Like most red-blooded Midwestern men, I was raised on a steady diet of meat and cheese. In fact, growing up, I can’t recall a meal that didn’t feature one of these foods and often featured heaping helpings of both.
That’s why I looked at veganism with such skepticism: what the heck do these people eat? Do they just eat dressing free spinach salads for every meal? How does someone live without feasting on the flesh of other animals?
So when my wife suggested we give this a try, it was like she was asking if we wanted to move to the moon or grow a third arm — it wasn’t that it didn’t sound interesting, it just seemed like something that wasn’t possible. Wouldn’t we wither and die without protein?
Being the good husband I am, I did some research and started to get more information about a potentially radical lifestyle shift. And the more research I did, the more it seemed somewhat possible.It turns out, there are a lot of people who choose not to indulge in any foods containing ingredients from animals.
It still seemed insane. But I figured I could do anything for 30 days, right?
The more research we did, the more it seemed like a genuinely exciting opportunity. Instead of being greeted with boring, bland recipes, I was finding new ingredients and interesting combinations that I had never considered, like black beans and butternut squash. Sure, I would miss steaks on the grill, but there was a whole new culinary world suddenly awaiting me.
So my wife and I took the plunge and ultimately decided that we would cut out all animal-based foods from our diet for thirty days. When I told my friends this, they looked at me like I was Bruce Jenner, but I was ready to do this.
I’ve never been a particularly picky eater, so I wasn’t worried about disliking the food itself. But I was worried about suddenly having to develop a whole new diet. Food was suddenly going to be work, and I am inherently lazy.
Like most married, working couples, we have our dinner rotation that we lean on when we’re both busy and don’t want to think about cooking. Things like chicken stroganoff, stuffed shells, and spaghetti and meatballs were just staples that we always picked up without really thinking about it.
This passive eating was something that was about to end, and that was perhaps the biggest change. We were going to become much more active in what we ate and much more aware of the ingredients that we were using.
When you become aware of the meat, cheese, and dairy in your diet, the first thing you notice is just how ubiquitous these food products can be. For instance, going out to eat was a bit of a challenge when the only vegetarian options were pastas covered in cheese or made in cream sauces.
There seems to be an inherent belief that vegetarianism is healthy, but it seemed like these options were actually some of the most calorie-laden dishes on the menu. It became striking to me just how unhealthy our diets can be.
It also struck me just how incomplete meals seem without a protein – specifically, some sort of meat. I’ve never thought of vegetables as the star of the show, they were always the price of admission that my mother made me eat in order to enjoy the main event.
But by removing meat, I was starting to notice that you could do some really interesting things with vegetables and spices that are extremely intriguing to the palette. Far from just some steamed carrots or grilled asparagus, vegetables could actually be quite delicious if prepared correctly. I had never eaten vegetables that weren’t slathered with butter, so often it was like eating these veggies for the first time.
I also found that there were many meat substitutes that can help you bridge the gap and get used to a vegan diet. For instance, a black bean burger can be a great substitute for a burger patty while still giving a person the sensation of eating meat. There’s obviously no perfect substitute for a delicious cheeseburger, but when facing a craving these foods can be a lifesaver.
Likewise, there are many tofu-based meat substitutes that can be purchased at just about every grocery store. There is vegan meatloaf, vegan chorizo, vegan meatballs, even vegan breakfast sausage. These taste almost exactly like meat and can help someone who is having a difficult time transitioning to a plant-based diet get over those cravings for meat.
So we started to give some of these foods a try and found that it wasn’t that much of a loss to remove meat and cheese from our diet. And after about a week or so of doing this, we noticed that we began to lose weight. We also noticed that we were sleeping better and seemed to have more energy.
Instead of feeling heavy or weighed-down after a meal, we felt good. We hadn’t really upped our workout routine, so this can all be attributed almost exclusively to our diet change. Our food was actually giving us energy instead of putting us into a coma after a meal.
We also found that we were saving a fair amount of money at the grocery store. Many people complain that eating healthy is expensive and, depending on where you live and where you shop, this might be the case. But when you weigh a pound of chicken versus a pound of asparagus, it’s easy to see which is the cheaper option.
My wife and I found that when we primarily shopped in the produce section, our grocery bill was only about 75% of what it normally would be. The only change was that, due to the shelf life of the produce, we were going to the grocery store more often. However, the positive out weighed the negative for us since we were significantly cutting down on food waste.
As our month wound to a close, I would be lying if I said I didn’t go out and grill a steak. After all, I still loved meat and was excited to start indulging again. But I did find that I could get by with a LOT less than I had been eating.
This experiment was more than a year ago, and today, my wife and I generally eat vegan with some meat thrown in here and there. We are still very conscious of what we eat and generally try to eat well instead of just passively eating the same thing each and every week. We treat meat and cheese as a special treat instead of treating it as a staple of our diet.
If you are trying to eat healthy and aren’t sure where to begin, try a vegan diet for a month. Far from being some crazy impossibility, it’s actually a realistic, do-able option.
You’ll find yourself looking better, feeling better, and saving money (to say nothing of the environmental benefits). Who knows, you may even discover a new food you love in the process. So start compiling some recipes and plan your vegan month today! In the end, I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did.