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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Observations from a vegan-in-training

By Lauren Garrison

Since deciding on Monday to join Helen in her trial period of eating vegan, I've been preparing both physically and mentally for the start of my challenge on Monday February 22.

I've alternated between trying to eat up all the dairy in the house so it's not wasted, and "practicing" being vegan.

Yesterday, I ate only vegan food up to about 3 p.m., abstaining from the doughnuts at the Fat Tuesday paczki-eating contest in Ansonia I covered for the Register.

I even tried ordering a soy milk gingerbread latte at Starbucks, and while the Fairfield location had no trouble meeting my demands, I'm afraid the beverage was far too sweet, and the flavor too reminiscent of Play-doh, for my liking.
As I've been researching vegan food on the Web, perusing my cookbooks and making grocery shopping lists for this weekend, I've made a few observations.

1. Just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's healthy.

Every vegan I've met has been very thin, and I'll admit that I hope to drop a few pounds during this trial. When I became a vegetarian, many people asked me if I lost weight on the new diet. The answer was no, because I substituted plenty of cheese and pasta for the lean meat I was no longer eating. In my research, I've discovered lists of vegan foods that include such nutritional non-superstars as Oreos, Apple Jacks, potato chips... you get the idea. While in a way this is good news, as I'll still be able to enjoy some treats, it dispels my idea that the restrictions of a vegan diet would force me to eat healthfully.

Alas, I'll have to make smart choices and focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains if I want my new diet to be a healthy one.

2. Food companies don't like to shout "vegan" from the roof tops.

The Trader Joe's list ( of all its vegan products being the exception, I've had a hard time identifying which foods are vegan without first reading their ingredients lists. I've gone to the Web sites of companies such as Whole Foods and Kashi, which cater to nutritionally and environmentally conscious eaters, and was disappointed not to find any note of which products are vegan. I suppose I expected to find a little "V" symbol on box, similiar to the notation for Kosher foods. My husband's take on this: Non-vegans might be turned off by vegan food, thinking it won't taste as good. Maybe we could design a secret symbol that only vegans would recognize to make our jobs as consumers easier.

3. As I feared, my family and friends have been less than enthusiastic about my decision.

Responses have ranged from, "So now you're a vegan?" (as in, 'I put up with this vegetarian thing, but c'mon now!') to "You're going to starve" to "I won't think less of you if you cheat."I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I've assured these people, "Oh, this is just a trial run. Don't worry, I'm not going to be a vegan permanently." I think feel guilty knowing I'll cause more inconvenience for my friends and family than I already do when it comes time to share a meal. Although I myself have great respect for vegans, I also worry that people will think I'm weird or radical or that I'll want to "convert" them.

Truthfully, my hope is that the next few weeks will go well, and I'll stick with the vegan lifestyle, either completely or almost completely. I can envision myself being mostly vegan but making exceptions occasionally for dinner at a restaurant or a family gathering.

That said, I'm struggling with the "identity" part of being a vegan. After four years, I very much identify as a vegetarian. If I accidentally ate meat, I would feel kind of terrible. But the thought of slipping up as a vegan doesn't give me much pause. Perhaps that will change in time, but right now, it's hard to imagine.

4. And a question

Do all vegans eschew honey, and why? Do bees count as animals? Do they mind if we take their honey?

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Anonymous Rich said...

Hi Lauren,

I think pretty much all vegans stay away from honey. Their reasoning, to a large degree, is that beekeepers concentrate large collections of bees in one area which takes something from the "natural order" in terms of bees at large being able to find food, etc. They (vegans) also believe that smoking the bees when attending the hives often harms or kills them. I don't know if any of these postulates are true but it is what I've heard from vegan friends. They also believe that it is just exploitation if another species.

But like anything else, in my opinion at least, it should be a matter of personal choice and staying with what you believe is right for you!

My Best

February 17, 2010 1:43 PM 
Blogger Meg said...

Here's a good post on the honey issue:

I try to avoid honey. I certainly don't need it and there are some great alternatives. I like brown rice syrup, but that's harder to find. Maple syrup and regular sugar are also options and, yes, agave nectar (though don't believe the hype about it being unprocessed and healthy, it's mostly just fructose, a form of sugar).

Bottom line, bees are animals. So, it doesn't make a lot of sense logically to say you're vegan and eating honey because by definition vegans avoid animal products. It's sort of like "vegetarians" that eat fish and chicken, though you probably won't get quite the grief from it and even many honey-abstaining vegans believe that it's a battle not worth fighting at times.

Now, it's not like we vegans think we can avoid killing or using any animals whatsoever. I know that bugs are killed growing plants and I probably kill more bugs driving my vehicle in love bug season than I'd kill eating local honey. And yes, sometimes I kill bugs inside my home.

But the difference is intention. I don't want animals, whatever their size or intelligence, intentionally killed or even just mistreated to provide me with a food product that isn't even healthy, let alone necessary or irreplaceable.

In the end, though, we must all draw our own lines because these issues aren't as black and white as they seem at first glance. I'd rather do a little extra, though, than feel like I'm doing too little.

Anyhow, good luck on going vegan! My husband and I went from omnivores to vegan as a "short-term experiment" but we can't imagine going back. And while you're right to point out that one can definitely eat unhealthy on vegan diet, I've found that many of the vegan choices are much healthier than regular vegetarian ones as the latter tended to covered in cheese and butter, plus maybe some egg.

Speaking of, The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook is a great book if you do get some cheese cravings and Daiya is the best commercially produced vegan cheese I've had, so far. Vegan cheese is definitely not the same as animal cheese, but it can be just as delicious or better. It's just a matter of sorting out the good from the "meh" and watching out for "Veggie Slices" that have casein (milk protein) in them.

February 17, 2010 2:53 PM 
Blogger Lauren said...

Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts! Just to clarify, I do plan to stay away from honey to get the true "vegan experience." I guess I was just wondering why it was important. I'm not really a big fan of honey in general, but it shows up in many processed foods and it's frustrating not to be able to eat an otherwise perfectly vegan granola bar or cereal because it contains honey!

February 17, 2010 3:16 PM 
Blogger Meg said...

I really admire you for going all the way. When my husband and I started calling ourselves vegan we didn't really care about honey much either way, but it didn't seem worth it to try to avoid. No it does, though.

But, yes, it is definitely frustrating! As hard as I'm sure it is to be an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, being vegan is a lot more difficult -- at least if you're eating out a lot or eating a lot of pre-made or otherwise processed foods. I can't tell you how many vegetarian products I've picked out thinking they were o.k. and buried down in the list was some small amount of honey or whey or something -- completely replaceable with something vegan! It's like they're trying to trip us vegans up, though I guess they just don't care. That's another reason why I try to avoid it, though, so they do start caring (hopefully).

It does get easier, though. We've only been vegan for a few months but we already have new routines. We know where we can eat and what brands to look for and where to get them. And if you stick to fresh whole foods it is super easy and definitely a lot healthier.

The hardest part is just putting up with the social part of it, like having to ask ahead of time if there'll be vegan choices and bringing your own food most of the time and smiling and nodding as you hear some bumper-sticker anti-veg*n joke for the 20th time. But I guess you're probably used to a lot of that already! It was definitely new to my husband and I -- and very eye-opening.

February 17, 2010 3:28 PM 
Blogger Helen Bennett Harvey said...

I simply love these comments and thank you Rich and Meg for taking the time for these very thoughtful ideas. Lauren and I are so determined to make this try a success and it is great to have people who have our backs!

February 17, 2010 10:20 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out this informative and inspiring video on why people choose vegan:

Also see Gary Yourofsky:

February 18, 2010 8:36 AM 
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March 05, 2010 9:17 AM 

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