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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Resolution Interview: Temporary Vegan

A resolution is basically an attempt to change one's own behaviour. Often these are made for reasons of self-improvement (ie, "I will go to the gym at least 3 times a week from now on.") but sometimes they are made with a more communal goals. The impact of these is greater if more people participate. I sent out some questions to people I've known that have tried to do world-improving resolutions. First up is Sarah, who went vegan for a month over the summer.

I got email from her then, explaining what she was doing and asking if people wanted to go along and do it too. I wondered what had become of the project. This is what she told me.

I originally started the Vegan-for-a-month project to try and get my close friends and family members to eat less beef. Beef consumption is a major cause of global warming and of rainforest destruction and if we want to do anything about either of these problems we actually all have to decide to stop eating beef entirely. I also wanted to see what kind of response I would get just based on peer pressure.

The response was overwhelming! I sent the original request out to several hundred people and I got about 50 responses back indicating that my friends and family were in support of my decision. One person wrote that he and his girlfriend ordered the organic veggie box from a local CSA, one person agreed to give up cheese, and another didn't eat beef the whole month! Best of all, my boss brought me a vegan chocolate bar.

All in all, I think about 50 people participated, but I never did a follow up to find out what they did.

It started to fail near the end of the month for several reasons. I went to a formal dinner and was served items containing dairy. Additionally, I gained a ton of weight. Some people have naturally high metabolisms, but I metabolize protein differently and in order to get enough protein I had to ingest a quantity of beans and rice that also provided me with too many carbs. I am familiar with vegan cooking, and I eat vegan most of the time, but I cannot figure out how not to become protein deficient without ingesting small amounts of non-fat dairy from time to time. I love tofu, ate a whole bunch of it, but it also causes me to gain weight. Additional exercise only makes the problem worse because then I need more protein.

I consulted several vegans before I started and most were very unhelpful and told me things that I already knew. I think people's bodies react differently to changes in diet.

I learned that being vegan is really hard to maintain in social situations. You are very limited to what you can eat if you go out which means cooking all the time and if you go out to someone's house you can't eat most of what they serve. They become offended easily. I hated going to a birthday party and telling the host that I didn't want any of their birthday cake. It made me feel bad. I think veganism can work very well for people who are not as social or don't have as eclectic of a group of friends as I do. I also travel too much to be vegetarian let alone vegan.

I also missed cheese a lot. I have now mostly cut cheese out of my diet, but every once in a while I really like to have some. I also just can't get used to coffee without a tiny splash of real milk in it.

I don't think I would try it again based on the way that my body reacted. I'm still trying to loose some of the weight I gained. I try to eat mostly vegan, and when I cook for myself I almost always eat vegan, but when friends come over or I go out, vegetarian is just fine and please pass the birthday cake thank you very much.

I think I accomplished my goals. My main goal was to get other people to think about their beef consumption. I'm going to continue to do this via other means such as publishing pictures I took in Peru of cattle eating rainforests.

I have asked her to send a picture of a cow in a rainforest! And I'll post it when it comes up.

Incidentally, Sarah is the second person I've spoken to recently who had health problems with doing a vegetarian or vegan diet. It works for me, but everybody is different. Multivitamins seem to help. If you're vegan, also, you need to take B vitamins, or else eat loads of marmite. But if you can't manage to be a vegetarian, you can still get local, organic, free range meat and eat it in moderation.

3 comments:

eigenadam said...

Thanks for the post. That is an interesting story.

I've been vegan for about 4 years, with a little bit of cheating on dairy and eggs from time to time. Social situations can be difficult, but there is usually something to eat and often friends are interested in learning more about veganism and why I choose to be vegan, which comes up when they notice you're not eating something. My high school students are always asking me questions or telling me about some vegan food they tried or saw in the store. Perhaps some people are going to feel bad or offended if you won't eat your food, but this is necessary if your goal is to influence or inform other people. I try to as polite as possible but I am not going to eat something just because it is served, and sometimes this means not eating. I never try to offend people or make them feel bad, and try to carry my own snacks.

It's surprising how much attention people pay to protein when it comes to vegans and vegetarians (1971, Diet for a Small Planet). It must just be that everyone's body is different, but I have never worried about protein. I try to eat a variety of foods, sometimes they include traditional (stereotypical?) vegetarian proteins, but not always. Almost all food has some protein, and I have never had any issues with protein deficiency as far as I know. For the most part I have maintained my weight, though recently I have started to lose weight as I train for my first marathon.

Crinis said...

While not quite the same, when I tell people we're vegetarian, I always get the same accusatory question: "Where do you get your protein?"

I've had various answers over the years, but the best one I've come up with is: "Food."

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

I have never had a problem with protein either. The person who related this story to me was trying to get her protein from black beans, which are probably not the best source. (I live off of lentils and brown rice, but quinoa is a complete protein also.)The other person I know who went back to meat eating had a tendency to become iron deficient, which is something I also get, but can fix with mulitvitamins.

When I get the cow in the rainforest pic, I'm going to post it with a good recipe I have for vegan chocolate cake :)

I feel like sharing yummy vegan foods is also a great way to let people know that vegan muffins are not a sacrifice. :)