Goodbye, delicious steak: adapting to a vegan diet in 2020
What’s it like to switch from a diet based on meat and animal products to one entirely consisting of plants?
Back in January I wrote about experimenting with a vegan diet. After a lifetime of meat eating I started the “VB6” plan. It was a part time thing, alternating vegan meals with those based on dairy and meat. I launched the experiment partly for health reasons, and partly as a kind of personal exploration into what a future vegan-oriented society could be.
This practice showed some promise overall, after two months, despite challenges and problems. As a result I decided to lean into it, as they say, and expand my vegan eating. In February I gradually increased plant-based foods in my eating and cut back on the animal ones, until around March 1 I was eating 99–100% vegan. That’s what I’ve been doing every month since.
Today I’ll update you on my vegan 2020 experience. And yes, there is something counterintuitive about redesigning my bodily intake during a pandemic.
tl;dr — I’m getting better at this. It’s quite interesting.
I’ve expanded my vegan cooking repertoire through frequent research, trial and error, experiments, more experiments, research, more research, and the help of friends. Right now I currently make from scratch:
BREAKFAST — an onion, tofu, and spices (especially turmeric) scramble about three times a week. Hash browns or corn tortillas with mushrooms or the other days. In fact, I make a stack of corn tortillas about twice a week.
LUNCH — falafel. Various dals (lentils with spices and other stuff). Gluten-free flatbreads. Fried rice with various veggies.
DINNER — channa masala. Potato and chickpea curry. Sega wat, an Ethiopian stew with berbere spice (which I mix; see colorful photo above). Roasted veggies, including just about everything: potatoes, brussel sprouts, onions, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, squash. Mujadara might be my favorite so far, a mix of rice, lentils, onions, shallots, and either raisins or cherries.
(lunch and dinner overlap at times, especially when I make a big batch and reheat it later for either meal)
SNACKS — baked garbanzo beans with spices are a standby. Baked sweet potato fries are good, and the family loves them.
Sometimes I snack on some raw foods, such as celery, apples, raisins, or nuts. Dried fruit works well, too.
I have so much more to learn! Belatedly I’m starting to cook with quinoa. Vegan Indian, Ethiopian, and Chinese cooking needs deeper investigation.
In terms of restaurants, I don’t eat out much, partly because of the pandemic, partly because I’m focused on improving my cooking, and partly to save money. When I do I usually find vegan options, especially from the local Indian and Ethiopian restaurants, whom I love supporting.
Two gaps in my eating and cooking persist. First, salads just don’t work for me. I find them unappealing, dull, or even repulsive. I’ve never been able to get into them. Leafy greens are purely a chore to eat. I need to figure out how to eat more and not feel like it’s medicinal. I’d love to hear ideas on this.
Second, smoothies seem to be a hit among vegans, but I cannot stand them. In the past I’ve never been able to stomach shakes. Yuck — I shudder just writing about smoothies. I can do without them, but am open to hearing more from knowledgeable folks.
In terms of bodily effects, I have continued losing weight since January. I started in December over 250 pounds; I’m down to 220 now. That’s around a 12% loss. I haven’t noticed changes others have reported in their own experience, such as differences in skin completion or muscle tone. There isn’t any change in my daily energy — i.e., I work very long hours and am physically active at the same level as I was in 2019.
My appetite remains lower than it used to be, back when I was eating animals and animal products. I’m more likely to skip a meal because I’m busy or just not hungry than when I was eating animal products.
Do I miss meat and dairy? Not too much, except when I’m around it. I just forgot about steak for weeks, until my family ordered some in and all kinds of memories came flooding back. I do miss good cheese. And fried chicken is a comfort food for which I have nothing like a replacement.
One challenge for vegans is keeping up with multiple vitamins and other nutrition issues. I find eating a tablespoon of nutritional yeast every morning does well. Otherwise… I’m leery of getting into supplements because of cost, and also due to that sector’s light regulation. Nutrition science as a whole looks like a seething chaos now. There are so many contradictions, so many agendas at work, that I despair of getting good, useful information.
All of this sounds socially isolated, with all of these “I” statements above and nobody else involved, and that isn’t exactly true. My family is very supportive emotionally and with patience. They willingly subject themselves to my culinary experiments, which shapes what I choose to cook, although none of them have followed my vegan path so far (and I haven’t encouraged them to do so). Additionally, our family doctor is delighted in my taking this path.
Beyond her and my family, I reach out online for information and support. Results are… variable. There are a lot of enthusiasts, and that sometimes cheers, and also can dismay. I’ve joined a few groups on Nextdoor and Facebook. Mostly I track recipes and advice through blogs. Overall, the experience is fairly solitary. I am thinking about setting up a blog or podcast to track my story and share what I’ve found, especially recipes that I use and modify.
In January I mentioned wanting to return to gardening. I was ready… and then COVID-19 hit, my business blew up, and I’ve had zero time to spend outside. Now that schedule has eased up slightly, and yet it’s the wrong time of the year. Still, I hope to get back to growing food.
One more point: this vegan diet is cheaper by far than the way I used to eat. Lentils, rice, chickpeas as far less expensive than meats or cheeses. And many of the foods I now make are seriously filling.
Falafel right out of the pot.
Beyond my own experience, what am I learning as a futurist?
On a practical level, vegan cooking is a serious reboot for a carnivore’s kitchen. First, obviously, in terms of contents. Instead of cheeses, eggs, chops, milk, etc., my shelves are devoted to plenty of dry goods: lentils, beans, potatoes, onions, shallots, nuts, rice, etc. The spice rack is about the same, although with greater use of some Indian spices. If I extrapolate from this, imagining myself as a typical consumer (I know, not ideal), I see changes to social food systems in terms of what’s grown.
Storage has changed. I use the fridge and freezer far less often, and mostly for storing food in process (for example, a falafel mix before frying), stashing big ginger roots in mid-use, and big meals cooked up for later eating. My old habits of preparing meat for cooking — getting frozen meats to thaw in time, setting up marinades — are mostly gone. Extrapolating from this, do we see a decline in refrigeration?
Nutrition questions seem wide open. There are many passionate advocates for different substances and protocols. Religions, other belief systems, and companies urge their respective courses of action. The progress of evidence-based medicine gives me some hope for the medium-term future.
I’ve tried some vegan meats, like the Impossible Burger, and personally am not that interested. Impossible is the kind of thin hamburger I’ve disliked since I was a teenager, and none of the rest sound appealing. But I imagine they will serve as a bridge food for many, and that bridge could last for a while, depending on a person’s interest and habits.
I wonder about early adopters. In classic innovation and technology studies, early adopters are evangelists about whatever they try. Mainline adopters are less so. Is this true for vegans? I know plenty of vegans who seek to convert others to their diet, but don’t feel this myself. Instead, this seems… too personal? Too medical? Or too technical, perhaps. It might be that if I stand in for a non-bleeding-edge vegan, then we could see enthusiasm fade away as people pick up plant-based diets in a more prosaic way: for health, for climate change, for monetary savings.
That’s all for now. Anyone interested in my sharing recipes or further notes on this vegan experiment?