Going Vegan: A Test of Fortitude

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I can think of few things I hate more than being told I can’t do something. Maybe, like, paper-cuts between my fingers or hairless cats, but other than that? Nada. So when a friend told me she didn’t think I was physically capable of eating vegan, I knew what I had to do: I had to go vegan.

To be honest, I had been thinking about going vegan for a while. Could I do it? What about cheese? Would it make my skin more radiant? How the f–k could I live without chocolate?

The Prep

I had made simple changes over the course of a few months in preparation for an inevitable dive into plant-based eating. I started using non-dairy butter (available at your local supermarket), switching to almond or coconut milk and cutting back on dairy products as a whole. Meat-wise, I had very few concerns. Besides my frozen chicken and the occasional hamburger, I naturally and gradually started eating meat less and less.

According to Gettysburg College senior and vegan Sarah Rivera, this was a good way to go. “If you are considering going vegan, I would recommend that you do it gradually and have a strong knowledge of a healthy vegan diet. Some people want to jump right into it and it can be stressful and can cause people to have strong cravings,” said Rivera. “Some people just assume that if you are vegan you are healthy, but that is a common misconception.”

Before jumping into my week of veganism, I wanted advice from the pros. I talked with Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator Vicki Brett-Gach from Ann Arbor Vegan Kitchen. Her advice? “Two challenges are really significant. The first one is learning how to eat, what you eat, and where to find it,” said Brett-Gach. “The second (and sometimes much tougher) challenge is handling the social side of your new food choices. Your well-meaning family and friends will challenge you every step of the way and whine about your new habits and complain that you aren’t eating like they do anymore.”

Luckily for me, it was the challenge from friends that pushed me to do this whole experiment anyway.

What about vitamin supplements? Will I deprive my body of anything serious from my week of plant-based eating? According to Brett-Gach, no. “Most experts seem to agree that taking Vitamin B12 is good idea,” she said.

“But are you sitting down? Besides that one, most supplements are probably not necessary for most people and may even be harmful.”

Perfect. I already take a multi-vitamin that provides B12. As far as I’m concerned, I am good to go.

Biggest Predicted Challenges

Saying no to pizza and chocolate cravings.

Secret Weapons

1. Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream

2. Non-dairy butter

going vegan

Natalie DaRe

3. Trader Joe’s peanut butter

4. A stubborn refusal to back-down from a self-inflicted challenge

Here’s How My “Going Vegan” Week Went

Day 1

Food Journal:

  • Oatmeal with brown sugar and almond milk
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

Tbh, this is pretty much how/what I eat on a daily basis. Starting strong in the day with oatmeal, forgetting lunch (or being too lazy to get it), snacking on my tried and true apple slices and then making up for lost calories at dinner. Not the healthiest way to eat. But, hey, I’m a college student. What do you expect?

Day 2

Food Journal:

  • Oatmeal with almond milk
  • Broccoli with olive oil, garlic powder and crushed red pepper
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

I have not woken up with incredibly clear, glowing skin. What. The. Hell. Not gonna lie, I’m a little disappointed. Instead, I woke up with a stomach ache from shoveling down half a pint of the Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream in record time. Apparently eating vegan doesn’t mean getting a free pass to overstuff your gullet. Who knew? Well, Rivera did, but I didn’t listen.

Day 3

Food Journal:

  • Hemp protein shake with bananas, peanut butter and almond milk
  • Banana slices with peanut butter
  • 2 slices of French bread with non-dairy butter
  • Vegan mac and cheese (see pic below for ingredients)
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

Craving cheese. String cheese, melted cheese, those little cheese rounds covered in wax, I don’t care. I. Need. Cheese. I had a feeling my love of cheese would be an issue. Sure enough, it became an issue on day three. Luckily, I knew of a vegan mac and cheese recipe I already knew I loved. And I’m not kidding when I say I genuinely prefer this mac and cheese to Kraft. What I love most is that it makes a TON, so I’ve got leftovers for days.

Day 4

Food Journal:

  • Toast with avocado and crushed red pepper
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Vegan mac and cheese with broccoli, bread and olive oil
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

  • Apple
  • Sushi with shredded carrot, bell pepper, avocado and hot sauce
  • Oreos and almond milk

Feeling good. Not too much to report. I still don’t have glowing skin or an insatiable need to do Bikram Yoga, but so far this whole “eating vegan” thing hasn’t posed as many challenges as I thought.

Day 5

Food Journal:

  • Toast with avocado and crushed red pepper
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • 2 mini KitKat bars
  • Tacos with beans, corn, homemade guac and hot sauces
  • Oreos with almond milk

I cracked. It was day five and my craving, no, my life-saving need for chocolate was destroying me. And then there they were, right on the counter: KitKat bars. They tasted like chocolate-covered disappointment. While I’m frustrated I didn’t make it all week without cracking, I am amazed I made it this far.

Day 6

Food Journal:

  • Oatmeal with almond milk
  • Toast with avocado and crushed red pepper
  • Banana w/ peanut butter
  • Hemp protein shake w/ banana, peanut butter and almond milk

Ugh, still disappointed by yesterday’s failure. On the bright side, it refueled my desire to finish these last two days strong. Here. We. Go.

Day 7

Food Journal:

  • Oatmeal with almond milk
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Apple slices with peanut butter
going vegan

Natalie DaRe

  • Broccoli with crushed red pepper
  • Special K with almond milk

I made it. Granted, not entirely successfully, but if I were being graded on this assignment, I would for sure get an A. I am super looking forward to getting to bake some chocolatey cookie thing tomorrow and eating all of it though, but restraint has never been my strong point.

So what are my takeaways from going vegan?

First of all, 90 percent of the time, eating vegan really didn’t take that much effort. Most of the foods I normally eat in a day don’t include dairy or meat, and the ones I do—for the most part—can easily be replaced.

Secondly, eating vegan took an astronomical amount of effort the other 10 percent of time. When those chocolate cravings hit, they hit hard. I also stress bake. Not having that as an option really sucked. Of course, I could have found vegan recipes, but a quick Google search let me know I would have to run to my bougie supermarket to pick up special ingredients that cost more than I was willing to spend on this experiment.

Will I stay on an entirely vegan diet?

No.

It’s just not realistic for me right now. The cravings took a lot of mental energy I need as a stress-eating, second-semester, job-hunting college senior to just get through life on a daily basis. Plus, I don’t really have the energy to experiment with tons of recipes to find baked goods I could eat that taste great.

Will I incorporate more vegan meals into my life and eat vegan as often as possible?

Absolutely.

Though I didn’t experience any sort of miracle overnight effects, I did notice that on the whole I chose foods that were more satisfying and filling. I didn’t overeat nearly as much as I normally do. Because of that, I generally felt better.

Looking to “Go Vegan” Yourself?

Take it from University of Michigan junior and two-year vegan Aaron Brodkey and use your on-campus resources. “I would recommend people looking to go vegan to find friends that are like-minded. Join your campus’ vegan/vegetarian club. There’s a ton of people that will help make the switch a whole lot easier,” said Brodkey. “Also, letting your friends know that going vegan is something that you really want to do and that you’re not trying to convert them will really help with your relationships with friends.”

Don’t forget to check out your local bookstore or to hit up the internet. As Rivera pointed out, “There are hundreds of vegan resources online and vegan cookbooks that are available for people who are just starting out.” Check out Brett-Gach’s article, for example, to learn how to eat vegan on a budget.

Stuck without a kitchen of your own? Don’t worry. The dining halls won’t let you down in the ways you might expect. “The school dining hall does have an unusual amount of vegan options, so when I do eat there it is easy,” said Rivera. “For example, they have vegan cream cheese, vegan cheese, vegan ice cream and a vegan corner which only serves vegan meals. I choose to cook because I like to cook, but it is not necessary.”

And if you find that your dining hall could use a boost in the vegan department, speak out like Brodkey. “This semester I am working with the dining halls to make more hot vegan recipes, since many of the current vegan options are not main entrees,” he said. However, just like restaurants, the dining halls want to accommodate their customers. If students reach out to their dining halls and request more options vegan options, they will make it happen!”

Bottom line: If you’re intrigued by the idea of going vegan, go for it. Take it at your speed, and don’t feel like you owe anybody any explanation. As Brett-Gach said, “Whether we are looking for ways to improve our own health, save the lives of animals, or save our planet, the answer is the same. It all points to eating vegan!”

Natalie is a senior English major at the University of Michigan. She loves listening to terrible pop-punk music and complaining about inclement weather.

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