The most surprising thing about veganism

I am one week into my month of veganism. In some ways, this diet has gone as expected: I’m eating more vegetables. I spend more time reading food labels. I get less enjoyment out of my daily coffee.¹

But there have been some surprises, too. My favorite breakfast cereal? Not vegan.² Weight loss (after months of post-partum struggles)? Surprisingly effortless (more to come on this topic in a subsequent post). But the most surprising discovery of all?

Being vegan is easy.³

I had imagined it would be difficult, and I’m clearly not alone: when I tell people about my month of veganism, the number one comment I hear is, “that’s got to be hard.” And if we mean “hard” as in “hardship,” then yes, there is some hardship involved (see my coffee comment above). But if we mean “hard” as in “challenging,” well, in many respects, it’s easier to be vegan than omnivorous.

Why? Because we face too many choices in our daily lives. And too many choices cause more unhappiness and more stress, not less. (See this article and this one.) Veganism reduces choice. Whether at a restaurant, or at the office, or in your home kitchen- there are fewer options available to vegans. So you go with what you’re “allowed” to eat, and the choice is made.

No more taxing my brain at restaurants as I scan a menu with endless, delicious-sounding options. I just hone in on the few vegan choices (sometimes only one) and go with it. At work, I turn a blind eye to the homemade banana bread that someone’s mom made (with eggs and butter, assuredly); I ignore the salami, cheese and yogurts in the fridge; I know I’m not allowed to eat these, so they don’t even enter into my consideration set. If I’m hungry, I know exactly what my (few) options are: carrots with hummus or peanut butter; fruits; Kind bars.

Granted, this “easy” aspect of veganism is also part of a trade-off, and many of us would gladly accept the pain of more choices if it means we get, say, half and half in our coffee.

Still, this first week has gone tremendously well, and so far I’m rather enjoying my veganism.

Here’s what I cooked this week:

Coconut-Cardamom Vegan Overnight Oat Parfait from Oh She Glows. Easy, if you don’t bother with the jam (I didn’t). A great portable breakfast, but a little too sweet and rich (for me) for breakfast. Grade: B+

Dark Chocolate Quinoa Breakfast Bowl from Minimalist Baker. I messed this up by just making regular quinoa and then mixing the ingredients in (instead of cooking the quinoa in coconut milk & almond milk) but it was still delicious. Grade: A

Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad from Oh She Glows. No idea whether this is “crowd-pleasing” because I made it only for myself, but I’ve eaten it the past three days, so that should tell you how much I like it. Grade: A+

Ultimate Vegan Mac and Cheese from The Glowing Fridge. This is cool because the “cheese” sauce is made from vegetables, but it comes out the same bright orange color as Kraft Mac & Cheese. My kids loved this and even Graham called it “a winner.” Grade: A-

¹ Soy creamer, almond milk, coconut milk, coconut creamer: I have tried them all. They don’t live up to half and half.

² Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal. It has whey in it. Who knew?

³ Only in some ways. Being vegan is also hard, which is the topic of my next post.

January: Vegan

I’m vegan for January. Because: why not? I’ve never been vegan before. I’ve been veg-curious for a long time, though.

I love to cook (as anyone who knows me could tell you). And I’ve enjoyed dabbling in vegan cooking when hosting vegan friends or family. And I’ve often thought- I could do this. I could be vegan. But nothing has prompted me to try it before.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m a happy omnivore. In fact, I’ve been seduced enough by the low-carb style diets that my meat consumption has probably increased in recent years. On certain days, nothing calls to me quite as much as a cheeseburger. On others, I might yearn for a grilled piece of salmon, or some chicken thighs from Sol Food.  However, I certainly go days without eating any meat, and I don’t suffer for it. I suspect that my bigger challenge in going vegan will be giving up dairy and eggs.¹

I’m excited about this month of veganism: to see how my body will feel, to know what vegans go through on a daily basis, to have a set of rules to follow when making dietary choices (restrictions are comforting, in their way). Not to mention the benefits to our environment, and (one could argue) the animals themselves.²

I’ve survived day one, although I’ve already made my first rookie mistake: going to someone else’s house for dinner, knowing full well that the main course would not be vegan, and forgetting to bring the portobello I had bought just for this occasion. Omnivores 1, Jill 0.

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¹A reasonable estimate of my egg consumption over the past year would be, say, 500 eggs. I eat 2 eggs for breakfast most days of the week, and if I don’t have them at breakfast, I’ll often have one or more at lunch or dinner. So, yeah, this part of my vegan diet will be hard.

²One could also argue that animals benefit from our carnivorous ways, as without our desire to eat them, many of them would not be born and raised in the first place. But this is not the blog to argue for or against, merely to try.

What is “My Year of 40”?

I’m turning 40 in 2016 (on October 31, to be precise). As I thought about this landmark event, I wondered how I might commemorate it in a way that would be memorable and significant. Throwing a party or taking a trip might have been options, but they felt too brief, relative to the impact of turning forty. Instead, I have decided to celebrate the entire year- my 40th year “year of 40″¹- by trying something new (to me) each month. In some cases, these will be “bucket list” items; in others, they’ll just be ideas or experiences that have piqued my curiosity. I’ll be documenting my journey on this blog, and I hope you’ll enjoy the ride with me.

¹To be clear, my 40th year began the day I turned 39, as my Mom likes to remind me. This is confusing in adulthood, although it makes perfect sense when we think about babies: a photo album of “Baby’s First Year” would clearly show images from birth to baby’s first birthday. Somehow, the fact that my 40th year began when I turned 39 feels less intuitive and less palatable. Thanks for the reminder, Mom.