Probably when we will leave, we will be remembered as “volunteers, who did a lot of challenges”. But really there were so many – book challenge (sorry that there were no follow up on that…let’s just say reading ebooks is not as fun, as physical books), no drinking challenge, hitchhiking challenge, learning to juggle challenge…you get the picture. So, no surprise, that when I was half-jokingly telling Lenka that I wouldn’t survive a week being vegan, she replied “let’s make a challenge!”. And who am I to say no… So, welcome to my experience after being VEGAN FOR A MONTH.
I will split my experience into three parts – before, during and after, so it would be easier for you to follow how my attitude towards veganism changed. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a loooooong post, so if you’re lazy to read about my ups and downs, just scroll down to read the conclusions.
First of all, let me tell you that I am very open minded about vegan diet. I’ve been vegetarian for a couple of years, then went back to eating meat, but never felt great, so I was planning to go back vegetarian again. I saw some movies about veganism, though they didn’t convert me to vegan overnight. Let’s say I am somewhere in the middle grounds – I don’t believe that we all are lions, our teeth are meant to rip animals flesh apart and our stomachs are the same as other meat-eating carnivores. On the other hand, plant based diet for me always seemed a bit extreme from the health point of view – I mean, I always agreed that it is a way for more ecological life, leaving a smaller negative impact on Earth than other diets, but I thought that being vegetarian is the best balance between being eco-friendly and healthy at the same time.
Talking about my eating habits prior this challenge (or, should I call it an experiment?), they weren’t the worst, but weren’t great either. I was having some problems with my stomach, weird pains, bloating, so I tried to have balanced diet to make it better. While in Romania I was drinking milk only on very rare occasions, maybe once in a couple of months (back in Lithuania I also don’t drink it), wasn’t eating cheese (honestly, no offense, but Lithuanian cheese is so much better than Romanian, that I didn’t even want to buy any…), never cooking meat and eating it only when I am out somewhere.
To be honest, my biggest dietary problem was sweets.
Yup, this photo represents me quite well…if it has chocolate in it, I love it!
So, I wasn’t quite ready to say “bye” so all amazing non-vegan sweets, but I was trusting Lenka and hoping, that I will survive the challenge…
1st week – I AM HUNGRY
Let’s start with the fact, that my challenge started when we had a training. So, imagine coffee breaks – everyone is eating waffers and cookies, and here I am, chewing on an apple…hard life! But the hardest part was when we had intercultural night and there were fancy foods from all over the Europe, which I couldn’t eat! Good that I prepared some vegan sweets, in the training there were a couple of vegans as well and they brought vegan chocolate, some foods were “accidentaly vegan”, for example amazing peach jam with bread. So, in the end I wasn’t so sad and hungry as I thought I will be, still I was secretly thinking about that Portuguese cheese on the table…
The week of the training we were being outdoors quite a lot, and in general days and nights were busy. This week probably was the hardest for me – we didn’t have so much time to prepare food, I didn’t knew so many recipes to start with, and I was constantly feeling hungry. Really, I was always nagging “Lenkaaaa, I feel hungry! What should I do?” And, the fact that my friend sent me one of my favorite milk chocolates and I couldn’t eat it didn’t help at all.
Another thing that I noticed on the first week was that I always needed to ask “is this vegan?” and most of the times I had to rephrase it to “does this contain any milk products, meat or eggs?”, because for some people being vegan equals not eating meat. I felt better that I was not the only one asking that, but in everyday life I think that would be quite a hassle (but maybe that would be a good exercise for my social skills?)
2nd week – PLEASE, BE SUPPORTIVE
The second week I realised, how important is to have a good support system when you are trying to change your diet, either it’s going vegan or just trying to eat healthier (imagine your friend munching on a pizza while everything you have is only a salad). If it wasn’t enought that on the first week we had training, second week Tusványos was happening in Baile Tusnad! Imagine, big festival, full of amazing food: pancakes, ice cream, langos, milkshakes… But my heart skipped a beat when I saw my absolutely favorite dessert – kurtos kalacs, filled with Nutella and ice cream, topped with whipped cream and strawberries… “Lenka, I am not sure if I can do it! It’s NUTELLA!” But Lenka was super suportive and was saying that we will make something at home. Lisa, on the other hand… “Oh, you know what I will buy tomorrow in the evening? Kurtos kalacs…” It wasn’t just want time joke, next day it was repeated with “Do you know what will happen today? I will eat it in the evening… You will be sooo jealous…” So, it was just evil! Probably I would have given up then, but Lenka was really motivating and we came up with some ideas how to make our own “festival food” (and to sneak it in the festival, of course!)
Vegn burgers with chickpeas and mushrooms were amazing, I also made some sweets (energy bards from oats, dates and peanut butter), and we found out that even in the festival there is a possibility to find some vegan things – cotton candy and sweet corn. I survived! In the beginning we agreed that challenge will be only for two weeks, but I decided, that it wasn’t THAT hard (ok, only saying no to that kurtos kalacs), and that I should try at least a month before making conclusions if I like it or not.
3rd week – BRING YOUR OWN SNACKS
One of my goals for doing this challenge was to learn some new recipes from Lenka. Some of them she cooked for me (cabbage and peanut butter stew…sounds incredibly weird, but actually was pretty good!), some we cooked together (coconut and chickpeas curry, banana ice cream with peanut butter, vegan pancakes and many more). I was also trying to read about vegan diet on the internet, google some recipes myself, discover new ways to cook (who knew that beans can be a base of an amazing burger!).
On 3rd week we were travelling to Vama Veche, but now when I think of it, I don’t remeber any problems about being vegan on a trip, and probably because I prepared well – I had at least three different dishes packed for the trip, so I never felt hungry or found myself in a moment where I want to eat but I can’t find anything vegan. So, bringing my own snacks made being vegan so much easier.
One of the funny things that happened on the 3rd week – when we arrived to Constata, me and Lenka went to shop for food. I was waiting outside with Smiley while Lenka was shopping and then we planned to change. When she came out of the shop, expression on her face was telling, that she found something good. “I bought vegan chocolate! For 3 lei!!!” That really sounds amazing, because usually vegan chocolates are aroud 15-20lei (ok, the only exception is black chocolate but…who likes it anyway?) When I asked how many of them she bought, the answer surprised nme (and remember, I told you, I am obsessed with chocolate!) Lenka had 5 big chocolates in her bag! So, we spent that weekend enjoying vegan chocolate with rice milk. Honestly, even though the ingredients were way better than the ones of chocolate I usually prefer (Milk is the best…and yes, I know there is more sugar than the actual chocolate!), the taste was just ok. It wasn’t bad, but nothing even close to what I would call “great”.
4th week – THERE’S OTHER FOODS THAN TOFU
In the 4th week I was falling into a routine – oat porridge or cereal with oat milk for the breakfast, pasta or rice with some protein for the lunch, a lot of fruits for the dinner… And, the problem is, that the biggest part of my protein intake was from soya. Grilled tofu, fried tofu, marinated tofu… It tastes amazing, fills me up well and I feel good and not too “heavy” afterwards. But all of us know, that the best way to have a healthy diet is to have more variety. So, i tried exploring different dishes, added more legumes to my diet, but I can’t say that I found the perfect balance just yet.
What did I do on the first day after my vegan challenge ended? You guessed it right, ate a chocolate. All of it. 100 grams of sugar, fat and a tiny bit of actual cocoa. Was it nice? Yes. Did I want to repeat it? To my surprise, not so much. It’s been 4 days after my challenge ended and since then I ate 1 pizza (after it my stomach was super upset and it hurt all evening), 1 chocolate, 1 langos (actually, before my challenge ended Lenka made me a vegan version…surprisingly, I liked it more than the original!) and a pack of Belgian waffles.
(Just showing off vegan langos. Ain’t it pretty?)
Everything else I ate was still vegan. Am I going to stay vegan? Most likely, not. Did this challenge showed me that vegan life doesn’t have to be sad and boring? Definitely yes.
I don’t want to make a list of pros and cons – after all, I am not a dietary specialist, so I can speak only from my experience. That’s why I want to share the main points I discovered during this month.
- It’s easier to vegan when others are supporting you.
- It’s important to always have snacks – when you know that you have tasty and healthy bar in your bag it’s easier to say no to this tempting discount for Snickers.
- Cooking at home is the key. This way food is always tasty, you know what you are eating, and you’re spending less.
- Meeting other vegans feels great. Especially when you can share food with each other.
- Eating too many fruits can be a thing. Lenka doesn’t agree with me on that, but I noticed that I am eating SO MANY fruits to compensate the craving for something sweet. If I would be staying vegan, I would definitely try to use more vegetables than fruits.
- Grains+greens+protein is a perfect combination. This way you can create endless simple dishes and eat more or less balanced meal.
- It’s important to pay attention to what you’re eating, if needed – use some supplements. Again, if I were to go vegan for long term, I would probably consult my doctor or go to dietitian – just to make sure that I am getting everything that I need with my food.
- Best thing about being vegan – no worries about the cake being not baked well – it doesn’t have any eggs, so no problem! Also you can taste everything before cooking, when it doesn’t have any meat products or eggs, there are no problems about eating it raw.
- If in the party there are normal snacks and vegan snacks, everyone (including meat eaters) will eat vegan ones!
It’s been an interesting journey, huge thanks for Lenka for guiding me through this, I am really happy I learned a lot of things that will be useful for me even though if in the end I will choose a different lifestyle.