I Can’t Has Cheeseburger

Vegetarian Alice Stanley goes vegan for a month and survives.

For the past three years, meat has been banned from my digestive system. The meat industry in the United States wasn’t something I wanted to support with my money anymore. So I quit.

Kind of.

I’ve continued to chow on milk, eggs, and gelatin products, always aware that the producers of these goods are guilty of some of the same sins as the big meat factories, but I just didn’t think I could give up the wonders that are cheese, baked goods, and plates of sunny-side up. Or, at least, I thought I couldn’t until recently. As a personal experiment I committed to a trial-run vegan month. Here are my conclusions:

Con: The first negative side effect of the process was explaining to people what I couldn’t eat when I appeared picky and getting the same response: So what can you eat?

Pro: But being in situations that promoted discussions about conserving energy through our dietary choices was positive.

Pro: And contrary to popular belief there’s a lot of stuff that vegans can eat. There’s even plenty in a normal college cafeteria, aside from making expensive trips to Trader Joe’s for the occasional vegan cake. You just have to get creative. I stopped eating breads and bagels, but pitas work just as well. No more salad dressing with egg yolk, but adding avocado to naturally moisten salads is even more delicious. Of course, I didn’t know about all my alternative vegan options before I was a vegan. I hadn’t tried them.

Pro: Veganism helped me wean away from my emotional attachment to food. I only had one breakdown outside of a Dunkin Donuts. While masochistically making cupcakes with a friend, she said she wouldn’t like obsessing about food as much as veganism demands. I told her I actually thought about food less as a vegan. True, there was the initial day when I had to read every ingredient of every granola bar in the college dining room; I sometimes had to ask nitpicky questions to waiters or email my school’s dining services managers about their pie crust. Still, that brain space was a small trade-off for how much thought went into my food before veganism.

As even a vegetarian, I always had plentiful options. I love food, so I don’t mind thinking about it, but it can be tiring to consider all those choices and details three times a day. I had to fight late-night cravings for candy, concerns about foods that are too fattening, and the issue that I wasn’t in support of all the foods I consumed. As a vegan, I didn’t have to think about so many choices. Vegans basically know their options, and so I didn’t get as emotionally interested in my meals. I knew I was eating healthy as long as I balanced my diet because there are few vegan-friendly parfaits or Philly cheesesteaks. I didn’t have to swing back and forth about snacking because apricot almond soy bars are only so tempting. Plus, I was guilt-free about how the food got from its source to my mouth.

Con: People were always so damn interested in making sure I stuck to my guns on this project. I can’t tell you how many times someone around me would blurt out “You’re cheating with those chocolate-covered cashews!”, to which I would always have to reply “Do you really think I didn’t make sure they were dairy free?”" I have no explanation or remedy for this.

Con: Also, it was a social killer. This was by far my biggest problem. I could never join friends going out for pizza, subs, ice cream… really anything but coffee and The Chicago Diner (vegan friendly since ’83). I also found myself leaving early from most non-food oriented events because food is everywhere at this point in life. Meetings, other people’s rooms, even class brings the temptation of breaking the diet.

Pro: People will always debate how much veganism or even vegetarianism really helps anything in the world. That is certainly open for discussion. But, I can tell you this project made a personal difference to me. I will never be a strict vegan because of all the cons I just listed, but I know that I could. That alone was a worthy reason to finish the experiment.

The process was harmonious. I learned about my habits, food in general, and I felt pretty healthy. Now, although I won’t be taking on the diet permanently, I know where I can make minor adjustments to my meals to feel a little less guilty or a little more energized about food intake. I recommend the vegan month to everyone. Just steer clear of the Dunkin Donuts.

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.