My vegan week

Amberly Tabor

     I come from a family of meat-eaters and two generations of avid hunters. Sunday nights are reserved for thick steaks on the grill, and Labor Day weekend is the annual dove hunt in West Texas. My uncle is even a successful taxidermist. Eating meat is almost as second nature to my family as drinking water. When I came up with the idea to go vegan for a week and write a story about it for the newspaper, I had no idea exactly what I was getting myself into. It was much easier for me to say I was going vegan than to figure out what that really meant. I knew the definition of one—someone who doesn’t use, wear, or eat anything that comes from an animal— but had no idea what that really entailed.

     Concern for the environment, food allergies or concern over the treatment of animals processed for food, are some of the varied reasons people “go vegan”. However, with such a restricted diet, there are some health concerns for vegans. They have to be careful to receive the nutrients and vitamins they need, along with keeping a balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

     After making this decision, I realized that I was in over my head and needed to get assistance from someone who knew their millet from their quinoa, so I contacted Whole Foods Market to see if there was anything they could do to help out. They did way more than I expected and set me up an appointment with their nutritionist. Mary Oliver, a health food specialist, found a vast amount of vegan recipes, laid out a general meal plan for the week, created a shopping list and gave me some more insight on what it really meant to go vegan.

     Whole Foods is a huge store, so it took a couple of hours to navigate and find the things I needed. I bought a lot of beans and grains, which are considered staple foods in a vegan diet. They are almost dirt cheap because Whole Foods sells them in bulk, without the packaging. I also bought tofu and seitan, which I used as substitutes for meat and eggs. I’ve been allergic to milk all of my life, so I have had plenty of soy milk, and I already incorporate tons of fruits and vegetables into my normal diet, so these I already had at home. Fruits and vegetables are key factors to keeping a balanced diet so this is where vegans get most of their vitamins and minerals. I came home with bags of food and spent just under 40 dollars. The assumption that “going vegan” is expensive is false; it’s actually less expensive than a diet including meat because meat products are quite costly.

     A mistake most people make when trying to go vegan is that they become “junk food vegans” by becoming lazy in their preparation of meals. Technically, French fries are vegan, as are ramen noodles and Boca burgers. A few foods like this sprinkled into one’s diet ever now and then are acceptable. Consuming an excess of these foods and leaving healthy ones out, however, can leave you nutrient-deficient and even make you sick.

     The preparation of food during the week was a love/hate relationship. I love to cook, so I was excited that I got to actually make most of my food. However, it was a tad time-consuming and I’ll admit that I got frustrated more than once. Even though I had never handled some of the foods before, I didn’t make a single meal I didn’t like. I’ve tried tofu many times before, and have never enjoyed before. However, during this week I substituted it in breakfast for eggs and mixed in some vegetables and spices, and I absolutely loved it. This was a great discovery because I absolutely cannot stand scrambled eggs in the morning.

     One evening I cooked a pot of vegan chili, and it is hands-down the most amazing chili I have ever had in my life. Eggplant was substituted for meat, and there was even a tiny touch of chocolate to give it a molè feel. The realization that I could still cook cultural meals that actually tasted good without using any form of animal really excited me. Even my parents were getting jealous of the food I was eating. Instead of feeling loaded down or tired after every meal, I felt energized. I felt that nice, comfortable full feeling you get after eating something healthy, like a salad, without skipping out on anything. It was a little inconvenient at times because the beans and grains I bought at Whole Foods had to be prepared before cooking the meal. I also had to cook almost every meal, and going out to eat was practically impossible because I never knew what animal products could be lurking in the food. Fortunately, there are many restaurants that serve vegan foods. Kerbey Lane, for example, serves delicious veggie burgers and vegetable dishes with hummus.

     Transitioning back into the “meat” world was smooth, except I forgot to do it for the first day back. I continued eating my vegan food because that was what I had become accustomed to doing. When I realized that I could eat meat again, I was lost. Partly because I had a thousand vegan recipes floating around in my head that I still wanted to try, and partly because I couldn’t decide how to celebrate my return: greasy burger or grilled chicken with veggies? I’ve never been that big on junk food, but after I ate vegan for a week, the thought of a greasy burger made me sick.

     I became well read in the economic, moralistic and health-related reasons for going vegan, and now the information always pops up and blocks me from eating anything that isn’t “healthy.”

     After this experience, I’ve decided I’m going to incorporate many of the things I learned into my everyday diet. I realize now that my meals don’t have to contain some big source of protein like meat, and can actually obtain a considerable amount of protein from nuts and beans. The healthy “marriage” of diets, if you will, will considerably increase my energy level (which is often dangerously low due to my hectic schedule), make my skin gleam (thank you olive oil!) and keep me on a balanced, healthy diet. The week I invested for this endeavour will pay dividends throughout my life in terms of the way I understand dietary need. You might consider giving it a try, it’s not as bad as you might think.