Temporarily Vegan: The Recap

Jul 20, 2011 5 Comments by EcoFlirt

The experiment: Could I go vegan for three days? I’m a cheese fiend, a seafood lover, an ice cream connoisseur. The shocking result: Eating vegan was the easiest part. It was everything else that got tricky.

Preparing to go vegan was harder than going vegan. Prior to starting, I surrounded myself with books, all of which reiterated the same things: A vegan diet is easy! And so inexpensive! I’d like to protest both points. While some foods were obvious, others were surprising. Honey? Not vegan. Wine? Most of that isn’t either. One book that extolled the convenience of vegan foods then suggested recipes including umeboshi vinegar, burdock, kombu seaweed, and Gomashio. You know, the staples. Thanks to Google and helpful vegan bloggers, however, I soon had a semi-recognizable grocery list.

While veteran vegans know how to work the diet, it’s intimidating for a newbie. It felt like the first day in a foreign country when basic customs seem embarrassingly confusing. To extend the travel analogy, the prices made me feel like I was shopping in Euros. The maple sugar in one recipe was $15 for a small bag. Of sugar. Not happening. I had to pay MORE for soy ice cream than real ice cream. Part of me died at that moment. I wandered the aisles of Trader Joe’s, EarthFare, Healthy Home Market, and Harris Teeter fighting sticker shock and reading fatigue. As I shopped and became hungry and cranky, I began to harbor the paranoid suspicion that veganism was created to omit anything that brought me joy.

Seeking the silver lining, I changed perspectives to see the 72-hour vegan experiment as a challenge, and I do love a challenge. I rethought how I cook — all those ingredients I mindlessly throw together had to be scrutinized and often substituted. It inspired culinary creativity. I made a yummy vegan pizza with a homemade sauce and Trader Joe’s soy chorizo (love that stuff!). Even the dreaded vegan cheese wasn’t a showstopper because everything else had so much flavor: tomatoes, peppers, and herbs from my garden, the fresh whole wheat crust. By taking away my favorite part — real cheese — I paid more attention to the rest. That was the lesson: instead of focusing on what I couldn’t use, I focused on ingredients I neglected previously. At no point was I hungry or dissatisfied. It was a delicious few days. (Really.) There was even vegan junk food — chocolate peanut butter cups that were divine. (Really.)

As I became more confident with vegan recipes, the focus shifted again. The books sparked a lot of thought about what I eat and why. If you think about food too long, things get weird. While the vegan diet seemed very restrictive at first, I imagined if everyone around me had always eaten vegan. Would I break with cultural tradition to ponder what cut-up pig would taste like? Or eye the udder of a cow and think, Hey, I’d like to drink from that? Highly unlikely.

So the big question: why do we eat what we eat? Why do we find some things unthinkable and others acceptable? For example, gelatin — which normally contains animal parts and is a vegan no-no — can now be made from human parts. Would you eat human-derived gelatin? Why? Also, they can make artificial meat made from human feces. Would you eat that? Is eating poop more gross than eating an animal? What if that animal was a dog? If you realized your diet was envrionmentally destructive, would you change it? What about a diet that’s unhealthy? Or does taste trump all?

AGHH! It’s enough to make you ditch food for whiskey.

Let’s clear all judgment and embrace the confusion and moral ambiguity of it all, though. I’m not advocating one diet over another; I’m advocating conversation, not conversion. None of us can claim moral high ground here. We all make compromises; we can all admit hypocrisy. For example, myself: From animal and environmental perspectives, I feel that eating meal is wrong and have almost excluded it — but show me a cheeseburger at a summer BBQ and my resolve melts like cheddar. But would I kill a cow? Never. Would I eat a cow if someone else killed it? Sometimes, especially if it’s medium rare with a sharp cheddar. That’s so morally reprehensible. And delicious. While I’d love to go local and sustainable for all my food, the budget doesn’t allow for it – grocery stores fill the gaps. We have lines to draw based on culture and ethical code — not to mention budget, convenience, and personal taste. It’s an interesting question to ponder: Why do we eat what we eat? Where are our compromises? What are our priorities?

And here I thought the hardest part of the weekend would be the lack of cheese.

This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing subject. The purpose of this blog is to show the power of small steps, of experimentation. When we have these conversations about diet, think of them as an opportunity to change just a little bit. Do we need to adjust our diet — even slightly — to align with our priorities? Perhaps a Meatless Monday? A pledge to buy 10% local foods? Weekday vegetarian? We don’t have to do it all to accomplish a lot.

So now my three days of vegan eating are over. Somehow, though, much of the foods I eat are still vegan: new habits die hard as well, I suppose. But tonight, there will be ice cream. Nothing pairs better with moral quandary than real vanilla bean ice cream.

Front, Green Living

5 Responses to “Temporarily Vegan: The Recap”

  1. Tricia says:

    Hmm, so much food for thought :) I commend your 72 hour experiment! Truly, I appreciate most the new insights and questions I’m asking myself about what I eat and WHY??

  2. Jacquie says:

    When I read all about what you had to go through to get sstarted on the Vegan experiment I have to say I was overwhelmed. So much
    work and research had to go in to this. I am trying to be more conscious of what I am eating. Vegetarian way more so that Vegan.
    I admire you for trying this. Am anxiou to see how your body responded to this—-Loved reading you blog about your weekend-
    You gave me “food for thought” :-)

  3. EcoFlirt says:

    Thank you for the feedback! Glad you both liked it. It’s funny that I did this experiment to learn about vegan eating, but in the end, I learned more about non-vegan eating. There were many moments of, “Hold on, there are animal products in THAT?” and “Cheese production does WHAT?” I wish that as a society we’d stop talking about food merely in terms of calories and fat — so many other aspects are more important than how we look. It was amazing how quickly the diet progressed from difficult to piece-of-cake. It’s all a matter of habit, I suppose. If you’re interested in challenging your own diet, I highly recommend reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Such interesting fodder for conversation!

  4. Al says:

    I enjoyed reading about your experiment and all the questions it led to. I have some questions, too. If a vegan diet tends to rely heavily on processed foods like fake cheese and various soy products, isn’t that problematic? Does substituting soy for meat and dairy just exchange one environment-wrecking agribusiness for another? And what IS arrowroot, anyway? (And did you eat any?)

  5. EcoFlirt says:

    Great questions! I had similar ones! Would it be more or less environmentally destructive to buy cheese from a local sustainable farm than to buy vegan cheese that’s been processed in another city and transported here? I’m not sure. The more details we consider, the more slippery everything seems. This is why the only viewpoint I reject is the black-and-white mentality of “this diet is good and that diet is bad.” It’s harder than that.

    I wouldn’t say that the vegan diet relies heavily on processed food. My error on the first day was trying to replicate non-vegan foods in a vegan way, and that probably involved more processed foods filling in as pinch hitters. The majority of vegan recipes I found relied far more on whole foods than general recipes.

    To return to your subject of trading one bad for another while addressing environmental problems… Some of the books on the vegan diet painted with a broad brush. For example, eggs are bad because of the industrial farm complex that wreaks environmental havoc and animal cruelty on egg-laying hens (clipped beaks, cramped cages, growth hormones, etc.). I’ve visited the farm my eggs come from — a small local farm that uses the same portable chicken cages that are used by Joel Salatin in Omnivore’s Dilemma: they get sun, grass, room to move, and no hormones or antibiotics (shout-out to Windy Hill Farm!). What then? Perhaps there are multiple ways to address this issue: not eating eggs or supporting sustainable farms and raising the standards and penalties for factory farms. The activist part of me felt uncomfortable with the notion of “industrial farms are environmental nightmares, so don’t eat eggs” — there’s a role for opting out, sure, but there’s also a role for opting in and fighting the system by shopping elsewhere and raising awareness. The vegan option is a worthwhile and powerful option from an environmental perspective, but I think there are other options, too.

    It’s crazy how often we’re having food conversations in our house and with our friends now. That has been the best outcome of this experiment (well that and the peanut butter cups).

    I never did try arrowroot!