Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dinner on Day 5

So I've basically been eating soup the past few days: a concoction of veggie stock, green cabbage, red bell peppers, and baby bella mushrooms. Sprinkle on a little nutritional yeast and you've got yourself a tasty, filling meal.

What you see on the right, however, is a curry-spiced soy chorizo (props to Trader Joe's for that stuff!) with garlic and green bell peppers. I'm not so good with recipes, so it's kind of a "dump stuff in pot, add some spices, see if it tastes good" deal. . .and success! It's a little spicy, but with a glass of soy milk it's a good kick.

As a side, I blanched and roasted some brussels sprouts. The brown stuff on them is worcestershire sauce, and they're also topped with basil and lemon pepper. I was experimenting, but they turned out pretty good! Now I have leftovers for the next couple of days until it's time to cook again.

Disclaimer: Yes, I am well aware that worcestershire sauce is not vegan (it has anchovies for those wondering). Yes, I've decided I can live with that. Also, I don't hold myself out to be a chef of any kind-- just someone who likes to experiment with food and spices.

Now all I need to do is the dishes. . .bummer.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Days 1 - 5: "Since when are you vegan?" and other adjustments

So today is day 5 of my new vegan challenge, and so far so good. I haven't been having any issues or major cravings since I started, and man has it curbed my ability to eat junk food! My mind was never great with saying "you shouldn't eat that, you don't need a snack", but for some reason it's awesome with "you shouldn't eat that, it's not vegan". In the immortal words of the great Charlie Sheen, "duh, winning!"

I've already come face to face with some of the major challenges I expected so far:
- Eating out. I got Thai food with my girlfriends Thursday night, and not only successfully avoided the non-vegan snacks there (props to the Lara Bar I had on the bus ride over), but managed to find something conducive to my new way of eating for dinner. Steamed tofu and veggies with a little sauce on the side. Tasty!
- Work celebrations. My team has a standard of treats for birthdays, and one of those occasions fell last week. I managed to turn down the cupcakes they had without feeling deprived (if I was really desperate, there is a shop around the corner from the office that has vegan cupcakes!) AND avoid the free pizza in the break room (an un-related celebration).
- Bars/drinking. Here in Pittsburgh, yesterday was what we call Parade Day. The annual St. Patrick's Day parade was held in the morning, and this special holiday is traditionally one of heavy, heavy drinking among the early 20's crowd. Suffice it to say, I celebrated with my peers later on in the evening and, though incredibly tempted, managed to not scarf down the animal product-filled junk around me. Yes, I even held out when enticed by the Shamrock Shake-- a junk food very near and dear to me.

The best part is none of these things really bothered me. In the immortal words of the great Charlie Sheen, I am "duh, winning!"

Based on everything I've experienced so far, it's fairly safe for me to say navigating the food/cravings isn't as tricky as I expected. I've even been settling in nicely with some new food items that I never would have tried before, such as nutritional yeast (nice flavor and good for extra vitamins). In reality, the biggest challenge has been explaining to people why I decided to go vegan and that I'm not looking to just say "screw it!" when something tasty comes along. . .at least not until Lent is over. Then we'll re-evaluate!

I can understand that it's weird for people I know, since just one week ago I was not practicing veganism. They also get confused when I tell them I don't care when other people eat meat, as they go on the assumption that all vegans are the "paint themselves in stripes and sit in a PETA cage naked" types. I have no problem explaining my reasons: that it's good for me, that I want to try it out and Lent is a good non-committal way to do so, that meat grosses me out a little after watching Food Inc., etc. What's weird to me is how much some people view my personal choice as some sort of open door to discuss the political correctness of so-called restrictive diets.

My philosophy is basically the following: I don't care what you do, but this is what I'm doing. I don't look down on people who aren't vegan, and I have no qualms sharing a table with non-vegans or seeing people eat meat/dairy. Don't feel bad that I'm not eating the birthday cupcakes, because it is me who is choosing not to have one. I will do my thing with no desire to be self-righteous, and you can do the same.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Intro and Ground Rules

Basically, I'm using this blog to document my Lenten sacrifice. As you can perhaps surmise from the name of this blog, the challenge is going vegan.

But Calista, why on Earth would you want to do that?

Well, concerned reader, there are plenty of reasons I chose to test out the vegan lifestyle. It probably helps to know that I've already experimented with veganism, so I know vaguely what I'm stepping into with this plan. I didn't last because, frankly, I didn't have the desire to stick with it (and I love dairy). This time, I was prompted by watching several others around me make the switch successfully, a true desire to lose weight (I'm down about 15 pounds in the last few months), and by the gross-out factor of several food documentaries (Food, Inc. seriously disgusted and fascinated me). I already generally can hang with the veg heads, so why not make the full leap? Lent is non-committal, a mere 47 days counting Sundays, so I really see nothing to lose in giving it a whirl.

Basically what I'm trying to accomplish is test my will and take a bold step towards greater health and a more sustainable diet. It is probably also worthwhile to mention that I have no qualms with those who roll omnivore style. My boyfriend would eat red meat and eggs everyday if he could, so I can peacefully coexist with non-vegans.

What do you define as "vegan"? What are the ground rules?

Vegan technically means no animal products whatsoever (see this link for more definitions), but I am only following veganism in terms of diet. In layman's terms, that means no meat, no dairy, and no animal by-products in my food and drink. Here are some other ground rules I'm following:
  • Honey is allowed. Some vegans considered it not okay because it comes from bees, but I have no issue with it. The bee isn't killed in the process (at least not that I'm aware), so it doesn't have the same risks and humanity issues as meat or dairy does.
  • Other than honey, I am trying my darndest to avoid as much animal product as humanly possible. I have a Droid app with a list of common ingredients and whether they have animal origin, and armed with that I do a lot of label reading. Fun fact: did you know refined sugar (the white stuff we know and love) is sometimes processed with animal bone char? Gross!
  • If a non-vegan item is already in my fridge (i.e. the cottage cheese I wasn't able to finish before I started this challenge), I'll allow myself to eat it. This is mainly an effort to not waste food. If it's a freezer or shelf stable item, however, it is off limits.
  • The only items I will not fully question are alcoholic drinks. No, I won't order white russians, but I am enacting a "Don't ask don't tell" (too soon?) policy with beer and wine. What can I say? I'm an accountant and it's busy season-- I need at least one vice!
Basically, that's how it will go. Based on the rules I just laid out, I will observe a vegan diet from now (technically two days ago) until April 24 (Easter!).

What are your biggest challenges and concerns?

  • Dairy. I love milk, cheese, ice cream, pudding. . .I love it all. Luckily, I also love soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc. I can get on board with butter and ice cream subs, and I'm not a huge egg eater. I am still on a quest for a tasty vegan cheese (suggestions welcome!).
  • Living with a non-vegan. Remember that carnivorous boyfriend I mentioned? Yep-- we live together, and he has expressed no interest in partaking in my vegan challenge (though he is cooking it himself if he chooses a non-vegan meal). That means I will constantly be exposed to all of the things I no longer eat. Challenge indeed.
  • Eating out. I am 24, so naturally my lifestyle involves a fair amount of restaurants and bars. This will be especially tricky, since there are no ingredient labels to read, but armed with the internet and some common sense I can make it work.
  • Not getting enough daily vitamins. I already have issues with my iron, so this is especially important. I'm trying to put a lot of variety into my diet to ensure I'm maximizing the potential of the good stuff, and supplementing the rest with a multivitamin. Also taking suggestions for one of those-- the current multi I have is not vegan.
So that's where I'm at, more or less. I'll be logging my trek through Lent, and maybe some other random posts along the way.

Anyone else have a big Lenten challenge?