While my decision to try out the vegan lifestyle is recent, I've been vegetarian since I was eleven. When I first made the switch, my parents made me see a nutritionist as part of the deal. At the time, I was living on a steady diet of pizza, hot dogs, and sugary breakfast cereal. I was basically living every eleven-year-old's dream. Needless to say, the nutritionist wasn't impressed. I wound up replacing a lot of my food with whole grains, fruits, and eggs, and not-so-surprisingly, I felt loads better afterwards.
A few months ago, I started to experiment with cutting dairy out of my diet. Dairy and I have always had a rocky relationship, and I knew deep-down that it was time to break-up. I started to invest in almond milk and coconut yogurt, and once again, I was amazed at how my energy levels improved.
Three weeks ago, I decided to take the plunge and tried going vegan for twenty-one days. I reasoned that since I was already avoiding meat and dairy, all that I needed to cut out was eggs and fish. Easy-peasy, right?
Well, no, actually.
It turns out that being vegan takes some serious work.
Whether it's going out for meals with friends, making baked goods, or trying to determine what exactly veganism entails (spoiler: it doesn't include honey!), being vegan can be tricky to navigate. That being said, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Here are some of the most surprising things I learned.
1. It's Not All Salads
Vegan food isn't just iceberg lettuce and radishes. I ate everything from Pumpkin Muffins to Chickpea Burgers to these Apple Crumble Overnight Oats. Vegan food shouldn't have to be boring!2. Every Food Has a Vegan Doppelgänger
Just because you're vegan doesn't mean you have to call it quits on macaroni. You can swap nutritional yeast for cheese, and almond milk for dairy. Welcome to the magical world of vegan substitutes. Flax eggs, anyone?
3. Pop Those Pills
Real talk: you're probably going to need to take a supplement. There are some nutrients that are just too tricky for vegans to get in adequate amounts. Take care of your body by ensuring that you're getting the nutrients it needs.4. Iron Will Be Your New BFF
Since iron is mostly found in red meat and seafood, you have to be careful to include sources in your vegan diet. That means upping your kale, garden pea, and bean intake. Stuck for ideas? Try this Vegan Mexican Taco Bowl that I made.
5. Prepare For Snack Attacks
Always keep a vegan snack on hand. You never know when your stomach will start growling during a lecture, and most cafés on a university campus won't sell things like vegan muffins. If your uni does, please know that I am insanely jealous.6. Do Your Research
While most restaurants have a vegan option on their menu, some are more accommodating than others. Make sure to check the menu before you go, or seek out places that offer vegan alternatives, like this vegan afternoon tea at Ethos.
7. #BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)
For Fat Tuesday on February 28th, my friends threw a pancake party. Rather than miss out on the syrup-y deliciousness, I brought my own Vegan Almond Pancakes along. Mmm. Pancakes.8. Your Diet Could Improve
There's a reason why people think vegans are health nuts. Cutting out meat and dairy leaves more room in your diet for whole grains, quinoa, vegetables, and legumes, which could seriously benefit your health.
9. Or It Could Deteriorate
The word vegan doesn't instantly translate into healthy. Eating a diet of plain pasta, coco pops, and vegan chocolate muffins is still a bad diet. You still have to count your fruit and veggies, folks.10. You'll Be Surprised What's Vegan
Don't worry about kicking your Oreo addiction. These little treats are vegan-friendly. Same goes for Chipotle Sofritas, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup, and these thirty other surprisingly vegan foods.
11. You'll Be Surprised What's Not Vegan
Just because honey is plant-based doesn't mean it's vegan. Same goes for a lot of food. Always check the ingredients label when you go shopping to make sure there's no sneaky animal products added. Here are some common foods that are surprisingly not vegan-friendly.12. There's a Vegan Club
Okay, so there are no official meetings, but there's definitely an unspoken club. If you ever meet a fellow vegan, she will treat you like a long-lost sorority sister. The bond is unreal.
13. Friends That Are Not Part of That Club Will Panic
I had one friend anxiously try to stop me from eating peanut butter because she thought it had dairy in it. If you're reading this, you know who you are.14. People Will Assume That You're a Hippy
Please. You only wear flowers in your hair and perform sun salutations once a week. That doesn't even count.15. People Will Assume That You're Ultra-Healthy
Oh my god, imagine if they knew about all of the dark chocolate that you eat.16. People Will Assume That You're a Secret Member of PETA
Like honestly, are you kidding me? Just because we care about animals doesn't mean we want to soak people wearing fur coats in red paint.
17. Waitstaff Are the Real MVP's
Shout-out to the waitress at the Balgove Larder that thoughtfully brought me soy milk after I asked for no yogurt on my muesli because of my vegan diet. It totally made my day.18. You'll Feel Like a Michelin Star Chef
Vegan dishes require a little extra thought, so they always wind up looking more gourmet than you intended. Snap a few pictures of your completed dishes. Your Instagram will look insane.19. You'll Learn to Ignore the Haters
People hating on your vegan lifestyle? Tell them to go away. People moaning about how you're difficult to accommodate for? Tell them to go find someone else to accommodate for.
20. True Friends Will Have Your Back
It was my flatmate's birthday, and our friends brought over vegan apple pie. Not only did I get to join in the celebration, but the thought was so touching that I almost cried all over the pie.
And, yes. It is shaped like the Star Wars' Death Star. You can find the tutorial here.21. Make It An Adventure
Veganism should be a journey, not a job. Experiment in the kitchen. Buy colorful vegetables from the Farmer's Market. Make bread from scratch. Use veganism as a way to fall in love with food all over again. Trust me. You won't regret it.
A lot of people have asked me if I'm planning to stay vegan. My answer is no. The truth is, I love eggs and Shrimp Vietnamese Spring Rolls too much to become vegan. But I will definitely continue to incorporate vegan meals into my diet at least three times a week. And who knows? Never say never.