Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vegan Month - Completed!

The challenge: To try out a vegan diet for one month -July 2011
The reason: I'm vegetarian, and have always wondered how hard it would be to be vegan. And, to keep life interesting. I like giving myself little challenges every now and then.
The outcome: A future of much more vegan cooking & eating.

I never really had seriously considered going vegan. I must admit, even I used to think that vegans were just incredibly restrictive and a little too extreme. Maybe living in California has changed my perception a bit, and the idea of just trying out veganism for a month - just to see how hard it would be - seemed like a good one.

Well, I've been pleasantly surprised. For the most part, during my experimental vegan month, I didn't ever feel deprived. Yes, being vegan often requires a little more planning and effort, but vegans also don't just eat twigs & seeds- there's a whole world of vegan options, especially in California. I don't think ever I've made so many new dishes in one month, so it was an exciting experiment!

Some things I learned:
  1. First and foremost- it's not that hard to be vegan! Really! (Well, ok, this is coming from a vegetarian, but it was not NEARLY as restrictive as I thought it would be). Yes, you may need to refuse some things you like (or used to like). But almost always you can a) find a vegan substitute or b) make your own healthier version that will leave you feeling better than if you ate that hunk of cheese or scoop of icecream.
  2. There are so many great vegan blogs- Finding Vegan is one of my new favorite sites.
  3. It's maybe not such a great idea to over-do it on the raw veggies. (We'll just say it can be ... um... unpleasant, digestive and otherwise...)
  4. Fake butter works well in baking, as do egg replacers! You can make a delicious cupcake (including frosting) without any dairy products!
  5. Don't eat your delicious new favorite raw kale salad 4 meals in a row. Oh wait... see #3. Seriously.
  6. It's better to not have the "fake" item and just choose a different ingredient all together- something natural! For example, soy yogurt is gross. I'm sorry, but it is. Better to just pick something that isn't trying to be something else. Also, I learned that Tofutti's Better Than Cream Cheese tastes just like normal cream cheese, but has 5 grams of TRANS fats (the very very bad for your health kind!) Since I usually have low-fat cream cheese, I think that's a step in the wrong direction. Just because something is 'vegan' doesn't automatically mean it is 'healthy'. (The same goes for vegetarian). I think a lot of people confuse that. Reading ingredients & nutrition info is important.
  7. Being vegan isn't just about what you eat- it's a conscious lifestyle choice. I have a lot left to learn about not just vegan eating, but the vegan lifestyle. I'm not sure my "vegan month" was a "real" vegan month, since I was focused on eating vegan, and largely forgot about the other parts. While I have always tried to pick products not tested on animals, I can't say I've carefully scrutinized every household product, personal care item, or piece of clothing I bought. Why shouldn't we all be more informed about everything we eat, use, and wear? The problem is we've gotten lazy (myself included!) and don't put forth the time and effort to find out where our food and products come from. But vegans do.
Life lessons I have a lot of respect for vegans. I think in the past, I've tried to sugar-coat or simplify my reasons for being vegetarian, to avoid long discussions or to make the issue more palatable to the general public. ("I just don't like the taste of meat"- while true, it skirts the topic of a full belief system against animal cruelty). Being a scientist, I completely understand we as humans evolved eating meat; however, the way we eat meat today- where it comes from, how it's obtained, what's in it- is not the same. By being so removed from our food sources, the onus is on us to become informed and make decisions. Going vegan for a month caused me not only to question things, but also to become excited about diet and nutrition again. It's been really refreshing to discover, at 33, that there is still so much I have to learn about something we deem to be as basic as food. Reading ingredients on packages, googling whether something contains animal products, searching for recipes- while time-consuming- was exciting and kind of humbling. Ultimately, what it all meant was that I can still really change and there are still plenty of new things to try. Soooo.... am I going vegan for good?? While that wasn't necessarily the point of my vegan month, I am seriously considering it. Life's a journey, and so are our culinary preferences and choices... so I can't close the book on the possibility. Right now, I'm questioning things (Will I feel guilty about not being vegan? But can I really give up cream cheese and froyo for life? ) I am glad I gave those things up for a while, because I just *might* have been in a yogurt-a-day, cheese & crackers, dairy-high-diet rut. I think my next step is to get more information. I think it's good every now and then to take a step back and really think about what you're eating- whether that's to figure out where it comes from, what's in it, or what it does for your health & well being.

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