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My Week As A Vegan Part 1 : The Why and The How

By Jillian Lankford

Usually when you tell your friends and family you are trying something new, something that will benefit your health and the environment, they cheer you on. When my husband and I told friends and family we were going vegan horns sprouted from our foreheads, our teeth turned black and our noses grew long. We turned into hideous monsters. The ugly, smelly, googly-eyed, clown-like ones. At least that’s what I felt like I looked like staring at the faces of our friends and family when we said “mmmm, vegan”.

What was even more hilarious was each person we told responded with the exact same phrase, “I could never give up –‘insert favorite animal product here’—”. So here it is, I apologize to all the vegans I have offended with such an annoying response. Your faces aren’t grotesque, I see you now. I can give up eggs, butter, bacon, and chicken wings! Don’t knock it ’til you try it.

What is Veganism, and What Do Vegans Eat? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-a-vegan#types

Frozen miscellaneous vegetable ends. Boiled with water and seasoning to make vegetable broth.

There are many reasons to go vegan. To help the environment, to save the animals, to lower the risk of heart disease, to reverse type 2 diabetes, to be a stronger, faster athlete. But what does it take for someone to fully commit? Here’s my WHY:

Over the last year I have tried persuading my carnivorous, body building husband to cut out two meaty meals a week. Feeding him and two toddler boys on inflated grocery prices and one income has become a money drainer. Plus, we need to start saving for post-puberty food funds. So we compromised: twice a month we would eat breakfast for dinner, with a side of bacon.  Needless to say, no dent was made in the monthly grocery bill.

Reasons To Go Vegan https://www.byrdie.com/reasons-to-go-vegan

Black and Vegan: Why So Many Black Americans are Embracing the Plant-based Life https://www.today.com/food/black-vegan-why-so-many-black-americans-are-embracing-plant-t209743

Then one evening on the search for yet another health and wellness documentary, Netflix suggested What the Health, directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn.  I was dumfounded for an hour and a half. I sat up all night researching the documentary’s claims. And after countless hours verifying the sponsors of the information (because you can’t take anything for face value these days) and getting over the exaggerated parts – I was shook. I boycotted all animal products and spread the “news”. There is something seriously wrong with the way we eat in America and the propaganda big companies and government funding use to blind society from having an honest understanding of health and wellness is sickening. I pled with my husband, to lower (not take away) our animal product consumption because we need to do our part in saving the environment and the future of our children’s health. But I couldn’t sell it. I got tired. My responsibilities and mom-orities got in between my effort and energy. Until one night Netflix did me a solid and suggested Brent watch The Game Changers, a vegan athletes documentary, produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan and a handful of others. And boom, his mind was blown. He was shook too. It couldn’t have happened in better time, we ran out of groceries the next day thus the perfect union started, we were going to try plant-based for real, for real – at least for one week.

Armed with the truth of nutrition, endless online resources, and the support of our fabulous vegan neighbors, we went from meat eaters to plant-based eaters in just a few days. Prior to, we had a good balance of 80/20 healthy eating. Nutritious foods 80 percent of the time and the not so good for you treats 20 percent of the time. All of our meals home cooked from scratch. We order out or eat out maybe once every two months. Snacks are typically home baked goods made with natural sweeteners and almond flour to avoid over consuming refined sugars and white flour. We stay away from fast food, most prepackaged and over processed goods, juice, pop/soda, dessert and candy. My husband, the health conscious athlete, and me, the once obese, now moderately over weight, runner and HIIT addict, have navigated diet and nutrition most of our adult lives. We understand health and wellness, we know what is good for you and why, we know what isn’t worth the calories and we know what will gives us, and our boys, the best energy. Especially now. This helped make the transition to plant-based much easier than some may have it.

Imperfect Foods Vegan Croissant Toast, Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Sesame and Avocado

Well now, how? Out of a subconscious fear of going hungry and coming up short feeding Brent’s protein addiction, I over did it on the plant focused groceries.  Nuts of all kinds, double our normal fruit and veggie haul, cans of beans and bags of whole grains overcrowded the cupboards. Then came the substitutes and alternatives. Something for milk, sour cream, butter, cheese, mayo, ranch, yogurt and all the meats. Our refrigerator and freezer was full of fresh and processed vegan friendly food. 

Using the meat alternatives was an easy way to jump into the plant-based lifestyle and still enjoy our favorite recipes. Replacing grass-fed ground beef with Impossible meat for tacos, sloppy joes and hamburgers took little to no thought. No Evil foods even has a delicious Chorizo alternative for enchilada nights. The boys don’t notice the difference. For Brent and I, flavor and taste was not sacrificed so we had no complaints.

Replacing fresh organic chicken breasts with fake chicken brands was a bit different. Brands like Tofurky and Daring offer frozen and fresh grilled or breaded chicken alternatives but they don’t taste like chicken. These were not so easy to disguise from the kids. I enjoyed them in stir-frys and wraps but Brent took a hard pass after a little bit of stomach trouble from a pho-chicken meal. I realized we didn’t need the replacement.

Beyond Meat Bratwurst and Peppers

Cooking with these alternatives can be tricky. While it looks like meat and tastes like meat, the plant based alternatives require more attention and finesse. They stick to pans when cooking even if it is non-stick or coated in oil and they don’t like cast irons. Deglazing the pan with water or broth fixes the issue and actually helps cook the ground, link, and piece varieties much better. Some weird things have happened, like a layer of runny, orange film (see picture to the left) but no alternative ever tasted bad or wasn’t as filling as an animal meat dish.

the pretty bee Light and Fluffy Vegan Pancakes
https://theprettybee.com/basic-vegan-pancake-recipe/

Butter alternatives have been by far my favorite, who knew plant butter could taste so good? Thank you Miyokos. They even hold up in our weekly pancake and muffin batches. Pancakes and muffins are a staple in our house. They are easy to grab and go at any meal and can be made in wide varieties. Substituting applesauce for eggs has been the easiest way to stick to my own recipes. Incorporating new ingredients such as flax seed, flax meal, chia seeds and hemp seed is going to take some time. But if we are in the mood for something sweet, the internet has tons of truly delicious vegan desserts and sweet snacks.

I have yet to find a yogurt substitute that taste as good a Fage’s Greek Yogurt. Most blends have a runny consistency that I’m just not used to and the boys refuse to eat with their favorite agave and banana toppings. However, Foragers sour cream is the most delicious sour cream I have ever tasted and pairs well with any type of taco or burrito life can offer.

Speaking of burritos, lunches and snacks have become all about the wrap. Layers upon layers of veggie goodness with limited prep. Preparing a variety of options to have ready to go takes more time and fridge space but it’s worth it. The time it takes to make a burrito is less than that to scramble some eggs. Chickpeas marinated in spices and olive oil, cooked quinoa, cooked beans, sliced peppers, quick pickled onions, hummus, nut butters, homemade cheese and dressings. Wrapping is the new way to get down on lunch and, sometimes, breakfast.

Tofu Scramble, Sweet Potato Kale Bean Hash Browns, Vegan Buttermilk Biscuit

I know my way around the kitchen very well, cooking and baking has not changed with respect to going plant-based. We use our blender more often for smoothies and dressings. I have used my slow cooker less and my air fryer just the same. Starting this journey we introduced a lot of extra processed foods into our diet. Once we re-evaluated what our plates should look like at meal time, it became less necessary to fill each section with a substitute or alternative. It has been helpful to change what the meal looks like and consciously understand why we choose to eat what we do. Ultimately it’s for the energy, and what’s not the greatest energy than what is naturally grown from God’s green Earth? We have been a meat and potatoes family for a long time. With meat not at the center of our meals we have a wider variety of options. Bowls, spreads, smoothies, wraps, bakes, layers… who said breakfast, lunch or dinner has to look a certain way?

Well what about the protein? The second question friends and family have enjoyed throwing at us – “how will you get enough protein?” Now let’s stop and think about this, how much protein have you consumed today? Not how many pieces, how many grams of protein? Do you really know, are you keeping track? If you are like my husband who has memorized every nutrition label then maybe. Since aerobic and anaerobic exercise are hobbies in our home I have had to stay on top of our protein consumption. Most days, we don’t miss a beat. Plant-based protein powder, beans, peas, avocados, tofu and potatoes are easy items to incorporate into meals. And if I fall short, my handy dandy side kick Nutritional Yeast packs 3 grams of protein in one tablespoon and enhances any savory dish.

Vegetables High in Protein and How to Eat More of Them https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/19-high-protein-vegetables#19.-Avocado

So you may be thinking how did we try all of this in just one week, well we didn’t. We haven’t stopped. We are over 6 weeks in and have not found a reason to go back to eating animal products. In those 6 weeks we’ve been camping, to a restaurant, celebrated birthdays, hosted a barbecue with friends and have even gotten our toddlers to join with one and only exception – boxed macaroni and cheese once a week for lunch.

Bottom line is, this is easier than you think. Why you do it is up to you. How you do it is up to you. Just know, that it can be done. You might have to go to a few more grocery stores, more frequently, but is that really a reason to not put your health and wellness first? In fact the physical benefits of going plant-based seemingly outweigh the health benefits, if I may be so vain. Read more in My Week as a Vegan Part 2: The Physical and Mental.

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Related Stories We Love…

Beginner’s Guide to a Plant-Based Diet https://www.forksoverknives.com/how-tos/plant-based-primer-beginners-guide-starting-plant-based-diet/

Why Go Vegan? https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan

14 Things You Need To Know Before You Go Vegan https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/19/the-14-things-you-need-to-know-before-you-go-vegan

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