The 30 Day Vegan Challenge

Good Produce, Good Meals

From the outset, I fully intended to use this blog as a vehicle to talk about beer and food, but a quick look back at my posts reveals how uneven the ratio is of one to the other. I’ll now attempt to balance the scales a bit back in food’s direction. A bit over a month ago, my girlfriend Victoria asked me if I would do a 30-day vegan challenge. No meat, no dairy, no animal products at all for a month. She’s been a vegetarian for fifteen years and has been eating vegan for about nine months and I knew accepting the challenge would mean a lot to her. So I did.

While I’m not as much as a carnivore as I used to be, I do enjoy meat. Largely, it tastes pretty good and can usually function as the centerpiece of a meal that you work other ingredients around. My biggest concern with being vegan for a month was actually this—what becomes the central part of a dish without meat? Wouldn’t the turkey sandwiches I eat every day for lunch be severely lacking without turkey and cheese? Wouldn’t burritos be found wanting without carnitas, shredded beef, or chicken filling them up?

Vegan Camping

Today I can say most of my fears were unfounded. Not only have meat substitutes come a long way in recent years, vegan “dairy” products have been a surprisingly delicious parts of my diet in recent weeks. Kite Hill brand, in particular, makes yogurt, cream cheese, and other dairy substitutes that often exceed the flavor of the “real thing.” More importantly, however, I’ve realized that neither meat nor its substitutes need to be central to most meals. After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma a few years ago, I tried to take to heart his thesis of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” The short explanation is that he advocates eating “real” food, not processed food-like simulacra, eating said food in moderation, and making vegetables the focal point of meals. I’ve struggled to follow the first two tenets at times, but the last one never clicked with me until this month.

 

Baja Fish-less Tacos

It took me eating sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, and veganaise to realize that what I once considered toppings can stand on their own just fine. Granted, Victoria did the shopping and always picked out ripe, quality produce (going back to the “eat food” tenet) with plenty of flavor. I switched out string cheese (don’t judge me) for mini-bell peppers and hummus in my lunches. Oreos, which are probably my biggest weakness, are vegan so they stayed on the table. For dinner, Victoria made a host of delicious meals, ranging from sweet potato enchiladas and roasted pepper chilaquiles to Thai coconut curries and nut-based burgers. This month also forced me to eat out less, though we did make the rounds at Long Beach’s various vegan restaurants like the Grain Café, Veggie Grill, Seabirds Kitchen, and the pop-up Wild Chive.

The 30 days are up, but I still have been eating vegan for the past five since it ended. I’m not here to proselytize—I just want to share what I’ve learned. We (society at large, and Americans in particular) have stopped knowing or caring where our food comes from. We hide behind euphemisms like pork and beef to distance ourselves from the pigs and cows that died to make them. I intend on eating meat and dairy again, but I want to make a more conscious effort to consume them less often and when I do, ensure that they come from humane and sustainable sources. I love animals, and knowing that none had to die (or wish they were dead at an industrial dairy farm) for me to eat the past month makes me feel pretty good. This alone is enough to encourage me to eat vegan at least a few days a week, and the clearly beneficial environmental effects are icing on the egg-and-dairy-free cake.

Modern Times is 100% Vegan

Since I couldn’t go this whole post without mentioning beer, I’ll add that the only modifications I had to make to my beer intake were avoiding milk stouts and other lactose-laden beers (lactose IPAs have been catching on of late), as well as a bottle of KBS, which has actual milk chocolate added during the brew. I think 30-day challenges are a good thing; breaking your mind and body’s expectations offers a chance at a new perspective, which in turn becomes a learning experience. Twice in the past three years I’ve done 30 days without alcohol, which I recommend everyone try to do every so often. Like the vegan challenge, going alcohol-free for a month made me realize I don’t need to drink as often as I was and to be more selective about my choices. Financially, it makes sense too. If I’m consuming less meat or beer, when I eventually do, I feel inclined to spend more on a premium product since my overall meat or beer budget is down. With that said, pay attention to where your food and beer comes from—when you do, you’ll eat better and drink better.