This is part three of a series in which I attempt to take on four different lifestyle diets in four weeks. For the past few years, I've dubbed myself a flexitarian -- I don't eliminate anything from my diet and enjoy all types of food in moderation. However, I think it's time for me to assess what foods actually work well with my body -- and what foods don't. As always, talk with a doctor before undergoing any rapid change in diet.
The actual removal of all animal products from one's diet seems to be culinary suicide. Pair it with the "weird" label vegans tend to earn for themselves in removing dairy, meat, seafood and eggs from their diet, and what do you get?
Until you try it.
While vegetarianism is slowly becoming more popular (the vegetarian wave I rode last week wasn't too shabby), I wanted to experience more of a test and veered toward the more "extreme" side of eating greens: veganism.
Going vegan is not just beginning a new diet; it's the start of a new lifestyle. There's even a subdivision of it: The emphatic radicalism that occasionally embraces vegans carries the veganarchism label. I recently watched a video where leading vegan activist Gary Yourofsky lambasted eating meat on Israeli TV, likening animals on factory farms to being in concentration camps and comparing the mass killings to the Holocaust. Yourofsky even noted that he doesn't expect "meat eaters to be rational."
Well, that's nice. At least most vegans want to live by the credo "greens don't make you mean."
While Yourofsky resides on the extreme end of the vegan spectrum, the decrying of using all things animal is a requirement for this way of life. Vegans don't wear animal products, including fur and leather, and some even go so far as to not consume honey.
With all this in mind, I prepped myself for yet another dietary change and scribbled the following list down in a notepad last week. I sat back in my chair and realized that once again I was officially constricting myself. Let me ask you this: Would you be able to not eat these items for a week, or for months... or for the rest of your life?
- most alcohol
- casein (the protein in milk -- and even some soy-based cheeses contain this)
- carmine (that natural coloring in your food? It's likely from these red insects)
- gelatin (collagen from animals, anyone?)
- lanolin (a fat found on sheep's wool)
- vitamin d3
Hell, I even stopped using my lip balm because its key ingredient is beeswax. That's devotion.
Vegan chili with pinto beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, BBQ sauce, a BBQ spice rub, and a dollop of chipotle hummus
In trying my hand at cooking vegan, I Googled "vegan recipes," and apparently, they're the talk of the food world. Celebrities and politicians, two species that are practically interchangeable nowadays, are leading the helm in dietary change. Even the Germans want to corner the market by bringing their wildly popular vegan grocery chain -- appropriately named Veganz -- to the rest of Europe and quite possibly the U.S.
There was even a taste test in our HuffPost kitchen where we sampled several types of vegan "cheese." Instead of "cheese," these products should be dubbed solid swill. It was an abomination of my gustation capabilities, and I can honestly say my taste buds were betrayed by my own audacity. (Note to vegan "cheese" makers: Come up with a trademark for these products, as the inclusion of "cheese" in the description is just too painful: "Veg-heese," perhaps?)
On the bright side, the idea that vegan dishes lack taste, texture, and are far from exotic is dead wrong. An abundance of vegan products exist to cater to the world's burgeoning meatless population. There are way more options than you think -- and restaurants, including many in my home of New York -- that are catching on. I opted to try a strictly vegetarian restaurant called 'sNice in Brooklyn and was thoroughly impressed with their salad and sandwiches selection -- a good chunk of them vegan. The Natural Gourmet Institute also hosted a vegan three-course Friday night dinner, and I was blown away by the flavors that resulted from just using vegan ingredients. (Then again, I'm not a budding chef, so it would take a ton of work to replicate the dishes I tried.)
There is no way I could remove pizza from my diet, vegan or otherwise. So I went for this vegan option: Homemade whole-wheat crust with red onion, tofu "cheese," basil, and rosemary oil.
Altering your habits (when you're a cheese junkie, like yours truly) can result in some interesting changes. I would be lying if I said going vegan was tough. Like the vegetarian diet, it wasn't that bad. I felt a bit more energized and that I wasn't missing out on too much -- minus that travesty of trying vegan "cheese." However, I still hark back to when I ate paleo two weeks ago and the physical energy and mental clarity that came with it.
My final thoughts on going vegan? It's not easy going totally green, but it's hard to admit that it didn't feel good.