About a month ago, I decided to try out veganism. I know what you're thinking. Vegans are tree-hugging, granola-loving liberals who only eat carrots and leaves. Well, bear with me, and maybe I can help draw a more accurate picture.
Why would I ever consider veganism? Unlike most people, my decision wasn't entirely based on moral or ideological grounds. Many vegans will cite environmental concerns, animal cruelty, chemical or hormonal problems with animal products, their own dietary concerns or a range of other valid topics as reasons for not eating animal products. However, I was simply curious. After overhearing a vegan tell an omnivore that only the first 20 days of veganism were hard, I decided to give it a shot and see how true that statement was. Let me tell you, it's been an adventure.
Before I continue, a distinction needs to be made: veganism does not just concern food. Vegans do not purchase or wear animal products of any type. That means no wool, no silk and no leather. This is different from vegetarianism, practitioners of which usually only restrict themselves to not eating meat. In general, I think it's fair to say that vegetarianism is a diet, while veganism is a lifestyle. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides. During my month-long trial of veganism, I was one of those exceptions. I wanted to try the diet but wasn't quite ready to jump into the lifestyle.
Throughout my month of dietary veganism, I've surprised myself. I've made some darn-good vegan desserts (coconut-lime cupcakes, anyone?) and gained considerable insights into both food and people. Going vegan cold-turkey (if you'll excuse the expression) teaches you a lot.
First off, it forces you to get creative. Who would have thought of combining oatmeal, cranberries, and coconut flakes? Let me say it here: you're never too old to play with your food. The pure necessity of finding new flavor combinations forces you to explore the food in the dining halls and the supermarket.
Secondly, it makes you actually look at what's in your food. Vegans have an absurd knowledge of ingredients. Of course, it was a vegan who told me that some wines have fish scales in them. There are more animal products than you'd think in most foods. Example: every single granola bar in the snack isle of Hannaford is non-vegan (they all contain milk, eggs or both). Conversely, who knew Oreos were vegan? Does that seem a little odd to anyone else?
The third thing I learned was that people have really odd reactions to veganism. Usually, they border on two extremes: hostility or complete awe. If the reaction is hostile, they usually begin by generally attacking veganism, questioning your judgment, listing the merits of meat, searching for hypocrisy or unnecessarily expounding on the mouth-watering flavor of whatever non-vegan food they're eating. Here's a little hint from vegans to omnivores: contrary to what you may think, vegans do not appreciate this.