In this four-part series, Naa Ako-Adjei documents a month of eating vegan, including recipes, restaurant write-ups, and product reviews. Read the other three installments: Week Two, Week Three, and Week Four.
A couple of weeks ago I decided to become a vegan for a month. This was after I finally admitted to myself that veganism was no longer part of the crunchy fringe and that as a food writer I should try a diet that approximately a million Americans have adopted as their lifestyle. For the next four weeks I will chronicle whether I, an unrepentant carnivore, can survive one month as a vegan.
Not too long ago, vegans were thought of as undernourished, dreadlocked outliers with more moral outrage than common sense (admit it, that’s what you thought). But apparently, while I was busy scarfing down steaks and eating too much cheese, veganism was spreading faster than a social disease at a college campus, and losing its reputation as a diet for hippies.
Normally when I try a new diet, I do little to no research before I start. I figure scanning the back cover of the latest Paleo diet book or reading about the latest celebrity diet in a gossip magazine, while in line at the grocery store usually gives me enough information about a diet I’ll probably quit after a week anyway. But since I knew this diet was going to last for a month, I followed The Men’s Journal Guide to Going Vegan to help me adopt a vegan lifestyle and I got practical tips from Amanda Berne's San Francisco Chronicle article, Going Vegan for a Month.
The day before I started my month-long vegan diet, I did what any rational human being would do and consumed as much animal fat as possible. I ate a bacon cheeseburger on a brioche roll then a half a pan of brownies. I rounded out my binge with several glasses of wine. (Photo courtesy iStock/smpics)
At the end of the night I was as bloated as a has-been actor and twice as drunk. The bloat I could have done without, but I was glad that I was tipsy because I was starting to panic thinking about all the food I would have to give up for the month. Suddenly, I started to think that maybe becoming a vegan for a month was an even dumber idea than buying condoms at a dollar store.
Naturally meat was out, but so were milk, eggs, cheese, butter, and honey. There were also a surprising number of foods with hidden animal by-products so I had to carefully read the labels of things like bread and cereal. Wine was also prohibited since most winemakers use egg whites or fish bladders to remove sediment from the wine. It was bad enough that I couldn’t have ice cream, but now I couldn’t even drink. I made a note to myself to check to see if vodka was vegan.
For the first few days there wasn’t a moment that went by that I didn’t think about consuming something forbidden. In the middle of conversations my mind drifted to thoughts of bacon. My usual breakfast of oats with agave nectar, fruit, and unsweetened almond milk did nothing to stop my cravings. And while being a vegan inspired me to create delicious new recipes like lentil salad with roasted orange vinaigrette, cauliflower, and walnuts (right), after I got tried of eating pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I was pretty sure the lentil salad would have tasted better with a cheese pizza.
From everything I’ve read, my cravings should have waned within a few days, but by Friday my cravings were as bad as the first day. My new vegan diet was also supposed to give me boundless energy, shinier hair, and make me feel more “centered.” Instead, I was constantly hungry, grumpy, and my hair didn’t have a noticeable new luster.
A week into my diet and I had picked up the strange habit of going off into dim rooms and flipping through food magazines like they were pornography. I like to stare at this one picture of devil‘s food cake with bittersweet chocolate ganache because it’s what I think about most when I want to cheat. But when I feel myself weakening, I remind myself that Bill Clinton and Mike Tyson are vegans. If these two men, famously known for their lack of self-control could become vegans, I could make it for another three weeks. Besides... I found a list of vodkas that are vegan friendly. (Photo courtesy iStock/bluestocking)
Tune in for Week Two for Naa's reviews of vegan burgers, sausages, and hot dogs.