(by Coral Rae)
When I was 16, I had a pet lobster that I rescued from the grocery store. His name was Lobby. For as long as I can remember, I’d wanted do this. I’m just such a sucker for animals—cows, pigs, cats, dogs, lizards, fish, mice, you name it. I’m sure I got that affinity from my best friend, aka my mom, the kindest animal lover you’ll ever meet.
I was home-schooled along with my brother, so we grew up really close and got to spend a lot of time with our animals. Mom was known as a “crazy cat lady,” first getting into rescuing cats in her young adult years. We have a cattery in our house with trees and beds—kinda like a cat dream house. There’s a little door for them to come hang out whenever they want, but they also have their own space because my mom and I both are actually pretty allergic to cats.
When I was six years old, I found out what chicken nuggets were made of. I remember this day so well. I was in McDonald’s with one of my cousins, and I asked my mom why chicken nuggets were called that, because it was the same name as baby chickens. “Well, they’re the same thing,” she said, “but they live a long, happy life before we eat them.” I about fainted. I was so shocked that the adorable chickens I knew and loved were on our dinner plates. Apparently, everybody knew, but no one was as outraged as I was. I wanted to tell the whole world, certainly all of my cousins and friends, but my mom stopped me. That’s just the way of life, she explained, it’s how everyone was raised.
As time went on, I did everything in my power to avoid meat, but I couldn’t be fully vegetarian, let alone vegan, because I was a child in a house of meat eaters. It was especially hard when they’d try to tempt me with favorite chocolate desserts. But I’ve always been really close with Ma, and even though she didn’t understand, she tried to support me and find alternatives for me to eat. She knew that I loved mac and cheese and PB&Js, so she always made those for me. I was overjoyed to find out that Burger King made a veggie burger—I had a lot of those bad boys whenever we went out for fast food. Of course, my brother made fun of me; he thought I was a total weirdo for not wanting to eat animals, and we bantered about food all the time. (Sometimes my mom would have to come in and stop our banter.)
At age 14, I became vegetarian. As I was transitioning, I looked at recipes on Pinterest, YouTube, anywhere I could find them, and my mom, who’s an amazing cook, helped me make them. We both learned quite a lot cooking together (singing favorite songs like “Hopelessly Devoted To You” in the kitchen). Five years later, I became vegan. Then an amazing thing happened: Seeing how dedicated I was, and fully educated about the cruelty of the meat and dairy industry, my mom turned over completely. (She’s a huge fan of bees, so finding out how they’re treated was extra inspiration for her.) And under her influence, my dad became vegetarian, and then my brother, and we became a veggie family. Mom preaches to her friends about it, and I could not be prouder of her. We go out for mother-daughter lunches, and I tell her all my gossip, everything that’s going on in my life. I think her becoming vegan made us even closer than we were, which I thought was pretty impossible.
Coral Rae lives in Virginia. She can be found on Instagram at @Corals.sfx.
Vegan "Tuna" Melts
2 cans Spring Water TUNO, drained
1/2 c. plant-based mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s Vegan Dressing & Spread)
3 T. sweet relish
1 t. mustard
1 t. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
8 slices bread of choice vegan cheese (such as Miyoko's Creamery Cashew Milk Mozzarella)
lettuce, tomato, or desired sandwich add-ons
Mix TUNO, mayo, relish, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper.
Mound mixture on 4 slices of bread and top each with cheese. Place open sandwiches and remaining bread in toaster oven, until cheese melts and bread is toasted.
Add toppings and close sandwiches with toasted bread.
Makes 4 sandwiches.