The Vegan Experiment: Update
On March 1st I became ~80% vegan. The goal was to support The Boy, who wanted to eat more of a vegan lifestyle, and the first step was to go vegan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the weekdays with some flex built in on the weekends so we could socialize with friends and not be really annoying about where to go to dinner or what we could/couldn’t eat. Before going vegan, I ate a lot of animal products, as evidenced by my typical day below:
- Breakfast: Smoothie with organic milk
- Lunch: Turkey sandwich, string cheese, yogurt
- Dinner: Typically red meat. Rarely chicken or fish
And a given week would have lots of wine and cheese. Lots of cheese. I’m weird about cheese and love it in a way that I probably shouldn’t discuss publicly.
The adjustment to being vegan was hard at first. Breakfast was easy as smoothies were made with almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Lunches were a bit harder. Week 1 I made chickpea salad sandwiches, with sides of fruit and soy yogurt. The fruit and soy yogurt stayed over the weeks and I tried sandwiches with black bean salad, smokey tempeh (if you make the tempeh sandwiches, I wasn’t a fan of the sundried tomato pesto, I preferred store-bought basil) and mason jar salads. I gradually lost the soy yogurt and transitioned to whole fruits with a planned next step of a fruit and a veggie (I noticed that with smoothies in the morning and two fruits at lunch I was eating lots of produce, but not a lot of veggies).
Dinners were the hardest, in part because we didn’t have a stable of vegan ingredients. Whole Foods’ bulk section was a lifesaver as we stocked up on cashews, wheat berries, and quinoa. Costco’s fruits and veggies have cut down on prep and made sure we have ample produce on hand. We quickly found that cooking vegan not only tasted good, but it also made us feel better (admittedly, some of that could be attributed to placebo or biased by ego that we were being successful in our initially half-hearted vegan endeavor). Some of the go-tos we’ve shared with non-vegan family include sweet potatoes stuffed with beans and greens, roasted ratatouille pizza (this left us with tons of leftover roasted veggies that we used as sides and as pasta “sauce” later in the week), Scott Jurek’s Minnesota Winter Chili (this was cooked in the slow-cooker and it blew our minds how good it was), stuffed roasted poblanos with a cashew-chipotle sauce, and stuffed portobello mushrooms.
One of the problems we quickly ran into is that vegan cooking incorporates lots of beans, rice, grains, and legumes which take longer than forever to cook at altitude. There’s also a lot of prep when working with produce. We found two incredible time savers: a pressure cooker and a food processor. Pressure cookers admittedly have a bad wrap after recent events, but they save so much time when cooking at altitude! If I’m home on a Sunday I’ll run batches of different grains through the pressure cooker so that I have them on hand later in the week to work into soups, salads, and main courses. And don’t ever make that ratatouille pizza without a food processor to help in slicing all the veggies.
I’ve also noticed that when I do eat meat and cheese, my relationship with those foods is different. First, I don’t feel as good when I eat cheese and so even when I’m “off” of being vegan with friends, I’ll still limit my consumption. Second, I try to eat healthier in general, opting for fish over a burger or a salad over something rich, creamy, and saucy. I won’t say I don’t crave creaminess from dairy, but I’ve noticed that when I indulge it’s not as good as I remember it being.
So, the one-month vegan challenge has turned into 10 weeks and I’m not sure I’ll go back. I feel good, have more energy and I like that I’m being thoughtful about what I put in my body as opposed to just eating what is easy and available. Related to the idea of diet modification, I was speaking with a colleague the other day who told me about a patient that he treated for orthorexia, an eating disorder where people can become malnourished during the pursuit of clean eating by cutting out too many essential nutrients (i.e. being vegan, gluten-free, and fat-free). Given the prevalence of obesity in our country, I haven’t heard much discussion of healthy eating that goes too far. Do you think healthy eating can go to extremes?