In Which I Became an Herbivore: a Personal Experiment in Veganism – Summary Thoughts
Well, friends, I have returned to the way of the omnivore.
The transition was not as quick as might have been expected though; and in fact, almost another fortnight had passed since my two-week experiment in veganism ended and I probably had less than eight ounces of meat in that time. However, with State Fair season upon us that figure has been soundly undone; so before all memory of my vegan days have been purged from my brain by sundry fried stick-food, I thought I would share some of the things that I learned.
First, I should make a few disclaimers. I did not exclude honey as a part of this trial. I know some vegans that eat it, and I find very little grounds for argument against locally raised honey, especially. Also, this was a food-only trial – clothes and personal care products were not included. But beyond these exceptions, I tried to avoid eating anything that consisted of or contained animal products.
So – did I cheat? Well, not knowingly. But as it turns out, animal products are used in all sorts of things that one might not normally expect. I tried to avoid these products if I knew about them, but there were a few times that I threw caution to the wind. Was isinglass (fish bladder) used to clarify my hard cider? Was the powdered sugar in my mojita bleached with animal bone char? Where did the “enzymes” in that sourdough I ate come from? Were the vitamins that were so often used to ‘fortify’ or preserve the packaged food I bought derived from plant sources? The truth is, I didn’t know for sure, and decided I just didn’t care to know. One part of me feels that it’s exactly this sort of nearly religious fastidiousness to the details associated with veganism that prevents the average person from wanting to try it. On the other hand I can’t help but think…. Damn. Shouldn’t I just be able to *know* this shit? And furthermore, are these traces of animal really all that necessary?
Beyond the frustrations with minutae mentioned above, was it hard? And how did it make me feel? In short: it wasn’t that hard. And I felt awesome. But I’ll elaborate a bit.
Though I don’t eat a lot of meat anyway, I do eat some; and I’d certainly never gone anywhere nearly that long without dairy before. Ever. I also rely fairly heavily on eggs for protein and easy dinners. So I was a little nervous. Would I get intense cravings? Would I feel weak from lack of protein? Would I get bored with my options? Would I be hungry and cranky all the time (you do NOT want to see me hangry.)? The truth is, I didn’t experience any of that. I ate full, satisfying, delicious meals. I had a lot of energy – enough to power bike rides, swimming, dancing, and a week of free hot yoga at Core Power. And I just felt good. Healthy. I’ve been blessed with fairly great health, but I do have a few GI issues; and I found that these felt more balanced than usual during my vegan days. Of course, I only did this for 2 weeks, which really isn’t long enough for me to know how it would affect my health/energy long term. But in the short term, I felt totally rad.
I think I owe my good experience to a variety of factors. A) I planned. I did my homework, and really made an effort to eat balanced, healthy meals with a lot of nuts, beans, and whole grains for protein. I wanted to try a lot of different things, so that kept variety in my diet. And I cooked. A lot. B) I made other efforts to be healthy (see: yoga). C) As I’ve mentioned before, I have access to a lot of vegan options here. And D), I’m German. And we can beat most things with stubbornness.
Stubbornness aside though, I think it’s also simply this: the body adjusts. Throughout the trial, as people learned about what I was doing, I would have people tell me something along the lines of “That’s pretty cool. But I could never do it.” The thing is, I didn’t think I could either. But I did, and with the right amount of planning, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much. Because I was eating a lot of fresh veggies and more fiber, I felt satisfied after meals. Sometimes when I got hungry I craved meat or eggs, but after a healthy vegan meal I felt fine. And I found that I rarely craved dairy at all, which was super weird and unexpected. With all the veggie and grain-laden meals, cheese sounded heavy. I love dairy. But I guess I don’t need it. The body adjusts.
Speaking of other people, not only was this trial an interesting personal experiment, but a fascinating social experiment as well. I do not mean by this that I was attempting to willfully manipulate my friends. In fact, at the start of my vegan stint, I fully intended to drag them into this as little as possible, making the necessary sacrifices on my end without forcing others to change on my behalf or rocking the social boat too much. But that’s not exactly what happened.
In social eating situations, despite my assurances that I could make due, my friends would often choose to join in – adjusting recipes and eating vegan with me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; I have wonderful friends, and their willingness to support me in my wacky endeavors is only further evidence of their awesomeness. But I still found it interesting how curious people were. People would message me out of the blue, wanting to know how things were going, and it was certainly the topic of many a conversation I had during that time. Perhaps it was the novelty of the matter, or the fact that it was short-term, and therefore they humored me. Or maybe people just thought I was crazy, and crazy people are interesting. But regardless of their motivations, people were drawn in – more so than I anticipated. So…do we influence, inspire, intrigue, or challenge our friends and peers with our decisions? I suppose it is naïve to believe that we do not.
So to return to a question that I posed on the first day of my veganism: why did I do this? Curiosity, in part; I wanted to understand more about the lifestyle, and I wanted to see how it affected my body. But despite the fact that I labeled this trial a “personal experiment,” our decisions are never made in a vacuum, nor do their consequences remain in one. Our personal, day-to-day decisions can have far-reaching consequences, especially when aggregated to the population level.
And so: what if everyone went vegan for two weeks a year? One week? One day? What if everyone in the U.S. ate vegan for one day a year – Earth Day, or Lights Out Day or a random Monday in August? If everyone in the U.S. went vegan for just one day, it would prevent 2.5 billion pounds of CO2 emissions (8 lbs a day saved in vegan vs. non-vegan diet, multiplied by a population of nearly 312 million) If the same population ate vegan for two weeks? 34.9 billion pounds of C02 saved. This says nothing of the other, more potent green house gasses such as nitrous oxide and methane that would be prevented. It also says nothing about the water saved, the erosion stymied, the antibiotics that would go unused, the land that would go untilled (to grow the crops to feed the animals…), and all the other waste that would never be generated if America abstained from animal products for a fortnight. Or even just a night.
At the end of the day, I think I am still decidedly a “flexitarian,” as the new buzzword goes, which I would define as someone who tries to make the best eating decision possible in the given situation. And sometimes that means eating locally pastured chicken in the winter, instead of fruit salad shipped from South America. And sometimes it means eating meat because…you just really want to eat meat. Veganism isn’t something that I would want to do all the time. But it is something that I can do some of the time. This trial run in herbivory taught me that I don’t need as much meat and dairy as I thought I did, and in fact, might feel better if I cut back on the cheese and replaced it with plants more frequently.
I imagine I will do this experiment again next year, maybe even for longer next time. And in the meantime, I think I’ll be making a conscious effort to incorporate more vegan meals into my diet (after all, they were delicious!) Being vegan gave me a sense of empowerment over my food, because I found that I was stronger than I thought I was. So to people who say “I could never do that” – you can. Start with just one day – go from there.
Lemon Basil Almond Pesto
I sort of combined two recipes that I found, but it’s based mostly on this one.
1 1/2 cups whole almonds, peeled and lightly toasted
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
~4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon…though I think I added the whole thing, for extra lemony-ness)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or to preferred consistency
sea salt to taste (1/2 – 1 tsp or so)
1. Finely grind almonds in a food processor.
2. Add the basil, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Puree. Slowly add the oil and process until smooth. Blend in salt to taste.
3. Consume, with great joy. It makes some wicked bruschetta sprea on toasted sourdough slices, with diced tomatoes tossed in EVOO and salt/peppa.
Makes 2 cups. They won’t last long.