The Trials and Triumphs of Only Eating Plants

Would you rather:

-Eat thick greasy American-style pizza in Estonia OR eat cold kidney beans in Estonia?

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Beans vs. Pizza

-Enjoy whipped cream on your stack of delicate Swedish pancakes OR enjoy your weird looking vegan pancakes plain?

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As sad they look, the vegan pancakes weren’t bad!

-Start a three-course meal with a fancy cheesecake and smoked salmon OR start a three-course meal with basically just glorified lettuce?

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Presentable, elegant, but hardly satisfying.

Comical contrasts, I know. But these conundrums are common for committed consumers of exclusively plants. Choosing option number two has been my reality as a vegan for the past month.

In this post, I want to lay out what I see to be the hardest and scariest parts of veganism. Part of my decision to go vegan was to become an activist for others to reduce the meat and animal-products in their diets. But it would be misleading to sell veganism as an easy and convenient lifestyle shift. I have found the conversion relatively painless, and I think anyone is capable of making the switch. Nevertheless, it is worth acknowledging the aspects of the plant-based diet that may turn people off.

The most obvious one is taste. That’s probably why most people would choose the former option in the would-you-rathers posed above. Giving up many foods and dishes from your diet is a huge sacrifice for the taste buds. It would be futile to try to convince a meat or cheese lover to eat beans instead of pizza, salad instead of cheesecake, or straight up worse pancakes on the basis of taste alone. But I will point out that vegan food does not have to be bland. There are so many ways to make plant food delicious, and it’s been a joy to explore new recipes in my first month of veganism. It’s also probably healthier and cheaper.

Second, veganism requires so much more effort! I really do think this is a major deterrent, especially for people who aren’t used to the extra planning and need for foresight that dietary restrictions demand. The beauty of omnivorism is the assurance that even if you didn’t pack lunch, you have a million food options wherever you go. Vegans generally do have options eating out, but they’re limited. Planning for every meal seems daunting, but once you get in the routine of making all your meals and always having food to bring on the go, habit takes over and it really does become easy! Sometimes that means relying on just beans, nuts and fruits for an afternoon. But most of the time, it’s delicious, and once again, healthier and cheaper!

A last potentially terrifying reality of veganism is the risk of inconveniencing other people or creating awkward social situations. “George, if you ever come over, you will have to eat meat,” my one friend warned me. I don’t have too many wise words on how to handle situations like that, as I have not yet encountered many. But I think being flexible and potentially even breaking the veganism for a meal or two to avoid conflict isn’t the end of the world.

I knew giving up animal products was going to involve sacrifices. My main reason for going vegan, to avoid the massive environmental damage done by the livestock industry, has superseded all the inconveniences and made the switch completely worth it. But I’m surprised to say I’m actually enjoying veganism so much. I feel better about the food I’m eating than ever before. Being forced to cook all my meals and try out new foods is a great thing. I’ve still found food to still be a source of great pleasure and satisfaction. I crave eggs every morning, but am content with tofu scrambles instead.

The title of this post alluded to a triumph or success story from my experience only eating plants. What could be more triumphant than hosting non-vegan guests for several vegan meals, and actually satisfying them (unless my friends are lying to me)? It’s been a pleasure to share my favourite vegan dishes, and it’s my hope that discussing my veganism has brought environmentally conscious eating to the attention of those around me.

The triumphs have ranged from simple veggie stir-fries, to a multi-course Yom Kippur break fast feast, all the way to a pizza party featuring six unique and mostly tasty vegan pizzas for ten guests. Some claimed it was the first vegan meal of their lives. Changing that is what vegan activism is all about.

Please feel free to comment on anything you agreed or disagreed with about this post!

-George Radner

Common Energy External Team

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Visual proof the vegan pizza party happened. I’d say the guests look pleased.

 

 

Why a lover of pancakes, fresh sushi, and cheese-covered pizza would give it all up to go vegan.

 

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Delicious breakfast in Seattle. Sadly, I am giving up many of these foods.

 

Croissants dipped in latés.

Bagels with cream cheese and lox.

Challah French toast.

Scrambled, fried, boiled, poached and omelette’d eggs.

Buttery desserts.

Cottage cheese…

A crucial part of my identity is my love and passion for food. I gain immense pleasure from tasting delicious food. I adore stuffing myself, probably more than I should.

Veganism, first and foremost, is a far-reaching constraint on the food available for consumption. It eliminates a huge swath of standard dishes across most cultures. It drastically limits possible food combinations. It is a pain for cooking, eating out, and eating in general.

All that said, last Sunday, September 4th, 2016, I ceremoniously ate my last non-vegan meal: cheese pizza with vegetables and cheese.

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Poorly lit picture of said ceremonious final pizza.

Questions you are surely asking yourself:

Why is this dude going vegan? Also, why is he blogging about it???

It’s worth mentioning that I am not going from carnivore to vegan. I became a vegetarian at the age of 11, and since age 16 I have been a pescetarian (vegetarian who eats fish). For the past year I have attempted to limit my animal-related consumption to free range eggs, organic/grass-fed milk, and ocean-wise seafood whenever possible, though have been far from perfect. I see veganism as just the next step!

I am blogging about my veganism experiment for a few reasons. First, I enjoy blogging about it. Second, I want to deconstruct many misconceptions about veganism, primarily that it is impossibly inconvenient, alarming unhealthy, and overall just unpleasant. More than anything, I want to raise awareness about environmental issues surrounding food and encourage my readers to eat more consciously.

That finally brings me to the actual reasons why I am going vegan. There are two and a half…

I am going vegan primary for environmental reasons, as you may have guessed. Compared to plant-based foods, animal products pollute enormously and require much more water. According to a study in the UK, the dietary greenhouse gas emissions of vegans are nearly half those of meat-eaters! The greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t just include meat. The production of animal derivatives such as as cheese, milk, etc. also pollute! Vegetarians produce about 35% more emissions than vegans.

Second, I find the treatment of factory farmed animals to be immoral.

The last reason only counts as a half reason because it is less of a reason to go vegan, more of a reason to vegetarian. That reason is health! I believe animal products, especially red meat, are more harmful than helpful health-wise, especially given the wide availability of other nutrient-rich foods and supplements.

I plan to address each of these three reasons at greater length in a future post. The environmental, ethical, and health issues surrounding food consumption all deserve attention and critical thought!

I imagine that many of readers already know the reason to go vegan. Many of you already eat consciously by going lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, pescetarian, pollotarian, and/or flexitarian!! (This website explains what all of those mean). A smaller proportion of my readers are vegan, including my younger sister Claire who is my main inspiration for doing this. Also shout out to Keila Stark who decided to go vegan because I told her I was going vegan. Good on you all!

I do not look down upon people who do not make restrictions on their diet because I understand how delicious food tastes and how strong societal and cultural norms are. But I encourage everyone to think hard about their diets and make an effort to eat more consciously. This does not involve giving up meat, cheese, fish, eggs, or anything altogether. Veganism is an extreme position. If average citizens in rich countries reduced their consumption of meat from 3 meals a day to 2 meals a day, or 7 days a week to 6 days a week, it would make a difference.

I myself may not succeed in pure veganism. Maybe I’ll only manage to cook vegan, but become a vegetarian while out. Or have rare exceptions to veganism in the interest of taste and convenience. Perhaps I can invent a new cool label. Or maybe I’ll fail completely!

I imagine my vegan experiment will be full of challenges and (hopefully) humour. This ongoing blog will follow all transpirations closely. I’ll throw in recipes, tips, and more food for thought!
-George Radner, Common Energy External Team.

 

References:

Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A. et al. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climatic Change (2014) 125: 179. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1