Ever heard of Veganuary (aka Vegan January)?
Until a few months ago, I hadn't. But the worldwide charity campaign, which encourages participants to forgo all meat, fish, eggs, and dairy for the first month of the year, apparently attracted 50,000 to take part in 2017. And I do love a good challenge, so when I first heard about the concept this past October, I wanted in!
Now, full disclosure, I've already been a pescetarian - meaning I eat fish, but not meat - for close to 20 years. Meaning this probably wouldn't be as drastic of a challenge for me as it would be for someone who's used to eating steak every other night. With that said, I eat a LOT of cheese on a regular basis, I love sushi, and I've never met a bar of chocolate that didn't seem like it had my name on it. So this was never going to be a walk in the park, either.
So now that I'm 10 days in, what's a so-called "real-world eater" likely to experience by trying out a vegan diet?
1) You'll get really curious. If you're like me and love to dive down the rabbit hole of YouTube, Wikipedia, and the like, you'll find that there's a Hell of a lot of information out there. Watching the "Vegan 2017" documentary is a great place to start, and that might lead you to videos by Mic the Vegan, or "101 Reasons to Go Vegan." You'll get faced with some pretty gross facts that we'd all rather not know about, like how eggs are really the menstruation cycle discharge of a hen, honey is really bee vomit, and dairy products are only produced by mother cows who've recently given birth and had their babies immediately taken from them. Or even the fact that humans are the only species on earth who consume the milk from another animal, and who continue to drink milk after infancy.
2) You'll become more accepting. Up until a few months ago, if I'm honest, part of me had sort of always assumed that vegans were hippy-type people who lived in vans and looked down on the rest of us who dared to eat burgers and pastries. But now that I've dipped even just a toe into the water, I don't think I could ever really judge someone who aims to minimize the suffering of others through their actions.
3) You'll think twice about everything you put into your body. My initial impression from these 10 days is that veganism is not really all that hard, and --wait, what? I can't eat gummy bears because they have gelatin? I can't eat German pretzels because they're dipped in butter? I can't eat my favorite paprika crisps because they inexplicably contain traces of lactose? Never have I obsessed over lists of ingredients like I have in the past 10 days. Seriously - and because I live in Germany, but don't speak fluent German yet, I am now literally that girl in the supermarket aisle holding a box of pasta in one hand, and a cell phone in the other, google-translating every other ingredient. It's annoying, and it's also so eye-opening to realize just how many food products are actually made with animals. Oh, and going out to eat? That's even worse - unless you're lucky enough to land at a restaurant that labels its menus with handy "vgn" labels, you're likely to be awfully limited. The other day I went to brunch with my boyfriend, and there wasn't a single item on the menu that didn't have either eggs, or cheese, or ham. I ended up having to send the waitress to the kitchen to see what they could make me, and I felt sort of guilty about it. (Although, the pumpkin gnocchi I ended up with was pretty tasty.)
4) You'll realize it's totally possible to be an unhealthy vegan. Again, my prior assumption had always been that vegans ate nothing but wheatgrass and lentils and flaxseed, with fresh fruit for dessert. But nowadays, you can get vegan anything. Vegan pizza. Vegan chocolate. Vegan cheese. Vegan ice cream. And some of those options may be even less healthy than their non-vegan counterparts. Vegan definitely does not, in and of itself, equal healthy.
5) You'll struggle with guilt. Just think about it for a second: Why is your desire for, say, a chocolate chip cookie, more important to you than allowing a newborn calf to drink its mother's milk? Or why is your craving for bacon more important to you than protecting the life of a sentient living being? At the moment, I don't personally have a good answer to questions like these. And yet, if you told me I could never have a fondue again, I'd probably never forgive you. How are you supposed to reconcile that?
6) You'll feel frustrated. Because, you guys, I really kind of feel like a handful of M&M's right now. And while it's empowering to know that I can resist that craving, it doesn't make it any less frustrating in the short-term.
7) You'll get defensive. For example, why stop at veganism? Why not eat only raw food? Or only fruits and vegetables that have fallen from the tree? Or only local, in-season produce? It's easy to come up with attack-ready arguments to justify why we eat/dress/do things the way we do, and they typically will boil down to: "because it's easier this way and I don't want to change." That's an uncomfortable thought.
8) You'll look towards the future. Because 10 days in, I really am not at all ready to commit to veganism for the long run. Part of me wishes I could, but for whatever reason, I'm not there yet. Maybe because 10 days isn't long enough to cure a lifelong addiction. But what I am ready to commit to is doing something a little bit differently in the future. And maybe - even if you never even dabble in veganism - you can too! Think about it: Could you only buy cosmetics that don't test on animals? Could you go meatless one day a week? Could your next leather handbag be purchased second-hand? How can you make a difference?
9) You'll get to know yourself better. I do think, at the very least, if we ARE going to continue consuming animal products, we should at least be willing to face the reality of what we're putting in our bodies, and determine what we can or cannot justify to ourselves. What is YOUR soul ok with? What are your values and desires, and how can you reconcile the two?
10) There's really something to this. It's probably too early to tell how my body will actually react to this. I've read it takes about 21 days to clear addictive toxins out, so I'm only about halfway there. Still, I feel great. My stomach is flatter. I'm enjoying the curiosity of trying new things to eat and challenging myself in a new way. I'm enjoying improvising in my cooking at home. I'm feeling proud about doing some small piece to reduce suffering and slaughter. And I've got a newfound awareness and respect for a lifestyle I'd never experienced before. So call it what you will, but that's already a win in my book!
And no matter what happens, you can already sign me up for Veganuary 2019.