Wendy Sundgren, a friend and vegan of three years, recently inspired me to try the diet out. Vegans don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy.
Wendy recommended some good vegan cookbooks, which I happily purchased to feed my cookbook addiction. I kept a journal about the experience, which although not easy, was definitely worth doing.
I am known to experiment with all things having to do with food, and diets are no exception.
A few years ago, when the Atkins Diet was all the rage, Paul said we should try it. Being an admitted carnivore, it wasn’t surprising he wanted to eat lots of protein with permission.
I made it three days.
The last night I had a vivid dream about fruits and vegetables, and I took that as a sign from the dream fairy that I needed to go off of the diet. I drove to the farmer’s market that morning and happily ate fruit the rest of the day.
Since vegans mainly eat fruits and vegetables, I didn’t think it would be all that difficult. I have been using almond milk in my smoothies for years, so I didn’t think going dairy-free would be an issue either.
As far as cheese, well, that was another story. I love cheese, but since it is pretty caloric, I don’t eat too much of it. I thought giving it up would be doable.
For the most part, things went OK. Did I miss fish, chicken, steak, pork chops and so on? Definitely.
Did I realize I ate more dairy than I thought I did? Yep.
Was it hard not eating boiled eggs in my salad and poached eggs on the weekends? Absolutely.
Did I crave bacon? For sure.
All of that said, trying out veganism was still a valuable experiment.
I discovered that eating the vegan way is incredibly healthy. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds: there is nothing bad for you at all.
Because I love to cook, I experimented quite a bit, going so far as to make my own seitan, the vegan alternative to meat. It’s made with gluten and has a chewy texture.
I used it in place of the chicken in a fake chicken and dumpling dish. I thought it tasted fine, but my family turned up their noses.
The month was really longest for our youngest son. At 15, he is 6 feet 3 inches tall and is a bottomless pit. He complained nightly about my experiment and said he couldn’t wait to “finally eat again.”
I have to say, if you don’t like to cook or don’t have the time, I think this would be a really difficult diet/lifestyle to adhere to. There are quite a few “ready-made” vegan products, but all of the ones I tried did not taste like what they were “imitating.”
For example, I tried three different brands of fake hot dogs, and while they had a similar texture to the real thing, not one of them tasted remotely familiar. The only remedy was to slather them with mustard, ketchup and relish.
The other problem with these products is that they are processed, and most of us are trying to stay away from processed foods.
I also think it would be tough to do if you traveled extensively or had to eat often in restaurants. We went out of town for a few days during my vegan experiment and that was the only time when I veered off the plan for a few meals. I didn’t stray too far.
So how did we do? Paul, who after the first day of unsuccessfully trying to lure me off the plan with his delicious hamburgers, agreed to try out the plan. He made it four days, if you don’t count the turkey and cheese sandwiches he ate at work.
I was successful for almost the entire month, falling off the vegan wagon just a few times.
My friends wanted to know what I missed most. As an avid home cook, I can tell you that not being able to use butter is tough. Even when I made a delicious vegan vegetable soup, I knew a small pat of butter in each bowl would truly elevate the flavor. As would a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
Also, the addition of bacon or pancetta when cooking many dishes — even just a slice or two — truly brings out the flavor in most everything. And while I don’t use tons of cream in my cooking, finishing a sauce with a tiny bit of heavy cream sometimes makes the difference between an OK sauce and one that is sublime. The same goes for gravy made from a hearty chicken or beef stock.
At the end of the day, we are not and probably never will be a vegan household. However, it was a great experiment and made us pay attention to how much dairy we eat.
A vegan experience can help you see where you can cut down on your meat consumption and substitute some other healthy protein.
Now when we have something off-the charts non-vegan, we jokingly call it vegan. Vegan raw oysters or vegan eggs benedict, anyone?
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.