Could you go a week without eating animals?
Hosted by The Vegan Society, Vegan Week (May 2–5) recently rolled around at UChicago. My friend, the carnivore, and I, the pescetarian, decided to take on the challenge. With nothing but fierce determination to see the week through, we embarked on our first ever vegan diet.
Below, I have chronicled my experience.
Day one starts out pretty well. I wake up feeling enthused and optimistic. I have a French midterm to study for, so I skip breakfast. For lunch I have a vegetarian enchilada, a bit of hummus and pita bread, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. The meal is quite unsubstantial, so I stop by Bart Mart afterward to pick up a jar of peanut butter and some blueberry pop tarts. I figure I’ll need some buffer food to fill me up during the week.
At dinnertime I make myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich—about the extent of my culinary abilities—and a small bowl of corn and tomatoes. I drink soymilk in lieu of my beloved milk. (This causes me minor angst.) My friend and I revel at how smoothly the challenge is going so far, and we wonder if we could go vegan for more than a week.
All in all, the day isn’t too difficult. I don’t feel any particular cravings for non-vegan food, though the warm weather does make me wish for ice cream. Twice, I find myself reaching for milk and hard-boiled eggs in the dining hall (the former being something like my life-blood, the latter being a regular source of protein for me). My friends jokingly question everything I eat. “Are you sure Coke is vegan?” my boyfriend says at lunch. By the end of the day I’ve Google-ed the ingredients for Coke, hummus, pop tarts, and peanut butter—all of which turn out to be blessedly animal ingredient-free.
Around 8:30 p.m. there is a Dessert Party Potluck at Hutchinson Hall featuring a variety of delectable vegan goods. I attend, of course—how can I miss out on an opportunity to eat healthily and indulgently at once? The potluck doesn’t fail to impress. There are miniature cupcakes topped with creamy frosting from Canary Confectionary, ice cream from Chicago Soy Dairy, cookies, brownies, chocolate truffles, and more. As everyone indulges on sweets, Sandi Swiss from Canary Confectionery demonstrates vegan baking in front of a live audience.
Day two goes smoothly as well. Again, I find myself longing for ice cream and milk at some point in the day, but I fight the cravings. Pop tarts sustain me through breakfast and lunch. For dinner I have some hearty vegetable soup and a peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter seems to be the go-to food of the week. I begin to wonder how many pounds of peanut butter I’ll have consumed by the end of this challenge.
Day three isn’t any more difficult. I eat a granola bar for breakfast. At lunch I have a hummus sandwich with a side of potatoes. Midway through the meal, I start to crave milk, but my thirst is quenched when I consume about seven pounds of watermelon afterward. At 8:15 p.m. I attend a screening of HOME at Stuart Hall. The documentary explores the impact of our food choices on the environment. They serve Indian food at the event, and I eat about five hundred samosas. (Well, not really. But I eat a lot of them.) I rejoice that Indian food is vegan-friendly.
The week finishes off with day four and five, which go by without any problems. I eat more peanut butter sandwiches, gazpacho soup, split pea soup, fried plantains, sweet potatoes, roast potatoes, watermelon, and honeydew. There is a presentation by Linda Szarkowski—chef, nutritionist, and owner of Green Sprit Living—called “Living Foods 101 and Staying Healthy on a Vegan Diet” at Stuart Hall on Thursday, but unfortunately I can’t attend.
In the end, the vegan diet was surprisingly painless. Admittedly, veganism is a little easier for me than other people: I am a self-proclaimed fruit and veggie enthusiast and have been pescetarian for about five years. As a result veganism wasn’t a drastic step for me—it was just a matter of self-control. In fact, throughout the week I felt as if my friends were more distressed by my limited food options than I was.
An important thing I learned was that veganism does not necessarily equate to healthy eating. Certainly, veganism may broaden your fruit and veggie palate, as it did for my friend. But me? I ate much more peanut butter and pop tarts than I am willing to admit. I went into the challenge thinking I would eat healthier and came out with the realization that restriction may compel one to eat worse.
The conclusion: Veganism is interesting, but not for me. Getting healthy and changing the world—two common motivations behind veganism—are big goals and difficult to tackle in one breath. So, take small steps. Do what works for you. For me that means pescetarianism; for others it may mean slowly weaning off animal products or just buying organic, free-range food items. Whatever you decide to do, do it with an open mind and a heart for adventure.