Distraction contributor took on the challenge of being vegan for a week. She lived to tell her tale and the lessons she learned along the way:
When I accepted the challenge of being vegan for a week, I was excited. I’ve flirted with vegetarianism before, as I personally don’t eat a lot of meat anyways. Being vegan, however, proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. The obstacles emerged in various forms, and I quickly learned to read labels and be mindful about everything around me, from food to foot cream.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with “veganism”, in a nutshell it means that you don’t eat any animal products. This means not only do vegans avoid meat, but they also abstain from eggs and dairy. If you really think about it, animal products can be found in many of the foods that are most convenient; lattes, sandwiches with a slice of cheese, eggs at breakfast, yogurt and butter are all off the table for vegans. Foods cooked in animal fat are also against the vegan lifestyle, so even French fries can be questionable.
I was relatively unprepared for this challenge, which made the week more difficult. Sure, I already drink almond milk instead of cow’s milk, and I had plenty of beans, hummus, and nuts on hand, but I didn’t think about how many food products have non-vegan ingredients. I assumed that my decently healthy processed goods like cereal and bread would be fair game for the challenge. I was wrong.
Bread has eggs. Baked goods have butter. Some cereals have eggs. Mayonnaise is made with egg whites. These were just a few of the harsh realities I was subjected to during my week of being vegan. Admittedly, the week wouldn’t have been as challenging if I had taken the time to stock up on vegan-friendly foods before embarking on my vegan quest, but hindsight is 20-20. I made do with what I had, which made for a more eye-opening experience. And after all, isn’t that the point of a challenge?
As I adjusted to eating vegan, I actually enjoyed experimenting with familiar recipes to make them vegan-friendly. For example, on a night alone when I had very little to work with for dinner, I found a recipe online for vegan Alfredo sauce and substituted some of my own ingredients for those that I was missing. It ended up being a combination of pureed cashews, coconut milk, lemon juice and spices, which wasn’t quite what I was expecting. To my surprise, it was pretty tasty.
I also love to bake, and as a result deemed it necessary to attempt vegan baking. I learned to simplify my recipes a bit, as I didn’t have some of the popular vegan-friendly ingredients like coconut oil and Earth Balance (a butter substitute) on hand. My favorite recipe ended up being the most simple: banana oat cookies. They called for two ingredients, and allowed for any additions that were desirable to the baker. With such wholesome ingredients, these were also probably the healthiest cookies I’ll ever bake. Score one for vegans.
I learned a lot in just one week of being vegan, but one moment that sticks in my memory more than any was when I realized that being vegan isn’t just about food. I was sitting in my room, plugging along on homework, and I reached to put some lotion on my hands. I love my hand lotion; it’s thick, creamy, and smells heavenly. Happily rubbing the lotion into my hands, I glanced at the bottle absentmindedly, and my heart sank. “Made with real milk and honey.” Neither of these ingredients, which are highly valued in the health and beauty world, are vegan. Milk is a no-brainer, but honey, as I had realized earlier in the week, is also technically an animal product. The bees that make it are raised in the captivity of a man-made beehive, and humans harvest their product (honey). It might seem trivial, but after painstakingly examining everything that I ate during the week, this experience was devastating.
It also highlights an important issue that I began to fully understand during the week: when you’re trying to live a certain lifestyle, how far do you go with it? True vegans avoid any animal products. This means no leather, no honey or milk in creams, and one could argue that even yeast is non-vegan, so beer and egg-free, dairy-free breads are off limits.
As with anything in life, it’s important to remember what your personal goals are when re-examining your lifestyle. Many vegans live the life they do because they are advocates of animal rights, and others do it for health reasons. Being vegan is challenging, but certainly not impossible. I value the lessons that I learned during my vegan week, and I now have new goals to incorporate into my daily life. I’m going to focus on finding humane sources for the animal products that I buy, but also on consuming fewer animal products in general. I also enjoyed the creative aspect of cooking vegan-friendly meals, and I’d like to release that creativity on a regular basis. Ultimately, the choice of being vegan is up to the individual, and if you’re going to give it shot, do your homework ahead of time.
December 6th, 2013
Original column can be viewed here