Well, today was the last day of my being a vegan lab rat, a plant-based diet guinea pig.
I brought a tote-able breakfast of applesauce and trail mix (almonds, walnuts, berry-flax granola, dairy-free dark chocolate chips, and dried cran- and blueberries) to work. It was quick, it was easy, it was good. It was really good. As someone who has a tendency to graze, it was a perfect snack.
|Trail mix and applesauce.|
For lunch, I'd made some Italian-style vegetable soup filled with lots of wholesome vegetables: mushrooms, onions, zucchini, tomato, carrots, celery. To go with it, a couple of slices of the ciabatta loaf were easily packed up. But since I had such a late breakfast, eating at work rather than at home, I wasn't actually hungry for the soup before I left to go on my Friday afternoon schlep through Kroger.
|Italian-Style Vegetable Soup.|
As I'd reviewed my groceries and my menu options before heading out for the day, I wasn't sure what I was going to do about dinner. Then my friend Olivia posted a picture of a salad on Facebook, filled with avocado, corn, lettuce, tomatoes ... all items I had on hand! She and I both planned to make this tonight.
Sure, the original salad contained chicken; but I could simply leave that out. So, I set out all the ingredients around a scoop of the leftover beans from Monday night, drizzled salsa over everything, and enjoyed an exceptionally nice dinner. A few crumbled corn chips on top didn't hurt, either ... :)
So ... my thoughts after five days as a vegan?
First and foremost, I'm looking forward to eating cheese. I want parmesan on my pasta, feta on my spinach, cheddar on many, many things. I want to be able to use eggs again. I want my Coffee-Mate, which offers no redeeming nutritional value along with the richness of cream.
It seems as though I've been snacking more, as though I'm feeling some sort of loss on a cellular level. It's not as though I've deprived myself of calories or protein or fats or sugars or anything else fun. But there must be some sort of recalibration going on. Ordinarily, if I have a big lunch then I only need a salad for dinner. I found myself still nibbling beyond that, though.
Of course, we can thank the Fritos and the faux-reos for that, singing their Siren songs to me in the night. I bought them so I wouldn't feel deprivation, to be able to have treats and not just denial, to show everyone that a vegan diet doesn't have to be just about rice, beans, lettuce, and tofu. But it's so much easier to resist that kind of stuff at the store, rather than at home! I usually don't buy those things, when I'm on my own. I know I'm weak. I proved that once again, these past few days.
I do think I'll be a mostly-vegetarian after this. My personal feeling is that cows are producing milk, chickens are laying eggs, and bees are making honey whether we eat and drink those products or not. As long as the animals are treated humanely, living happy lives, then those items should be a part of our diets. Veganism is simply too extreme, and unnecessarily so.
And while one might adopt a vegan diet for health reasons, bulking up on fruits and vegetables and whole grains, that gets very boring very quickly (for me, anyway, as someone who constantly craves variety). And it's also potentially expensive. I could have special-ordered vegan "cheese" from L.A., and "meat" from Minneapolis. I could have gone to various markets and restaurants around Toledo to get vegan dishes. I could have made "cheese" from cashews.
Really, that's just excessive. Be conscientious about what you eat - for political, ethical, moral, health, financial, and other reasons - but exercise moderation.
The thought of eating some chicken that's in the freezer, though ... I'm not so keen on it. Or the sausage that I'd intended to use in making red beans and rice on Monday.
The seed for this week's experiment was planted at an event a few weeks ago: braised veal cheeks were on the menu.
I was uncomfortable as they were presented to me, even as they smelled divine and were tender enough to melt on the fork. I tasted them, out of politeness (and for work); they were wonderful. I felt guilty.
And yet, I'm debating whether to grab a burger this weekend. How is it that I can eat the mother but was uncomfortable when the baby was on my plate? Because I knew which part of him I was chewing on? Because I buy the mother wrapped in plastic, displayed on styrofoam?
Once again, as I've done many times before, I'm hanging my head in shame and disgust as a hypocrite. I admit it, though not proudly. It is something I ruminate about, contemplate, grapple with, discuss, and consider at great length and with great frequency.
While I don't want to say I'm ruling out meat - or that burger - entirely (especially since I'll be judging a chili cook-off in two weeks, and there are only two or three vegetarian options being served), I can see myself becoming more of a vegetarian. Not that I eat meat all the time, but I can certainly feel comfortable eating it even less frequently now. Until temptation, like barbecued ribs, lures me in, I'm sure.
So, after all the thought and planning I put into Vegan Week's menu - and I probably have another two weeks' worth of meal suggestions that didn't get eaten - I have no idea what I'll have for breakfast tomorrow morning. It may be more Elvis-style oatmeal. It may be bacon and eggs. I might even go all-out and have a steak, which is usually a once-in-a-decade option.
The point is that I'll have a choice. I'll have lots of choices, rather than having entire food groups eliminated and having so many options taken away from me (or, more correctly, taking them away from myself).
Vegan Week was definitely a worthwhile experiment. It fed me, my blog, and also my column for this Tuesday. And it offered food for thought.
But now it's time to go back to eating whatever I want whenever I want. Time to go back to being an omnivore ... except for tofu and sushi!
Italian-Style Vegetable Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large mushrooms, caps removed, sliced
1/3 cup sliced zucchini
1 small stalk celery, chopped
1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
1 scallion, chopped
A very generous splash of red wine
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
A generous handful of baby spinach
1/2 cup water
Pinch of sugar
Place the oil into a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat with the red pepper flakes. Add onion, garlic, and mushrooms; cook for 2 minutes, until mushrooms are softening. Add zucchini, celery, carrot, and scallion; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, spinach, water, sugar, and Italian seasoning; bring just to a boil, then cover partially and lower heat to simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
Source: Mary Bilyeu
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Chopped red onion
Leftover Pinto Beans with Rice and Quinoa
Sprinkle of cilantro
Corn chips, crushed
Quantities are variable, based upon number of people being served and ingredient preferences.
Place the oil and the corn into a small skillet; stir together. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until corn is toasted and golden.
Place lettuce on a serving plate. Place corn, avocado, tomatoes, and onion around the circumference of the plate, on top of the lettuce. Place the leftover beans in the center of the plate. Drizzle salsa over the salad, then sprinkle with cilantro and the crushed corn chips.
Source: Mary Bilyeu (Adapted from cleanfoodcrush.com)