For close to three weeks, we’ve been doing something very un-Contessa like. Perhaps you may have noticed. Perhaps you may have wondered why I haven’t featured any dishes containing meat, or made any glutinous desserts full of butter and heavy cream. Inspired by my persuasive co-worker, we adopted a vegan diet for 3 weeks. Since I’d like to continue writing this blog, (that, and I love food too much), I am by no means becoming a vegan for life. But after 3 weeks of living this way, I do feel the need to reflect on it, as it has largely impacted my outlook on food and eating. I’ll begin with the positive.
Energized and Satiated: I can wholeheartedly say we truly feel better. Before we adopted this way of eating, I assumed we ate well. I’ve read all the Michael Pollan books, watched all the food documentaries- I’m totally drinking the fresh food/local eating Kool-Aid. Organic fruits and vegetables each day, whole grain breads, and healthy fats are all staples of my cooking and pantry. We didn’t eat too much meat, and the animal protein we did eat was mostly chicken or fish. We did consume yogurt pretty regularly, but cheese, butter, etc was eaten in moderation.
But when your diet shifts, so that the bulk of your calories are coming from fresh food, you realize how many more vegetables you can (and should) be consuming each day. Without calorie rich portions of meat and dairy, we were consuming a ton of food, yet still felt light and more energetic. Without thinking, all our meals became nutrient rich, filling our plates with more vegetables than ever before. Quite possibly the most humbling experience, for me, was having to forego dessert. A few days of afternoon sugar withdrawal headaches, made it very clear that my “sweet tooth” was much more of a dependency on sugar than I realized. The first week was rough, but by the second I found myself no longer craving dessert in the afternoon or after dinner, coffee without sugar was actually enjoyable, and an apple tasted almost as good as chocolate.
A Kitchen Re-Awakening: Before embarking on this vegan adventure, I assumed my time spent cooking would become mundane, and food would become ordinary. Food would just be something we ate to nourish ourselves. Thankfully, I could not have been more wrong. In these three weeks alone, I’ve discovered more new ingredients, cooking techniques, and recipes, than in the past year. Everything from using almond butter and tahini in dressings and dips, to drinking almond milk, pickling red onions, and even making kim chi, with watermelon radishes no less (props to Brandon!), all went down. Not to mention that even with all the new items we purchased, we threw away less food and racked up our lowest (to date) grocery bills.
Pair Up: I definitely would not have been as motivated to stick with this way of eating had I not done it with someone else. When I shared with friends and co-workers that Brandon and I were doing this, their next question often was, “How did you force him to do it?!?” (Insert Inner thought: He’s a man, he must eat meat!). Shockingly enough, I didn’t have to force Brandon into eating this way; he was naturally intrigued and did it of his own accord. But having someone to brainstorm recipes with and wistfully inhale the fumes from the burger joint across the street was very helpful.
What Social Life? Dining out with friends was a challenge. Unless your friends always want to go to Asian restaurants, you’ll be hard pressed to find vegan friendly options on regular menus. We enjoyed some great Japanese and Thai meals during our 3 week stint, but had to forego a few meals out because of our dietary restrictions.
Cancel Your Travel Plans: I had to travel for work during this period, and sticking to an all vegan diet while not subsisting on bread was a challenge. Beans are a key staple when you’re eating this way, and they’re rarely featured on restaurant menus. Furthermore, menus are pretty vague- many vegetable side dishes are cooked in butter and cheese shows up where you least expect it.
No Tofu Cookies For Me: While I’m glad this experience forced me to put the reigns on my sugar intake, I have no desire to start crafting baked goods without eggs, butter, and milk. To me, I’ll take no cake over vegan cake. I love baking with butter, and that’s that.
We decided to reward ourselves for a job well done this afternoon and splurged on cheeseburgers. I won’t lie, they were completely and utterly delicious. Animal fat never tasted so good. A few hours later though, we’re still feeling those beef patties. Granted ,we didn’t exactly ease back into eating meat, but it’s a pretty clear sign my body prefers a meal with more vegetables. It certainly wasn’t the last burger or piece of meat I’ll ever eat. Food and cooking is too big a part of me to ever give up any ingredient completely. That said, my body’s reaction to removing meat and dairy from my diet borders on addictive. It’s really nice to feel this good from what you’re eating.
Longterm, this experience will influence the way I eat and cook on a daily basis. New ingredients are now staples, my appetite for salad is even more voracious than it was before, and I’m eager to find new dishes to satisfy our tweaked palettes.