We’re a bit late getting this written up since our experimental week ended on Sunday, but I can report that we’re still going with the vegan diet so any time seems like a good time for reflections, and there are plenty.
Firstly, overall I think we surprised ourselves with just how much we got into it. I won’t deny that we had a tendency to frame the whole thing in terms of denial—what we were giving up—but the gain was the most noticeable thing. And as we go forward this gain perspective seems vital.
Interestingly though, it’s amazing just how much of veganism is defined in terms of absence and replacement; that’s partly through necessity (it’s important to mark things as animal product free in a meat- and dairy-centric environment) but there’s also a sense of clinging to what people might be missing. The number of fake meats and cheeses on the market is quite something and we can report that they’re pretty much all terrible.
Not only are they generally terrible but they’re also ridiculously expensive. This is an important reflection I think: on one hand it’s fairly clear that any kind of special diet brings with it opportunities to make some cash. But what’s more interesting—and not in a good way—is just how ruthlessly efficient the meat and dairy industries are. Things that used to be luxuries are now closest to the cheapest food you can buy. We’re so good at processing animals that almost any alternative is substantially more expensive. With that come some serious systems that we’ll struggle to change.
So veganism is about loss on many levels. It’s what we personally give up, but it’s also what the world would have to give up if we changed our diets en masse. Yes, we’d be giving up a lot of bad things, but a lot of people depend on bad things to survive.
Coming back to the personal perspective this loss narrative seems to be both self-defeating (a constant reminder of what you don’t have) and depressingly devoid of the incredible possibilities a new diet might offer. For a start, it’s not a bad idea to think about all the countries in the world where veganism is a large part of the diet, or at least where it was historically (like Japan). People the world over do without cheesy meaty things and barely give it a second thought.
But what about the practicalities? Well, on the whole the week was pretty straightforward. Breakfasts and dinners changed very little (we already didn’t eat meat) and although we made some substitutions (oat milk for porridge and soy milk for vegan lasagna) we thoroughly embraced the recipes that were vegan in the first place. And so we ate veggie curries, miso ramen, fresh rolls, lots of beans, lentils and tofu as you might expect. It helps that we like that stuff. We also had chips a couple of times. Vegan doesn’t have to be healthy.
The real difficulty came with picnics, spontaneity and eating out. Picnics are easy when you can shove some cheese in some bread, open a tin of tuna or boil some eggs. Not doing these things requires more planning. And spontaneous picnics are more fun than militarily planned picnics. In future our strategy will be twofold: buy in lots of tins of vegan pate and make and freeze whatever we can think of.
Spontaneity extends to eating out: the local bars that we used to go to when it just got too late to cook offer us little more than fried potatoes and bread now. That’s not all a bad thing of course. We’re spending less.
Another change in our habits is on the research front. We’re having to Google a lot and read the ingredients on even more. It’s incredible just what companies will add dairy (and meat) to. Powdered milk seems to be a constituent of more than you could ever imagine, and pig products aren’t far behind.
Of course, when you’re out somewhere and you’re vegan sometimes your eating options come down to what you can research online. Croissants are a good example of this: in theory it should be pretty easy to get dairy free ones (often made with sunflower oil). In reality it’s hard to be sure that a cafe isn’t serving something with some dairy. In those cases sometimes your brain tells you that if you really don’t know then it really doesn’t matter. I’ve not given in to that thought process yet though.
One of the surprising side effects of veganism is the sudden abundance of food in our house. It’s hard to know why that’s happened although vegan baking has been a feature of the week and we never seem to have been short of brownies, cookies or even pancakes. As for where all the other food has come from I can only imagine that it’s largely a defence against going off the rails.
Beyond the eating aspect our week has made us want to look into the theory more. I’m not sure we’ve done that in a very balanced way as the main source of education was watching Cowspiracy, but we are at least aware that we need to do more research. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that the factory farming of animals for food is generally cruel, environmentally damaging and pretty much unnecessary, but we need to look into this properly. If you have any links to good evidence on this please put them in the comments.
Of course, one of the reasons one might become vegan is for a potential health benefit. It’s always hard to assess this, particularly in the short term, but certainly we’re all feeling good. It will be interesting to track this over a longer period.
Speaking of longer periods, I think we’ve all decided to keep going with this. Our youngest isn’t entirely sure since she loves fish and we all love yoghurt and cheese. And butter. But we’re also surprised by how little we’ve actually missed any of those things. As I mentioned above, we’ve tried to frame things more in terms of what we’re gaining, and there’s plenty of mileage in that yet.
If you’re interested in what we’re eating, or more accurately what the children like the look of, we’ve started a Pinterest Board. Please let us know if you have any recipes we might try or indeed let us know if you have any thoughts on veganism in general. We’re only scratching the surface of the vegan community out there and it seems like something really important if we’re going to continue and evolve as vegans.