Hello Enji fans, we’re back with the third challenge in our miniseries this month. Last week I showed my commitment to sustainability by making my dollars count and only buying sustainable food. This week I pushed myself even further and decided to try the well-known vegan challenge. The vegan challenge is known for being difficult to adjust to and has a high rate of failure on the first try. But I wanted to see if I had the discipline to try and make it all the way to the end of this week.
I wanted to really do this challenge because as previously explain I am a bit of a food enthusiast and a significant amount of my peers also follow vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. Seeing them have the discipline to maintain their life choices is inspiring to me because I personally know I would struggle with the lifestyle. However, I was also inspired to this challenge because of the growing number of people transitioning into veganism for sustainability
It is easy to understand that people change their diets and lifestyles due to health concerns or animal welfare reasons. However, there is a steady increase in the number of people joining this movement due to its sustainability aspect. For example, eating a plant-based diet is one of the most efficient ways to conserve water and lower your carbon footprint.
While doing research for this challenge I found out that it takes an average of 1800 gallon of water to grow one pound of beef, while it only takes 39 gallons of water to produce one pound of vegetables. It is astonishing how much water it takes to make a single steak. This issue of water conservation is especially important in California where we habitually suffer from droughts and dry weather.
I do not feel the need to define the parameters of this challenge as it is very straightforward. I simply must follow a plant-based diet and exclude all animal by products. I must be honest I was not prepared for the challenges I encountered this week.
I had no problem adjusting to preparing plant-based meals for myself, as I mostly rely on meat free meal. I ate some apple and cinnamon oatmeal on my first day and a hearty salad for lunch. I did not feel like I was starting a new lifestyle in the beginning but by night things became a little more complicated.
My roommate who does not drive, told me he was going out to eat and asked if I wanted anything. I know that fast food wasn’t the most vegan friendly option and I expressed my concern. He said he was going to pick up food close to work and informed me that his job makes vegan pizzas. I was surprised that a small family owned business catered toward vegans.
I ordered a lovely pizza with vegan chorizo, vegan cheese, pineapples, and spinach. I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor development and found the pizza to be hearty and not as greasy as other pizzas.
However, later that night is when trouble began. Something relevant to mention in this story is that I have a sensitive stomach and often take digestive aids like probiotics. However, I didn’t have an adjustment period before starting the fiber rich diet, and the sudden changes made my stomach hurt. Unfortunately, my probiotics were not vegan friendly and it was too late to adjust to new probiotics, so I made the exception that I would simply take them for the sake of this challenge.
I went grocery shopping and found that I don't really need too many plant based products. I had plenty of cereals and snacks that mostly relied on vegetables or grains. I did need to replace my dairy products and find more snacks that didn’t rely on a cheddar flavor.
I know that a popular dairy replacement for is usually almond milk, but I always found the taste a bit peculiar, so I tried coconut milk instead. Although it does make a good milkshake, I also found out that it does not make the best substitute due to its high fat content.
I was honestly just happy that I could drink my coffee with some milk at least and since my stomach still hadn’t adjusted, I had to rely on delicate foods like cereal, applesauce, and fruits. These products were also enough to last me through the week for breakfast, except the pasta that was lunch.
I continued to eat my plant-based diet and with my stomach finally adjusted, I was able to enjoy more heavy options. My mother heard about me doing the vegan challenge from my brother and since she is vegetarian she made me a hearty bowl of beans and Mexican rice.
I had two reactions to this the first was “this is so wonderful, I feel loved and cared for” the second was “I totally forgot about my Latin heritage”. This was a real wake up call for me, I had completely forgotten that a lot of my Latin heritage relies on humble foods that have plant based roots. Foods like salsa, guacamole, beans, rice, plantains, and cactus were all used to help feed the natives of the land thrive when no animals were available. This made me realize that animal products are a luxury not everyone can afford.
After the event of Wednesday night, I went shopping to a local farmers market that specializes in Latin cuisines. I was inspired by the events of that day and bought many beautiful produce. The moment I got home, I made a Spanish inspired salad full of mixed greens, black beans, avocado, tomatoes, corn and a homemade dressing. I was amazed at how beautifully all the ingredients combined together. It was also such a filling salad that I did not feel the need to have a whole dinner later in the day.
When I did feel hungry I ate some grapes and sea salt and vinegar chips as a snack. This is where I hit another surprise. I was so confident that the potato chips I was eating were free of animal products. Regular chips are just salted, and they are vegan friendly. Vinegar isn’t an animal by product, therefore there shouldn’t be a difference in ingredients, right? Wrong! This company of the chips I had bought decided it would be clever to add buttermilk. I was half way through the bag before I realized it had dairy. This unfortunate incident taught me that you always must check the ingredient list instead of relying on your knowledge. Companies can be deceitful intentionally and it is important for you to do your research.
Day number five was not very eventful. I ate breakfast, went to my cousin’s house, and had smoothies with her and her daughter. We didn’t eat anything since we both had just finished eating lunch. But overall it was nice that they want to make accommodations to my dietary restrictions by suggesting smoothies.
Saturday was a very calm and relaxing atmosphere. I slept in and ate oatmeal and coffee for breakfast. My significant other and I split some vegan pasta and lemonade. I think that as the week wore on I became more accustomed to the challenges that are presented in a plant-based diet.
I did fall of the wagon at night and I am a little ashamed why. I met up with my cousin and her significant other for a game night and they had fresh baked cookies on the table. At first I did decline their invitation, but as the night wore on and I became hungrier I couldn’t resist. I don’t regret eating that cookie.
I had to go on a trip to Fullerton early Sunday morning and I didn’t have a chance to get breakfast. It was a bit frustrating being away from home and not being able to have control over the food some places serve early in the morning. I was happy that my carpool happened to stop a star buck and I got one a cup of coffee with coconut milk instead. It settled my stomach for the time being.
It was really challenging finding a place that could accommodate everyone's needs, but in the end, we decided everyone should just eat what they want at a mall.
When I finally got back to San Diego, I was so physically exhausted that I couldn’t bring myself to finish the challenge. I went straight to a Mexican restaurant and got three chicken tacos. I am a little sad I did not have enough willpower to last until the morning, but I am still proud that I had the confidence to start this challenge in the first place. I must remind myself to celebrate the small victories and I had quite a few victories this past week.
Reflecting on this challenge, I would have to say that it was very difficult for me. I learned a lot of new information during this challenge, and about myself. I think that if you have a desire to change our lifestyle you should do it gradually. Changes in our lives can be stressful both physically and mentally, so it is important to be realistic with your expectations. Food is addicting so treat it like any other addiction, understand you might fall of the wagon and you might have struggles, but if it something you are passionate about stay dedicated and work toward it. Don’t do what I did and change all the sudden and expect that you stomach can handle it. Change gradually and work towards your goals.