Several weeks ago I proposed a challenge to myself, to attempt a vegan or plant-based diet for 1 month, and to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to gain from this project. I knew I was interested in my health and in confronting my own thoughts and opinions, but I really didn’t have a clear goal in mind. I didn’t have a defined set of questions I was asking or a very structured sense of why I would or would not do something or where my lines would be drawn, or if I even had lines to lay down in the first place. And so my thoughts have been running rampant, in all directions.
There seem to be so many points of contention around the vocabulary or verbiage used when talking about veganism. Are you avoiding the use of any part of an animal in any part of your life? Are you doing it for ethical reasons? Environmental reasons? Health reasons? All three? Or do you simply focus on eliminating animal products as much as possible? Are you plant-based? Are you a vegetarian? Pescatarian? Do you also consider sustainability when making choices? Are you a zero-waster? In the rush to be good humans, to eliminate waste, and to eat healthy it feels a little bit like we’ve gone backwards somehow. It feels like there is always somebody in the shadows trying to catch you slipping up, trying to reveal your inconsistencies or poke holes in your beliefs. It feels a little bit like we’ve complicated our world rather than simplified it.
I will be the first to admit that I struggle big time with trying to articulate exactly why I feel eating a plant-based diet is important or why I think we should all try to consume less or consume smarter. I find that I’m either not succinct enough or passionate enough or firm enough in my beliefs to argue or advocate for my choices. And I think that’s because I let the discussion become too complicated in my own head. And what’s really needed is a simplification and a little bit of grace. Grace for ourselves, grace for others, and an understanding that as always, we’re all just trying to make the best decisions we can with the information we have. I’m still learning and still growing into my changing beliefs but I did end, or rather begin, with a few takeaways that will keep me exploring a plant-based lifestyle.
A few weeks ago, after treating myself to a really beautiful scone from a vegan friendly coffee shop, I kept thinking to myself with wonder how gorgeous the pastry was. It looked exactly like a traditional scone, even prettier in fact. And the same is true for the copious amount of elegant, vegan-friendly desserts floating around Instagram and the blogosphere. They are visually stunning, they’re colorful and trendy and every bit as delicious as their traditionally made counterparts. And I just kept wondering rhetorically how do they do it? How do “they” create these magnificent, decadent items that are just as, if not more delicious than butter and cream laden desserts? And as you can imagine, the answer is simple: somebody, somewhere, experimented a little, took some ingredients, mixed them all together, and created a tasty bite to eat. Simple! This process of a man or woman exploring, experimenting, throwing ingredients together, using knowledge and experience and time to create a meal that will feed a family has been taking place since we crawled from the swamp and lit a fire. Nothing has changed. Ingredients are fluid. Ingredients are flexible. What is rigid is our modern notion of what constitues a meal. What constitues health. What constitues food.
Again, it’s not complicated. Should we be surprised that clever chefs and home cooks take ingredients that come from plants and bake or cook them in a way that will produce a delicious dish? No. And yet we are. We are blown away that walnuts and spices can fill a taco shell like ground beef would. We’re astonished to learn that coconut milk and powdered sugar creates a drippy frosting just like dairy would. Why is that? It seems the answer is twofold. One, our food industry is largely dictated by governmental regulations and standards that tell the American population everyday through mass marketing that animal proteins are an essential part of a healthy diet. And secondarily from that, it is ingrained in our current, popular culture to assume that the only way to make cookie dough is with eggs. The only way to enjoy grilling is with steak. The only way to eat pasta is with cheese. That cheese is cheese. Eggs are eggs. But these are just words, just a vocabulary to label a thing. Have we so quickly forgotten that ingredients evolve? Imagine for a moment how your great-grandmother made dough, the ingredient list likely included lard. Does the average American cook with lard today? I’m guessing in large part, no. And why is that? It’s because as a culture our tastes, our values, our understanding of health has evolved just like our use of ingredients. Can a cookie still be a cookie without lard? I’m willing to bet most Americans would answer yes. What about a cookie without eggs? Maybe we’ve lost some of you. But I think the answer is still yes. To break it down further a “cookie” without eggs is nothing more than a delicious treat. Just like a cookie made with eggs is a delicious treat. Plain and simple. One just happens to contain different ingredients than the other. So how do these chefs and home cooks, well…, cook? The same way we’ve been doing it for thousands of years, with water, and heat, and simple ingredients (that just happen to come from the ground). Ingredients have always evolved, what needs to catch up is our cultural understanding of them.
Your Dollar Is Your Power
Your dollar is your power. Your dollar is your power. Say it with me, repeat it again if you need to. In a consumer driven, capitalistic society where and how you choose to spend your hard-earned money encapsulates what you value as a person. I appreciate the idea that each time I sit down to eat, I’ve exercised a tiny, democratic vote. I’ve communicated what is important to me: a knowledge around what I’m putting in my body and where it came from and that is very powerful and empowering. So where do I hope my dollars go? To local restaurants, to farmer’s markets, to small business owners doing cool things with innovative concepts. To plants.
Where Do I Go From Here?
Eating predominately plant based makes me feel good, Makes me feel healthy, encourages me to shop local and support small businesses, makes me feel connected to my community, encourages me to cook in the kitchen, encourages me to keep learning, shows compassion for animals and the environment, lets me connect with my daughter in the kitchen,
And that’s it. It’s not complicated. I don’t need to rattle off a slew of facts and figures, I only need to understand that eating this way makes me feel good in a meaningful way, and that’s reason enough.
Will I continue to adopt a plant-based lifestyle? Yes. Do I know what the future holds? No. What I do know is that right now, I don’t feel like I’m losing out on anything. Rather it’s the opposite, I feel like I’m gaining so much. So much knowledge, a slew of new recipes and foods and ideas to explore. And that’s exciting. And that’s enough to keep me going.