“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let’s grow together – are you up for the challenge? Let’s eat!
I’ve done my share of 30-day challenges. I’ve meditated and done yoga, for 30 days. Every April I participate in “30 Days of Biking,” to kick off the cycling season. I did my very best to eliminate single-use plastic from my life, for 30 days. This was not easy! When I collected the single-use items that I had not been able to eliminate, spreading them across my kitchen table. . . it was an astounding amount!
What do I gain from this? Well, I learn a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I learn just as much about those closest to me (e.g. their level of patience) and the flexibility, accessibility, and convenience of the world around me. Or I learn that the world is inflexible, inaccessible, and inconvenient. Either way, I grow!
I’ve endured (okay. . . if I’m honest, I’ve enjoyed) multiple 30-day Minimalist challenges. I get rid of 1 item on the first of the month, 2 items on the second of the month, 3 items on the third of the month, and so on. Yep, that means I got rid of 28 items on the twenty-eighth day of the month and ended up giving away 30 items on the last day of the month. Reduce, reuse, recycle, donate, rehome, upcycle, and all of that!
So, why on earth would I shy away from the challenge of 30 days of vegan eating?
Challenge: (noun) a stimulating task or problem; a summons that is often threatening, provocative, stimulating, or inciting.Merriam Webster Dictionary
Well, at least 3 or 4 times before I’ve tried, and failed, to convert my vegetarian diet into a vegan way of life. My biggest hang-ups? Cheese pizza. Milk chocolate. A good extra sharp white cheddar cheese. An exceptionally good cheese board, with a sampling that brings together rich, spreadable cheeses, a smart collection of olives, sweet marmalade, and crusty bread.
I’m salivating right now, as I reminisce about so many wonderful meals, especially those during my varied work travels, tucked away in a quiet corner of a dimly lit boutique restaurant, with a good book and a great bottle of red wine to myself.
Food has always meant a lot to me, on an emotional level. I celebrate good times, with food! There is excitement around trying a new food, or introducing a friend to one of my favorite dishes. For better or worse, I’ve been known to console myself with food. So, experimenting with veganism for the month of January was extremely intimidating.
So, why do it?
Without getting sidetracked into a deeply philosophical, moral discussion, I’ll simply say that many of my reasons for being roughly vegetarian, since 1998, are also pretty good grounds for veganism. If I could pull it off for a month, that would be something! If I learned something about myself and the vegan community, which I knew I would, I’d consider the experiment a success!
Alexa must have heard me talking about this experimental challenge, because my Facebook feed was littered with ads for meal kits and something called Veganuary. That’s vegan + January. So, as Christmas turned into the New Year I declared my intent for the start of 2021. I’d give this vegan diet a try, if only for 31 days.
Without pause, I registered for Green Chef, which was heavily advertised. There’s always a “deal” to be had on meal kits, delivery services, and special diets. Drawn to their vegetarian and vegan options, I signed up. It was a weekly delivery, three meals, two servings each. I did my best to choose meals I thought my partner would eat, so our diets wouldn’t diverge too radically. He’s a carnivore, but if I’m cooking he’s willing to experiment, within limits.
We send seasonal organic ingredients and chef-crafted recipes right to your doorstep. Ingredients come pre-portioned and prepped, saving time. Our recipes are so easy to prepare, anyone can do it—yes, even if you can’t make toast. Green Chef offers meal plans for all tastes, from paleo to vegan, and more. We believe in clean plates and a clean planet, working closely with farmers to supply responsibly grown organic ingredients.Green Chef on LinkedIn
The greatest benefit was learning to cook with ingredients I’d never attempted to tackle. Chia seeds – I regularly toss them in my oatmeal and smoothies, but who knew they are a fantastic binding agent in bean-based substitutes for meatballs, burger patties, and loafs? Artichokes – yuck, but okay, I convinced myself to give them a try. Roasted Red Peppers – nope, I draw the line! But most recipes worked just fine with this slimy, foul ingredient left to the side, composted, or tossed directly into the trash.
Was I perfect in my veganism? I was pretty damned close!
There’s only one small slip I can think of! I’d tossed a frozen blob of leftovers into the microwave, late one night. It was a serving (or two) of whatever was left of some “fancy” organic, preservative-free version of Hamburger Helper, made with soy crumbles, instead of ground beef. That seems safe, right?
Ha! I was tucking the final bite into my mouth when it dawned on me – that silky, bubbling, creamy goodness that had made the first bite (and every bite after that) so tasty. . . yep. You guessed it – Cheese! I was tired and I was hungry; I hadn’t been thinking straight. It tasted so good!
About a week or two into my first foray into vegetarianism, back in the late ’90s, I’d made a similar mistake. In the heat of summer, standing in line at the local water park, I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke. It was so good! I was more than halfway through my meal before I realized the grave mistake I’d made. I’d forgotten I was a vegetarian.
After several decades of being mostly vegetarian — I make an exception for myself when I travel internationally, once or twice a year — I thought I was ready for this vegan challenge! Realizing my mistake, I was back on track with the next meal.
Seeking a variety of new products, to alleviate any feelings of deprivation, I visited Lucky’s Market, just south of my usual grocery store. Kroger is likely to send me a new batch of coupons, to lure me back! They have lost a lot of business to Lucky’s over the last four weeks!
In addition to a vast array of healthy produce, I was able to find dairy-free frozen pizza, chocolate caramels, and an enormous selection of alternatives for dairy-based yogurt, cheese, sour cream, butter, and cream cheese. There are egg-free scrambled “eggs,” chicken-free chick’n, and meatless “meat” products.
There’s a lesson here — vegan eating is NOT automatically healthy! Oreos are vegan, after all. There is no dairy involved, unless you dunk them in a glass of cow’s milk. The first two weeks of my Veganuary challenge I dropped somewhere between 4 – 5 lbs. I picked them back up, as I found substitutions for most of my indulgences!
The longer I was eating this way, and posting pretty photos of my meals on social media, I was surprised to discover more and more vegan and vegetarian friends, coming out of the woodwork. Acquaintances I hadn’t interacted with in months, or years, began making restaurant recommendations, suggesting new products, and sharing recipes.
With their help I discovered decadent chocolate brownie cookie dough, and considered it a treat to bake 2 or 3 at a time, filling the kitchen with the smell of fresh baked goodness. I tried ice cold oat milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, and coconut milk. My favorite is still the more familiar almond milk. Seitan, tempeh, and tofu take up shelf space in my fridge, along with fresh blackberries, carrot sticks, and leftover corn chowder.
A longtime friend asked me for the Best and Worst, so here you go!
Worst Vegan Meal: Very late in the game I was using up several products in the fridge, making a vegan breakfast that was full of imitations and poor substitutions. I ate a vegan bagel topped with dairy-free cream cheese, dusted with my beloved Everything seasoning from Trader Joe’s.
The meal started out okay, but as the bagel cooled the spread congealed into a lumpy mess. Fake scrambled eggs that had tasted just fine the week before, smothered as they were in fake cheese, sat in a jiggly mass on my plate which tasted like no eggs I’d ever eaten. Vegan sausage links smelled wonderful on the stove, made with real maple syrup, but they turned out to be grainy and dry.
The conversation around the breakfast table didn’t help. What began as a discussion of the “mouth feel” of certain foods, and the successes and failures of culinary science, quickly degraded into reviewing the living conditions of veal calves.
Best Vegan Meal: Every Saturday night since March of 2020, beginning with the onset of the COVID pandemic, we’ve had pizza night, as we settled in to watch a “big screen” movie on our living room TV. I was dreading the final Saturday night in January, longing for a classic, bubbly cheese pizza from our favorite pizza joint, just around the corner. I suspect the cooks there would have no idea how to pronounce “vegan,” as buried in mozzarella as they are.
But the flatbread from Green Chef came through, in spades!
The trick? They weren’t trying to simulate a classic cheese pizza. Instead, the flatbread had a vegan pesto base and loads of veggies, including mushrooms and roasted tomato. Nutritional yeast, which sounds disgusting, but is pretty much a seasoning, gave the flatbread a slightly creamy, cheesy flavor. A sprinkling of non-dairy “cheese” topped it off! The kale salad, served on the side, was garnished with carrots, dried apricots, crushed almonds, and a balsamic dressing. In other words, it was a meal of its own, rather than a failed imitation. I loved it! I’ll make it again!
So, what did I eat on February 1st? Eighty-five percent of my day was vegan; I even made a delicious vegan “meatloaf,” with Beyond meat, for dinner. The Shakeology smoothie I had for breakfast was made from a vegan chocolate powder, with frozen berries and oat milk, which was already cold in the fridge.
What broke me? I’m not proud to report that it was a 2-day old lemon blueberry donut from Destination Donut. Microwaved from just 30 seconds, it was as good as new! It was delicious! Destination Donut has many outstanding vegan choices, including Pina Colada and Red Raspberry Hibiscus, but I’d accidentally brought home a few that were not vegan. It would have been a crime to let them go to waste!
Join me on my next adventure,