Here I am, with my new leather boots and merino wool shirts. Yet I recently did a 30-day vegan challenge, and at the moment I have no intention to go back to eating eggs and dairy. Let me explain why, and share with you five surprising findings I did while going vegan.
I have been eating a vegetarian diet for several years, albeit with little breaks here and there, such as during my pregnancy and right after giving birth. I also allow myself some exceptions, like the leather boots I bought this year.
The first time I experimented with a vegetarian diet – or a pescatarian diet, to be more precise – I was mainly concerned about the environmental impact of meat. You could say it was a trade-off: I wanted to continue traveling as much as I did, but I knew that planes were the worst form of transport in terms of environmental impact. I read an article that stated that giving up meat for a week equalled a plane trip from Amsterdam to Nice. “That is easy!” I thought. “I could just give up meat for a week and enjoy a vacation without feeling guilty.” And so my vegetarian journey started.
Over the years, I read and watched more about the meat industry, and ethical reasons began to play a role. Hence I shifted towards a vegetarian diet that also excluded fish and other seafood. Lately, I have become increasingly interested in a vegan diet that excludes all animal products, including dairy, eggs, honey and wool. Not only became I aware of the environmental impact of cheese (besides the fact that most cheeses are not even vegetarian), I also learned that the dairy industry is as bad, if not worse, than the meat industry in terms of treatment of animals, and how all male chicks in the egg industry are hatched, discarded or gassed.
Last month I took the leap and decided to go vegan for 30 days. I embarked on this journey with the help of this book. Here are five surprising findings I did along the way.
1. Eating vegan at home is much easier than expected
“I could never give up cheese.” I’m sure I am not the only vegetarian who would say this in conversations about veganism. While my consumption of animal products was not very high, I thought going vegan would just be too extreme and restrictive. I was simply too attached to my breakfast of oatmeal with yogurt, my cheese sandwich and my soft-serve sundae. However, once the arguments to forego dairy and eggs became stronger and stronger in my mind I found out those foods were easily replaced. Now, I happily wake up every morning to a delicious, steaming hot bowl of oatmeal made with soy milk. I discovered that vegan ice cream is actually quite palatable. And my cheese sandwich? Well, there are definitely times I miss cheese and I wouldn’t say I will never eat it again, but there are so many other good foods on this planet! And I haven’t even tried any (store-bought or homemade) vegan cheeses yet.
2. However, social situations and going to restaurants can be awkward
That being said, I struggle with “coming out of the closet”. I don’t expect people to understand my reasons – I didn’t understand them until recently either. I do, however, find it difficult to stand out and be clear about it. I would often rather fit in and eat things I don’t actually want to eat, just to avoid any awkward situations. The result is often more awkward than if I had been clear from the beginning. I am also not sure yet whether to be a vegan only at home or at other people’s places and in restaurants as well. The truth is the social aspect of food cannot be overestimated, and I understand it can be quite offensive if you reject food people made especially for you, let alone expect them to cater to your dietary wishes. Going to a restaurant is slightly different I think, because in the end you pay for your food. However, at least in the Waikato region of New Zealand, vegan options are few and far in between. I know I cannot expect people around me to go only to vegan-friendly places, but not ordering anything while your friends are having dinner isn’t much fun either. I still haven’t figured out how to deal with this.
3. Being a vegetarian is kind of hypocritical
I know I will offend lots of vegetarians out there with this statement, but once I realized how dairy cows and chickens in the egg industry are treated I just couldn’t be vegetarian anymore without feeling like a huge hypocrite. Naturally, this does not include vegetarians who avoid meat for health reasons, but if you are vegetarian because you find it unethical to support the meat industry you are kind of hypocritical. Somehow I never realized that cows needed calfs to keep giving milk. I never wondered what happens to those calfs. Or what happened to the cows when they, after four or five years, did not give as much milk anymore as they used to. Or what happened to the male chicks in the egg industry. Or how are sheep were treated. Or…
4. People will judge you, and you will judge people
Let’s face it, our diets are highly political, especially when you choose one that is not mainstream. And when politics is involved, arguments happen. I don’t want to be judged for my diet, and by no means do I want to judge other people’s diets. Yet I have my reasons to support a plant-based diet, and, call me narrow-minded, but I can’t understand how other people cannot be concerned about the issues that concern me. Not judging other people, restaurant menus, the local meat and dairy culture as well as the big supermarket promos on products of dubious origin is something I need to work on and remind myself of every day.
5. Being vegan can actually be quite fun
Let’s end this on a positive note. The last thing I want you to think is that this 30-day vegan challenge was a bad experience. While doing the challenge, I actually found a renewed interest in cooking and baking. It was wonderful to find out many of my favorite foods don’t need dairy or eggs to taste great and have the right texture. Pancakes without eggs? No problem! Cake without eggs and dairy butter? Delicious! Plant-based risotto? Buon appetito! I admit I still have a lot to discover, but I enjoy finding new ways to make foods. While I am not sure I will ever reach my destination of living a plant-based life, I enjoyed both the experiment as well as finding a path that works for me and my family.