I’m not a vegan. I’m a steak-loving omnivore who is into Day 10 of a vegan diet. I decided to give it a try for moral reasons: a resident of rural Georgia for three years, I had the opportunity to witness the best and worst of farm animal treatment.
On the good side, one of my neighbors was a retired farmer who, as a hobby, kept about 60 cattle on his 200 acres of land; they grazed and lived naturally. One of my most memorable experiences was watching a calf being born. No humans were around. A babe simply slid out of its mom, who licked it for a few minutes until it courageously hopped up on wobbly legs and ran around. Cows are friendly creatures who would probably remind you of whatever college roommate smoked the most weed. Unfortunately, food cattle in industrial farms are not able to live so comfortably or naturally.
On the flip side, I had the (mis?)fortune of visiting a modern chicken coop: a disgusting, unsanitary place where tens of thousands of bored and crowded chickens stood in essentially one spot, ate, and pooped. I don’t know what a fulfilling chicken lifestyle looks like, but that was clearly not it.
So, after watching Vegucated, I decided to give veganism a shot. Here’s what I’ve found:
- Being a vegan – that is, being committed to eating only plant-based foods – is not that hard in principle. I feel healthy and satisfied after every meal, and (amazingly) haven’t had any meat cravings. Sure, a juicy steak looks mighty delicious when I’m hungry, but then again, so does everything else. After I finish my vegan meal, I’m fully satisfied, not craving anything else. (This sounds like vegan propaganda. I swear it’s not. Truthfully, I’ve not felt anything lacking from my diet.)
- The hard part of being a vegan, or even a vegetarian, is restaurant options. In the last ten days, I’ve been on the road for seven, which means I’ve had to rely on restaurants. There are literally no mainstream restaurants that cater to vegans or vegetarians, and very few of them even have viable options for them.
- My diet has consisted of huge amounts of Mexican and Mediterranean food, i.e., lots of beans (including chickpeas), corn, grains, and fresh veggies.
- I am taking a daily multivitamin which includes vitamin B-12.
- Physically, I feel no difference, with one exception: I don’t feel the post-meal “sleepies” that I always felt after a meaty meal. I can eat a full meal and instantly get back to work without feeling drowsy or weighed down.
- There is no doubt that I’m going to lose weight. I am eating significantly less food; I’ll be in the middle of a meal and realize that I’m no longer hungry. (On the other hand, if there were another six ounces of meat, I’d finish it.)
I think a huge turn-off of veganism (or even vegetarianism) is the fanaticism by which some of its adherents live. We live in a carnivorous world, but some vegetarians will judge people for allowing three molecules of bacon fat to end up in their bean burrito. This is not productive and only alienates people who empathize with mistreated farm animals and would reduce or eliminate their meat consumption were they non-judgmentally welcomed into the community. Here are the rules that have been working for me so far:
1) Don’t waste food. Waste of anything valuable – food, energy, love, life – is anathema to the good life. If my friend mistakenly ordered a 10-ounce steak but can’t finish it, I will eat the rest. It will be thrown out anyway, and there is no glory in letting it rot in a dumpster.
Corollary 1a) Don’t create demand for meat. The question is not whether I eat meat; the question is whether I provide market pressure to slaughter an animal. I want to do everything I can to not encourage others to kill animals for any reason.
2) Veganism is my goal; I’ll settle for vegetarianism. If I have the option, I will politely decline cheese and other milk products. After all, dairy cattle are not treated much better than meat animals. However, I’m also not going to starve or riot if the only vegetarian option is cooked with butter.
3) Every day is a new day, and every choice is a new choice. My goal is to significantly reduce my consumption of animal-based products, because I think that’s the kind thing to do. If I thought of myself as a vegan, I’d freak out — I’d immediately dive into a bucket of fried chicken. But if I think of each day as a new opportunity, I can take veganism one day at a time, and it’s really not that hard at all.
4) I believe in Princeton Professor Singer’s Paris Exception: if you’re in a fine Parisian restaurant that specializes in steak, order the Prime Rib for God’s sake. If I thought that being a vegan would prevent me from ever enjoying the best of the world’s cuisine, I (and lots of other vegans) would abandon veganism. Even if I never use the exception, it’s nice to know I have it.
Questions: If you are a vegan, how do you deal with the lack of good restaurant choices? If you are not a vegan, what holds you back from trying it?