In which I post a picture and brief description of every evening meal I eat for an entire year…
What’s that all about, eh? I’m so glad you asked! Below we have the Too Long version; feel free to skip this and go straight to the TLDR NOMS.
I became a vegan in June of this year, after ten years as a pescatarian. I was a pescatarian rather than a vegetarian because although I was very fond of cows and sheep and chickens, I couldn’t summon much in the way of a flying fig vis-à-vis fish, who always struck me as a bit dim (except for dolphins, of course, who are clever little sods intent on evil).
I’d long suspected, however, that my position was illogical. Why was I still eating eggs, for instance? If I cared about the welfare of chickens, why was I supporting an industry that treated them so despicably? I knew perfectly well that even supposedly “cage-free” eggs were produced under conditions I’d never condone. Why was I eating dairy when I’d once spent a long, sleepless night listening to the bellowing of a mother cow who’d had her calf taken away from her? And although I might have a hard time feeling much sympathy for the clod-like cod, the evidence that fish are capable of experiencing pain is pretty irrefutable.
I thought it was about time I tried living in accordance with my beliefs (fancy that!), and so I began to poke around on the internet for information on becoming a vegan. I found plenty of wonderful resources, like Your Daily Vegan, Unnatural Vegan, The Vegan RD, and Free From Harm—but I also found a whole heap of hippie hype, shiny lifestyle frippery, and orthorexic poppycock. In fact, while there are thousands of awesome vegans and vegan resources online, it’s also possible that anyone briefly skimming the YouTubes and blogdom for vegan facts might come away thinking that the perfect vegan must do one or more of the following:
- Eat 30,000 pounds of bananas
- Do yoga in tiny pants and prove it, hourly, on Instagram
- Only eat raw food because [some reasons]
- Follow an Eating Plan with an acronym (SADIST = Smoothies All Day In Stupid Tumblers)
- Be rich and white, and have a beautiful kitchen counter
- Find food incredibly interesting
- Hate fat people
- Hate non-vegans
- Claim that animal liberation is the only meaningful issue of the day and have no interest in supporting other important and necessary movements
- Insist that a vegan diet will prevent and/or cure every disease, including vague conditions not yet recognized by medical science (and really enjoy sharing this opinion with poorly strangers)
- Believe animals have such rich inner lives that they’re all composing haiku and learning conversational Swedish behind our backs
All of this struck me as… odd. What does any of that stuff have to do with being a vegan? As far as I was concerned, the argument for veganism came down to three fairly simple points:
- Animals are sentient beings who can suffer and feel pain.
Science clearly tells us this.
- When we eat animals and animal products, we cause animals to suffer.
Some might consider this a more controversial claim. Many people will agree that factory farming causes suffering but will argue for “grass-fed” beef and humane slaughter. I’ll write more about this at some point, but for now let me just note that the book Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger?: And Other Questions People Ask Vegans and articles like “Animals and the harm of death” have convinced me that eating animals (i.e. killing animals) always involves suffering (even when the animal is killed instantly, “by surprise”), and that eating animal products almost always involves suffering. Worth noting: many vegans oppose all use of animal products on the grounds that we’re “exploiting” animals when we use their products, but I wouldn’t go that far. I’m only concerned with preventing suffering. If we can procure animal products without causing animals to suffer (and any amount of suffering is too much), then I’m okay with it. An analogy: I experience suffering when a bird building a nest “uses” me by swooping down and clumsily yanking a hair straight from my scalp, but I don’t experience any suffering if the bird “uses” me by picking up a hair that has fallen from my head onto the ground. So—I would never eat a store-bought egg, but I wouldn’t necessarily have a moral problem with eating an egg abandoned under a bush by a backyard hen that was entirely free to roam, never forced into a coop, and never killed when she grew too old to lay (of course, I would have to actually be familiar with this ideal farm situation; “free-range” and cage-free” egg labels are utter bullshit). However, I doubt I would eat an egg even under those somewhat happier circumstances, because…
- It is not necessary to eat animals or animal products in order to live a healthy life.
Again, science supports the notion that a well-balanced vegan diet is healthy; the American Dietetic Association, the United States’ largest organization of nutrition professionals, acknowledges that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” (For all your “What about protein?” woes, see this and this and this. For “What about B12?,” read this article.) So if you eat animals, you’re eating them because you want to, not because you need to.
These three points add up to “ethical” veganism for me: why would I inflict unnecessary suffering on a sentient being? Isn’t that the very definition of cruelty? And am I cruel? I don’t think so. I’d never steal your hat, slap your grandmother, or sext your husband—so why would I do harm to a pig? Or, to put it another way, if you wouldn’t kill a cat in exchange for a candy bar (i.e. cause suffering in order to enjoy eating something tasty but unnecessary), why would you kill a cow for a steak?
And that’s about it—in order to be a vegan, I don’t have to believe that animals are furry geniuses who make elaborate plans for their summer holidays and think thoughts like “I’m very much enjoying this delicious blade of grass and I would also prefer not to die today.” I don’t have to believe that a vegan diet is the only healthy diet or that it cures all ailments (although I do believe that it’s a healthy diet). I don’t have to adopt an ascetic life of juice fasts and sun salutations or become a master chef. And I definitely don’t have to abandon reason, or science, or my compassion for other humans who have yet to drink the (delicious) vegan Kool-Aid. I just have to want something very simple: not to be cruel.
So I became a vegan overnight, and was surprised to find it pretty easy. I don’t miss cheese, thanks for asking, and I haven’t had any cravings for a bacon sundae. I haven’t felt weak, or depressed, or daft and sleepy. However, I can’t claim that veganism has resulted in any miraculous physical changes, either—I was a normal weight (whatever that means) before I became a vegan, and I’m a normal weight now. My energy level has remained the same (just fine). You know what does feel new and good, though? Giving a damn! Abandoning hypocrisy in favor of advocacy.
So, speaking of advocacy: becoming a vegan made me want to reach out to other people who are curious about veganism, and who have perhaps been put off by some of the shenanigans they’ve seen online, or who think vegan food is weird or bland or onerous to prepare (I promise it doesn’t have to be any of those things). I don’t especially like to cook and I can’t see myself coming up with many (read: any) amazing new recipes, so a recipe blog didn’t make much sense—but I like to take photos and write blog posts, and I enjoy foolish challenges, so posting a picture and description of a year’s worth of daily dinners seemed like a potentially useful exercise. Posting my evening meal online will motivate me to cook more and make healthier choices (I’m all for treats and takeout in moderation, but I don’t want too many “Seamless again, Tracey?” comments), and I’ll also be able to show any vegan-curious readers one version of a “regular” vegan diet, a diet thrown together by a reluctant cook with no desire to spend hours in the kitchen or spend $$$ on freaking asparagus water at Whole Foods.
Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to leave comments or ask questions. And as I’m fairly new to the vegan life and it’s likely I’m going to make mistakes, please do let me know if you spot me accidentally consuming hidden lamb eyeballs or whatnot.
A few things worth noting/disclaimers:
- I’m not a nutritionist and I’m not telling you what to eat. This record is just to give you some ideas for vegan meals and to show you that vegan food can be easy to prepare, cheap, tasty, non-weird, and nutritious. Please adapt/use/ignore this information as you see fit.
- I don’t subscribe to any particular vegan eating plan. Aside from the obvious—no animals or animal products—the only dietary guideline I follow is: I try to eat lots of vegetables and make them taste good… because the one thing everyone agrees on (even those Paleo dudebros) is that veggies are good for you, right?
- On a related note, I don’t claim to be a paragon of vegan nutrition. I don’t make every meal from scratch, I like to eat out once or twice a week, and I also like to order takeout on occasion. I’m keen on being healthy, but I’m not interested in making the sacrifices necessary to be super healthy. So if you’re interested in The Healthiest Diet Ever, this probably isn’t for you—but if you’re interested in observing a fairly decent diet (one that includes examples of vegan-friendly takeout and restaurant options), then I’m your woman.
- Aside from weird internet experiments, I don’t generally recommend obsessive food tracking. I don’t record calories or nutritional values and I don’t mention portion sizes. I always eat “enough” and never go hungry, so if it looks like I haven’t eaten much dinner on any given day, you can assume I had a mighty lunch or will make up for it the next day with LOTS OF PIE. Please, please, please don’t use veganism as an excuse to starve yourself or monitor your every bite. When people complain that a vegan diet leaves them feeling low on energy, it’s almost always because they’re simply not eating enough. EAT ENOUGH.
- And finally—this as an example of a year on my vegan plate rather than a year-long experiment in veganism. I was a vegan before I started this “year” and I’ll be a vegan afterwards.