Vegan Diaries: one week as a modern-day herbivore

This weekend, Cornell hosted the iV Conference—the Ivy League Vegan Conference. The event brings in presenters and guests who represent a variety of fields including medicine, climatology, policy, industry, finance, and consulting and “emphasize innovation, self-critique, and re-examination of a plant-based diet as an elegant solution to a host of pressing issues in an increasingly global community.” Between this weekend’s conference on the other hill, Beyoncé’s promotion of 22 Days Nutrition, the latest report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee endorsing a plant-based diet, Chipotle’s promotion of its vegan option, it seems there’s been a lot of vegan buzz lately.So I decided to give it a try for a week to see what it was all about.

When I told most people about my experience, I got a lot of “what’s that?” and “why would you do that to yourself?” and “so can you eat ____ (insert blatantly non-vegan item here)?” Lesson number one; most people have no idea that being vegan means cutting out all animal products (and a significant portion of people don’t even know which things are considered animal products). It looked like my vegan adventure would be partially changing my diet and partially changing people’s understanding of veganism.

It all started with one of my favorite pastimes and procrastinations: grocery shopping. I arrived at Wegmans, vegan-approved grocery list in tow, having researched tofu, tempeh (a patty-like fermented soybean product), and whatever other vegan goodies I’d heard about from friends or all-knowing vegan bloggers. If there was one thing I was worried about giving up, it was Greek yogurt. It’s the focal point of my daily lunch. How I could get through classes, meetings, interviews, and workouts without it? But I traded Greek yogurt for soy, almond milk and coconut milk yogurt—opting for a few different dairy alternatives to get the most comprehensive vegan experience. After restocking my supply of quinoa, oatmeal and peanut butter, I left feeling accomplished (and without spending more than usual).

The next day, I woke up eager to try all my new goodies. Like a kid on Christmas I ripped the seal off my agave (a honey replacement made from the same plant as tequila) and generously poured it into my morning oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon and ground flax seeds. I packed my lunch and dinner to bring to campus, feeling prepared and ready to conquer vegan Day 1.

About twelve hours in, and I’d already failed. I felt I must admit my faults and continue. After declaring my mistake to my roommates, I reassured them (and myself) that this was a week of trying to be vegan, not necessarily turning into a vegan saint overnight. Seven days, three slip-ups—not my finest record, but all honest mistakes. Over the course of the week, I was twice faced with a room full of fresh pizza, once with free donuts and muffins, a vanilla cupcake, a giant chocolate chip cookie, and a welcoming basket of candy. A late-night frozen yogurt trip meant filling my cup with the only non-dairy option—pink grapefruit sorbet—and topping it with the only guaranteed vegan items: almonds and fruit. Tasty? Yes. Satisfying? No.

While I’m jokingly complaining about the struggles of being a modern-day herbivore, I secretly loved having a concrete reason to turn down these naughty treats. I didn’t have to feel guilty about eating or not eating apiece of pizza or a cookie. There was no debate. I couldn’t, because I was vegan. A huge part of veganism is ethical; I admire those who chose this lifestyle for that reason. For the vegans that don’t do it for the animals, perhaps it’s all about control—knowing exactly what’s going into your body, and having a better handle at resisting peer pressure to indulge in the way that Americans do best. As an avid late-night snacker, maybe I’ll give veganism another run when I’m feeling particularly out-of-control. It will certainly help me steer clear of the just-baked cookie smell wafting from the oven and the bacon swimming in grease at the breakfast buffet.

But veganism can’t cure a weak willpower. Hello there, Oreos. (Yes, they’re vegan.)

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