When I was seventeen, I was vegan for five years, and it continues to be my most idealized version of a healthy diet. However, I want to avoid the rigidity of labels, cult member status maintenance politics, or feeling bad about not being 100%. Since I was now on summer vacation from school, I had the time, space, and life-control to focus on maintaining such a rigid diet for a certain amount of time (until the next life event interfered). So I decided to do one month of “practice” during April, the last month of school. I needed practice because I had several mandatory work related dinners and I needed time to figure out just what raw vegan meant in detail. For example, are pickles, kimchi, sweeteners, or seaweed raw vegan? It would take some time to look up and learn the intricacies of such foods, especially condiments that many raw vegan individuals or restaurants continue to serve, but were not within the bounds of raw. The challenge would last for two months during June and July. In this way it would be a long enough period to establish a pattern of super healthy eating, provide enough space to learn many recipes, and break consumption patterns that I was ready to give up, such as the habit of drinking daily tea (I have already given up coffee three years ago, and only have it on very rare occasions, such as leaving the country). After the challenge, I would like to be as close to vegan as possible, maybe 90%, and also get away from eating refined carbohydrates. Ultimately, it’s about feeling what my idealized diet entails, shifting my perspective, and seeing that this would be a happy and fulfilling way to live. While we don’t always control our eating environment, by living alone and working a very flexible schedule, I have lots of room room to exercise such a regiment.
I covered the stove with a piece of black painted wood and put the dehydrator on top of it, which would be my main “cooking” machine for such things as dried fruit, crackers, kale chips, and coconut yogurt. I put my spices in my microwave to conserve space. I bought a food processor, and would be relying on my Vitamix and juicer as well. I would need to shop more frequently and intensely at the Asian Market, grocery store, food coop, and farmers markets in search of fresh produce and deals. It would take time, I could watch Netflix on the laptop kitchen counter while processing vegetables. I could take the trail mix, raw bars, and dried fruits on my hikes on the Long Trail in Vermont, as I added a new life changing challenge to the mix.
So what did I eat? [Pictures.] Huge piles of fruit that you would never imagine eating all at once. Making meals out of entire bags of cherries or organic red grapes. Kale chips as many nights as I could remember, and supplementing that with store bought kale chips (which are definitely not as good as fresh and covered in huge coatings of gook, that can also contain amounts of refined sugar, if you don’t read carefully). Only eating in a restaurant one time during the entire two months. Coconut yogurt made just from blending coconut meat and a bit of water, adding probiotic powder, and dehydrating for six hours, then adding fruit, and sweetened with agave (which is probably the most questionable ingredients I allowed, but it says “raw” so what the hell). I become found of kimchi and I bought sauerkraut for the first time in my life (the coop has an entire fridge section full of just these two products, my favorite was dill sauerkraut). I dehydrated bananas, apples, pineapples, yellow mangos, heirloom tomatoes, cherries, kiwis, strawberries, and crackers (food pulp from juicer, nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, tomato, orange juice, just any wet and dry ingredients, really, it just takes days). Chia seed pudding with cashew milk. (Soaked) black rice sushi with raw nori sheets and vegetables. Lots of banana ice cream. Red grape ice cream. Zucchini noodles with pesto basil cashew cream sauce. Almond butter celery sticks with assorted vegetables. Juices. Gazpacho soup. And (soaked and sprouted) hummus, which took an unreasonable three days to make, taking into account the soaking and sprouting time.
Overall, it was a shift in how I conceptualized meals, and when I craved a cooked comfort food meal, the kale chips came in handy, as well as some hearty salads with homemade dressing and seaweed, but otherwise, snacking on fruits and veggies throughout the day without set meals was a fine routine. Hefty green smoothies could be taken to the office or as a filling breakfast. Crackers with cashew cream sauce, avocados and tomatoes made a good platter. Avocado cucumber soup was rich, creamy and filling. It was great to be able to eat a large container of nice cream desserts completely guilt-free. I had my food fantasies and cravings, but I could eat those soon enough, if I even wanted to, and it was fun to learn to make new things and add new varieties of food to my meals, a chance to explore items I wouldn’t ordinarily choose or even notice, without such a restriction which begged for creativity.
But alas, July 1st came and ended the challenge, because I was off to Vienna and would be spending over 24 hours navigating airports and an overnight layover in Amsterdam. I would allow myself to eat whatever was available, but keeping my sensibilities of consuming from lower on the totem pole, but also giving in to some cravings if just to prove that such foods weren’t as amazing as I had imagined. They would be a disappointment. When I did do such things, I felt immediately guilty, and realized that it was awesome to not have food guilt feelings for over two months. Luckily once arriving and settling into Vienna, it seemed that vegan had become a trendy buzzword, so restaurants with only one or two vegan options would advertise that fact on a vegan menu sign in front of the establishment. But there was a vegan gelato place named Veganista one block away, and five blocks away was Dancing Shiva a beautiful, large, raw vegan restaurant with many complex and delicious meals, and a good refrigerator full of take-away items such as walnut pate, zucchini hummus, house made kombucha, mousse, kimchi, raw vegan chocolate bars, and so on. I could come here everyday. What an excellent find after breaking the raw vegan challenge and finding one’s self in a meat-oriented culture.
I definitely enjoyed my raw vegan challenge and the space it provided for me to learn new recipes and expose myself to new products that I would otherwise pass up. I look forward to doing the challenge again, and even mom is impressed and wants to move in a similar direction, especially as she continues to battle cancer challenges. And as I previously mentioned, committing to 90% veganism would be three days of non-veganism per month, which should provide a good enough release valve for my food cravings and could be adjusted according to my change in palate. Ultimately for me, while there are many reasons folks become vegan I mostly encourage folks to just shift their diet in a vegan direction more and more, without the idea necessarily that one must be 100%. That would be a less intimidating idea for most people who would otherwise not consider such a shift. One less meat meal a day or every few days, and then increasing fruits and veggies into the diet gradually until it could tip the 50% marker. Change one’s taste and understanding of food gradually. But it is undeniable that meat and dairy industrial production is having a catastrophic impact on the environment and is completely unsustainable. Therefore, all of us can shift our diet in this direction more so than we are currently, and continue to push it gradually, but quicker than the expansion of one’s comfort zone, in order to be conscious and continue to grow and improve. And one way vegans can encourage newcomers is to prepare delicious and welcoming meals that will expand people’s minds of stereotypically vegan fare. There’s finally a diet where you can eat a huge tub of ice cream without feeling guilty, what’s not to love?