Last Monday I ate a less than mediocre grilled chicken salad at Home Team Sports Bar in Orlando International Airport. Little did I know that this would be my last carnivorous supper.
I decided to go from cheese-loving carnivore to plant-based vegan last week after watching the documentary ‘Vegucated.’ It was a pretty extreme and snap decision for me since I’ve been a meat eater all my life and never seriously considered being vegetarian, let alone vegan (although I still eat seafood). The way the documentary portrayed the horrible practices of the farming industry as well as its massive negative impacts on the environment was just so compelling that I couldn’t look at animal products the same way after. This is a recap of three major challenges I’ve found after my first week of going vegan.
Challenge number one: finding good replacers for dairy products. Giving up dairy (especially cheese), when compared to meat, has been tough. So far I’m pretty happy sticking to beans, tofu, almonds lentils, etc. for my protein. It also probably helps that I’m still eating seafood. I’d already been drinking almond milk before the switch so replacing milk was no challenge. It was, however, quite difficult to replace cheese and yogurt; I ate greek yogurt every day before and am quite the cheese fan. (Shout out to goat cheese, I miss you dearly.) When I went vegan food shopping for the first time last week, I stopped by Trader Joe’s and Mom’s Organic Market. Both are known for having various vegetarian/vegan options. Upon entering TJ’s I immediately regretted not doing my research beforehand since there were so many different meat and dairy replacers, and I had no idea which ones taste good and which taste bad. I ultimately decided to go with Tofurky’s peppered deli slices, Go Veggie cheese slices (which turned out to not even be vegan; it has casein which is a dairy product), Daiya Cheddar cheese slices, and So Delicious coconut milk yogurt. I also bought other things like tofu, veggies, bread, fruit, beans, crackers, salsa, etc but those aren’t necessarily vegan-only foods.
Tofurky deli slices: I had this in a wrap along with vegetables, salsa, etc. so I honestly couldn’t really taste it, but it wasn’t bad. The peppery flavors definitely came through, which I appreciated. I think next time I will have to combine it with less overpowering ingredients to get the full experience.
Daiya cheddar cheese: I went out and bought this after I realized my mistake of getting the Go Veggie cheese. This product is indeed vegan, thank the Lord, and is made out of palm oil, tapioca starch… and, frankly, who knows. The texture was not the cheesiness I was expecting but the flavor was surprisingly cheddar-y. They say you have to try something seven times before you like it. I will definitely need a few more attempts at acquiring the proper taste buds for non-dairy cheese before I can say too many positive things about it.
So Delicious coconut milk yogurt: I had been eating greek yogurt for so long that I forgot the consistency of regular yogurt. It is so much more liquid-y! Wow! This yogurt doesn’t taste bad at all, especially if you combine it with added flavor and crunchiness, like fruit and cereal.
Challenge number two: eating out. On New Year’s Eve, I went out to dinner with friends and found myself with very few options. Luckily there was seafood, so I ordered grilled salmon with spinach and spicy tomatoes, which turned out to be quite tasty. However, for those who are full-on vegan and don’t eat seafood, this restaurant would have been tough. Yeah, there were salads, but almost all of them were topped with some sort of dairy product. I had even more difficulty this weekend when I went out for brunch. I had to ask to modify every dish I ordered, as everything had at least one type of dairy or meat product. Of course the one salad with no dairy or meat came with walnuts, which I’m allergic to, so I had to ask for no walnuts. I guess I’m going to have to get used to asking the waiter to make my order super specific.
Challenge number three: baked goods. Yesterday my brother came back from Japan with a suitcase full of a bunch of different treats like cakes, cookies, chocolate, matcha kitkats, etc. which are all made with some sort of dairy product. This made me very upset. However, I stuck to my guns and have only eaten the non-dairy stuff: some green tea flavored candy, rice cakes, and mochi. Sounds sad, I know, but as long as I keep reminding myself why I am doing this I think I will be okay.
Overall, I haven’t had too many cravings and have found the transition to be less painful than I was anticipating. Although last night I did have a dream about butter…
I’m sure as time goes on I will learn to recognize what does/doesn’t have dairy, meat, etc. and things will become simpler. I’m excited to keep trying new vegan-friendly products and really embracing this new lifestyle!