Sunday, February 13, 2011

5. Veganism

I've recently decided to try out veganism, a statement which has elicited huge responses from everyone I know. The most common I get is "Noooooooo! Why???" and my favorite response so far is "Get ready for some of the best BM's of your life!" I started it a little bit on a whim, just to see what it was like and to see how I coped with restricting a habit that comes to me so naturally. Unfortunately, the phrases "recreational veganism" and "experimental veganism" don't register with most people. When I first announced it, I was given warnings of people who knew vegans that were bitchy and of people who had become anemic after trying vegetarianism. It felt as if being a vegan in a cafeteria full of delicious meats and cheeses was more of a mind game than a physical restriction. Meat is just too tempting, and I started to feel as if veganism was along the lines of solitary confinement.

Frightened but determined to try, I wove an overly elaborate and complicated safety net of co-workers checking my moodiness levels and various dietary exceptions. The main exception I'm making for myself is milk, simply because I've grown up drinking multiple cups of it a day and refuse to let myself become lactose intolerant. Fearful I wouldn't make it more than a week, I then began other exceptions. Second week I'll allow myself eggs. Third week I'll allow myself dairy. Fourth week I'll allow myself fish. If I go insane, my friends have volunteered to swoop in and treat me to meat the night I break down. Finally, my vegetarian friend readied me for my adventure into the land of veganism by sending me various links for recipes that I could try out. It was like one of those dramatic adventure movies where as a person wraps his cloak around him, his mentor hands him a bag full of some magical potion which happens to be just the thing he needs for the climax of the film. I was ready.

My descent into veganism was actually incredibly anti-dramatic. If anything, it made me aware of the fact that I don't cook or eat a lot of meat at home. The main barrier is at work, where we have a cafeteria with pre-determined entrees, soups, salad bar fixings, and sandwich fixings. Suddenly I find myself checking ingredients for bags of chips and questioning the vegan value of esoteric ingredients like whey powder. Meat is actually surprisingly easy to avoid because it's usually very obvious when it's served. What gets to me are the little things, cheese on pastas and mayonnaise in salad dressings and eggs snuck into dessert foods, which for the most part, I've given up.

My first few days I acted as if veganism was some healthy cure-all. A friend asked if I'd been losing weight, to which I responded with "I'm vegan now! I've been vegan for a whole day!" He replied with "I don't think that has to do with it." I look at my stomach fat and cry out "How can this be? I'm vegan!" or question if I have stomach pains "Must be my body getting the meat out of its system!" I know in my mind the truth about veganism's slow affect, but something about the whole situation amuses me immensely.

It's actually affected my mood for the better. I was eating some really good beans on my salad, and my brain cried out "I love veganism!". The next day I had a similar experience eating hummus. I ignore the responding voice of "you know, you can still eat that if you're not vegan" and just try to stay positive. Sometimes I find myself in a great mood, and wonder if I secretly have been eating what appears to be innocent but are in reality meat-filled ingredients. I question whether I sleep walk to the fridge and eat handfuls of my roommate's meat and dairy products.

There are times when I am tempted. For example when I went out to eat with friends at an IHOP. Some of my friends have made fun of me and I've forbidden other people from finding out about it lest I get the "meat is GOOD!!" lecture, complete with manly grunts. I pride myself that I haven't gotten vegan substitutes for things like butter and cheese. But sometimes as I raise my hand to the offer of meat and say, quite simply, "I'm vegan," I keep it low-key. And for the time being, that works.