I’ve long been curious about what exactly it means to be vegan.
I grasp the appeal of not eating meat (ie vegetarianism), but veganism is a whole different ballgame. It’s not just about following a restrictive diet — it’s a lifestyle.
According to The Vegan Society, veganism entails excluding all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals. Some vegans choose to solely avoid animal products in their diet; others go more hard core, refusing to wear clothes or use any substances (including cosmetics) that include animal products.
I decided to give dietary veganism a try for five days to understand what impact the lifestyle has on a person’s day-to-day life. I had no idea just how hard it would end up being to find foods and beverages I could actually consume — or how much I’d miss cheese and eggs.
My journey into going vegan began with a whole bunch of Googling. I learned that most foods I typically consume contain, at the very least, eggs or milk protein. So that meant my normal diet had to go.
On my first morning as a vegan, I grabbed my usual cheap cup of coffee from my local deli. But they didn't have any soy or almond milk -- just whole milk -- so I couldn't add anything to my cup of joe. That's how I learned the coffee I consume all the time actually tastes really bad.
I needed protein after my morning workout, but I couldn't eat anything with eggs or meat -- which is how I normally get my boost. So instead, I got a vegan smoothie with extra protein to try to compensate.
I stopped by a nearby street food fair for lunch, but found I couldn't eat most of the things that were available. After hunting around for a while, I finally found vegan vegetable rolls, filled with chickpeas, cabbage, quinoa and the works. They were delicious.
After work, I was craving some chocolate -- badly. But of course, I couldn't have any, since it's completely packed with dairy. Luckily, I live near a vegan bakery in Brooklyn, so I picked up a vegan chocolate cupcake there. It tasted just as great as a normal cupcake.
To my surprise, the clerk at my local wine store told me that they only had one vegan wine option in stock -- I was shocked to learn that a lot of wines are made with some sort of animal product.
Being vegan means you have to spend a lot of time seeking out restaurants that actually serve vegan food -- and then investigating the menu to figure out what's actually vegan or not. Dig Inn, my favourite lunch place by the INSIDER office, luckily had vegan offerings.
I went to an art event after work, and was so excited to find vegan gin and tonic cocktails (left) and vegan white wine (right). As it turns out, a lot of beverages you wouldn't expect aren't vegan -- including a ton of beers and soda, which often contain fish gelatin or other animal products.
By Wednesday, being vegan was getting annoying. I didn't mind staying away from meat, but I was starting to really miss dairy products, and my vegan diet was leaving me feeling incredibly hungry. A coworker brought in some banana pudding -- but it wasn't vegan, so I couldn't have any of it.
I tried to compensate by instead enjoying some of the snack foods we have in the office. I couldn't eat any of the Goldfish (which has cheddar) or cheese sticks (for obvious reasons), but luckily Google told me that raisins were vegan -- so I feasted on those.
I burned a ton of calories doing an intense midday workout, but once again, I couldn't turn to meat to load up on protein afterwards. Thankfully, Chipotle has a lot of vegan options, and I was able to grab a burrito with black beans and guacamole, which provided me with at least some of the protein I needed.
That night, I scoured my local deli for vegan food. I found a lot of things that were gluten-free or dairy-free, but vegan options were severely lacking. I ended up grabbing some vegan Indian dumplings that I'd had before. But I was so burned out from vegan food, I didn't even enjoy them.
The next day, I decided to step up my vegan game and get a vegan 'chicken' sandwich, with vegan 'cheese' and vegan 'mayo.' It looked so good, but the fake meat had a weird texture, and the cheese tasted like paste. I ended up tossing it after a few (unhappy) bites.
That night I went out for some (vegan) drinks with friends. Afterwards, when we were all a bit tipsy, we went to my all-time favourite pierogi place in the East Village. But I soon realised that pierogi dough contains eggs, so I was stuck eating steamed vegetables.
But my final day of being vegan was a lot easier, presumably because I knew the end was in sight. The Union Square Farmer's Market has a lot of amazing pastry options -- but most of them aren't vegan. I spotted a vegan stand and was able to grab a muffin on the way to work.
Spending five days hunting for foods with no meat, dairy or eggs was tough. By midday Friday, I was sick of constantly having to Google foods and ask waiters or store clerks about vegan options. I didn't mind eating tofu or vegetables so often, but I hated how restrictive it felt to be vegan.
Of course, I saw certain health benefits to the diet -- including improved digestion. The body breaks down vegan foods really quickly, so they go right through you, if you catch my drift. But all in all, the diet was such a hassle, I won't be going vegan again anytime soon.
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