So, to get 2012 off to an interesting start, I decided to try spending a week as a vegan. Why did I embrace this particular challenge? Well, several years ago I was a vegetarian, a move that was sparked by my loose adherence to Buddhism. I found at that time that giving up meat wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and it did inspire some permanent changes to my diet. I still frequently eat meat substitutes, like veggie “sausage,” and often substitute soy products for ground beef in recipes. When I do buy meat, I try to be more conscious of where it comes from, what it’s being fed, how it’s raised, and the like.
Ultimately, though, I fell off the veggie bandwagon because I felt my options were too limited. At the time, I lived in Rochester, New York, and while cooking vegetarian at home wasn’t a problem (thanks largely to the amazing array of options at Wegmans grocery stores), I found that many of my favorite restaurants had limited vegetarian options, and I felt guilty about inconveniencing friends and narrowing our choices when we went out.
I now live in Tucson, Arizona, a much more veggie-friendly town. When the New York Times published this feature last week encouraging folks to adopt semi-veganism, it got me thinking: Within a few blocks of my home I have a sushi restaurant with a vegan menu, an Indian restaurant with extensive vegetarian (though perhaps not vegan) offerings, and an all-vegan restaurant that I’ve been meaning to try for years. Plus there are all the great offerings at grocery stores like Sunflower, Whole Foods, and even my local Albertsons has a decent selection of meat-free items. It seemed like there would be no excuse not to go vegetarian again. In fact, it would be easy. Almost too easy. So what if I decided to make it more of a challenge and eat vegan for a week? I know other non-meat products like eggs also raise ethical concerns, and the concept of becoming totally cruelty-free seemed like a noble idea. Plus, after a hectic fall semester where I made a lot of poor food choices, this would be an ideal way to get back in the habit of thinking about what I eat. The decision was made, but only one lingering question remained: Can I survive a week without cheese?
I spent my New Year’s Eve Day reading the labels on food in my fridge and my pantry. Whatever didn’t pass muster got dismissed to the shelf of verboten items or to the crisper drawer of doom. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?) Sadly, my entire freezer was a crisis zone, filled with frozen meats, tempting ice cream bars, and even my Morningstar Farms veggie sausage patties, which contain egg whites. Sorting the good from the bad required some time and some research. For example, it surprised me at first to learn that many beers are not vegan. Two main concerns are the use of honey, which seemed to make sense, and the use of bone char in filtering sugar. Happily, Barnivore.com makes it easy to find out if your beer, wine, or liquor is vegan. This site seems quite extensive and well-researched, with multiple sources cited for each beer I checked on the list. Happily, some of my favorites like Blue Moon and all of the New Belgium beers are vegan. Many Sam Adams brews also pass muster, but it turned out the one Cherry Wheat I had in my variety pack was made with honey and would have to be benched.
After doing my preliminary research, I thought about menus for the week. Some meals are less of a challenge than others. I often eat meatless breakfasts, so few changes to my shopping list were needed in that respect. Lunches were a bit more of a challenge, but I tend to eat a lot of soup at this time of year, and that lent itself well to modification. Dinner, though, I expect to be a stumbling block. While there are a handful of vegan-friendly dinners in my usual repertoire, like pasta dishes and veggie tacos, getting through a week without becoming repetitive would require breaking out of my comfort zone. I won’t spoil the surprises ahead, but after some consideration and Internet research, I think I have figured it out. I made my shopping list and headed to the grocery store. I didn’t quite find everything that I wanted, and I spent much more time and money in the store than I do in an average week, but I convinced myself that perhaps it’s to be expected that a new food paradigm requires an initial investment. My hope is that it will be an investment that offers a payoff, ethically and in terms of well being.
Stay tuned for my Day 1 report!