We can't have eggs."
"Chinese sticky pork with garlic greens?"
"We can't have meat."
Even for a North Bondi resident, this was a lot of rules. I mean, I live in a suburb that turns out raw chocolate cake, cashew cheese, and green smoothies than contain more green things than Gwyneth Paltrow's veggie drawer.
And I still managed to look like Paula Deen in comparison.
Wide eyed, I turned to my mother. "Mum!" I spluttered. "Are you...are you a vegan?"
Deadpan, she continued walking along. "I don't know what that is."
That night, diagrams were drawn and Wiki pages were read. Ma and Pa Kelly got a very fast education in what it means to be a vegan. Luckily, I spied a few steaks in the freezer and we were able to determine that they were more on the paleo side of things. But very rarely.
All in all, my parents had gone vegan: just in time for the first ever snowstorm to freeze over Hades.
As children, we grew up on the diet of 90's Aussie suburbia. Meat was crumbed, vegetables boiled, potatoes mashed. Mum was a whizz with puff pastry, and as a result we had lots of things in pies - chicken pie, meat pie, veggie pie, fish pie, pie pie. Pies in pies in pies. It was a small miracle her three children emerged a normal weight.
It was the quintessential Aussie diet, and one that remained unchanged for my folks well after all the kids moved out. Every time I visited, the old favourites would be on the menu: apricot chicken, beef stroganoff, roast chook. Gravy. BBQ snags. Potato bake.
All of the meals that smell, taste, and feel like home.
Alas, as we suburban brats evolved into fully fledged millennials, we realised that most of those home-cooked delights were not exactly ranking high on the health scale.
So, like most, I allowed myself to be swept up in to the no-bread-low-gluten-low-fat-no-cheese-lots-of-wine diet of most 20-somethings. I gave up bread, and took up quinoa. I said no to ice cream, but adopted frozen acai bowls with a vengeance. When it came to food fads, I thought I was an expert.
And yet, at 5.30am on Sunday morning at Brisbane's organic food markets, I thought again.
Bleary eyed and pre-caffeinated, I scowled as I struggled to keep pace with my mother's extraordinary dawn energy. My job was to push the double-decker trolley with the buggered wheel from tent to tent, wobbling and rattling as I tried to go cross country with a basket on wheels.
Unbelievable, I thought. I thought I was the green food fanatic.
My mother was officially a health nut. She scrutinised every kale leaf, and turned a nose up at the bagel stand. I mean, the woman didn't even get a coffee. Did I mention it was 5.30am?
Freelee the Banana Girl has caused a vegan storm in a teacup online. (Post continues after video)
Heading home, I took myself upstairs for a power hour of yoga to clear my mind and re-establish my role as Chief Health Nut in the Kelly household. But as I hung upside down on my parent's veranda, I begun to smile. They were happier than they had been in years.
Although they have always both been very fit and healthy people, Mum and Dad now have a newfound glow. They've both lost inches off their waist, and report a newfound clarity to their minds. The health issues - incurable, sadly - have easing symptoms, and are actually showing progress.
This is not an isolated thing.
Recent studies have conclusively linked gut health with everything from mental health issues to diseases like Parkinson's and MS.
One book, 'The Wahls Protocol', preaches the Paleo diet for its extraordinary benefits to those suffering with degenerative disorders. The subject of a number of TED talks, the Wahl's diet has been proven to help people suffering these diseases to regain muscle movement, clearer minds, stronger memory, and a myriad of other benefits. All because of what you eat.
Often called 'your body's second brain', the gut has been the subject of extensive research in recent years.
Neurologist Dr David Perlmutter has deducted that the quality, quantity, and composition of the bacteria in your gut have enormous influence on your brain.
"We're now recognizing from research at our most well-respected institutions from around the globe that the gut bacteria are wielding this very powerful sword of Damocles," he says.
"They determine whether we're going to have a healthy brain or not, whether our brain is going to function well or not, and whether our brain is going to become diseased or not. Who knew that we'd be referring back to the gut?" ('Grain Brain')
After watching Cowspiracy, even this steak-lovin' author had a moment of realisation. Going vegan is better for the environment, better for our bodies, and better for our minds.
It's just better.
Each weekend, my parents have a little ritual in which they go through the monstrous veggie drawer and decide what they want for the week ahead. Dad, who now makes his own green smoothies at work - I'll let that sink in for a moment - puts in special requests for his lunches ("Round tomatoes, Rosemary, not the oval ones. I like the round ones"), whilst Mum sniffs and pokes what to keep, and what to bin.
In a last ditch attempt to establish myself as the Alpha Hippie in the household, I sidled up to Mum as she rooted around in the veggie drawer.
"Hey Mum," I offered slyly. "You know you can use those veggie scraps to plant in the backyard? You can start a whole garden with veggie scraps."
"Oh, don't be silly." she said, wrinkling her nose. "We wouldn't do that."
Ah, well. One step at a time.