Last month, I embarked on a 30-day vegan challenge. And the first thing I did on the morning of Day 31 was go out and get a nonfat latte.
It tasted… bland. But, it was what I had been craving for the final week of my challenge. I’m a latte junkie (nonfat ones during the week, 2% or above on the weekends). Over the course of 30 days, I had experimented with various types of milk. I had tried almond milk lattes, soy lattes, rice milk lattes, but none of them tasted quite right. This was, however, the one and only dietary issue I really struggled with over the 30 days and, honestly, I kind of started to like soy lattes by the end.
The vegan lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but I recommend trying it. I love my dairy, I consider myself a “foodie” despite the obnoxious connotations that come with that classification. To me, food is more than fuel. It’s an art form. As a result — and because I am an extremely lazy cook when cooking for one — I dine out a lot. And I managed to do it. And like it. Here’s what I learned.
1. I Don’t Have to Eat Meat When I Go Out
This seems obvious. But, when I go out to a restaurant, I gravitate toward the meat dishes. For one, they make up the bulk of the entrée section. But for 30 days those were off limits.
Doing this experiment helped me realize that I felt that I was getting more value for my money if I ordered a meat dish. By barring myself from ordering those items for 30 days, I quickly came to realize that plant-based dishes were really good and sometimes more creatively prepared. One night Senior Editor Kirsten Morningstar and I went out with some friends to her brother’s restaurant, Terrine. As others reached for creamy pasta dishes and flavorful fish, I dug into baby carrots cooked with aged vinegar, wood-roasted sunchokes, and brussels sprouts (making sure to avoid the chunks of Pecorino cheese). By the end of the meal, I was full and my palate was happy. I’m now back to my usual omnivorous ways, but I often still order vegetarian meals when I go out.
2. It’s Not That Hard
Prior to this challenge, I don’t know how many times I said, “I could never go vegan.” But, truth be told, it wasn’t that hard. Figuring out what you can’t eat is pretty easy. Anything made from or by an animal (including eggs, honey, and dairy) is off the menu. The most difficult part is figuring out what you can eat. At the beginning of the 30 days, I’d see a menu and feel my stress level rising. Everything has cheese on it! Did this dish really need an egg on top?! Did they have to cook the noodles in fish sauce? Argh!
But (most) restaurants usually agree to small changes (even though, yes, these will change the intended flavor of the dish) such as removing said egg, not adding the cheese, etc. Sauces are harder to change as they’re usually prepped earlier in the day so that they’re ready for the chefs during lunch or dinner service. If there’s an animal product in the sauce, just ask for it without.
In the middle of the experiment, an ex-boyfriend came into town and wanted me to meet his fiancée. They were craving sushi. I could have simply said no, that’s going to be too difficult. But, instead, I went for it. The dinner was going to be an interesting experience no matter where we ate, so adding my dietary complication to it was just icing. The restaurant we ended up choosing had very limited vegan options. I ended up eating veggie tempura (no sauce) and a seaweed salad (no dressing). I don’t recommend the latter dish. It was beyond bland. The fiancée, on the other hand, was sweet and full of personality.
Some restaurants — even some sushi restaurants — cater to vegetarians and vegans and some cuisines (particularly Mexican and Ethiopian) are more vegan-friendly than others. I came to love Native Foods, Cafe Gratitude, Tender Greens, and a gastropub called Sage. One night, while watching the dark comedy The Voices, I suggested my practically-carnivorous friend take a bite of my Heirloom Tomato Garlic Pizza made with hemp seed pesto, cashew cheese, garlic, and basil. His response? “I would totally order that.”
If you cook at home more than I do (and we both should, because it’s healthier and less expensive), eating vegan is even easier. Salads are simple and if you stock your pantry with these foods and then add in fresh fruits and vegetables, you’ll be set for all sorts of lunches and dinners:
– Whole Grains
I got really into eating these brown rice-based dishes from Healthy Times. My favorite, Seitan Brown Rice is made with brown rice, seitan, serrano chilies, and garlic. I would top it with half an avocado and feel satiated all day. Speaking of…
3. I Felt Really Good
Ok, the second day I had a headache. But, after that, I felt awesome. On the eve of the fifth day, this curious energetic feeling overtook my system. I became one of those “I have so much energy!” people. The sleepiness that always crept in around 10 pm was gone. It had been replaced with the feeling that I had just chugged 12 cups of coffee. I felt focused (and on a caffeine high) for days, but I was still able to get to sleep easily. And I slept well.
In addition, things were… (ahem) working better. Without going into too much detail, this is not usual for me. At all. I don’t know if it was because I had removed animal proteins and dairy from my diet, or because I was eating more fiber and whole foods, but everything was working normally for the first time in over a decade.
4. It’s Important to Balance Out Your Proteins
A week or so after my energy ramped up, I got kind of lazy about eating enough protein and my sluggish feeling returned. My main proteins had become soy and brown rice and I wasn’t getting nearly enough vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables. Despite the B and D supplements I was taking, my mood started to head downhill and I found myself craving meat. Prosciutto. Burgers. Chicken. I readjusted my diet to include more fresh foods and a variety of proteins and the feeling dissipated.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you try going vegan, you’ll want to eat a variety of plant-based proteins. Here are the primary vegan ones:
– Soy (tofu, tempeh, etc.)
– Whole Grains (buckwheat, brown rice, farro, etc.)
– Hemp seeds
– Flax seeds
– Chia seeds
5. I Can Do This. So Can You.
It is surprisingly easy to eat vegan. It just requires a few changes, a little critical thinking, and the desire to do it. I doubt — despite the positive body effects — that I’ll go back to eating 100% vegan, but I am incorporating a lot more vegan meals into my diet. Except when it comes to lattes.
Originally published on March 16, 2015.