I became vegan in January 2010, and I wanted to share a blog (of sorts) that I did at that time. It’s interesting to me to look back on the views of a different version of myself. These started off as Facebook “Notes”, so people did respond and encourage, ask questions and share resources in response to these at the time.
Two things jumped out to me as very different from my thinking today. First, I believed that dairy and eggs could be raised humanely. The more I have learned, the more it seems obvious to me that even traditional farming practices in these areas involve cruelty and unnecessary death, and I no longer believe that “humane” animal agriculture is a viable path.
Second, I am vague and angry when I talk about my spiritual path. As readers of this blog know, I have been struggling over the past couple of years to be more open, more developed in my spiritual path. I’m no longer lonely and angry in this part of my life, I’m glad to say.
So here are the thoughts from a different time, from a different me…
My Vegan Update
January 7, 2010 at 9:17pm
So today is Vegan Experiment Day 5. I started on Sunday, January 3th. Several of you have asked how it’s going, so I decided to so this blog of sorts.
Vegan Experiment Day 3 held my first experience of dining out with the new diet. Up until then, I’ve been eating at home and bringing lunch to work from home. I’ve been meaning start bringing my lunch to work anyway, so this has actually been a great excuse. But Tuesday, I had a ticket to the opera, which means I had to figure out dinner.
Fortunately, I had done some research and determined that I can get a pretty decent vegan burrito from Chipotle. It’s actually the very same burrito I have been getting from them minus the cheese and sour cream. One thing a noticed though is that the dairy must have been really cutting the spiciness of the salsa. The medium salsa seemed a lot hotter!
Then I had a mini-crisis. With the spiciness still in my mouth, I found some mints in a pocket and popped a few in my mouth. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea what was in those little guys. I know that Altoids, for example, contain gelatin for some reason. The ingredient list for this brand (Eclipse Mints Winterfresh) was on the outer plastic wrapper, which was long gone, so I had no way of knowing.
Later, I did look up the ingredient list, which sounds like a chemistry experiment. It contains “Calcium Lactate” which sounds suspiciously dairy-esque, but I haven’t found it on any lists of non-vegan ingredients online. I’m still not sure if I cheated or not.
Anyway, I wanted to take a stab at some aspects of the question about why I’m doing this. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I’m not good at simple answers, but I’ll take a shot.
I haven’t eaten meat in a long time and the idea of returning to meat-eating seems bizarre to me, but to be honest that was fairly easy for me to give up. I was never a big fan of meat to begin with, so it wasn’t really a sacrifice. I’ve always said there is no reason for me to eat meat, since I gain no particular benefit, and the animals on the other side of the equation certainly would prefer I didn’t.
I have been eating fish and seafood for many years, but I never ate it on a daily basis, so going without isn’t really much of a hassle. Dairy and egg are a completely different story, though. I have always eaten a lot of dairy and eggs seem to be in practically everything.
To be honest, I don’t think that dairy and egg consumption is wrong, if the animals are treated decently in the process. Living in the city, and getting my food from grocery stores, I have absolutely no idea how the animals are being treated. Factory farming is deeply troubling to me when I care to think about it, and lately I have been thinking about it. On the other hand, I have enormous respect for people who take it into their hands to really know their food and respectfully keep free range chickens to lay or pastured, well-treated cattle to milk.
But then there’s the health question. I have a number of health issues and I thought I could probably benefit from a cleanse of sorts. I’ve never really weaned myself off dairy for an extended period of time, and I’m curious to see how my body reacts.
In the meantime, here are the good things so far:
I’m eating lots of good veggies and whole grains and I’m getting plenty of fiber and “good fats” in my diet.
I’m taking my lunch to work, which saves money. I should have been doing that anyway.
I’ve tried a number of new foods and I love the novelty. Of course some are good and some are not so good, but it’s good to branch out.
Eating dinner with my partner Jose’ is going to be something of a challenge. There weren’t a lot of things that we both ate before, and now I’m not even sure what meal we would eat together.
This has involved tons of label-reading and web research. I don’t mind some of this, but it is starting to get a little overwhelming.
In a quest for variety in my animal-free diet in January in Chicago, I’ve probably added some food miles, which isn’t good for the environment. I do love my guacamole, but you know those avocados are coming from somewhere far, far away.
Alright, that’s probably more than enough for now. I’ll try do a few more of these during this month.
My Vegan Update, Part 2
January 13, 2010 at 8:48pm
Today is Vegan Experiment Day 11. I navigated dining out again on Friday night and ordering in with my partner Jose’ on Saturday.
We ordered Thai food on Saturday, and there were a number of vegan selections, in terms of noodle dishes, entrees and appetizers. In scanning the menus, I think I spotted dishes at our usual Chinese delivery place and I could get pasta with meatless red sauce and a salad at our Italian place. Leona’s also has a vegan burger. So there are options. Ordering pizza is out, however. None of my local places have a soy cheese option. That seems like kind of a questionable alternative anyway.
For Friday dinner, there’s an Au Bon Pain in my building at work, and as it turns out, they have a number of vegan selections. They seem to always include one of their vegan soups in their selection, and also they make custom salads with a selection of several vegan salad dressings. Several of the regular breads are vegan. However, none of their baked sweets are vegan. All those lovely cookies and pastries have eggs and/or butter. I shouldn’t be eating that stuff anyway!
That does bring up one area where I need to educate myself. I know little about vegan baking. I actually enjoy baking, so I think that should be a fun project.
Now helping me avoid pizza and cookies may be good for my health, but I am well aware that vegan does not automatically mean healthy. Everything from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, high salt foods, bleached white flour and hundreds of chemical additives are all vegan. You can be a junk food vegan!
In addition to going vegan, I am trying to stick my general healthy eating ideas like eating whole grains, lots of vegetables and avoiding excessively high fat and high sugar foods. I also try to incorporate organic and local foods into my diet.
I do have to adjust my thinking about nutrition. As a vegetarian, I’ve long been aware of how much protein and iron I have in my diet. Now, I also need to make sure that I’m OK with vitamin B12 and Calcium. I take a multi-vitamin and mineral pill each day, but it’s still better to get balanced nutrition through your diet when possible.
Another concept that I’ve been following is to not be completely dependent on soy. My friend Bernard forwarded some information on how soy, once the darling of the health food community, is not necessarily good for you, especially in large amounts. I’m not going to eliminate it entirely, but I don’t want to have soy as my primary protein source.
I’ve never wanted to have most of my meals centered on soy-based meat or dairy substitute, anyway. On a certain level, eating all my meals with a product masquerading as something else seems a bit dishonest. I think it’s OK to put some of those into the mix in my diet, but not every meal. Thank goodness that I like a lot of different bean dishes, from black bean burritos, to hummus to lentil soup, as well as tree nuts and peanuts.
To be honest, I figured by now I would be salivating at the thought of an egg-and-cheese bagel, pizza or a bowl of ice cream. I haven’t really had any massive cravings for any non-vegan foods so far, and I’m a little bit surprised about it.
My Vegan Update, Part 3
January 18, 2010 at 8:13pm
Today is Day 16 of the vegan experiment. I negotiated another weekend of food delivery and restaurants. Saturday, we went to Noodles & Co., which has a number of vegan options. This is a place Jose’ and I like anyway, so I’m glad they’re vegan-friendly. The Japanese Pan Noodles have thick udon noodles, which I love, plus veggies. We ordered Chinese from our favorite local delivery place, Hunan Spring. I ordered the Dry Sauteed String Beans, which is an unappealing name, but it was quite tasty. The sauce has a smoky, spicy taste.
I had a near miss on facing the challenge of the office lunch last week. Thank goodness it was cancelled. They were ordering from Portillo’s and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been able to eat anything on that menu.
We took a trip to the Whole Foods next to the Center on Halsted, which seems to have a larger selection of vegan-friendly treats than my local Whole Foods. I found several interesting items in their prepared food counter and I had a hazelnut field cutlet, Mediterranean ancient wheat salad and quinoa with sweet potato and spinach. The quinoa was a bit on the bland side, but the other things were tasty. The ancient wheat (amaranth) had figs and dates in it, which was lovely. I was also able to pick up Vegenaise (recommended by Alison) and Follow Your Heart “cheese” (recommended by Kate), so I’m eager to try these new options.
I also chose a vegan chocolate cupcake, which I wasn’t too excited about. It wasn’t sweet enough, even for me, and I don’t demand that baked goods are super-sweet. Sugar is vegan, so I’m not sure what the issue was there. I just picked up the cookbook Veganomicon (recommended by Kerith) and I think I’m going to try some of the vegan baking ideas in there.
On the health front, I’m feeling fine. I thought I had perhaps lost some weight, but since I don’t own a scale, I can’t really tell. My digestive system has definitely changed, and it is for the most part calmer, which is good. The one health effect that I was really hoping for has not really materialized. I’ve heard that dairy in particular clogs pores and can cause skin issues. I have to betray a bit of vanity here to say that if my skin would have cleared of all acne, there’s not much doubt in my mind that I would be sticking with a completely vegan diet on an ongoing basis. With over two weeks without any dairy, the change I’ve seen is so modest that it’s probably still within my usual range of breakouts and clearer periods.
Well, the experiment continues.
My Vegan Update, Part 4
January 22, 2010 at 11:24pm
Day 20 of the Vegan Experiment and things are going along fine. I’ve had a few cravings for non-vegan foods, but somewhat to my surprise, they’ve been for foods that are nearly vegan. Earlier this week, I was craving falafel, which often contains a small amount of egg to hold them together. Another craving was pasta with pesto. Traditional pesto is basil, olive oil and pine nuts, but also contains parmesan cheese. For both of these, there are probably vegan versions out there, but I just haven’t encountered them. I know I can find vegan recipes for them easily, but they both seem time-consuming to make when I’m the only one eating.
This brings me to another topic that is one that I sometimes find tough to get around. Eating in our culture is a very social thing. I’m so pleased to have the encouragement of my Facebook friends in eating vegan. Many of you however are in different states, and encouragement and support isn’t the same as sitting down at a table together and eating a meal.
I’ve gotten used to thinking about things differently than just about everyone around me. As I get older, that seems to be increasingly true. On a certainly level, I can function quite well this way. In most social and workplace environments in Chicago, people don’t assume that everyone is Christian, meat-eating and heterosexual. Most people in my life know I’m gay and I have many gay friends. Fortunately, this is largely a non-issue.
I don’t really discuss my religious views with anyone in my life, and with those close to me I have a sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell understanding. Most of the time, this is fine. When I was grieving the loss of my mother, this situation made me feel profoundly alone, since many of the beliefs and ideas that family members found comforting were either nonsensical or offensive to me. I still have a huge amount of anger about religion and I have no appropriate outlet for that, but that’s not what I’m writing about now, so back to the topic at hand.
Most people in my life have known that I’m a longtime vegetarian, although that still seems to fluster some people in social situations. It seems to me that the vegan thing takes this another step and that many people will see me as being difficult (i.e. they would have to go out of their way to prepare something “special” just for me if I came over or if they plan an event) or judgmental of what they’re eating. I’m really not out to be difficult or to be judgmental about what others are doing, not as a vegetarian and not as a vegan. I’m just trying to think through what I’m doing.
I have good friends who I enjoy seeing a couple times a year and our socializing centers on going to mid-range to upscale restaurants in the loop. We have always alternated in who picks that places we go. I don’t know of any such places that would accommodate my diet as it currently stands, so potentially it could be a problem. Besides, to have the choice always be mine violates the spirit of sharing.
I also mentioned the workplace lunch dilemma. If we have a social lunch meeting where they order in pizza, for example, I then have to face both an interrogation about my diet and/or an unfavorable view when I take time away to get something I can eat while the rest of the office is back to work.
I worry that since food is such a social bond, by rejecting almost all the food that most people eat, I’m isolating myself just that much more from the outer world. I certainly don’t feel like I have to be in the mainstream. I never have been anyway and in many ways that’s not really an option. What I am more worried about is isolating myself from friends and people I care about. That’s something none of us can afford to do.
My Vegan Update, Part 5
January 27, 2010 at 8:04pm
Today is Day 25. There was a challenge this week in that I got really sick on Sunday evening with what may have been food poisoning or possibly 24-hour flu. In any case, I was briefly, but very unpleasantly, sick. I’m still a little puzzled over the food poisoning possibility, since if that is the case then it was something I ate in my own home. There are a number of potential culprits (vegan cheese, baba ganoush, lettuce and some other items) and I had to throw away a fair amount of food to be certain I didn’t go through that again. There is something about throwing away food that truly irks me, going well beyond the loss of money involved. I suppose this is something ingrained from my parents.
In terms of sticking to my vegan diet, this wasn’t really a setback, since while I was sick I didn’t really consume anything for 24 hours, and when I did start eating again it was toast and Amy’s No Chicken Noodle soup which hit the bland spot. Hooray for Amy’s! Today I’m basically back to normal.
Since there’s an election coming up, it does cause me to reflect on the fact that animal rights issues are essentially nowhere on the political radar, even within fairly liberal communities. Dog fighting is banned, and thanks to Michael Vick we recently had a high profile example of someone getting punished for violating these laws. Blatant cruelty against pets or zoo animals does tend to be condemned. When it comes to the animals we consider food, our cultural definition of cruelty is completely up in the air, and there’s definitely a taboo against pressing this issue in a public forum.
My alderman, Joe Moore, proposed a ban on serving foie gras in Chicago on the basis that the practice of producing foie gras is cruel to the animals. This ban passed City Council, only to be reversed a short time later and Joe Moore became a butt of jokes for championing this issue. It’s hard to know what to make of this complete about-face. Were they not paying attention the first time around? The pressure to reinstate came from high-end restaurateurs who said that Chicago would become the laughing stock of the fine dining establishment. Obviously their ability to attract big-spending tourists trumped any ethical scruples. The average citizen probably has never had foie gras and wouldn’t miss it. Now if you take away their veal, which is also produced by an unusually cruel farming practice, I suppose there could be a more general outcry.
A couple of my friends are involved with a group called Mercy for Animals (MFA), which was one of the groups involved in this week’s expose on the dairy industry. There are some very disturbing images from a supposedly well-respected New York state dairy farm, where animals are kept perpetually indoors, crammed into very close quarters, wallowing in their own excrement and perpetually pregnant through artificial insemination. It’s all a far cry from the smiling cows we consistently see on the dairy ads. It’s also a far cry from the pastured dairy cattle that I saw so frequently in my childhood trips through the Wisconsin countryside (has farming really changed that much since the 1970s?)
MFA, along with other advocacy groups, have been able to apply enough pressure to the New York state legislature that there is now a proposal to ban the practice of tail-docking for dairy cattle. This is a practice that amounts to cutting off the end of the cow’s tail, supposedly for the hygienic reasons. If you saw this footage, you could see that hygiene is not at the top of these people’s priorities. The practice has been banned already in California. But it does seem like this is just one small part of a much larger problem within modern agriculture.
It’s dangerous to idealize the agricultural past, where subsistence farming came from back-breaking and often dangerous labor and chance occurrences like storms, floods or droughts could lead to famine and financial ruin. But is the combination of increased monoculture, dependence on chemical fertilizer and pesticide, as well as inhumane animal husbandry practices in the name of efficiency, the only way to feed our exploding human population?
I’m not here to present any fulminating screed on the issue of animal cruelty, but it is surprising to me how little attention these issues tend to get and how easily they seem to be dismissed in our cultural conversation.
My Vegan Update: The Final Chapter
February 2, 2010 at 11:40pm
Today is Day 31 and I have completed what I set out to do, which is to be fairly strictly vegan for a month. My primary purposes were to test the convenience/hassle factor and to test health benefits.
First to assess the convenience/hassle factor: Going in, I had a fear that I would be largely forced to eat only what I prepare in my own home and that eating out and eating with friends would have to go completely out the window. I don’t mind cooking, but I know myself well enough that often I don’t leave myself enough time for me to pack a decent lunch for work. Also, I enjoy the social aspect of eating at restaurants with friends. I was glad to discover that there are some good options out there for lunches. I haven’t put the dinner-with-friends challenge much to the test, but I’m certainly more aware of options that are out there.
Somewhat to my own surprise, I haven’t been filled with massive cravings for non-vegan food. I’ve really been generally satisfied with the variety and quality of foods that I’ve found.
For the health question: I’ve been pleased with how I feel on this diet. I believe I’ve lost weight, which is a good thing. I really do wish I could quantify that change, but unfortunately I don’t have a scale. My digestive system is behaving very well. With the exception of my brief illness, I’ve generally been feeling healthy. Of course diet is just one aspect of keeping up general health and I still have an ongoing challenge with keeping up a good level of exercise and sometimes my sleep patterns could be better. But, I think that the vegan diet that I’ve been following is quite good for my health.
So where do I go from here? I’m going to stick with my current diet (i.e. stay vegan) for the near future at least. I can see myself going to a less strict “mostly vegan” diet at some point, but for now, I’m actually pretty happy with how this has all worked out.
Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement.
My Vegan Update – One Year
January 2, 2011 at 3:13pm
I started my vegan diet on January 3, 2010, so I am closing out a full year since I gave up eating all animal products. It has been an interesting journey so far. I previously chronicled my early challenges and thoughts in my “My Vegan Update” Facebook notes if you’re interested in reading those.
It continues to have its challenges, and over the holiday season in particular, I did have quite a few decisions (and made a few compromises). The holidays have been challenging because I have always loved baking and in particular, I have loved baking cookies. I am still really at the beginning stages of learning about vegan baking. I did adapt a few of my old recipes and tried a few new ones, with some success. I also have eaten some of special favorite Christmas treats this year, even though I know that the recipes contained butter and/or egg. Fresh baked treats are an unfortunate downfall of mine, both in terms of the vegan diet and in terms of general healthy eating. I also have sentimental attachments to certain treats from childhood, and that certainly plays into emotional reasons to eat these things.
I have not set out to educate or convert people particularly, but gradually over the year, I’ve explained and discussed my diet with various friends, family members and co-workers as it has come up in conversations. Shared meals and parties still almost inevitably include a discussion of my diet. Sometimes it is a simple set of questions about what I actually do eat and sometimes it’s a discussion of my reasons for doing it. I think most of my co-workers think it’s a slight oddity, but aren’t too judgmental about it. Friends either understand it or at least, know me well enough to understand that when I decide to do something like this, no one is going to talk me out of it.
And how do I feel? I feel pretty good, but in most ways not significantly different from before I started this. I lost a few pounds in January, but nothing since then. I still do need to lose weight, and being vegan has not really appeared to make much difference in that regard. My general digestive health seems a little better, but again, there isn’t a dramatic difference.
Has it been hard to stick to this diet in general? Actually, aside from a few small inconveniences, it really hasn’t been that big of a deal. I really did think that I would crave macaroni & cheese or an omelette, but really that hasn’t happened. If I’m in my regular eating patterns – eating at home, eating lunch near work or having lunch or dinner out at familiar places – I have adapted and having my current vegan diet is no problem at all. When going to less familiar ground, I have used the web to come up with some great alternatives. http://www.vegguide.org/ and http://www.veganeatingout.com/ are good resources.
Well, I’m going to keep it going in 2011