It all started with a one week experiment last year in November and the question: Can I go 7 days without cheese and other delicious dairy products? And of course meat, but I haven’t missed that since summer 2001, when I decided to turn vegetarian.
I often wondered what it would be like as a vegan. Could I consider myself a vegan if all that’s plant based in my life would be my food? Why wouldn’t I switch all my cosmetics, my clothes and domestic products to vegan, too? Honestly, I thought it would be very hard to eat and cook plant based, altough I don’t mind cooking at all. I also thought it would mean I’m making a political statement which was never my intention. Also I was unsure if I had to compromise in terms of sports. And I worried that I had to spend heeps of money on a bullshity cooking book.
But to find the answers to my questions, I had to find out for myself whether this vegan thing worked for me and what the effects are.
So if you’re unsure if vegan is at all anything for you or you’ve just recently made up your mind that it is and are still looking for adivce, or you’re just not convinced yet, maybe my list of top 10 things I observed since eating vegan will help.
Spoiler alert: I disapprove any kind of dogmatic preaching – so if you’re longing for “vegan is the only true kind of diet/living”-arguments I guess this list won’t help you. But, please read and find out for yourself ;)
1.) It’s super easy!
No, really it is. It turned out that one week was not a challenge, it was way too short to try all the yummy sounding recipes for soups, pasta, and all sorts of cakes and baked or non-baked sweet goodies.
It’s that easy because conventional grocery stores sell lots and lots of vegan stuff. Some aren’t necessarily labelled as vegan, but they don’t have to be: I usually spend most of my money on fresh fruits and veggies (surprise, they are vegan), then legumes like chickpeas and lentils, some on oat milk (my favorite milk substitute), nuts, and carbs (yes I eat carbs). So I skip the dairy product section, the candy corner (okay sometimes I’ll grab a bag of chips) and the corner of processed frozen meals. Of course I could also hit farmer markets for most of my shopping, but I haven’t made that switch yet for “my supermarket” is just a 5 minute walk away from home.
By that I managed to get more variation into my cooking habits. I took time to read and tried to understand those tiny printed lists of ingredients somewhere hidden on packages or at least research them (e.g. soy lecithin or preservatives) later.
2.) Learn to question lists of ingredients
So why is there soy lecithin in let’s say Oreo cookies? They are considered vegan, but not labelled as that, because they could contain traces of milk – usually because products like that are manufactured/packaged in the same place as conventional foods. And what about soy, seitan, starch or coconut oil in my food? Where do these ingredients come from? How are they processed? And so on. By investigating on ingredients I gained a better understanding gratitude for food in general.
3.) Stay active and follow your athletic (amateur) goals
Until today, I haven’t seen a doctor and asked for a blood check or a vitamin B12 test so I obviously can’t provide any scientific proof how the switch to plant based foods has had a positive effect. However, every time I donate blood my blood levels are grandissimo (and I haven’t blacked out yet afterwards). And let’s look at some other facts: I finished several runs this year very close to my personal records (which honestly I could have achieved with a more disciplined training and fewer cakes), I hit several PRs in crossfit, and I’m finally able to do proper kipping pull-ups. Plus, I feel I’m constantly improving and I’m thrilled for running and crossfitting more and more in the future.
4.) Asking will save you from pouting.
It’s also easy when you ask and speak openly about your eating habits. People can’t read your mind, so don’t be disappointed when there’s just the usual. Ask waiters at restaurants if you’re unsure about a meal, your friends if you’re invited to a dinner/brunch/coffee & cake party, your family to just accept and not be afraid that it’s a crazy diet or that you want to convert them (you should’ve seen the reactions at Christmas last year).
When you’re traveling learn how to ask the necessary questions – ideally in the local language. I’m currently preparing for a trip to Brazil and my survival Portuguese definitely needs an update.
5.) Relax. You won’t die from a tiny bit of cheese. And you won’t die from the questions people ask.
Geez. Are you feeling bad or disgusted whenever you eat cheese, because a tiny bit fell into your salad, or you drink a regular Cafe Latte (with that Pumpkin Spice extra for instance) and can’t resist grandma’s apple pie? You shoulnd’t. Because you chose to not eat certain things. It’s a luxurious position you put yourself in. If you don’t want to eat the cake or finish the salad you started…fine, live with it.
If you feel redemption is necessary, do 10 push ups, donate to a vegan organization, or whatever makes you feel better.
In the end it’s up to you how you feel about yourself. Don’t let other people judge you for not being a “real vegan” – for whatever that means. I personally believe it doesn’t mean you’re weak. I concluded for myself that a) there’s still a lot that can be done for more vegan-friendliness especially in public and that b) I could act like an intolerant diva but since that’s not what I want to be I always carry an emergency snack with me instead of blaming others for being not that food foward thinking yet.
6.) Pack some emergency food
Like a bag of nuts, a vegan oat bar (homemade or from the store), fruits (like a banana or an apple). That way you won’t feel angry and hungry at the same time. And we all know that a hangry person is no fun to be around.
7.) It’s affordable.
Looking at my monthly expenses on grocery shopping, they’ve increased – by 20% in average. Looking at my overall expenses though I’ve pretty much stayed at the same level like one year ago. How is that possible you ask? Did I not heat during winter? Did I quit going to the movies? The answer is: I ate more home cooked foods and reduced buying snacks on the go. But I still had fun going out, hanging around with friends and enjoying life.
Oh and by the way I found most inspiration from food blogs and magazine, like Schrot & Korn (a free magazine at organic grocery stores) or minimalistbaker.com. I haven’t bought a vegan cooking book yet and just recently got one from one of my co-workers who dislikes the author very much.
Funfact: Most vegan/vegetarian meals in restaurants are cheaper than meat/fish meals. Those foods made to substitute meat and cheese are pricy. I personally don’t think they taste very good so I don’t purchase them. There are a few kinds of “cheese” that I buy as a specialty, but not every week. These can be found at some regular grocery stores as well (Edeka for instance is constantly extending its vegan food section).
8.) It’s not necessarily healthier. But it can be.
Just because you skip the meat and dairy products it doesn’t mean you’re a healthy vegan food guru – so don’t act like one (I guess you can read this as dogmatic). As a matter of fact there’s a shit load of crappy food that is vegan, like chips, pizza without cheese, all sorts of white flour foods, softdrinks, etc. They are less nutritous, increase high blood pressure, impair your digestion and make you feel fatigue. If that’s what you want – stick with your routine.
However, if that’s the least you want rethink your eating habits. Even though I generally enjoy sports and a healthy lifestyle I do sip an icecold Coke once in a while, munch a bag of chips or celebrate with a glass of wine (luckily there are more and more vegan wines). I try not to wash these things down in a bulk but actually taste them consciously: Sweet sticky softdrink, salty, crispy chips, dry, sour, fruity red wine. You’ve heard that drinks and foods are supposed to taste that way – but how do you taste them?
9.) Explore tastes – together.
It’s fun to cook and dine together. By that you can share the shopping, cooking and chopping part – and if you don’t own a dishwasher, also share the washing up part. Whether you’re a kitchen chef or a kitchen rookie – give it a try. See it as a game with various levels. A basic meal could be a mixed salad with garlic baguette. A more advanced but still simple meal could be pumpkin soup with roasted pine nuts and a baked apple for dessert. And a pro meal…well if I knew that I could open a restaurant, couldn’t I?! ;)
Maybe cooking isn’t for you. You hate chopping up veggies, mixing herbs and spices together, experimenting with equipment in your kitchen – or maybe you feel utterly overwhelmed with too many ingredients, too many cooking steps, too many gadgets to cook with. That’s okay. Try to find a or many companions to help you with the basics and explore new vegan recipes and things to taste together. That’s also the best way to show someone who eats anything what a plant based diet can actually look like.
10.) Feel better.
Again, I don’t have a medical certificate that quantifies my well being. Just like with my athleticism I look at the soft facts: Less fatigueness and generally more energetic even on stressful days.
So one week of experimenting turned into a year of experiencing. I’ve learned more about food processes and ingredients in general. Which is why I’m gradually substituting my cosmetics, too. I truly don’t know if I’ll change my whole lifestyle to vegan, but eating consciously was definitely a good start to live and consume even more sensible than I have before.
What do you think? And what do your encounters with vegan eating look like?
As I said in the beginning I’m not dogmatic so I won’t run around waving my vegan flag in your face (yet). I generally live by the idea of “live and let live” – something I need to thank my family for. A family where a mix of German/Korean/global fusion meals with meat, milk, butter, eggs in all forms and sizes, and of course veggies and legumes as side dishes are served. But as long as they know that 10 is true they won’t try to change me either.