Living la vida vegan: My month of saying good-bye to delicious animals
I’ve only been a vegan for 12 hours, and already I’m running into trouble.
There’s the honey, for one thing — lurking in my breakfast cereal (ingredient No. 3) first thing in the morning. And then glycerin, an ingredient I’ve never before considered threatening, in my midmorning trail mix. (Simply Almonds, Cashews, and Mango, Trader Joe’s? Ha! Not quite.) Turns out the stuff may or may not be animal-derived, and there’s no easy way to check. Who knew? Surely my all-time-favorite, five-ingredient crackers would be a good substitute … Dammit, honey again.
“We have to go to the store again. I can’t eat any of my snacks after all,” I complained to my fiancé, Ted. “Honey is in everything.”
“Is honey seriously out?” he asked, incredulous. “It’s animal throw-up! The bees don’t even want it!”
But it’s a little early to start rationalizing. We’ve just begun our month-long vegan experiment, and I want to get started on the right foot. (I’m proud to report that I had oatmeal instead of cereal for breakfast, and plain old almonds subbed for that trail mix nicely.)
Why go vegan at all? Well, to be honest, I’m curious. Like most of you, I’m fully aware of the environmental and ethical issues surrounding the consumption of animal products; this experiment isn’t about diving into that debate (Sarah Miller did an excellent job of that in her going-veg series). Let’s just go with the premise that gobbling fewer animal products is good for the body and the planet and check that line of discussion at the door.
I’m more interested in the how than the why. I want to find out what happens when a couple of health-conscious-but-steak-appreciating people — including our two dear friends, Laura and Matt, who we have suckered into doing this experiment with us — make the switch to a rather, ahem, radical way of eating in a very meat-based culture. How are we going to feel? Will we all be blessed with a miraculous transformation involving glowing skin, shiny hair, and boundless energy, as I’ve heard some vegans claim? Will we be plagued with “a month of really bad gas,” as one former vegetarian warned? What will be our greatest challenges, temptations, and pitfalls? Is it possible to develop rickets in a month?
We’ve all got concerns about this scheme, mind you. Laura’s worried about avoiding all the easy-access, non-vegan foods out there, from restaurant items to those damn cookies Yvonne always brings to the office. Matt, a true gourmand, doesn’t want to compromise his favorite dishes with dubious substitutions like fake cheese, or skip butter in a butter-centric meal. “I’m just going to focus on perfecting cuisines that are pretty vegan already,” he said. (I foresee a whole lotta curries for these two.) Ted’s concerned about passing out during his daily workouts and “the bloaty feeling that comes from vegan staples.”
Me? Mostly the social complications. I’m going from “Oysters? Sweetbreads? Chili dogs? Whatever, I’ll eat it!” to one of the most restrictive dietary structures out there, and I don’t want to become that pain-in-the-ass guest who needs a separate salad dressing. Or worse, I don’t want to appear ungrateful or rude. Deserved or not, vegans have a rep for being self-righteous divas (c’mon, vegans, I suspect you know this better than anyone), and I’m a little nervous about the label.
That, and cheese. There is no substitute for cheese.
Luckily, I have a willing counselor at my disposal: my friend Rachel, an experienced vegan and blogger for Vegansaurus. Rachel is the kind of non-judgmental person who submits graciously to the third degree every time she goes out to a restaurant (Why don’t you eat meat? Aren’t you worried about getting enough protein? Don’t you really, really want a burger though? What if you were friends with a chicken and she gave you an egg, as, like, a gift? Would you eat it?), so I knew she’d be a good resource.
Rachel identified two possible plans of attack. One, eat everything you’d normally eat, only substitute stuff like textured vegetable protein, vegan pastries, and Vegenaise where appropriate. Two, aim for meals that are already inherently vegan, like quinoa, beans, rice, polenta, and veggies of all stripes. Also: “Put nutritional yeast on everything. Trust me.”
Since we already eat (and love, mind you) a lot of vegan and vegetarian meals anyway, we’re starting with No. 2. And if we wake up in three days gnawing on each other’s arms like half-crazed werewolves? There’s always tofurkey.
We’re also instituting a weekly dinner party/support group with Laura and Matt, and I’m actually looking forward to exploring Seattle’s vegan restaurant scene. (I imagine this experiment would go quite differently in, say, Ted’s hometown of Houston.) I’m not saying there won’t be challenges — we all have book clubs, social dates, camping trips, and, in one case, a weeklong tour with a band on the calendar for the month — but I like to think of changes like these in terms of what I’m adding to my life, not what I can’t have anymore.
I don’t expect to go vegan permanently by the end of this month. But I do hope to gain a fresh appreciation for veggie-forward cooking, learn some new, healthy recipes and techniques, and get into the habit of thinking carefully about what I eat. I’d like to end this experiment not exactly vegan, but a lot more vegan than I was before. But hey, who knows? A magical vegan transformation could go a long way toward changing my mind. And when you’ve got Justin Timberlake on your side, anything can happen.
Been there, done that? Any advice you can share with four rookie vegans would be much appreciated!