I have been a vegetarian for a few years now but at the beginning of January, I decided that I was going to take it one step further and try eating vegan for an entire month.
Veganuary is a growing trend and challenge where participants choose to eat vegan for thirty days during January. I committed to myself to take this challenge and see what happened as I ate an entirely plant-based diet.
Let me just say this… Before going vegan, I loved drinking milk (especially chocolate milk) and I was also slightly addicted to eating cheese. I always put cheese in my salads and would often buy a brick of cheese and eat a few thick slices throughout the course of the day until it disappeared (which didn’t take long). Growing up, I had never really loved eating meat as the texture bothered me and I wasn’t crazy about the taste either (chicken and beef were the only meats I ever ate). So transitioning from the occasional meat eater to a vegetarian was easy for me. I thought that giving up cheese and dairy would be really difficult for me and I never thought that I would be able to do it, but honestly, I barely even craved it at all during the month!
As a vegetarian, I always knew that going completely vegan was eventually my goal and I had been telling myself that I wanted to do it for a little while. So what better time to do it, than during Veganuary!
What Does Vegan Mean?
A vegan does not eat any animal meat (yup, that includes fish), dairy, eggs or any food product with ingredients derived from animals (like gelatin). Vegans also don’t use any products (facial and body care, shampoos, lotions, etc.) that have been tested on animals or contain animal products and they do not wear materials derived from animals.
Choosing to go vegan is ultimately the best thing you can do to reduce your impact on the environment and the unnecessary suffering and death of animals and improve your body’s overall health. It’s about doing your part to reduce cruelty and practice compassion and kindness instead. In my eyes, veganism is also more than just a way of eating. The practices of compassion, kindness and respect extend beyond food to caring about the environment, how various products and clothing was made and tested, and also to other areas of your life. It is a lifestyle, not a diet.
Why Did I Go Vegan?
There are a few reasons why I chose to transition to a vegan lifestyle.
- The Animals – I am a huge animal lover and I always have been. I have always had at least one pet growing up since I was about three years old and currently have two cats whom I love dearly. My family calls me a “cat whisperer” as I often manage to meet a cat on the street when I go for walks and I must stop to pet him/her. I’ve watched many of those disturbing slaughterhouse videos on YouTube and watched lots of documentaries about the treatment of farm animals and it’s so hard for me to see animals suffering, in pain and being treated with such disrespect and cruelty. It’s just wrong and almost brings me to tears. Going vegan means that no animal had to die for me to eat and enjoy a delicious meal and that warms my heart and makes me smile.
- My Health – There is a ton of evidence out there showing that eating a plant-based diet is one of the best things that we can do for our health. Eating a vegan diet is linked to lower rates of developing cancer, heart disease and less of other bad stuff in your body. By eating only plants, you are nourishing your body with the best nutrients and minerals and that’s just amazing.
- The Environment – It is a known fact that eating meat is incredibly harmful to the environment and the planet in which we call home. Huge amounts of land are used to raise animals and trees and rainforests are destroyed to make room for more grazing land. This in turn kills lots of plant and animal species living in these habitats, which is so sad. Also, a massive amount of crops and water are needed to feed the animals and help them to grow fast so that they can be slaughtered for food. The crops that feed animals could be better used as food for us humans to help combat world hunger.
Veganism is ultimately about kindness and expressing compassion and respect for the environment, towards your body and towards all animals. Being a vegetarian, I always felt like my values and beliefs weren’t truly aligned with my actions of eating dairy and eggs (if you’ve taken an introductory psychology class in university, you might remember that this is called ‘cognitive dissonance’).
Things I Learned Eating Vegan
Many Traditional Meals and Desserts can be “Veganized”
Eating vegan doesn’t just mean you will be consuming only salads (although salads are pretty amazing)! At the beginning of the month, I made a list of meals and desserts that I already loved and were vegetarian (like homemade mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, pasta with a cream-based sauce, tacos, cookies, etc.) and just searched for vegan versions of them on Pinterest or Google. There are so many recipes out there and it is almost guaranteed that there is a vegan version of your favourite meat meals as well.
Eating Vegan Requires Some Planning & Effort
Eating plant-based is not hard but it does require some advance planning. It can take some extra time to learn about which plant foods have sufficient amounts of protein and calcium and other important nutrients to meet your daily requirements. Before going vegan, I never really had to think about how much of these nutrients I was getting or where they were coming from, because I ate a lot of dairy and eggs. Both after doing some research, I learned that protein and calcium are abundant in many plant foods and it’s not hard to meet the requirements if you are eating a balanced diet and variety of foods (whole grains, legumes, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats).
Grocery shopping also requires some extra effort as you search for new foods. I always try to be conscious about adding foods with calcium and protein to each of my meals to make sure I am getting enough. I added hemp seeds to my smoothies in the morning and used almond milk; sprinkled chickpeas, beans, cooked quinoa and nuts and seeds to my salads at lunch and enjoyed a glass of soy milk; and made sure my dinners included a whole grain, beans, or lentils and a variety of vegetables. I also found it helpful to plan my dinners for the week ahead of time and then check what ingredients I needed and add them to my grocery list if I didn’t already have them at home. I recommend planning your meals for the week ahead of time so that you know what groceries you need to purchase.
Nutritional Yeast Is Amazing
Before going vegan, I had never heard of nutritional yeast. It sounded a bit weird to me at first, but it’s seriously an amazing thing!
I used it to make a delicious “cheese” sauce for a mock macaroni and cheese meal and it had such a realistic and delicious flavour. I can’t wait to try it out in more recipes.
The Dairy and Meat Industries are Inhumane & Cruel
I had been vegetarian for a few years before going vegan, which means that I included dairy and eggs in my diet. I had no idea how harmful the dairy industry really was until I started doing more in-depth research last month!
Female cows are artificially impregnated for their entire lives so that they are able to produce milk. Their babies are stolen from them when they are still young and need their mother and the mother cow’s milk is taken from her and provided to humans. One of two things can happen to the baby cows: the females are destined for the dairy industry when they grow up and will be constantly pregnant just like their mothers and the male cows will be sent to the beef industry or be killed. Also, us humans are the only animals who continue to drink milk throughout our lives even after weaning (and the only animals who drink the milk of another being), which is completely unnatural and unnecessary. We do not need milk, cheese, eggs or any sort of dairy to be healthy.
All animals feel emotions, like pain, suffering, happiness, etc. (read this article and this one). There are so many videos and documentaries out there with footage of what goes in inside factory farm operations and slaughterhouses and it’s just atrocious. It’s quite obvious that the animals are scared and feeling pain and I think that it’s just wrong to kill these living and breathing animals for our own pleasure and to satisfy our own taste-buds, when it’s completely unnecessary to our survival and health.
I also find it interesting that the majority of us humans could never imagine torturing our pet animals (like dogs and cats) but we have no problem eating meat and supporting the suffering of farm animals. Just because you don’t know and see these animals, doesn’t mean that they should be treated in such a brutal way. Those are my thoughts.
Just Because It’s Vegan, Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy
It’s very possible to be an unhealthy vegan. When a food item says the word “vegan” on it, most people automatically assume that that means it is super healthy but this is not always the case. Potato chips, Coca Cola, and French fries are all vegan but these foods are not something you should be consuming very often. As a vegan, it should be important to you to eat nutrient-dense and whole foods in order to stay as healthy as possible.
Supplement With Vitamin B12
There is only one vitamin that is very difficult to get enough of when eating vegan and that is Vitamin B12. This is a super important vitamin and being deficient in it can bring about a lot of negative and harmful effects to your body, so it’s essential to supplement this in your vegan diet. I purchased a B Vitamin Complex including B12 from Vita Health in Winnipeg (You can buy it here on Amazon).
Going Vegan Will Allow you to Experiment with Eating New Foods
Being vegan exposed me to new foods that I had never tried or cooked with before, like nutritional yeast and tofu. Some essential items to add to your first vegan grocery shop might include vegan mayonnaise (I loved the Grapeseed Vegan Mayonnaise from the brand Follow Your Heart; organic whipped vegan butter from Earth Balance; nutritional yeast from Bulk Barn in Canada; organic tofu; etc.). I loved cooking with new foods and there are still so many more food items that I want to try on my journey!
Read Ingredient Labels
I learned how to do some basic vegan label reading during my first month of this lifestyle. Dairy and meat products can be hidden in random food items that you may not expect or think to check the label. Some labels will say “may contain milk or dairy products,” and these would not be suitable for vegans. I found it interesting to read labels at the grocery store and see what is actually in some of the foods that I buy. Some products that sometimes have hidden dairy in them that I didn’t about are: some artificial sweeteners, baked goods (even the gluten-free muffins that I love from my local grocery store), bread, some candies, salad dressings, potato chips, chocolate (make sure it is dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa, not milk chocolate obviously. I love Zazubean and Green & Black’s chocolate bars), red juices, candies and popsicles (the red colouring is actually derived from ground-up beetles!), marshmallows (gelatin is derived from animal bones, tendons, skin and cartilage), berry-flavoured foods (the flavouring apparently comes from anal glands of beavers), orange juice with added Omega-3 (the omegas are from fish oil) and others I’m sure. Some ingredient names to watch out for and avoid include: natural butter flavor, natural flavouring, caramel flavouring, dried milk, cultured milk, milk fat and others.
I Didn’t Feel Deprived & Did Not Crave Dairy
Having already been a vegetarian before this challenge, I never have a desire to eat meat. But I was pleasantly surprised that after cutting out dairy and eggs from my diet cold turkey, I barely had any cravings to eat them during the month (aside from a couple of times when I felt lost without my feta cheese in my salads at first). I did buy some vegan soy (cheddar) cheese at the beginning of the month and added it to my salads sometimes. I already had a pretty solid foundation of eating mostly plant-based as a vegetarian, so the transition to vegan wasn’t as difficult as it would probably be for meat eaters.
Tofu Is Delicious
Before becoming vegan, I had only eaten tofu a few times at restaurants but had never cooked it for myself. I learned how to cook it properly during the month of January (with the help of my aunt) and began to use it more often in my cooking. It tasted great in curries and stir fries!
There Are So Many Helpful Resources
Once I started researching veganism and plant-based eating, I actually felt a little overwhelmed because there is SOO much information out there and tonnes of resources to find information and inspiration. From books, websites, documentaries to YouTube videos and Facebook support groups, there are lots of places to turn to for support, encouragement, entertainment and facts.
I Felt Healthier and Physically Awesome
After cutting dairy completely out of my diet, I noticed pretty quickly that I felt physically healthier, stronger, lighter and had more energy. I felt more motivated to accomplish things and also noticed increased alertness and concentration. I also felt stronger and more capable when I was exercising and recovered much quicker after I was finished. I didn’t get tired during the daytime and my energy lasted throughout the course of the day. The physical effects of eating vegan sure were amazing!
Not Everyone is Supportive and/or Understanding about your Choice
Although choosing to go vegan is gaining popularity, it is still a small minority of the population who choose this lifestyle. As a result, the general public, your friends, family and colleagues may not really understand what veganism means, the reasons behind why people decide this lifestyle, or be aware of the evidence supporting the harmful effects of eating meat and dairy on your body, the environment and the animals. When you tell people that you are vegan, their reactions may vary. Some people suddenly inquire about where you are getting your protein (if you eat a balanced diet and consume a variety of plant-based foods, you should have no problems meeting your daily protein requirement and you actually need much less than you might think) and calcium while others are curious and want to know more about your choice. I love sharing about my choice if people ask and are truly interested in knowing more. But I often felt like I needed to justify my decision for people, which I thought was kind of weird because nobody questions meat eaters why they choose to eat meat. I feel like society regards meat eaters as the default and plant eaters as a small faction of the population who are going against the grain.
When you first start out eating vegan, I recommend joining some supportive Facebook groups. These are great places to ask questions! Some of the ones that I joined and found helpful were: Canadian Vegetarians and Vegans, Vegan Humor, Vegans United, Veganuary and Winnipeg Vegan Meetup (just type your city or country and the word “vegan” into Facebook groups search and see what you can find for your area)!
Eating Vegan isn’t Overly Expensive
Purchasing meat and dairy is expensive. When you go vegan, you will probably notice that you are saving money on groceries while getting more wholesome and nutrient-dense foods, which is always a good thing. When you eat vegan, you are consuming a lot of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, etc., all of which are not that expensive compared to the costs of meat and dairy.
It Wasn’t Hard
I did do some label reading in the beginning so that I knew which foods to avoid and which ones may have hidden dairy sources in them. But after I got to know what was good to eat and what wasn’t, eating vegan really wasn’t that difficult at all. Granted, I didn’t start this journey as a meat eater and had already been vegetarian for a few years.
I didn’t crave dairy and my taste buds desired healthy foods instead. The hardest part of being vegan was probably eating out in restaurants and attending social events with friends where food was involved. I found that reading a restaurant’s menu online before going to eat a restaurant was helpful in knowing what kind of options were available (or calling them directly if they didn’t have a menu posted on their website to find out vegan options they have). I would also check out reviews from other people on websites like Yelp, HappyCow, Zomato and TripAdvisor and search for the word “vegan” in them. As for social gatherings, I just ate what I could and sometimes even brought my own food as well.
Cheese Has Addictive Qualities
Whenever you tell people that you are vegan or going vegan, one of the first things that many people is “I could never give up cheese.” It found it interesting that so many people have this same argument against veganism and I have to admit, that was one of the main reasons initially holding me back from this lifestyle at the beginning as well. I knew that eventually I had wanted to transition from vegetarian to vegan but couldn’t fathom the thought of giving up the cheese that I loved so much.
So I did some reading and researching and discovered that cheese, and all dairy products, actually have addictive qualities which act like an opiate to your brain (read the book called Main Street Vegan to learn more)! I thought that was pretty crazy but it made sense why it’s so difficult for people to quit eating dairy. It was never meant for humans to consume and is intended for baby cows, so we really shouldn’t be eating it anyways.
Fruits and Vegetables are Amazing
Going vegan has really helped me to be more conscious about where my food comes from and be more intentional about my choices. This lifestyle change has helped me to truly appreciate the wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables on this earth that were created for us! They are all so unique and complex and all providing different vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. It’s kind of mind boggling when you really think about it.
Kombucha is a Super Tasty and Healthy Probiotic Drink
I knew this before I started eating vegan but thought I would include it in this list anyways. Kombucha is a delicious fermented beverage (made from tea and a SCOBY – you’ll have to Google this to understand what it is) that is super fizzy, full of probiotics and B vitamins and tastes amazing. There are lots of different brand names that sell kombucha in many flavours. It is starting to become more mainstream (it’s not just for health-conscious hippies) and can even be found in major grocery stores, like Superstore and smaller health food stores, of course.
I love the GT’s Kombucha brand and the Divine Grape is my all-time favourite flavour. You can also make your own kombucha (all you need is to find a SCOBY – your local health food store might sell them or you can sometimes find other people selling them online on websites like Kijiji) and my mom and I have been doing this for awhile now. Kombucha is a fantastic alternative to soda pop – it tastes amazing and it’s healthy!
Hummus is a DELICIOUS Snack
Hummus has pretty much become my new addiction. Made from blended chickpeas, tahini sauce, lemon juice and garlic, this dip is absolutely delicious and so flavourful and can be eaten with fresh raw vegetables, tortilla chips or rice crackers. Whenever I am feeling “snacky,” I always reach for the hummus and it’s my favourite after-work or evening thing to eat.
Being Creative with Food & Cooking is Fun!
Eating vegan has sparked a new love for cooking in me and I have really enjoyed actively searching out new recipes to try and having fun experimenting with different flavours, food combinations, spices, and dairy/meat substitutes while expanding the variety of foods in my diet!
I discovered a lot of great recipes that I enjoy cooking (I really loved this Thai Red Curry and Thai Curried Butternut Squash Soup) and which have been added to my arsenal in the process. I always look forward to planning my meals for the upcoming week and preparing them. Going vegan kind of forces you to be more creative and I like the challenge of finding alternatives to meals and recipes that I have traditionally eaten with dairy or meat.
Ethnic Cuisines Often Have Great Vegan Options
Eating out as a vegan can be difficult. But I learned that many ethnic cuisines offer a great variety of vegan options – like Mexican, Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Japanese (sushi), Chinese, Korean, etc.
Being vegan is a really great opportunity to try some new ethnic food dishes!
There are so many Fascinating & Informative Books, Documentaries and Websites about Veganism
If you are looking for inspiration or more in-depth information, there are tonnes of interesting books, documentaries and websites about veganism! I discovered some of these during January but can’t wait to read more about this lifestyle and continue learning.
Some essential documentaries to watch as a new vegan would be: Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Food Matters, Hungry for Change, Vegucated, Food Inc., and Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead among many others.
Veganism Extends Beyond Food
Veganism is based on the values of love, compassion, kindness and respect for all living beings, including animals. As a result, veganism is a lifestyle choice that is not just about what you eat but these values should extend into all areas and choices in your life. This includes choosing not to buy products that were tested on animals or products where animal parts were used in their making and other examples.
So, What’s Next?
After committing to one month of eating vegan and successfully completing the original 30-day challenge, I have decided to continue being vegan and sticking to this plant-based lifestyle! I am so excited about this journey and everything that I will learn about food, as well as discovering new and delicious recipes, foods and ways of cooking!
Having already been a vegetarian when I started eating vegan at the beginning of January, the transition really wasn’t that difficult for me. I loved trying new recipes and eating different foods and I am always adding new ones to my list to experiment with. It felt good to add more variety into my diet, because I had previously been eating a lot of the same meals on rotation and was kind of bored.
Transitioning from vegetarian to vegan was really amazing and I enjoyed all of the benefits that this plant-based diet has brought me so far, even in this short period of time.
I would highly recommend this 30-day vegan challenge to others, so that you can experience the benefits of going vegan for yourself. You can start at any time of the year – it doesn’t have to be just January (because the challenge is called Veganuary). I can pretty much guarantee that you will be amazed by the health benefits and changes to the way your body feels. You will also be helping to protect the environment and save the animals at the same time, which is awesome. This challenge sparked a new passion in me for food and being creative in the kitchen.
For more inspiration and information to help you along this journey and lifestyle change, here are some vegan and plant-based eating resources that I have found to be helpful for myself and hope they will help you as well:
- PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)
- Free From Harm
- The Vegan Society
- I Love Vegan Resources
- Vegan Starter Kit
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Would you ever try eating a plant-based vegan diet? If you are already vegan, do you have any tips to offer for newbies to this lifestyle?
Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!