Say what? Andrle, there’s no way you’re a vegan. Your favorite foods are cheese and steak and burgers.
Yep, they sure were. But I haven’t had any of that in almost eight weeks. I officially made the vegan decision and gave up meat and animal products on November 12 (2015).
That can’t be true.
It is! My last bite of meat was Canadian bacon for breakfast on the 11th – an attempt to get a healthier (ahhh!) form of protein first thing in the day. I hadn’t been enjoying it the last few times I’d had it, and I didn’t finish it that day. Looking back, it seems like everything the few weeks and months before that had been leading to this decision, but I didn’t even really know or want to realize it at the time.
I had been coming across articles about some very real dangers of consuming pork (by an author and publication with no vegan agenda – I will find it again one day and link to it properly). I knew I was consuming too much red meat and cheese. We were centering our meals on meat, with very little else along with it. We were ordering pizza a couple times a month. I had been trying to cut back on meat in small ways by cutting it out of a few dinners a week, but hadn’t yet made a huge impact.
It started that day (11/11) when I researched quitting dairy products. Nick can no longer comfortably consume them, and I had been noticing I felt gross in various ways after having cheese-heavy meals (pizza) or dairy-heavy beverages (cafe breve, anyone?). I also knew I was consuming a lot of calories from dairy products so I figured it could only help to cut them out.
My research meandered and found myself faced once again with all the reasons to cut not just dairy but also meat and animal products from my diet. I kept reading facts out loud to Nick while he played with our son, and they gradually become less about just dairy avoidance and more about veganism. I felt almost embarrassed (for some reason) when I finally told him that it seemed like everything I was reading was telling me I should go vegan. He was agreeable and although neither of us remembers when he officially went vegan as well it was within that first week. What sold him were all the environmental reasons.
OK. But that was not even eight weeks ago? You seem a little overconfident.
I hear that. I suppose I can’t promise anything about the future, but we are super committed. And the most astounding and unexpected realization I’ve had after just under eight weeks of veganism so far is that even if we decided to no longer be vegan (which really doesn’t seem necessary or likely) we would never want or need to go back to eating the amount of meat we used to eat. Meat isn’t really intruiging anymore. The times I toyed with vegetarianism or veganism in the past I missed meat and my regular foods and meals almost the whole time.
I have always been a little grossed out by sausage, for example, if I let myself think about it. But I suppressed that reaction and ate the italian sausage or bratwurst or pepperoni anyway. Same thing with chicken – especially in nugget or strip form. Now we’ve discovered some good plant-based nuggets, and seriously, the breading and seasoning has ALL the flavor. Why eat who-knows-what in a compacted chicken nugget if the flavor is essentially the same? I’m realizing there’s zero reason to eat those things ever again, especially when there are vegan alternatives. Do I want to eat soy-based sausages or other faux-meats all the time? No way, but if I’m going to eat that sort of thing, why bother with the animal version?
You don’t miss meat or cheese at all? Not even a tiny bit?
I’ve been surprised by how little I’ve actually missed meat or cheese. But there have been about two times I can think of where I’ve struggled. One was earlier on. We were running errands. I was starving, and as we drove past a fast food place – not even one we had ever gone to much – I was filled with a weird sort of nostalgia for how easy it used to be to grab food on the go and how I remembered eating out made me feel. All those triggers are there… fast food is fatty, calorific, salty, greasy… which writing out looks disgusting, but there’s a science behind why fast food is addictive and even if you don’t eat it all the time, it still triggers things in your brain when you eat it. Anyway, it was an interesting and pivotal moment because I was in a space where I could both experience the draw of a fast, easy, cheesy burger and at the same time realize that I wasn’t really hungry for that food, but what I thought I would feel if I ate it: satisfied.
The second time was more recently. I had made shredded chicken for non-vegan family at Christmas, to use up our bag in the deep freezer (alas!) and so they didn’t have to eat vegan the entire visit. It wasn’t appealing the first day, but when we were heating it up for leftovers (of all things!) something about it reminded me of the last time I had made it, a few months before, and how it had been really tasty. I had to step back and realize that what was actually tasty about it wasn’t really the meaty bits but the spices I had put on it. It was all about remembering how the food made me feel before and my association with that. I wasn’t sitting there wishing I was eating chicken, I was sitting there feeling like I was missing out on a tasty thing.
OK. Now what was all that about being a vegetarian before? You tried and quit?
I had short stints of going vegetarian twice and vegan once over the last ten years.
The first time I went vegetarian (ovo-lacto vegetarian) it was a gut reaction to seeing brutality of slaughter (not even some of the worst footage there is) and realizing that there was a disconnect between what I was eating and knowing where it had come from and/or what I was eating. It didn’t last long because I was in college and was basically just eating rice, cheese, beans, and faux-chicken patties. It wasn’t a sustainable diet, nor was it particularly healthy. I hadn’t added in that many more vegetables and although I can’t remember exactly, I doubt I had many fruits either. I did maintain avoiding processed meats, burgers, etc. for about a year after this though.
The second time I went vegetarian (again ovo-lacto) I was already eating a slightly healthier diet. More vegetables, more salads of raw greens and veggies, still beans, and perhaps a few more fruits. It was purely health and weight motivated, and I lamented what I “could not eat” basically the whole time. During this period, we vacationed in Cancun with friends and although I stuck with vegetarianism, it was really challenging. The meat-based meals were really appealing and there didn’t seem to be many meatless options. Still, I remember at one point thinking to myself that transitioning into veganism was inevitable. But that was not meant to be at that point in my life (because I missed meat too much? Because I wasn’t being very healthy? Because I probably still consumed too many dairy products – read: cheese?) and I stopped about two months after I began.
My third venture into the world of vegetarianism was full-on veganism. I started about three months after my son was born and it was a fairly health and weight-loss motivated decision. As I had the other two times, I did my research, including watching shock-value videos of factory farming conditions, slaughter practices, etc. I wanted the gross-out factor to help motivate, but I also knew I had a pretty strong ability to suppress what I knew about where my food was coming from since I had clearly gone back to eating meat after quitting vegetarianism in the past. I liked the idea of being vegan, but I was having a hard time coming up with healthy meals while caring for a newborn and even decided that on special occasions (like our first date post-baby on Valentine’s Day) I would scale back to just vegetarian and eat dairy products. It just seemed easier to be flexible. After about a month, when out to brunch, I caved and ate lots of non-vegan things because there simply wasn’t anything vegan or even adaptable on the menu. I wasn’t prepared.
It seems like I’m just listing failures, but I don’t really see them that way. They were trials that I’ve learned from. And maybe I wasn’t in the right place to change. When it became difficult, I wasn’t set up to push through and persevere. Our country has made it really easy to get incredibly cheap meat really quickly. Plus cheese. Cheese is on everything.
Why do you think is different this time around?
For starters, I know what I did “wrong” in the past. Plus, this time I went vegan for more than just one reason. It’s not just because of the animals (although it’s a great reason that I used to ignore), and not just for health, but also for the environment, world hunger, food shortages, etc. (More about each of those topics and how veganism could help in future posts!)
This time around we’ve also been eating better. I’ve found amazing recipes online and in vegan cookbooks (sure, one of them was a bust, but overall they’ve been awesome), and I’ve played around with converting some of our recipes – both some holiday cookies and some more savory, previously-meaty standbys. We still have a lot more we could be doing to be eating healthier or “better” (more greens, more fresh, raw foods, more emphasis on buying local), but it was important to find satisfying meals during the transition since I went vegan overnight. So we’ve maybe had a few more faux-meats than we ideally would in the future, but we’ve still cut out so many things we didn’t need. And eating vegan has been so much more delicious than I ever imagined.
Hey! What about protein!
Lentils, beans, tofu, quinoa, various peas, artichokes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds (and tahini), oatmeal, spinach, broccoli, asparagus…
Collard greens, kale, blackstrap molasses, tahini, some nuts, beans, soybeans, tempeh, tofu, fortified plant milks, broccoli…
So that’s it? Vegan for life?
I’ve asked Nick if I think we’ll ever stop being vegan. But both of us are kind of thinking, why would we? The only thing we miss is how much easier it was to eat just about anything just about anywhere. And looking forward, going to friends houses or eating out or going to church or work functions may mean we encounter some food issues. So in those cases we may need to bring a vegan dish or pre-eat before a function so we can survive on only a salad or whatever’s available. But lack of ease in specific situations doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason for us to start eating meat again.
What about your child?
That’s what we’re still trying to figure out. Right now he doesn’t eat enough of the plants that are good sources protein, iron, calcium, etc. sources, so I wouldn’t want him to be missing out. We’ve made some changes – soy nuggets instead of chicken ones, for example – and he’d already been drinking almond milk instead of cow’s milk. My biggest fear is that he will be the weird kid who “isn’t allowed to” eat pizza at a friend’s party, so at the very least maybe we’ll raise him as a vegetarian. Or see what he wants and go from there. Does that make me a bad vegan? I don’t think so.
Which is a rough segue, but leads me to a final point. The fact that both Nick and I are vegan helps tremendously. Having a partner or friend or online community is helpful so you don’t feel like you’re the only one out there. I joined Instagram as VegAndrle to post all about our vegan adventures, and even just getting likes from a bunch of people I’ve never met has been a huge encouragement. That’s why I’m also writing about my experience here, even if it seems a little soon or premature.
I could wait until I’ve been a vegan for years or I could write about it where I’m at now.
(Hey, that sounds a little like my Midimalism post’s conclusion… I guess I’m a blogger about works in progress!)