Monday, August 19, 2013

Babycare: finding natural and vegan alternatives... in France

France may be one of the least veg*an-friendly places to raise a baby.  Vegans are widely regarded as dangerous extremists, or crazy folks.  (Guess which one I am.)  Nevertheless, it is possible to purchase vegan-friendly babycare products even here.

Whether or not you buy natural, cruelty-free products will depend partly on your ability to pay -- not everyone can afford €14.25 for 1 litre of gel wash, or €3.90 for a pack of 70 wipes that will all end up covered in poo.  You can regard these as a sort of selective luxury, however: for our family, it fits into the household budget, since we don't spend any money on booze, cigarettes, nights out, or new clothes (except for baby, that is -- the clothes, not the booze).  Who needs nights out when you can be up all night with a 1-month-old?

Why buy natural?  Not all vegan products are 100% natural, of course (and not all natural products are vegan!).  You can certainly buy cruelty-free without buying petroleum-free or paraben-free.  However, many non-natural products have off-putting effects on our health and on the environment (e.g., petroleum-based creams have been linked to breast cancer and lipoid pneumonia).

Here's my list of plant-based alternatives to common babycare products (and one mamacare item as well).

Natural / vegan babycare alternatives

All-in-one baby wash and shampoo: Douce Nature

This all-in-one soap-free wash leaves baby smelling of calendula and of her own sweet self.  Hypoallergenic and very gentle, so it's suitable for babies with mild eczema.  Bonus points for the brand, which avoids non-vegan ingredients and does not test on animals.

Available in France from bébé-au-naturel.

Babywipes: Alphanova Nature

The packaging specifies that these wipes are "100% végétal".

These are alcohol-free, so you might want to choose a different brand that does contain alcohol, such as Naty Babycare Sensitive Wipes, if your baby often gets bum-rash.  [N.B. I have not been able to verify whether Naty wipes are vegan.]

Oily jelly for bums and other dry spots: Lush Ultrabalm (or home-made blend)

When you need a really thick, oily moisturizer, Lush Ultrabalm does the trick.  We used it on baby's face when she got mild eczema.  It is an effective, earth-friendly (and skin-friendly) alternative to petroleum jelly.

For an excellent (and cheaper) home-made alternative, melt 4/5 measure cocoa butter or shea butter together with 1/5 measure olive oil or other vegetable oil in a bain-marie or microwave.  Store in an an extremely clean glass jar.  (The measures are approximate -- you can adjust to suit your preferred texture.)  This is softer and therefore more convenient to use than cocoa or shea butter alone.  And if you use cocoa butter, your baby will smell like chocolate (for reals).

Moisturizing cleanser for bum area: Gifrer Liniment Oléo-Calcaire

I'm a fan of really simple, effective products like Gifrer's liniment.

This liquid moisturizing cleanser consists of nothing but olive oil and calcium hydroxide -- natural and perfect for vegans.  It's fantastic for gently removing the sticky meconium that babies poo in the first few days of their lives.  And it's a good post-bath moisturizer if needed.

Vegan mothers' nipple cream of choice: pure cocoa butter

Nipple creams soothe sore nipples -- especially in the first few weeks of breastfeeding, when you're getting used to the experience.  Sadly, most commercial nipple creams contain lanolin, an ingredient derived from sheep's wool, and most definitely not vegan.

Cocoa butter does not have the same properties as lanolin; it will not protect your nipples to the same degree.  However, it is good enough for most common-or-garden varieties of sore nipples, keeps your skin supple, and is harmless for baby, according to several pediatricians that we consulted.

I recommend melting a small blob of cocoa butter in your palms and rubbing it on sore nipples after your shower, or more often if needed.  I found it necessary at the beginning, but didn't need it at all after a couple of months.

And no sheep were harmed in the making of these nipples.

That's the complete list of babycare products that I use on a daily basis.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cute outfit for vegan babies

"Les Acrobiotes" -- D.P.A.M. (Du pareil au même)

(The words on the shirt say "Les Acrobiotes" -- a play on words with "Les Acrobates", the acrobats.)

A vegan hospital birth (in France)

For most vegans, in most places on earth, veganism is a challenge: "something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, special effort, etc".  It's a challenge when you're doing your groceries at the supermarket, when you're visiting (non-vegan) friends, when you're getting lunch at school or college or at work.

When I gave up all animal by-products in 2011 (after almost 20 years of ovo-lacto-vegetarianism), I learned to take the challenge for granted as part of my daily life.

And I ended up taking the challenge with me into hospital when I gave birth.

The birth of my daughter was a dramatic event punctuated by an ambulance ride.  Amid rain and flashing lights, we rode to a city about an hour away from our home (and thus, far away from our kitchen, among other necessary comforts).

Our beautiful girl emerged healthy, lovely and awake.  I started breastfeeding right away.  Breastfeeding, and recovering from delivery, make you hungry as hell.

In the recovery room, a ward nurse visited to ask about my dietary needs.  I explained that I would not consume any animal products whatsoever.  Could this be accommodated?  The nurse wasn't sure.  She would talk to the nutritionist to see what was possible.

The nutritionist visited the next day.  I didn't eat animal products?  Then what did I eat?

Ah, the infamous "what do you vegans eat?" question.  Oh, motor oil mostly.  Manilla envelopes.  Mud.

No, the nutritionist said, it would be impossible to feed me if I did not eat animal products.

Could they at least provide me with plain vegetables?  I asked.  She would see what was possible.

France is not known for being open to veganism -- in fact, it's about as open to veganism as the Vatican is to lesbian Buddhist weddings.  That is slowly changing thanks to associations like L214 -- but my home country is, apparently, a place where even hospital nutritionists can't imagine a world without beef.

It turns out that when they ask you about dietary needs, they're mainly asking about whether or not you eat halal.

I was forced to stay in hospital for four days due to medical issues.  I was ravenous.  Every day, my husband took the tram into the nearby city to buy me whatever vegan food he could find.

Dal and rice; avocados; whole-grain bread; and litres and litres of plain soymilk.

There was no desk in the room, only a tiny tray-on-wheels.  I ate in quick gulps and tried to keep the crumbs off the baby.

Throughout my stay, the staff on the ward made the challenge of veganism even more of a challenge.  I was served milk... beans with butter... The ward nurse continued to bring me dairy yogurt as a snack -- and every single time, I had to tell her I would not eat it and did not want it in the room.

One day, the ward nurse came in while I was breastfeeding and demanded to know (and not in a polite way) why I was vegan.  I gave her a nice reply, but... c'mon... I was exhausted and on drugs.  What was my religion? she wanted to know.  (She was wearing a catholic saint's medallion around her neck.)  Many religions have encouraged compassion to animals, I told her.  What was my religion? she kept asking.  She wouldn't even leave when my newborn daughter started crying for attention -- until I kicked her out of the room, wishing I had never been polite to her at all.

France is, in many ways, a profoundly conformist society.  Veganism is a difference that people like this ward nurse may treat as an invitation to harass or interrogate -- as if you turned up to a business meeting wearing a trikini or a clown suit (or a trikini clown suit).

And so the challenge lasted until we could leave the hospital and return to our home, and home-cooked vegan meals.

I have a lot of good things to say about veganism and pregnancy -- that's why I started this blog.  But I have nothing good to say about the way I was treated at the hospital, as a vegan, after my daughter's birth.

So why continue to be vegan under such difficult circumstances?  Why endure the harassment, the ignorance, the indifference and the inconvenience?

Because veganism is an ethical commitment.

Because ethics mean nothing if you stick to them only when they are convenient.

And, for all the challenges, I would bet good money that I ate a much healthier and more nutritious diet than any other patient in that hospital simply by eating the "convenience food" that my husband picked up at the supermarket.

Breastfeeding and parenting have not reduced my commitment to veganism -- they have reinforced it, by giving me greater compassion towards the animals that are kept on dairy farms and egg farms, deprived of normal relationships with their parents and children, kept apart from those they love.

And my advice for vegan moms who give birth in hospital: pack soymilk.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vegan eating for two: third trimester

Breakfast: decaf w/ soymilk + oatmeal w/ protein powder & dried cranberries

Vegan supplements: a multivitamin, an iron pill, and vegetarian fatty acids

Lunch: quinoa w/ olive oil & caramelized garlic + smoky tempeh strips

Lunch, continued: organic mixed salad w/ raspberry vinaigrette + fresh fruit

Snack: decaf chai w/ soymilk + popcorn + chocolate fudge cupcake + 1/2 banana

Dinner: penne w/ caramelized onions and organic basil

Postprandial hot chocolate w/ vegan marshmallows & fresh fruit
As we progress through the third trimester, I feel baby moving a lot more, and I eat a lot more food.

After being vegetarian since age 12, I went completely vegan at age 29, about half a year before getting pregnant.  The adjustment from vegetarianism to veganism was almost as radical as the shift from meat-eating to vegetarianism, because -- as silly as it sounds -- I was so used to relying on cheese.  (Very often, cheese sandwiches are the only vegetarian options in coffeeshops and cafeterias; my workplace sells pizza, whereas it sells exactly zero vegan lunch options.)  However, I could no longer accept the ethical compromise involved in the consumption of dairy products.

Fast-forward to the present, and eating enough for not one but two vegans (me + baby) has become second nature.  Contrary to popular belief, protein is the least of your concerns if you are already used to structuring your meals around vegan sources of protein such as grains, nuts, and beans, including soy products (and unlike non-veg protein -- meat, eggs, dairy products -- vegan sources of protein are basically all good for you).

When you first go vegan, it's easy to underestimate the quantity of fat and salt that you should add to your food in the cooking process, since you may have been used to getting a lot of both from animal products.  Salt and healthy vegan fats are both especially important in pregnancy.  Fats such as olive oil, the oils in flax and chia seeds, etc. are all important sources of nutrients (such as Vitamin E, and omega-3s + 6s, essential to baby's brain development), while pregnant women tend to have higher salt requirements than non-pregnant women, because of the altered fluid balance in their bodies.

I've seen blog posts from former vegans who went back to eating animal products when they got pregnant -- sometimes because of food cravings, sometimes because of hunger, sometimes because of fear, or because of a doctor's poor advice.  All of these problems can be avoided or alleviated if you keep this in mind:

1. Eat enough food.  That means getting enough vegan calories every day.  Pregnant women need more calories.  If you don't eat enough -- calories, protein, fat, salt -- you will get terrible cravings for animal foods.

2. Be proud, not afraid.  You're making a positive ethical choice that you will be able to explain to your child(ren) with pride -- and if you're afraid (that your diet is unhealthy, that others might judge you, etc...) the best remedy is to...

3. Educate yourself.  Learning remedies fear; knowledge remedies ignorance.  You can't argue with your family or your doctor about nutrition unless you're educated about the scientific facts -- and if you're vegan, the facts are in your favor.  Study what it is that you need to eat to get enough of the essential nutrients, and learn how to get those from a vegan diet.  New books on vegan pregnancy make this easier than ever.