First, to clear up any confusion for new readers: I’m vegetarian, not vegan. This post is about my one-month experiment with a vegan diet.
Second, I have tremendous respect for vegans. In my experience, they’re more passionate and vocal, as a group, than vegetarians are, and the result is that vegans are a huge force in changing the world’s eating habits. So if you’re a vegan, thank you. I admire what you do and I’m grateful that there are people like you in the world.
All of that said, here’s how my month went. And why, for now, I’m happy staying vegetarian.
Why didn’t you write about it more?
A lot of people have asked where all the posts about my vegan month were. The reason I didn’t write more about it: There wasn’t much to write!
Eating at home was nearly identical to the way we usually eat at home. In fact, eating vegan for 30 days made me realize just how close to vegan my diet already is: Until now, it had never occurred to me that almost every vegetarian cookbook I have is a vegan cookbook.
The only major changes I had to make were to stop eating foods that contain honey, and to be careful not to buy the loaves of bread from my grocery store’s bakery that are made with egg whites. (I actually don’t like eggs, but sometimes eat things made with them.) Oh yeah, and I switched out the Barilla Plus pasta that I usually buy for standard whole-grain pasta. While most dried pasta isn’t made with eggs, Barilla Plus is. Which is a damn shame, because its protein numbers are fantastic.
To be fair, if it were a normal month, I probably would have found occasion to use butter in a dish, or to make a homemade pizza with cheese. But substituting olive oil for butter, and buying Amy’s cheeseless Roasted Vegetable Pizza when the craving struck, made any slight changes in my diet at home barely perceptible.
Eating out was the real challenge
If I was in denial of the fact that I live in suburbia, I’m now over that denial. For the most part, I found nothing good to eat at restaurants. In the land of Applebee’s (and its Italian equivalents, Olive Garden and Bertucci’s), it’s pretty much salad and plain pasta for vegans. And even with those, you’d better double-check.
I did find some choices at the only Indian place in my town, but even then I wasn’t sure that I was eating vegan. I instituted a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding whether they used ghee (clarified butter) and ate chana masala and baigan bharta. I should have been a more diligent vegan here, but I didn’t want to lose the only place I could find good food outside my house.
Twice, I knowingly ate dairy. Both times were at weddings, when a dish had been specially prepared for me as a vegetarian. I’m simply not going to be the guy who refuses something like that, when someone has been nice enough to make something special for me (see my favorite Karol Gajda post again regarding this point). I didn’t feel badly about this, and if I were to decide to eat vegan for good, I’d still make these exceptions.
In short, eating out in my town sucked even more than it usually does. I try not to blame external circumstances much, but vegan sure would be easier if I lived in a more progressive place. (By the way, if you live somewhere that’s great for vegetarians and vegans, can you let me know about it?)
How I felt on the vegan diet
In a word, great. I ran a 50-mile race towards the end of the month, in addition to a 30-miler in training two weeks before that, and a 20-miler in the week before that. So I have no doubts that a vegan diet can support serious endurance training and even ultrarunning. (As if I had any to begin with. See Scott Jurek.)
I also found the energy to start waking up at 4:30 in the morning. Not every morning, but most of them. This was probably more due to a post I read on Zen Habits about waking up early than about having extra energy from eliminating the small amount of dairy that I normally eat, but who can say for sure? Either way, I’ve found that I absolutely love having that time to myself in the morning before everyone else is awake. This isn’t to say that I don’t love spending time with my wife and son, but I’ve been feeling really pinched for time recently, so it’s nice to have an extra two hours to get stuff done.
Why I’m not going to stay vegan
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like I was counting down the days until the month ended, and I didn’t celebrate with a pizza and a trip to Rita’s, the two things I thought I’d miss most. Even with the eating out issues, this wasn’t bad at all. If you’re in the situation I was, thinking about veganism but not sure if it’s for you, then I’d absolutely recommend you give it a try. You can always go back after 30 days, right?
What I learned during the month, though, was that vegan isn’t for me, right now. And I know why: I don’t have strong enough reasons, in my head, to make it work.
I heard a great talk once by a woman named Judy May Murphy. (In fact, it was on the day I decided to start this website.) She talked about having a range of acceptable behavior in anything you do. The example she gave was eating; she said she had a baseline she would not cross (eating animals) and an ideal she strove for (raw vegan). Within that range, anything was ok, but she said she did her best to stay close to the ideal.
That image made a lot of sense to me, and it still does. As much as I learn about the cruelty in the dairy industry, and as much as I believe that eating dairy is mostly unhealthy, my baseline is still at animal flesh, not animal products. It might move one day, but for now, that’s where it is.
I don’t know how many ounces of cheese I eat in a normal month, or how many actual eggs. But I know the amounts of both are very small, and I don’t believe that my cutting them out entirely (as opposed to striving to avoid them most of the time) would have a significant impact on anything.
True, if I did cut them out, I could call my diet “vegan.” Personally, I don’t think how it is labeled matters much. I guess one could argue that I could be a better example to the non-vegan readers of this site if they could identify me as “vegan” instead of “vegetarian.” But I honestly don’t think that’s true. I think “vegetarian” has the virtue of being very approachable to those who still eat meat. I believe that what I post on this site as a vegetarian can encourage just as many, maybe more, runners who currently eat meat to try cutting it out. Being vegan might somehow be more inspiring, or it might be intimidating.
Maybe this sounds like an excuse. And maybe it is. But either way, making a decision based on how I’ll be perceived by others rather than on what really feels like the right thing for me right now is surely a recipe for dissatisfaction.
And that’s why, at least for now, I’ll continue being a vegetarian. A vegetarian whose diet is closer to being vegan than it ever was before, but a vegetarian nonetheless.
And that, my friends, is how vegan month went. As I said above, I learned a lot from this experiment and I’m glad I tried it. If you’re thinking about it, stop thinking and just try it. You won’t know until you do.
For those who tried a vegan month along with me, how it did you like it? Are you going to stay vegan?