For 7 years from the ages of 15 to 22 I was a happy vegetarian. Admittedly, I initially became such in a fit of teenage rebellion against the horrid cooking of stepmother du jour. Though raised by a relatively accomplished carnivore cook, when he chose to take the reins, I, much to my surprise found that my body did not miss meat. This is not to say that my mouth didn’t water at the smell of Sunday bacon frying, but rather that once removed from my diet, meat wasn’t something that I found myself thinking about when walking down the street. Then I was mis-diagnosed with lactose intolerance and when faced with the idea of going vegan or back to meat I went the easier route. Many years later, finding myself writing a food blog resting on the platform of ethical eating, I had to admit that it is difficult to ring that bell as loudly as I would like without ever having tried to walk the vegan road. So, I committed to a month of veganism, which all on its own stretched to six weeks.
Veganism is certainly moving more and more to the mainstream, not least due to several Hollywood stars towing the line, Portman, Phoenix and Penelope Cruz to name but a few. However, any diet choice, no matter how extreme is easy to accomplish when one has the resources available that might not be to the rest of us, like home chefs, and someone else doing the shopping and careful considerations of making sure meals are balanced. But non-celebrities eat vegan too and have for years and there are several great blogs dedicated to vegan eating, The Urban Vegan, VeganYumYum, eat, drink & be vegan.
I am, and can afford to be an ethical eater, especially when it comes to meat. I subscribe to the school of thought of meat as a condiment to a meal and not the star. I consume very little dairy and eat a plant-based diet. Or so I thought. When I decided to go vegan I did it with the focus of doing it as soy free as possible. Too many people who eat vegan merely substitute their meat centric diets with soy versions, and as many studies have shown, soy consumed in large quantities raises estrogen levels, and is one of the most genetically modified plants on the planet. Not to mention, the idea of veganism is to get back in touch with grains and vegetables, not just soy that has been over processed and pressed into meat like slabs and flavored to taste like the very thing one is supposed to be cutting from their diet. I did find it relatively difficult to find a non-soy veggie patty, until I discovered Amy’s California Veggie Burger whose ingredients are grain based.
I spent several weeks reading recipes and making shopping lists. Certainly the most difficult thing was breaking my routines and properly prepping my kitchen for the weeks to come. I allowed myself yeast and honey (some vegans eschew even these ‘animal’ products.) I made myself lots of veggie stock. I purchased a tub of non soy earth balance, gathered my recipes for soups, pastas, salads, hummus etc and pulled the meat plug.
It was much, much easier than I thought possible. And though it was difficult to eat out, it wasn’t impossible, nor is veganism much cheaper. What I did find it was that I had to eat more often and more quickly from the onset of the sensation of hunger. I took to carrying nuts and dried fruit as well as bananas for those moments I found myself out and about longer than I had planned. I discovered that many pizza places make a cheeseless pizza using pesto to add flavor. I found that being a vegan in almost any Asian cuisine is quite simply, easy. I learned to love nut butters again and instead of making cheese toast when I came home from a long day, I spread avocado on whole grain bread for a quick snack. I found myself craving certain kinds of vegetables and reconnected with pasta. I found myself needing less sleep, having more energy, and feeling sharper and quicker all around.
Moreover, I found myself having to admit, that clearly I had been eating far more animal products then I was actually aware of. Now, that the experiment is over and I can eat meat, I have only done so three or four times, and each time noticed how the meat slowed my digestive process, as well as sapped my energy. What I did find myself adding back in was butter, in part because eating responsibly sourced butter is better for me than eating the oil-based substitutes.
This is where the issue of veganism becomes a touchy one. There is a difference between ethical and moral eating. I, for one, am most interested in navigating our food environment to find the path that most works for me and find myself knee jerking against anything that reeks of fanaticism or doctrine. I find it difficult to tolerate a lecture about the conditions of animal death in slaughterhouses, but will listen avidly to any information about how the body best processes food, and what is actually in the ingredients we use for not only fuel but happiness. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A month into the experiment I had lost an entire size without changing my exercise routine in any way.
Over the last two months I have had a few dinner parties, all of them vegan based, the last did have one dish with homemade paneer, not to worry we will get to those recipes soon. On each occasion there was much discussion laced with the tone of surprise about how everyone was satisfied and hadn’t missed meat during the meal at all.
I’m not trying to change your mind, bring you to the dark side, or make you feel guilty, but what I am saying is that veganism isn’t just for the hippies, fanatical or celebrities, it’s for all of us. I can’t recommend highly enough giving it a go, if only so you can rediscover what it is that you actually want to eat versus what you have fallen into the habit of eating. Veganism was an eye opener for me, and I had already fancied my eyes quite open already.