Tuesday, 6 February 2018

I Tried Veganuary

A couple of months ago I was lamenting about an unhealthy food rut I was stuck in: work was at a very stressful point, I was trying to juggle those demands with working on some research, and I usually drop my meal planning when I feel overwhelmed and start eating whatever's easiest and takeout at least once a week. It doesn't help with the situation and doesn't make me feel great. I managed to pull myself out of it, but I realized I wanted to do a little more than that: I wanted to reboot my eating habits. I decided to try Veganuary as a stepping stone for that: one, I eat a lot of vegan meals anyway since I don't like much meat and am lactose intolerant; two, I wasn't going to have much, if any, food in my apartment once I returned from the holidays; and three, I wanted to see if I could do it. 

Oh She Glows Vegan Peppermint Patty. This is amazing.

A few caveats: 
  • I was late starting. I knew I would be, since I wouldn't be home till January 3rd. I decided I would start then, with a big grocery shop when I got home. Joke's on me, I started on the 6th due to being violently ill when I got home and then a huge storm arrived and getting to and from work was hard enough. So I decided I would still try to do the 31 days, just not totally all in January.
  • I had a couple of blips: One when I went home for a night mid-January - my partner's parents were having a party. And to be perfectly honest, I'm still having a hell of a time trying to get our families to understand lactose intolerance ("Can you eat eggs?" Head, meet desk. Our parents are good and lovely people who are really trying, I know). Explaining Veganuary was not a battle I was up to. I did my best to adhere, but there are a lot of animal products in the average Maritimer's home and they are consumed with every meal. The other was at work: a slice of cake for a coworker's birthday.
  • It is really hard to eat a restricted diet of any kind in rural northern New Brunswick. It's not impossible, and our local grocery stores have made huge leaps in the 2+ years I've been here in terms of variety of foods, alternatives to animal products, and lactose-free dairy products. But it is very frustrating that a lot of vegan recipes require very specific ingredients/spices/sauces/produce that are completely inaccessible here. Shout out to Oh She Glows for having delicious recipes with (mostly) easy to acquire ingredients.
Thug Kitchen 5-Spice Fried Rice. This wasn't my favourite - I feel like it's missing something. Though I had less soy sauce than it called for, so that may have been a factor.

The nice thing about Veganuary is that there was no real change to my grocery bill. This could also be viewed as negative - but again, I live in Canada. Food is far more expensive here than in the United States, and I already eat a diet of mostly vegan and veggie foods at this point, so there was very little change to my weekly shop. Meat and dairy are comparatively quite expensive to the US prices, due to our different regulations, and produce is mainly imported, especially this time of year. Eating more ethically has been something I've taken a growing interest in the last couple of years, but the reality of my current location and living situation means that it's very difficult to do so. Our farmer's market was closed till this weekend, you know? It's winter. Almost everything has fuel costs to get it here. 

Anyway, I found myself mostly enjoying it. Again, I have more vegan cookbooks than non, so I do a lot of vegan cooking as part of my regular diet. I was pretty terrible at taking photos of things I made, but an incomplete list:
  • Apple Pie Overnight Oats (Oh She Glows Everyday)
  • Rosemary Bread (produced by random Googling)
  • Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Avocado Garlic Aioli (Oh She Glows Everyday)
  • Yves vegan meatballs with grape jelly sauce 
  • Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese (Oh She Glows app)
  • Crispy Chocolatey Candy (The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions)
  • Immunity Boosting Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms (Oh She Glows)
  • Cheeseless pizza (made the crust in my breadmaker, topped with homemade tomato sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, chives, spinach, and red peppers)
  • Cornmeal Waffles with Strawberry Syrup (Thug Kitchen)
  • 5 Spice Fried Rice (Thug Kitchen)
  • Vegan Peppermint Patty Slice (Oh She Glows App)
Thug Kitchen Cornmeal Waffles with Strawberry Syrup

When I was making up my first grocery list for the month, I sat down with my cookbooks and picked a couple of recipes I wanted to try out for the week - things that I thought would generally work well with being consumed over a week as leftovers. This was a process that I'd kind of done for a while, but this month is where I really sat down and started doing better meal planning. That's something I'll be taking away from this month: continuing to plan my menus more stringently.

What I found really difficult was life without dairy. I've found lactose-free substitutes for most of the dairy I use - cheese, yogurt, butter, milk, even cream cheese. And while I don't eat very much meat anymore, I still eat a good amount of cheese, like to bake, and enjoy a yogurt. I also did an experiment in trying to figure out where and what I could eat out in my city, and came to the horrifying conclusion that with the exception of a couple of places with one or two dishes, that I really couldn't. Like I said, northern New Brunswick is a difficult place to eat any kind of restricted diet that involves abstaining from any animal products. But I also found myself feeling strangely deprived, like I was shutting myself out from a social experience that I really enjoy. I like food. I like eating new food, I like cooking new dishes, and I like going out to eat at new places or trying the new menu at places I love. Eating plant-based in my current home doesn't satisfy all of that. Additionally, I found myself thinking about what I couldn't eat an awful lot, and as someone who has had a pattern of disordered eating in the past, that's a warning sign for me that what I'm about to do isn't good for my relationship with food.

Oh She Glows Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Avocado Garlic Aioli and Yves vegan meatballs with grape jelly sauce. Wasn't a huge fan of the vegan meatballs, but the potatoes and aioli were incredible.

I also had to skip some of my favourite specials at the hospital cafeteria this month. In the scheme of things, this is not a huge deal, but I like eating at our cafeteria. We have really good food and it's insanely cheap. 

I'm mostly happy with how this went. Obviously, I won't be returning full plant-based eating while I continue to live where I do and while I'm in a headspace that could easily go down an unhealthy path. I also didn't save any money, so there's no real financial incentive - I often see people posting on Reddit or other vegan communities about all the money they're saving now that they don't buy animal products, but that wasn't really a thing for me, and considering we're approaching the time of year where cauliflower can be up to $8 a head, it's only about to get more expensive. All food is expensive here, but produce and in general, non-processed food (which is often animal-based), is especially pricey. I had a professor in undergrad who'd moved up from New York and was horrified at the price of food in rural Nova Scotia, so...

I'd rather do something than nothing. Would it be nice if I could go vegan, since the environmental benefits and health benefits are both of interest to me? Absolutely. But encouraging myself to eat plant-based meals limits the amount of animal products I consume while also not drawing a hard line that allows me the flexibility I need.

And while I'm going to continue eating a lot of plant-based meals, I'll confess I came home and assembled a big pan of macaroni and cheese because I have been dying for one since the beginning of January.

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