Whooo Hooo, I have crossed the finish line and made it through the 21 days of embodying the vegan lifestyle. I have lived through it, survived and come out the other end of this experience…the same person but a more knowledgeable person. I must say that by the end of the 21 days I was as excited as a kid is on Christmas morning to get my lips around some meat. At first I was nervous that my body was going to disagree with the meat after eating a strict plant-based diet over the last three weeks. Thankfully that hasn’t seemed to have happened.
So I know you guys are wondering two things: first, has this experience impacted my life and/or perspective and second, what was the first thing I ate off the vegan diet. To answer the first question I’m going to say that my perspective has definitely changed. The way I think about food is different as well as my opinions about people who have a different diet than me. Before I started this challenge, I was not exactly sure what a vegan lifestyle meant and was critical of those who chose to lead that kind of diet. So as to be expected, I faced a lot of the criticism from friends, family and strangers alike for my new diet. It kind of sucked constantly defending my lifestyle choices but I felt proud to be able to share what I had learned over the last few weeks with everyone. I could now debunk all of the myths and skepticism revolving the vegan lifestyle and even changed some people’s opinions.
Throughout this process I’ve read several books and dozens of articles about diet, nutrition general well-being (in addition to following more vegetarian and vegan bloggers than I can count). The vegetarian and vegan communities are very tight knit and it was so helpful to use them for all my questions and inquires. One recurring theme that I kept reading about was how to respond to people’s questions about the vegan diet. Time and time again people were most concerned with whether or not a vegan’s diet consisted of enough protein. This is actually quite funny because in all the materials that I read, there has been no question of whether or not vegans were consuming enough protein when eating a well-balanced diet. Rather there was a lot of discussion about the overconsumption of meat and animal products in our mainstream culture. On average, people living in the industrialized world eat about half a pound of meat each day. That is a lot of meat. And even more interesting is the idea that the reason why people are so obsessed with protein and other animal products is because Big Food companies have ingrained in our heads that we need to eat more animal products in order to feel more healthy.
Where did that idea come from? Why does eating more animal products translate into being more healthy? Seriously think about the infiltration of animal ingredients and byproducts in just about everything we eat and how skeptical Americans are towards those that don’t want to consume animal and dairy products. This phenomenon has become so much more apparent to me through this vegan exercise. There are plenty of cultures around the world that don’t eat nearly as much dairy or meat as we do here in the United States and they are doing just fine. It is quite a telling story when nobody knows what it means to be a vegan in our culture and it is even more telling how scrutinized people are who choose to be dairy free. I understand that veganism is a fairly new concept for most people and that we are generally suspicious and quizzical about things we don’t know or understand but I just don’t think we as a culture get it. For example, almost every vegetarian dish in a restaurant has tons of cheese on it. I’m not sure where people got the idea that they needed to overcompensate for the lack of meat with tons of cheese. Cheese is not a substitute for meat and neither of the two are the only sources of protein we have available. I mean seriously, we just don’t know what it means to live without dairy and animal products. And I hate to break it to everyone but I did just fine and got all the nutrients I needed on a dairy and meat free diet.
To give you some perspective let me just get down to the protein question. So how much protein does each person need each day? From what I read in the book Becoming Vegan “…the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adult protein intake has been set at 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight per day” (Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, pg.40). For my height and weight, using the equation, I found out that I needed about 50-60 grams of protein a day. Additionally it is important to know that “The protein in foods such as tofu, textured soy protein, meat substitutes, and refined grains is as digestible as that in animal products” (40). So what does lets say 55 grams of protein look like? When comparing tofu, milk and eggs, I could either eat 1 1/4 cups of firm tofu, 6 cups of 2% milk or 9 eggs in order to receive the recommended daily intake of protein. I think that information alone speaks volumes when it comes to people’s concern when it comes to protein. Of course I ate more than just tofu. I ate legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, nut butters and meat substitutes.
Now for the more fun stuff. What did I eat upon breaking my vegan diet?? I went out for a great meal at Nora’s Restaurant for a celebratory dinner. Had a wonderful meal which consisted of grilled octopus, steak tartare, pan seared scallops and veal medallions. I went all out, held nothing back and it was sooo tasty.
I seriously cleaned my plate it was so good. Then I met up with a girlfriend for brunch then next morning and had mussels and a vegetarian crepe.
I have to say that I enjoyed my meat dishes very much over the weekend but did happen to have a vegan dinner last night. I think that I’ll be much more conscious in the future about what I eat and limiting my intake of dairy and meat but oh lovely, lovely meat, I missed you so and never ever want to let you go. Looking forward to cooking more healthfully while being more outgoing and trying new vegetables and products. These last three weeks have been really good to me. My perspective about food has definitely changed and I think that through my experience I have changed other people’s perspectives about food too.