Vegan Experience

By Connie Steinbock

Modern veganism  as a diet and lifestyle choice is growing in popularity all over the world and some (even if few) of my dearest friends are now vegans. As I love to explore healthier and more sustainable ways of living for myself, I decided to test the vegan lifestyle for a short period of time. While traveling and living with one of my best friends who is a vegan for more than three years, I explored cooking, buying and eating out vegan. First only planned for 4 weeks, it was so much fun that I decided to extend the experience back home in London and Berlin until the end of lent which added up my vegan journey to 10 weeks.

Overall, I really enjoyed exploring vegan-friendly ingredients and materials and discovered some new to me. Trying new recipes and tasting new dishes is something I love anyway and it was great fun to do it with my friend. For inspiration on vegan food jump to the ‘What Vegans Eat‘ article, or check out my friend’s project Cómo Comer.

So here’s what I learned in the 10 weeks.

What is Vegan?

To say it with the words of the Vegan Society, Veganism is

“a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

So, this excludes the consumption and use of all animal-based products, e.g. foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey; materials such as leather, silk, pearls; animal-tested cosmetics and medication; and many more.
However, I like the note in the quote above – as far as [it] is possible and practicable- as this defines the values of veganism as something to aspire to rather than a strict law to live after. Something I have learned in my 10 weeks is that you really have to study many products properly to understand what’s in there and that surprisingly a lot of animal protein and dairy is mixed into things you really wouldn’t need it and expect it in. Alone taking the time and paying attention to this is one step into the right direction, in my opinion.

Shopping veg at a local farmer's market

A local farmer’s market

Why are people vegan?

There are many individual reasons why people choose a vegan lifestyle. Three common motivations are:

1) Animal-friendly; considering all animals as friends rather than food/ material producers and thus reluctant to harm and take from animals.

2) Sustainable; recognising the huge overconsumption of animal-based products and the damage which this overproduction is causing to nature, the animals themselves, as well as humans (producers and consumers)

3) Health; following many studies which aim to prove that a fully plant-based diet is the healthiest and most natural for humans and that an animal-based diet could contribute to the cause of many common and modern diseases, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Cow eating

Happy cow eating grass

I would see myself best placed in category 2 with tendencies to 1 and 3. And so I have been thinking  a lot about many ways to not only preach but live a more sustainable life. I am trying to be more conscious of what and where I buy, how much waste I am producing and am open to learn about alternatives to our ‘normal’ unsustainable way of life. There are many simple things we can do every day. Bringing a big enough or an additional foldable bag to avoid using plastic ones when shopping; thinking twice before buying a take away snack, lunch or coffee in non-reusable plastic or paper dish;  using ‘keep-cups’ and reusable dishes on the go; and of course buying organic and local products with lesser packaging whenever possible.

What was great about living vegan?

Reflecting and learning

First of all, it was great fun to explore another way of life, consuming, cooking and eating. Reflecting on our habits and trying something new is always a good thing as you can only grow with it. In this experience, I needed to review what I have been eating and learn about ingredients, alternatives to dairy and meat and generally what nutrients food contains. It was also interesting to think of veganism as more than just a diet choice and learning more about vegan consumer choices when shopping cosmetics, clothes, and basically everything else.

Feeling good

Secondly, I have been feeling great and although I can’t report whether I am scientifically healthier than before (I didn’t get my blood tested before or after) I have definitely been feeling and seeing a positive difference. I can’t be sure if all positive effects can be traced back to my diet, especially as I have also kept up with regular Yoga practice, have been enjoying good social contacts and received an extra portion sun during my recent holiday in Colombia. However, I do notice that I am much more energetic than I used to be before the challenge and this was probably the first effect I could clearly feel after just a few days going vegan. Soon after I noticed that my skin was clearer and that my digestion had changed to the better, too.

More consciousness

Finally, I have become much more conscious of the products and food I am buying and using and potential alternatives. Given the constant critique from non-vegans that vegans are supposedly missing out on important nutrients such as protein and vitamins, I have also started to think more about which nutrients I have on my plate for every dish (something I haven’t really been caring too much about before as I have never been criticised as a non-vegan). I actually think the vegan diet can cover most of the required nutrients in full capacity as long as the diet is diverse and you ensure to eat a combination of nuts, legumes, many different veggies and fruits. For the nutrients that only exist in dairy or meat such as vitamin B12, I would consider adding occasional meat and dairy to my menu or add supplements to the diet (something many people need to or chose to do anyway).

What were the greatest challenges?

Better quality – higher prices

First, shopping vegan often means to buy better quality products and a lot of nuts which could end up more expensive than the usual shop would have been. However, it’s not adding up more pricey if you have been buying for example organic veg, meat and dairy anyway, which I have been doing.

Ask for what’s inside – without being awkward

Secondly, I had to start checking everything I ordered in a restaurant or bought in a shop on ingredients and materials used. This was probably the most difficult and at the same time interesting part of the project as I became more and more aware of how often dairy is added to dishes which taste totally fine without any, or how often milk powder is added to processed food as a cheap alternative to a higher quality ingredients. I am a passionate chocolate eater for example; and so I realised that high quality chocolate is often vegan anyway because it has a higher amount of cocoa and cocoa butter instead of dairy substitutes. The usual supermarket chocolate has a higher percentage of sugar and dairy because it needs it to cover up the lower quality ingredients, but it cannot keep up with the taste and the melting on-the-tongue effect of good chocolate made of good cocoa and cocoa butter (mmmm). I personally am happy to pay a little more for that extra bit of quality. Also, many vegan products are also fair trade and have environment-friendly packaging, so it’s worth the extra dollar in more than one way.

However, finding out about the ingredients means you need to make your veganism a topic with friends before you join them at a dinner party, with the staff in the restaurant when ordering food, and with the staff in the shop before buying something. On one hand that’s good because it spreads awareness and makes people think about alternative life styles, but on the other hand it has been super awkward sometimes. I experienced that just for dropping the v-word a lot of people got annoyed at me, pretended to care about my health and vitamin intake, or were really defensive about why they were not vegan. I don’t think someone who asks for extra sugar for his or her coffee would get the same reaction and talk about how unhealthy sugar is, although the potential detriment is commonly known. It’s weird because a lot of the negative reactions are caused by a lack of information but they stop you from wanting to talk more about veganism at the same time. I hope this will change soon.

Vegan to be continued?!

In conclusion, having learned about many benefits of living vegan and experienced that its doable without having to sacrifice style, tasty food, great meals, and most important chocolate; I will definitely keep it up as a guideline in my daily life. Being more conscious of what I eat and buy, I will allow myself the occasional dairy, eggs or even meat as long as I am sure of it’s organic origin and include these products as rare treats rather than daily essentials.

Buying local fruits and veg

Now here are a few snaps and recipes of what I have been eating. Guten Appetit!

Author: Cairbre

Cairbre is the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tipperary Hurling Team, having previously coached Arsenal Women FC and at the Arsenal Youth Academy. Blog posts inspired by a curiosity about the inner workings of the body and mind, and the pursuit of athletic performance.

UKSCA accredited, with a Sport and Exercise Sciences BSc, and Sports Performance MSc from the University of Limerick.

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