Saturday, June 2, 2012

VegChallenge Done. NEXT!

For the month of May I decided to challenge myself and eat vegan for a month. The reasons behind that decision were many and varied. I wanted to improve my health and diet. I'm not an unhealthy person by any means, but there's always room for improvement. Incorporating a more plant based diet into your own eating habits has a huge positive impact on your over all health. I wanted to see this first hand, eating vegan for a month would force me to experiment with foods that were entirely new to me. I also wanted to use it as a learning opportunity. For those that choose a vegan lifestyle what challenges do they face? Our society and culture is very single minded and I suspected there would be many roadblocks that would need to be overcome along the way. Lastly, I wanted a personal challenge and see it through. Not so much as a test of ability but of character. I, and anyone else, has the ability to eat vegan for a week or month or forever if they choose. What I wanted to know was would I, when no one was looking, cheat or cut corners? Like Plato's Ring of Gyges, what I did when no one was there was perhaps more important than the content of the test it's self.

The Internet is a wonderful thing! I found so many fantastic recipes online and I've collected my favorites in a binder. Yeah, I wrote them out in pen on actual paper. Occasionally people still use this medium. I also have a VCR. I use that too. What was really nice about last month was all the variety on the table. I ate lentils, black beans, black eyed peas, bok choy, spinach, and so many other things I don't normally eat. The food was full of colour and flavor. I also found that I didn't waste as much food as I thought I would. We all, at least from time to time, have a fridge full of healthy food that just sits there until it wilts and rots. I found that because I was relying on plants wholly, not just as filler or a side dish, nothing was going to waste. Also a large amount of food was dry, such as pasta, rice, beans, nuts and seeds. These things keep forever. Basically anyways. A lot of what I made was from scratch as well. Only a handful of ingredients and everything easy to pronounce. I made big batches and what I couldn't freeze I ate the next day for lunch. As long as I planned my meals ahead of time everything went smoothly. When I didn't, I paid for it. I learned leaving things to the last minute resulted in a very grouchy me! On a few of these occasions I had trail mix and popcorn for dinner.

Did I feel my health improved? I'd say "yes" for sure. Initially I had headaches and was very hungry, but by the second week that had passed. Normally by 2pm I was worn out and wanted a nap. By the second week I found I had more energy and wasn't tired in the after noons. Lately I also found that my hair and skin looked dull. I chalked it up to being tired and starting to look my age. I just looked and felt tired all the time. By the third week I found not only did I feel better, but I looked better too. Now I'm not one to give myself any sort of compliment, especially physical. I am pretty hard on myself most of the time. However, I found that my hair seemed shinier, my eyes brighter, and my skin had a healthy glow. I suspected that I'd  feel better but I didn't think I'd look better. An unexpected but totally welcome benefit!

I found initially that it was difficult to find foods that had no animal products in them. There was a lot of label reading and wandering around looking lost. Eventually, especially when I found a few meals I liked, it was easier. Most of what I ate was fresh and homemade, not processed. That saved me a lot of time at the store. Eating away from home was probably the hardest. A lot of salads even include meat and dairy! You don't really realize this until you're trying to avoid these foods. They are EVERYWHERE! I can totally appreciate the need for vegan restaurants, bakeries and shops now.  You totally take for granted being able to just sit down at a restaurant and order whatever you want without dissecting the menu. I also felt bad that I had to turn down food while visiting friends and family. I felt like I was insulting them. There's a lot of pressure to accept what's being offered because you don't want to seem rude or difficult. I imagine that this might cause some friction between friends and family and really test your commitment to veganism over the long run. Those who do decide that a vegan lifestyle is best for them don't do so lightly. There is a lot of pressure to undermine those efforts and it take a real commitment and hard work to maintain it.

Ultimately I DID manage to eat vegan for a month. I was pleased to see that I didn't cheat or take any short cuts. My family, especially my husband, kept me on the straight and narrow. I feel that I learned a lot and am much more conscious of what I put in my mouth. I feel more knowledgeable about food and what our bodies need to be, not just healthy, but thrive. I'm definitely going to ensure my diet is mostly plant based in the future because I see what positive changes occur when it is. That being said, my decision to eat more vegan like is more based on health than any ethical leanings. Vegans don't eat anything from an animal, but also avoid any products from an animal. No leather, wool, makeup, even some medicines tested on animals. It's an ethical stance to ban all animal sourced products from their lives. So when I say I was "vegan" for a month, I wasn't really. I feel like there really needs to be two different definitions. The "vegan" that chooses a plant based diet, and the "vegan" that chooses the whole lifestyle and accepts the ethics and morality behind it. They're so very different and not acknowledging that difference seems misleading.

Anyhow, I'm being told I'm typing too much so I'll stop now...

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