This is an everyday girl’s chronicle into the jungles of veganism. It’s for skeptics, the dabblers, the curious, the tolerant, the intolerant – for anyone who’s peered over the fence of conventional eating and wondered just what the hell was growing in the neighbor’s lawn. For anyone who wants to shake up their the burgers and fries.
Welcome to the world of veganism. Where tempers run high, passions are fiery, and quinoa rules all.
The vegans say that it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle. Here’s what happened to me.
“What do you think about me going vegan for three months and then writing about it?” I asked my boyfriend Alan, around Christmas time.
“What do you think about being single?”
Although my boyfriend was usually supportive of my adventures, he clearly had some reservations about this one.
“What about protein,” he said.
“That’s what beans are for,” I replied, “and tofu, and…that, you know, kind of stuff. Edamame.”
He sighed, “And what about your vitamin intake. Minerals.”
“I’m going to do research. Lots of research. And,” I said grandly, “I will take a multi-vitamin.”
“You won’t be able to eat any dairy products.”
“I know,” I said defensively. “I know that.”
“No pizza, no cheese, no milk, no sashimi, no French toast, no yogurt-“
“I know! I know that.”
Alan sighed and looked resigned. “I absolutely do not support you in this. You’re going to become a pain in the ass at restaurants. But it’s your life, sweetcheeks. Do what you gotta do.”
And thus began my plans for this culinary adventure. Going vegan had been in the back of my mind for a couple years. Since my early twenties, I had gradually been curtailing the kinds of food that I eat. First, there was the decision to not eat cows, followed by the no pigs, then the no mammals. A couple years later, no chicken. And then, I’d waffled on fish. Testing the waters of being a full-on vegan felt like my personal dietary evolutionary imperative. I didn’t know if it was something that I would ultimately live by, but I wanted to give it a shot.
Grudgingly though, I did understand Alan’s caution. We were both huge foodies and one of our joys was going out and eating delicious food together. Cheese, for example, would be a difficult stumbling block. What Italian or French meal is complete without fabulous cheese?
Because cheese is an indirect animal product, I hadn’t had the passionate need to eradicate it from my diet. Vegans might disapprove of my ambivalence, but my interest in exploring life sans dairy came from an mental rather than a visceral resistance. Intellectually, I understood that animal fats aren’t the best things to eat and that milk was made for babies, not adults. But there was still a large part of me that just loved the bite of sharp cheddar, the creaminess of goat cheese, and the tang of Roquefort.
Despite these concerns though, I did expect a little more leeway from Alan, since he was a pseudo-vegetarian like me who consumed fish. Unlike me, though, he also ate kobe meatballs or fois gras when they happened to be nearby. We might call him a slutty pesco-vegetarian. The more stringent of the vegetarian community frown upon terms like “pesco-vegetarian” or “ovo-vegetarian,” saying that you can’t be a vegetarian if you dabble in fish or fowl. But whatever. I say they still get credit.
Like many others, Alan had taken to radically reducing the amount of meat that crosses his plate for health reasons. His dietary renaissance came after witnessing his grandfather suffer a protracted and difficult death. When Alan asked the doctor what had contributed to his grandfather’s end, one of the factors turned out to be his grandfather’s meat-heavy traditional Croatian diet. Alan immediately swore off almost all kinds of meat in order to prevent against a similar end. But while he may not order steak at restaurants, he has no philosophical problem about actually eating it. When someone else ordered delicious beef cutlets or roast chicken, you can bet that a sampling would find its way over to his plate.
Unlike Alan, I played in the waters of vegetarianism because I love animals and just really don’t like the idea of eating them. After growing up with cats, dogs, rabbits, and guinea pigs, it didn’t take too long before it occurred to me that sheep and cows weren’t so different from my pets. Then I found out that pigs were more intelligent than my three-year old niece, so they wouldn’t do either. Then I got queasy about the calamari and octopi because they’re pretty smart, too (smarter than my cat, which on second thought actually might not be that hard). What intelligence has to do with edibility, I’m not really sure, but I’d rather have my food as oblivious as possible. I waffled on chicken for a long time (there might be the element of a cuteness factor there; fowl are not as cute as mammals), but I finally cut out poultry about two years ago. So now I’m down to eating just fish. And only fish, unlike my occasionally philandering boyfriend.
I’d hesitated from pursuing a vegan lifestyle because of nutritional and, well, aesthetic obstacles. Like sugarplums, the phrases “protein deficiency,” “anemia,” and “good god, no cheese?” ran through my head. Unlike vegetarians, vegans don’t eat or use anything that derives from animals. It’s pretty hard-core. So that means that eggs, dairy, and honey are out. Yes, even bees count as animals. That meant no more pizza, no more omelettes, no more of Grandma’ Vera’s nutloaf or Grandma Kay’s potato gratin. Not to mention no more delicious cheese and crackers. But if I loved animals as much as I professed, surely I could make some adjustments.
Vegan friends of mine seemed to be doing okay. If they could do it, how hard could it be?
This experiment began Christmas 2009.