Last year, my New Year’s Resolution was to eat vegan for a month. I promptly went back to a diet of animal protein in February, but I did gain some insights.
Eating vegan is not deprivation
When you make it known that you’re eating vegan, the first reaction of many people is an affected sense of concern for your health and well-being. When most people see a guy drinking a Coke, they don’t voice their opinions about how all of that sugar is going to give him diabetes. When people see their friend at the bar gorging on poutine, they don’t beg her to stop, concerned that she’s going down a path that can only lead to a heart attack — they take a bite. But when you tell people you’re eating vegan? Instantly, people make their opinions known.
How are you going to get protein? You’re just not eating enough.
If people aren’t concerned for your health, they feel terrible that you can’t indulge in things like cheese, chocolate ice cream and steak, and try to make you feel terrible about it too. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of a cheeseburger makes my mouth water. But the thing about veganism is there’s a whole world of ingredients and flavors that everyone else is missing. Case in point: I’ve made delicious cranberry porridge, toffee chocolate bars (made with ‘flax eggs’), and soba noodle stir-fry that I would never have tried if I wasn’t specifically eating vegan. As I relax my stance and add foods back into my diet, those recipes (and more) are things I’ll keep in my rotation. You can keep your bland turkey sandwich.
Eating vegan probably means you need to check your privilege
“Check your privilege” is an unpleasant phrase, especially for those of us who have privilege to check. But, what I quickly realized is being a vegan (even a casual one) probably means you’re living in an affluent, or at least middle-class area. You have access to fresh vegetables and expensive grains like quinoa. You have the time to figure out how to use all of that broccoli rabe you got at the market.
Even when I’m not eating vegan, I try to buy predominantly organic produce and meat — and I think it’s important to remember that a lot of people can’t swing that. It’s definitely possible to be a vegan on the cheap: beans and rice are a great example. But unless you’re going to eat beans and rice for the rest of your life, acknowledging your privilege in having access to produce from around the world, even in the midst of a terrible New England winter, is important.
Eating vegan does not mean eating healthy
I decided to be vegan for a month primarily for health reasons: I found myself eating too much sugar and fat, and I thought a diet based around plants would be an easy way to cut calories and eat nutritiously.
Know what’s vegan?
Weird fake cheese.
Sure, veganism meant more vegetables at most meals, but a stressful day at work meant Twizzlers out of the vending machine. I don’t even usually eat Twizzlers or buy things from vending machines. The point is, just because it isn’t made with animals doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If you want healthier eating habits, it’s not as easy as switching from one dietary restriction to the next – there are always workarounds to get the bad stuff your body craves. It’s the same as the organic and all-natural bandwagon: brands slap these labels on packages, and we trick ourselves into trusting that they’re wholesome foods.
So what did I learn as a casual vegan? Just about a year later, I’m in another unhealthy rut. Next stop: the Power of Habit.