Around the blog world today, some people are participating in a “ Vegan for a Day ” challenge. Though I’m not officially partaking, it’s probable that my meals today will qualify, as much of the time, the foods I choose happen to be acceptable for vegans.
I’ve been eating in a vegan-influenced manner for almost two years, when my roommate returned to our Prague apartment from the holiday week away bearing the news: as a New Year’s resolution, she had decided to become vegan.
As she navigated her new lifestyle, we both began experimenting with foods we had never considered before. Fake meat, vegan cupcakes, and soy cheeses weren’t available in Prague, and so, my first exposure to veganism was closely tied to whole, unprocessed foods. Plant-based foods such as chickpeas, walnuts, and millet quickly replaced chicken breasts and cheese as kitchen staples. The amount of vegetables in our grocery carts grew, and I found myself able to do nearly an entire week’s grocery haul at a local fruit and vegetable market.
Watching – and participating in – this transition transformed my eating style into what it is today.
There are times when I find it difficult to explain what exactly that style is. I could call myself mostly vegetarian, but there are vegetarians who live on cookies, fettucine alfredo, and grilled cheeses. I could explain that I am health-conscious, but that term seems riddled with diet talk of protein-loading and carb-restricting. [And I love my carbs and never worry about protein].
I could use the term “balanced,” but that doesn’t illustrate the lack of meat. I don’t feel that meat should come close to forming the majority of one’s diet, but I also don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with consuming it (or dairy, for that matter), provided that the farms they come from abide by responsible, moral, and sustainable standards. And that is why I usually tell people that I am vegetarian “most of the time.” Then, I don’t have to be perfect.
vegan oat-y breakfast
Outside the comfort of my kitchen, there are times when I choose to stick to vegetarian food. I got into a routine during baseball season, where I would pack a sandwich to bring into the stadium. Side by side, my dad would eat his corned beef and pastrami on rye, and I would eat my dulse and avocado on sprouted wheat. We both did what made us happy, and more importantly, we watched the Yankees play their way to world champions.
Other times, however, I choose to be flexible. I recently worked on a shoot where lunch was provided: a small salad, corn salsa, mashed sweet potatoes, barbecued chicken, brisket. I was very hungry, had only one snack of my own in my purse, and I had several more hours of work ahead of me. I knew the small amount of vegetarian sides weren’t going to cut it, so I ate my piece of non-organic chicken. Does this make me a hypocrite? I don’t think so. I did what was best for me, given the circumstances.
Likewise, I’m not going to cook with chicken broth, but if my grandmother has cooked a soup that includes it? I’ll grab a spoon and a bowl and enjoy the time I have with her. And if I’m in a gourmet restaurant, and my father suggests we all share an appetizer of duck and quail? I’m going to nod and appreciate the experience.
I should say, of course, that I strongly believe it is possible to be vegan and never make a single concession. [Gena recently provided some wonderful tips on this topic.] But for me, it’s no secret that I went through a very restrictive period. I wanted – and needed – to come to a point where I could allow myself to eat anything and everything, healthy, vegan, or not.
I’ve since learned an important lesson: I live best when I place myself in no category at all. Perhaps it would be easier for other people to understand my habits if I labeled myself with a certain title. But I don’t live my life for others; I live it for myself. And after a long battle, it’s nice to finally be practicing what works for me.
I’m very curious: What works best for you? Do your eating habits fit in a specific category? Do you make concessions based on circumstances? Do you find it difficult to explain yourself to others?