The Vegan-for-a-Week Challenge: How to Survive and Thrive
Going “vegan for a week” seems to be a new popular thing. Lately, quite a few blog posts and news articles on this phenomenon have been turning up in my google “vegan” search. These are usually written by people who have no apparent intention of going vegan, but want to see what it’s like. Or they want to prove to themselves or someone else that they can be vegan (for a whole week!).
My impression is that most of these temporary vegans have had reasonably good experiences with finding satisfying food. Most have also run up against challenges, due in part to a lack of preparation or knowledge.
I haven’t seen any of these experiments morph into an actual embrace of veganism. But some have said they will eat more vegan meals after their experience—which is good. And I suspect that in writing about the appealing vegan foods they’ve found, they may help others see veganism in a more encouraging light.
So, in the interest of keeping those experiences positive, here are some thoughts and advice for anyone who is trying on veganism—or at least a vegan diet—for a week or two.
You won’t develop nutrient deficiencies in seven days. You can eat the worst diet in the world—vegan or otherwise—without doing yourself much harm over the short term. If you do find yourself deficient in iron or some other nutrient at the end of the week, blame your omnivore diet. It’s your usual habits that affect your health, not brief deviations from those habits.
There is no particular food you have to eat. You can be vegan without tofu or kale or green smoothies. (I’ve been vegan for 20+ years and have never once had a green smoothie for breakfast.) You should be able to find plenty of vegan foods that you like, so skip the ones that don’t appeal to you.
You will not detox or go through withdrawal. There is no known physical withdrawal from animal foods. And your body is processing toxic compounds all the time, no matter what kind of diet you eat. If you feel faint or cranky or fuzzy-brained, it probably means you aren’t eating enough. Or maybe that you need a little more protein or fat in your meals. There are plenty of both in vegan foods.
Fun foods are okay. The vegan experience is not about being an ascetic; it’s about not using animal products. Certainly you won’t feel especially great if you build your diet around chips and soft drinks. But it’s fine to have some treats and enjoy a little bit of decadence. There are vegan beers and wine, and (incredibly excellent) vegan versions of ice cream and cup cakes.
With a few exceptions, veggie meats and cheeses do not taste like their animal-derived counterparts, so don’t expect them to be the same. Instead, enjoy them for what they are. Reacting to his first experience with veggie bacon, meat scientist and temporary vegan experimenter David Hayden said that it tasted nothing like “real” bacon. But it was good, and he claimed that he’d eat it again.
Watch Meet Your Meat or read Vegan Outreach’s Why Vegan booklet. Veganism is more than a diet and more than a lifestyle. It’s an ethic. Understanding the “why” of veganism is just as important as experiencing the “how” if you want to know what it’s really like to “be vegan.”
Cut cravings with satisfying condiments. You may think you’re missing meat and cheese, but it could just be that you’re missing umami. Called the 5th taste, this flavor/experience is abundant in animal foods. And also in plant foods if you know where to look. It’s as simple as a sprinkle of ume plum vinegar or a dollop of ketchup.
These foods are your friends: hummus, peanut butter, almond milk, vegetarian baked beans, veggie burgers, soup cups, mixed nuts, fruit. They are convenient, mostly portable and mostly healthy. A PB&J sandwich and an apple can save the day when you are away from home and can’t find vegan food.
Vegan cuisine can also be as gourmet as you want it to be. The foods listed above will get you through the week with minimal effort. But, if you’re a foodie who loves to create elaborate meals, this can end up being an incredibly fun culinary experience. Check out the recipes at Olives for Dinner, Serious Eats, Post Punk Kitchen, and La Gusta, and start experimenting.*
You won’t like everything. Every meat eater has a bad meal now and then and the same is true of vegans. Don’t judge vegan food on the basis of a few negative experiences or a lack of planning. Vegan food is wonderful. Hopefully, you’ll keep coming back to enjoy it after your week-long experiment ends.