We’ll begin with a game. Below are three foods:
- Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts
- Honey Roasted Honey Bunches of Oats
- Double Stuff Oreos
Two of these are vegan. Can you guess which one is not?
I know the answer from experience. For six and a half weeks, I went vegan. No meat, no dairy, and no eggs. I replaced cow’s milk in my fridge with almond milk, Goldfish with peanuts, and beef shawarma with falafel as my meal for the drive back to school. When I went home for spring break I bought dairy free butter, which is comparable to the non vegan alternative, and vegan cheese, which is very much not.
Why the sudden shift? Sorry animal lovers, but it wasn’t because I suddenly began empathizing with our nation’s livestock. This was a fast for Lent, the 46 day (not 40, as that number excludes Sundays) liturgical season between Ash Wednesday and Easter, (this year March 6th until April 21st), during which Christians have traditionally fasted from something. In the past, I had stopped eating dessert or going on social media, but I read a convincing argument about the vice of gluttony and the discipline of fasting from food specifically, in particular defending the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat during Lent. Meat is the centerpiece of most of our meals. It is much more of a necessity than, let’s say, an ice cream cone after dinner, which is more of a luxury. Eliminating the latter might be a worthy fast, but it doesn’t really change your nutrition in the same way. Once I accepted that argument of going vegetarian, I thought why not go all in and just become a vegan? I heard it makes you a lot of fun at parties.
Before I get into this, I want to pre-emptively answer whether I’m violating Jesus’s teaching not to boast about fasting in Matthew 6. If we are going letter of the law here, the commandment is to not boast about fasting while you’re fasting, not after. But since that’s an arbitrary distinction, I’ll say this. This is an article about my experience going vegan. I bring up Lent and fasting only to help make sense of the framework I was operating under. If your takeaway from this is “Dallas is so holy because he went vegan for Lent,” you are misunderstanding our purpose here.
This might be needless to say, but going vegan is really hard. It’s not just the vegan part either, the vegetarian aspect on its own was really difficult. Beyond the fact that I enjoy a good steak as much as anyone, it’s just hard to get nutrition when so much of my diet suddenly became off-limits. Most calorie dense foods include fats from meat or dairy and my calorie intake shrunk. I had to be consciously aware of getting enough protein. Nuts and beans became good friends and I probably had at least one peanut butter bagel a day. I’m also currently training for a marathon and a low calorie, low protein diet is not usually the best way to go about that. I know there are vegan weightlifters and runners several classes above me, but I’d also bet their vegan diets are structured much better than what I was having as a college student.
Moreover, I just felt hungry all the time. But it was a different hunger. I’d eat something, let’s say a vegetarian pizza without cheese, and I would be aware that my stomach was full of food. But I didn’t feel like I consumed enough. The separation of being full and being nourished was a strange feeling. I’d have enough to eat, but I also knew it wasn’t going to keep me full for more than a few hours.
Did I ever cheat? That depends on how you define cheating. Going in, I told myself that if I was in a social setting where no vegan options were available, I would break fast. I believe this to be consistent with the spirit and tradition of fasting and since I didn’t take Sundays as my “feast day” (when Christians traditionally get a break from their Lenten fasts), the numbers end up in my favor. If you’re wondering how I could claim to have gone vegan when you say me munching on chicken fingers at a Freshman formal in March, this is why. If non-vegan food was in front of me, I wasn’t going to refuse it. For anyone curious, during my 46 days, there were nine of these instances.
Easter morning I broke fast with a breakfast of sausage and eggs biscuits, which is about as not vegan as possible. Some people who I know are vegan or went vegan for a time have said they felt significantly better while vegan than they did on the omnivore’s diet. They have slept better, they had more energy, they felt fuller, and so forth. That has not been my experience. I didn’t feel dramatically different when I went vegan, and I haven’t felt dramatically different in the week since I stopped.
It was certainly an experience that made me see food differently. When you can’t just go eat but instead face strict limitations on what you are able to eat and therefore have to consciously ensure you get enough of several key nutrients, that was something I’ve never had to deal with, and I hope I can hold onto that mindset even after unlocking the rest of my diet. On another note, I also lost a decent amount of weight and am lighter now than I’ve been since 2015.
There was a deepest lesson too – that there is a fullness that doesn’t satisfy.
By the way, of the three foods we began with, the Oreos and Pop Tarts are vegan. The Honey Bunches of Oats are not. They have milk in them.
It has come to my attention that I did not technically go full vegan, as I did not stop using animal products in aspects of my life outside of my diet. The technical term is that I adopted a plant based diet, I was a dietary vegan, or simply a strict vegetarian.