Mention to a few friends that you are going vegan. You’ll find out who your friends are pretty quickly, as I did for the month that I adhered to the strict rules of a vegan diet.
I decided to cut out all animal products and go vegan for a month because I felt I couldn’t cover the topic without having the experience. A month seemed like an appropriate amount of time, but I discovered it wasn’t, especially if I would continue feeling as good as I did.
Vegans get a bad rap, considered fanatics by some because they take vegetarian a step further. While vegetarians generally will consume eggs and dairy, vegans don’t eat any product created by an animal. For the strictest vegans, this includes insects, which means no honey.
To be a vegan, or at least start on the journey, you really do have to be dedicated. It isn’t enough to assume you know what’s in the food you eat every day. Start reading package labels and you’ll find that dairy appears in many more products than you’d expect.
Take soy yogurt, for example. I searched all over to find soy yogurt to replace what I figured I would miss the most. What I found was that many soy yogurts include milk in the ingredients added with the cultures.
The month was lonely as far as eating out. Butter is hidden in many otherwise innocuous sauces. I found solace in Southern Indian food – hold the yogurt – falafel, and simple vegetable/tofu stir-fries at Chinese restaurants. Most other restaurants were just too difficult, and while some friends were fascinated by the way I would question servers about the ingredients in each dish, most found it too difficult to think of places we could go together.
Yet despite all the hassle and the countless hours spent planning meals, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed being vegan. I won’t lie – I made mistakes, such as discovering that the lime-flavored tortilla chips I scarfed down had milk in them, or trying to stay vegan while visiting family in Texas. But I remained fairly diligent.
My body felt great and my skin was shining. I cooked all the time, so not only did I really get into the process of living alone and creating lovely meals for myself, but I was also saving money by not going out or buying processed ingredients.
I went a step further after a week and cleared out all processed foods and “white” products in my house, switching to whole grains. White sugar is a hot topic among vegans, since it can be manufactured where animal products are manufactured. I switched to agave nectar to be sure.
Because of the absence of animal fat in my diet, hunger could come on quickly, so I found it best to be prepared. I created salads and portioned them out so they were at the ready. I kept fresh fruit on hand and would cut up a big bowl every morning to nibble throughout the day. I took the time to supreme grapefruits, craft my own falafel (made lower in fat by baking) and preroll egg rolls so they were ready to pop in the oven. I cooked a pot of Indian dal to have on hand, creamy, filling and full of flavor.
I was generous with spices – I wanted my dishes fresh and vibrant. And any of them could be made into a complete meal: the falafel stuffed into whole wheat pita and crammed with fresh vegetables, the egg rolls served with lightly steamed Chinese broccoli drizzled with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, and the dal served alongside brown rice and a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes.
When I spoke with friends about what I was doing, I did realize one thing: The fact that I knew how to cook, and enjoyed it, certainly helped. Most felt they couldn’t make a lifestyle of having to cook all the time. Then they saw my boundless energy, and reconsidered. Amanda Berne