Vegan week #1: Are you there cheese? It’s me, Janelle

If you know me, you probably know that I love food—except meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for four years now and although I thought I would someday again crave burgers and brats, the thought of a steak makes me squirm.

I, unlike most of my meat-less friends, don’t have a particular reason for my vegetarian diet. Today my reasons for vegetarianism can’t be pinned to one cause; I identify with several:

  • Meat, and especially cooking meat, has always grossed me out
  • It’s one of the best things you can do for the environment, complimenting my “life on little”/minimalism philosophy
  • The health benefits are practically indefinite (lower risk for cancer and heart disease, among others)
  • The cute and fluffy animals, of course! But, in all seriousness, a firm stance in animal welfare

So, I figured it was only natural that after four years sans chicken nuggets, my vegetarian diet would naturally progress—and did it ever.  I’ve become much more educated about where my food comes from, incorporate whole grains and organic fruit and veggies into most meals, volunteer with a local non-profit dedicated to food access and education, have levels of protein and iron on par with most men and take my diet more seriously.

The next milestone, after much debate (no cheese?!): vegan. I decided it was time to at least give a vegan diet a try—just for the month of February.

Truth be told, I thought that I would have a multitude of choices that I’ve become accustomed to as a vegetarian. Three food shopping trips later—Kroger, Whole Foods and the Clintonville Community Market—I discovered that veganism was more difficult than and not nearly as mainstream as I anticipated. Take for example, coffee creamer. Two brand choices (soy or coconut), and once that was narrowed down, two flavor choices (vanilla or plain). Kroger didn’t offer soy yogurt, but I did find that at Whole Foods and the Clintonville Community Market, where I also found nutritional yeast, a new nutritional essential.

I’m not a fan of fake cheese/meat, so I haven’t incorporated any alternatives into my diet quite yet. As I mentioned earlier, I like knowing where my food comes from, so I feel as though there are likely too many chemicals in “tofurkey” for it to be appealing. Also, “food” isn’t as “charming” when it has “quotes” around it.

Another challenging aspect has been reading the ingredients of practically everything I eat, finding restaurants that cater to a vegan diet and learning that some of my innocent choices have already put me off track (green beans drenched in butter).

Then there is the cheese. My boyfriend and I have a standing date at Betty’s Fine Foods & Spirits at 7 p.m. every Monday where the best mac and cheese in the world is not only $5 on Mondays, but $2 PBR drafts flow like water. The drawer of cheese in my fridge has become more tempting by the day. And you better believe that come March 1, I’ll feast on a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.

I’m not throwing in the towel early by any means, but I’m interested to see how the rest of this month goes and wonder if I’ll notice any change in my overall health and well-being.

If you’re interested in knowing more about a vegetarian or vegan diet, I strongly recommend the following resources:

Documentaries (the first two are on Netflix instant)

Food, Inc.

Forks Over Knives

Earthlings

Books

Eating Animals

Websites

Post Punk Kitchen

21-Day Vegan Kickstart

PETA’s Vegetarian/Vegan Starter Kit

Shout out to my friend and fellow vegan, for the time being, Meghan for her suggestions and encouragement. Thanks to those of you who took the time to read this lengthier post. I’m interested in your thoughts on your food philosophy, if you have one, or what your approach to maintain a healthy diet looks like.

J

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