A Week of Eating Vegan
Within the past couple of years, the vegan community has grown exponentially. For many, this way of life is purely for environmental reasons and for others, this lifestyle is a way to eat healthily and feel more energized. However, as the popularity of veganism increases, the more concerns medical professionals are having. In fact, many even consider eating vegan as "the new anorexia," leading to more nutritional issues than environmental or health benefits. Sure, I've always known that eating vegan is a much more limiting way of life, yet, I was astonished that some would consider this environmentally friendly lifestyle at the same level as an eating disorder. With all of this food controversy, I felt that I had to experience it for myself.
So, for a week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I gave being vegan a shot, proving to myself that it could be possible to get all the food and nutrients you need with this plant-based way of life - whether eating in or eating out. Although I usually lean toward being a pescatarian, I attempted to eliminate any meat, dairy or eggs and substitute them with plant-based options. To be quite honest, it was definitely a transition to put so much thought into everything I was eating. From discovering how almost every restaurant cooked with butter to being reminded that most sweets contained dairy and eggs, to even just realizing how awkward it was to ask for almond milk with my granola cereal at a restaurant, I definitely had a couple of minor setbacks at first. Yet, after the first couple of days I soon began to get the hang of it, and I realized how many delicious vegan options are easily available - both in Memphis and in my own kitchen. Even if you have no intention of going full-out vegan, I hope this post gives you some ideas for delicious ways to eat a little more plant-based, even if only for a couple of meals a week.
Probably my favorite part about trying out veganism was having the opportunity to test out some new, tasty recipes. One thing I quickly learned is that beans are truly key for anyone considering this way of life. Not only are they high in protein but they are also so cheap and easy to make. Throughout the week, I used white beans as a topper for avocado toast, added white and black beans to Buddha bowls, and even made a black bean dip to snack on with pita chips. Soybean products such as tempeh and tofu became my go-to substitute for meat. I had always been so-so about tofu until I discovered a way to bake it and make it extra crispy and flavorful (recipe coming soon)! In addition to my newfound love for beans, nuts and nut milks also became quite the staples. At the beginning of the week, I made some almond butter to put on top of toast and inside smoothies, and it really made a great and filling snack throughout the week. Some other plant-based items I recommend stocking your pantry and fridge with are: coconut yogurt, granola, vegan bread, pita chips, avocado, carrots, hummus, and, of course, lots of veggies and frozen/fresh fruits. While, yes, it can be easy for this lifestyle to get expensive as there are many pricey, name-brand vegan substitutes for things nowadays, this lifestyle can still be achieved on a low budget, especially if you choose to make the vegan substitutes yourself rather than opting for store bought.
Honestly, my biggest fear about this week was going out to eat and realizing that a menu would have no options to fit with this vegan challenge. Considering that it was the holiday season, I knew that going out for meals was a given, and I prepared myself for there to be nothing vegan on the menu at some places. To my surprise, however, there was not a single restaurant I went to that had absolutely nothing that could be made vegan. Although the butter part is tricky, most places at least have something that can accommodate a vegan dietary choice. My advice would be to look at the menu beforehand and scope out your options. If the only vegan option is a salad, then have a little snack beforehand to ensure you get enough to eat.
Yes, this week was made a lot easier because of the fact that I work at the vegan restaurant City Silo; however, there are also lots of surprisingly great vegan options at places like Cafe Eclectic and Casablanca. At Cafe Eclectic, I recommend vegan pancakes, granola cereal with soy or almond milk, the hummus plate, the nutty quinoa bowl, and the black bean wrap (ask for no mayo or their own vegan substitute.) When I went to Casablanca, I opted for tabouli with falafel, pita, and hummus which was a delicious and filling combo. Even places like Joe's on Highland have awesome salads that can easily be made vegan and places like Belly Acres or Huey's have some top notch veggie burgers and french fries. Although you may have to ask your server some semi-annoying questions, it is really not as hard as one would think to find some delicious vegan options in the BBQ city of Memphis, TN.
Because I tried this vegan week right after Christmas, my sweet tooth was in full swing. Yes, when I first smelled the aroma of my sister's famous cookies wafting through my house, I knew I must find some vegan substitutes. Whole Foods has a fantastic vegan chocolate chip cookie that would satisfy any sweet tooth. In addition, Muddy's Bakeshop has an incredible chocolate vegan peanut butter bar and several other vegan cupcake options. Cafe Eclectic typically has a few vegan baked goods, too. If you are worried about eating out because your options can be limited, I would recommend just meeting friends for coffee instead and asking for a non-dairy milk. My cravings for ice cream were satisfied this week with a homemade vegan "nice cream," an ice cream-like smoothie. My favorite was one made from frozen bananas, frozen strawberries, almond milk, and a dollop of my homemade almond butter. Because all the fruit is frozen, it blends into a thick ice cream consistency. Yes, finding some vegan sweet treats can be a little difficult, but, I promise, these homemade and Memphis-found desserts are just as delicious as those with eggs and dairy.
Overall this week of being vegan made me a lot more aware of the food I eat and where it is sourced from. No, I did not necessarily try veganism purely on environmental principal, yet throughout the week I began to really understand why this lifestyle is becoming so widespread nowadays. It is so easy to not really think about where food comes from or how ethical the companies are that produce it, but attempting a plant-based lifestyle forces you to consider these important questions. While talking about this with my friend Kiki who has been vegan for a couple years now, I discovered that there are ways to be a more practical vegan. She eats the eggs which come from her friend's chicken farm because she knows the chickens are treated well and she eats honey so long as it's local. She also eats prepared items if there is a little butter already in it, as it is really not that much dairy. Kiki was a stricter vegan for about a year, but she decided that in order to truly make it a long-term lifestyle, she could be a little more relaxed about it, while still following the same animal-friendly principles.
I know what you're probably thinking... did I become vegan after this week? While the answer to this would be "no", this week-long taste of that lifestyle has definitely made me consciously choose more plant-based options and eat mainly vegetarian. After the first couple of days, I realized that eating vegan greatly increased my energy levels and put me in a better mood. Personally, a full-on vegan life-style is not best for me right now, as I am still in high school and living at home. Yet, I know that if I ever decide to make this a long-term commitment, Memphis and recipe books have no shortage of options for it. This week has made me learn that with proper substitution of proteins to maintain muscle and the replacement of products instead of the elimination of them, veganism can be such a healthy way of life that is far from "the new anorexia."