healthy eating & recipes

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

Veganism isn’t new to me.

I was exposed to vegan food during college as my favorite spot on campus, a student-run intentional community with a focus on ecological sustainability, grew and served only vegan meals. Two of my good friends were also vegan and would cook us vegan meals occasionally, although I’ve never grown to like hummus.Β I took a philosophy class in college about the ethics of eating animals and had the pleasure of briefly meeting Peter Singer. I have dined at vegan restaurants (the image above is a meal I had at a raw vegan restaurant a couple years ago). I’ve eaten vegan ice cream (delicious) and cooked up many of my own unintentionally vegan meals. I read about veganism nearly every day and I’m aware of how our world’s treatment of animals effects our food and environment although I’m always learning more. I became a vegetarian last summer to challenge myself and stuck with it, despite a few hot dogs.

So why have I been thinking for a long time about becoming vegan?

  • protest animal cruelty
  • environmental benefits
  • a healthier, sustainable diet
  • save money
  • explore new foods
  • learn more about the world
  • connect with other people

But the one main reason I haven’t made the switch over to veganism?

I love cheese.

Cheese pizza, Parmesan cheese on pastas, feta cheese on salads, cheese and crackers, the list goes on.Β  Cheese trays make me drool. I didn’t know how in the world I would be able to live without cheese in a majority of my meals. Cheese pizza is my weakness. OK, technically, cupcakes are my weakness, but cheese pizza tops the list too.

I was also concerned how veganism would affect others in my life. Would my meat-eating fiance fight with me over the fact that we have to eat different things most of the time? Would my family find it inconvenient that the only thing I would be able to find in restaurants are salads? Would my friends be wary about inviting me to a BBQ? Would anyone support me?

So, I did a little research. I had some conversations with people. I read some books. I found vegan food options at chain restaurants and tons of recipes online for quick, easy meals. When I felt ready, I decided to challenge myself to try it for 30 days. 30 days, and I can decide whether to stick with it or go back to eating eggs and cheese again.

If I don’t try it, I will never know if I’m able to do it.

I started my challenge last Monday.

How is it going so far? It’s delicious! I’ve been drinking almond milk, water, and tea for awhile so there was no concerns about my drinking habits. I already enjoy eating oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar for breakfast. Scrambled tofu has been a favorite of mine for the past year. And the cheese? Well, I don’t have any cheese in our apartment now, so it’s not there to tempt me. When I went out yesterday, I asked that the cheese be removed from my Greek salad and it was still amazing (and filling). I ate the Japanese Pan Noodles (something I’d never had before) at Noodles & Co. instead of my usual Italian plate. It was great. Already being a conscious vegetarian created a smooth transition to veganism.

I did mess up a few times. I put honey in my tea one morning and realized shortly after that I can’t do that anymore. I ate a Tootsie Roll and realized there was milk in it. I also finished off a macaroni salad I made last week with mayonnaise in it; but I allowed myself to eat it so it wouldn’t wind up in the garbage! I’ve also been reading that sugar may not always be vegan, and will be focusing on that next.

I’m aware that it’s still early in the challenge, and I still have nearly a month left, but I have a feeling I will be primarily vegan when it’s over. I’m excited to finally push myself into doing this. It’s also something I can cross of my life list when 30 days is over.

Thinking about challenging yourself with your food choices and not sure how to start?

7 Things You Can Do To Prepare Yourself For A Diet Change

1. Do your research ahead of time. I’m not saying you have to borrow a dozen thick books from the library and spend hours browsing websites. Just read or skim through a couple books, quickly browse websites, and bookmark some interesting, helpful sites you can refer to during your challenge. Go to the grocery store and see what alternatives are offered. Many big-name chain grocery stores are starting to offer soy-based alternatives and mock meats. Explore other place to buy your food – farmer’s markets, food co-ops, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), international markets, etc. You will be surprised to find there are so many options.

2. Start by modifying or finding replacements for a few of your favorite meals. Being able to eat some of your favorite meals will keep the transition enjoyable. Have a favorite salad that is loaded with cheese and cream-based dressings? Remove the cheese and swap the dressing with oil & vinegar. Love ice cream? Try sorbets or ices instead. Love meat? Give mock meats a try. Can’t go a day without drinking a can of soda? Try a variety of flavored lemonades, smoothies, fruit juices, sparkling water with lime, or adding your favorite fruit slices to a glass of water.

3. Test out a few new recipes. If you’re unsure where to start and whether or not you will like something, don’t wait until the challenge to dive right in. Prepare a recipe or two the week before to test the waters and see if you like something. If you don’t, try something else. If you do, then you’ve got something to start with during the challenge and something to fall back on if nothing else appeals to you.

4. Have a few staples on hand. Keeping some pasta, rice, spices, and olive oil on hand will always ensure you have items to make a meal if you can’t think of anything else or run out of food. The great thing about pasta and rice is that it can be cooked in so many ways.

5. Talk to others in your household about your intended eating habits. Gently explain to others in your home what you are doing and why, in a couple sentences. It’s important for them to be aware of what you are doing so there are no surprises. There is no need to go in-depth on anything unless they ask you questions. If they don’t ask any questions, or seem doubtful, leave it and just show them during the challenge. You might be surprised and learn they are very interested and supportive of what you are doing!

6. Don’t force your habits on anyone else. No one likes being told what they can’t eat, or being lectured about their food choices during a meal. Don’t preach to anyone else about your food habits or they will be even more put off by what you’re doing. Be just as accommodating of their diet as you want them to be accommodating of yours.

7. Go slow. If you jump in too fast, you’ll feel overwhelmed and burn out quickly. Take small steps and change one meal at a time or eliminate one item at a time. Want to become a vegetarian? Start by eliminating red meat and sticking with only chicken and fish. Then keep transitioning. The journey will be much easier and manageable.

Interested in reading more? Leo Babauta has a great article on Zen Habits about becoming a vegetarian. Most of the tips also apply to any diet change.

Are you vegan? Have you thought about being vegan? If so, what’s keeping you from changing your diet? What food challenges have you given yourself? Do you have any awesome recipes to share with me?

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25 thoughts on “The 30-Day Vegan Challenge

  1. As a longtime vegan (married to an even longertime vegan), I just wanted to say “Yay!” Good for you!

    Once I learned how cheese came to be, it lost its allure for me- I just think of cruelty and cow mucus- but if you’re craving a cheese substitute, I recommend Daiya. It melts (which is an issue with some vegan cheeses) and has that same slightly musky flavor that dairy cheeses have. We actually prefer Follow Your Heart brand because Daiya is so convincing. Whole Foods carries it, if you’ve got one near you.

    Have fun! πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for the encouragement and cheese substitute recommendation! There is indeed a Whole Foods close enough for me to take a trip once in awhile, and I’ve got a gift card that needs to be finished. I’m really hoping this 30 day challenge goes beyond 30 days. πŸ™‚

      1. You’re very welcome. πŸ™‚ I love seeing people go vegan.

        With a Whole Foods nearby, you’ll find more vegan food options than you can shake a stick at! And there are so many great vegan food blogs and cookbooks out there now- I recommend anything by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and I especially love Terry Hope Romero’s cookbook Viva Vegan.Β 

        I think as long as you’re not a vegangelical, family and friends don’t make too much of a fuss. I’ve been lucky in that my close family enjoys adventurous eating and like trying new places where we can all enjoy a good meal. Really, the only major hassle I’ve ever encountered was with our insurance company when we tried to get a particular prescription in tablets rather than gelatin capsules. From their reaction (even after I explained why), you’d think I asked them to send me a unicorn.

        Your list is great. You’re totally going to rock the next thirty days!

        1. Another interesting post. I have a question that I’m sure someone here will know the answer too. I understand many of the philosophical arguments on veganism versus vegitariansim, but your comment about the honey reminded me of my question. Why eliminate honey? From my experience with seeing bees kept, I know bees need protection, clean hives and ideally no exposure to chemicals. Plus, keeping bees has benefitted the farmers, and the keepers obviously have to ensure the hives have enough to sustain the bees. I really don’t know how to find an answer for this – I”m not trying to be argumentative.

        2. There are several reasons people consider honey not vegan: the bees are enslaved, honey is a result of bee’s hard work and we steal their hard work, many bees are killed in the process of retrieving honey (they have to be smoked so beekeepers stun them easier), and honey is basically bee vomit. It can be compared to milk (getting milk from a cow doesn’t have to be harmful), but vegans still don’t drink milk. The general thinking is that bees are considered living creatures and we shouldn’t take anything from them.Β  Hope that helps!

          Personally, I’ve got two half-empty bottles of honey in my cabinet that I’m not going to throw out. I’m going to keep eating honey until they’re gone, and then just not buy more.

  2. Give up cheese for 30 days and you will be amazed how you feel about cheese at the end…you won’t care about it anymore.

    It was the last hold-out for me and my husband so we gave it up for several weeks. We were vegetarian for 15 years so, like you, we had a smooth transition to veganism. We built up to it because the big thing holding us back, besides the cheese, was family. We didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. In hindsight I wish we’d done it sooner because when I finally realized I was vegan I felt awesome. Not in a boastful, know-it-all way that people tend to stereotype vegans as, but in a joyful, freeing way. It is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

    It really isn’t as hard to change habits as people tend to think, plus we’re really lucky these days to have so many vegan options that satisfy cravings for texture and taste. There are so many great cookbooks and recipes out there, but one of my favorites is The Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak. I’ve never made a recipe from any of her books that I didn’t like.

    Enjoy!

    1. Thank you for sharing with me! I’m glad to hear going vegan was the best decision you made despite the uncertainty of inconveniencing anyone. I’m sure that your family and friends were very accepting of your choice.

      You are right – there are so many vegan options available. I think seeing those options is also what gave me the push to finally give this a try. Thank you for the cookbook recommendation, I’ll check it out! πŸ™‚

  3. A very inspiring post. If cheese is the toughest part for you I know there are other options out there as I have seen vegan cheese at the supermarket. Here’s a link to some suppliers which may or may not be within reach for you (http://www.vegansociety.com/lifestyle/food/recipes/vegan-cheese/). I’m not a vegan myself but I admire the lifestyle choice. I had a vegan colleague who used to bake all his own food as he had a big sweet tooth. He used to bring in all sorts of goodies like brownies and cakes and biscuits, all made from VeganΒ recipes. All us non-vegans loved it! Might be an easy way to win over your friends and family? πŸ™‚

    1. I’ve always been amused that despite the health benefits of veganism, many vegans seem to cook and share a variety of vegan sweets, especially with non-vegan friends. You’re right – it is a good way to win people over! Thank you stopping by and sharing the vegan cheese link!

  4. I’m not a vegan, but I dated a very passionate vegan. She exposed me to some wonderful foods that I had never heard of before. I didn’t become a vegan. But I do have a much higher opinion of the lifestyle.

    Here is my advice. Don’t buy the vegan products that are on the market to replace the foods you eat now. There is no way to replace bacon with a tofu product and not feel disappointed. Embrace the alternatives for what they are and learn to cook with them. I was amazed at how good tofu can taste if you know how to cook it right.

    Learn to like beans. There are many varieties that are not so common, that are wonderful.

    Think ethnic food. There are wonderful Indian and Thai dishes that are vegan with no modifications.

    The lady I dated was amazing at baking vegan style. How many recipes do you own that have eggs and milk in it. There are a lot of alternatives products. Here is a good example that uses olive oil in banana bread (I put dark chocolate chips instead of the nuts): http://vegweb.com/index.php?topic=5806.0

    I switched to Almond milk completely because of her. Love it.

    Also most vegans are very helpful and will gladly give you recipes to make the transition easier.

    1. Almond milk is amazing. I will never go back to regular milk.

      It’s funny that you mention tofu is not a meat replacement. When eating out with friends last night, I ordered something with tofu and spent a couple minutes explaining to them that tofu absorbs the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in and is not to be considered a meat replacement because it just isn’t! The expectation that tofu replaces meat is why many people dislike it. Fortunately, I’ve been eating tofu for awhile (not too much of it, though) with that in mind so I haven’t had any problems!

      Many vegans I’ve met have indeed been extremely helpful! Thank you!! πŸ™‚

  5. I am so happy for you!! When I made the change it really wasn’t that hard. I LOVED cheese too. The only cheese I missed for a minute was Parmesan cheese and now I have learned to make meals taste good without it. This is very inspiring. This week has been challenging for me switching to vegan raw. I have messed up meals, I have been hungry, tired, sluggish but this helps me realize that when you are making a shift in your lifestyle, it will be tough. Just stick to it, do your research. talk to people and find your support system. I’m here for you! You go girl! AND…. vegan food is so yummy!! πŸ™‚

    1. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only person that clings to cheese as a last favorite food before crossing to the other side. I haven’t had Parmesan cheese in awhile (because I just didn’t buy more when I ran out) but now that you mention it, it sounds really good right now…. Haha! I have to go find an alternative. πŸ™‚

      I have much respect and support for your raw vegan challenge this month!! Messing up meals is OK (I know I messed up too); it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight. I bet by the end of the month, you will feel very energized and happy!! Thank you for your support, much love to you!!

  6. I loved this post! Before going vegan I thought I’d miss cheese so much, but actually I hardly miss it at all πŸ™‚ There are so many incredible things to eat, or easy things to put on sandwiches, it really is not that necessary to eat cheese πŸ™‚

    1. It’s eye-opening to realize how many food options are really out there once you look past the typical American diet. So many yummy things. Thank you for stopping by! πŸ™‚

  7. Good for you! I don’t know if I have the dedication to do it. Meg is doing that Raw thing for 30 days. Its awesome. I still like my sweets, but yes, I may have to do something like this one day…

  8. I would like to suggest another thing that could move one in the direction of veganism or, at least, vegetarianism. It is rough, rough sledding, but viewing the video “Farm to Fridge” (from Mercy for Animals) might just help one to see reality for the animals unfortunate to be the victims of this ugly system. It is early and off to work I go, so please forgive the botched English above (but I hope you get the idea).

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