KK Yu / Sun Staff Photographer

KK Yu / Sun Staff Photographer

October 12, 2016

Vegan for a Week

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“Is this vegan?”

That was a question I never thought I would be asking, yet here I was, staring expectantly and half-embarrassedly at the Trillium salad employee who let me know that yes, the honey dijon dressing I obsessed over every day was, in fact, vegan.

I wouldn’t call myself a meat lover, but I do eat meat on almost every occasion. I’m picky about the types of meat I like, and when I can, I try to only eat meat that’s been locally sourced. The pretentious Ithacan in me would call myself a locavore; the honest journalist in me would say that I occasionally pretend not to notice the labels on the packaged meat I buy.

When I was growing up, my parents would purchase meat from a local farm and have it butchered locally, too. We were even given the option to meet the cow we were purchasing beforehand (a concept which really creeps me out). But this past summer, I was living alone and cooking for myself for the first time. I learned that not only do most grocery stores not really care where their meat comes from, but also pre-cooked meat is disgusting to work with and potentially dangerous if not cooked correctly. Mainly as a result of my disgust at touching raw chicken, I cooked almost entirely vegetarian dishes.

However, I supplemented my vegetarian-cooking diet with frequent meat-filled lunches and Thai takeout. It got me wondering: could I actually survive as a real vegetarian? Would I crave meat too much? Is it even feasible? What if I took it a step further and went vegan? Living in Ithaca, a town filled with vegans, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find vegan food at most places. Personally, I guessed the abandonment of eggs, milk and cheese would be harder for me than giving up meat. I also doubted that a brief vegan diet would make me feel any healthier, although Facebook friends who went vegan seemed to swear that after two days they felt better than ever. Regardless, I had nothing better to do, and figured I should give a vegan diet a try.

And thus, the concept of my week of veganism was born. To be clear, this is not an article on the morals of going vegan. For my purposes, I really don’t care about the ethical background of not eating animal products. I care about weighing the costs and benefits and documenting my week-long vegan journey.

Monday

Full disclosure: I actually had intended to begin my vegan diet on Sunday, but I couldn’t figure out how to deal with a vegan hungover Sunday brunch. I wasn’t willing to alter my brunch plans, so I figured that I better start my veganism with an easier challenge.

My only food-related plan Monday morning was getting my pre-work coffee. I had learned the night before that Starbucks caramel drizzle was not vegan, so I decided against an iced caramel macchiato (my summer favorite). I sent a text to my occasionally-vegan, nutrition major friend: “Iced soy vanilla latte. Vegan?” You would think that as someone who consumes food on a daily basis and who has a basic understanding of the word “vegan,” I would be able to determine for myself whether or not something fell under that category, but you’d be wrong. As it turns out, soy milk, vanilla syrup and espresso are all vegan, so I was set with my morning coffee.

My go-to campus lunch is a Trillium salad. My typical order is light on the vegetables, heavy on the meat, cheese and eggs. Over-aware of everything I was ordering, I became paranoid. Was hummus vegan? Were onions? I was so nervous I would mess up my veganism during my first meal, but I was eventually successful, swapping out my usual chicken for tofu and getting hummus instead of cheese and eggs. Overall, the salad tasted almost exactly the same as usual. Maybe I could do this.

I ran into some road bumps with dinner. A group of friends and I had planned to go out to dinner that night; however, the consensus was to go to Ithaca’s latest poor excuse for a restaurant, Texas Roadhouse, where even the salads contain chicken and steak. I then had to give the fakest-sounding excuse of my life: I had to cancel dinner plans because, starting that day, I was briefly going vegan so I could write about it. I’m not sure if anybody believed me.

Tuesday

I was already really missing meat and cheese. For lunch, I went to Bus Stop Bagels, but I had to forego the best part of any bagel: cream cheese. Instead, I got hummus on a Long Island bagel. I was starving again before I even finished classes.

For dinner, I had to do one of the most painful things I’ve ever done: order fried rice from Taste of Thai Express with no egg. Egg is the best part of fried rice. I put egg in almost everything, but I consider it absolutely essential to rice. Typing “no egg, please!” in the Grubhub request line was almost enough to make me call off this whole vegan thing after less than 48 hours. But I stuck with it, and was actually pleasantly surprised: fried rice with tofu (and no egg) was the most filling thing I had had in my vegan journey thus far. It was almost as unhealthy and delicious as the meat-eater’s version. I considered just eating that for every meal the rest of the week, but I decided that that wouldn’t make for a good story (or a happy bank account).

Wednesday

I felt a little more positive about my vegan journey after the fried rice dish. I had heard that Synapsis was a good vegan lunch spot, so I decided to try it. Synapsis dishes have the option of something called “vegan cheese.” I had no idea what that was, nor did I really want to find out (for the record, it’s a weird substance made out of soy protein). My options were either to get a pizza covered in vegan cheese, or pasta with a sample size of the fake dairy substitute. I went with the latter, getting penne with vegan garlic sauce. If I didn’t think too hard about the vegan cheese, I could almost pretend it was real cheese that had just been made incorrectly.

That night I decided to actually cook something for dinner. I find that cooking vegan is much easier than ordering vegan is. I even have a couple of favorite vegan recipe blogs: Minimalist Baker and Thug Kitchen. I typically find that curries are the best vegan food to cook because they use coconut milk already, and then you can throw in whatever vegetables or proteins you have on hand. I attempted to make sweet potato noodles with a spiralizer and then made a curry to go on top. Since I’m used to avoiding raw meat when I cook, it was pretty easy to forget the dish was vegan.

Thursday

I decided to try Bus Stop Bagels again, armed with the knowledge that vegan cheese exists. I ordered one of their signature bagels with olive spread, arugula and goat cheese. At first, I was told I couldn’t make any substitutions, but after I told the employee that I couldn’t eat goat cheese, she allowed me to get vegan mozzarella instead. I still wasn’t sold on the concept of vegan cheese, but it was a decent-enough substitute.

My friend had a Chipotle gift card, and the quality of vegan Chipotle was obviously something that I needed to assess, so we picked some up for dinner. I’m already a picky Chipotle eater — I hate beans and their assortment of vegetables — so my vegan order was not the giant pile of food most Chipotle consumers are looking for. It consisted of rice, sofritas (which I had always wanted to try, and which was actually pretty good), mild salsa and guacamole (which I never get, but my bowl looked so empty that I felt forced to pay the extra money). Definitely not worth it.

Friday

I made the fantastic (and late-to-the-game) discovery that Manndible offers Curry Bar Fridays, so I was quick to try their tofu curry sans yogurt dressing. Curry is easily my favorite food, and it was pretty good for a quick lunch.

My friend had been bugging me about getting Italian food for days, so that night we went to Ciao. I’m declaring it right now: Ciao is the best non-vegan restaurant for vegans. Ciao isn’t known for its vegan dishes, but it has a separate vegan menu that you can ask for upon being seated. I got the eggplant manicotti with vegan cheese, and it was so good that I panicked for a minute thinking they had made a mistake and it wasn’t actually vegan. But it was vegan, it was just really good. I realized that up until this point, I had been associating vegan food with bad food, and that doesn’t have to be the case.

Saturday

I got lunch at Plum Tree, and once again fell in love with vegan food. I ordered their tofu teriyaki lunch box, which is maybe the best deal in all of Collegetown. It costs $8.95 and comes with the tofu teriyaki (which I dreamt about for weeks after), vegetarian sushi (I had never had sushi before — update: it’s really good), rice, dumplings, salad and edamame. Plum Tree is now my favorite lunch spot in Collegetown, vegan or otherwise.

My cousin was in town that weekend, so I took him to Moosewood. When I told him I was taking him to an all-vegetarian restaurant, he was extremely apprehensive — and so was I, to be honest. But I knew that I couldn’t write this article without going to Ithaca’s nationally-renowned vegetarian restaurant.

The menu was really small and featured daily specials. I ordered two small plates: tofu wings and a hummus plate. I honestly didn’t expect to be blown away, but I was. Once again, I completely forgot that what I was eating was vegan, despite my general anger toward anything meatless marketing itself as a “wing.” They were almost (not quite) better than real chicken wings. I also ordered the first dessert of my vegan experience: vegan chocolate cake. It was a little denser than regular chocolate cake, but I had been missing chocolate so much that I didn’t care.

Sunday

By this point, I felt confident enough in my vegan abilities to do hungover brunch. I went to Northstar, which is one of my favorite brunch places, expecting them to have at least a few vegan options. However, their menu was pretty bare in vegan options. I had the option of a veggie burger or huevos rancheros with tofu scramble instead of eggs. I went with the latter, but almost cried watching my friends eat cheesy grits and bacon. If you can’t successfully have Sunday brunch as a vegan, then I really see no point in it.

Conclusions

This week was a test of will and stamina, but I survived it. I think, overall, being vegetarian is doable. I had quite a few really good tofu dishes, and continued to eat tofu after my vegan week concluded. However, foregoing cheese, milk and eggs is really awful and not something I would wish on my worst enemy.

A few places really succeeded in serving vegan food: Ciao and Moosewood were by far the best restaurants I went to. You’ll forget that you aren’t eating meat and dairy. On campus, Trillium salads were still the best, but Synapsis and Manndible had good vegan options as well.

Overall, I saw no real health benefits — or benefits of any kind, other than being able to say I could do it — of going vegan, although granted this experiment only lasted a week. While I can’t personally endorse giving up dairy, I think the moral of the story is to try something new, branch out and believe that you have the willpower (and will only cry once or twice) to give up some of the best categories of the food pyramid.

19 thoughts on “Vegan for a Week

  1. Pingback: The Broadview : Broadway Café Celebrates Vegetarian Awareness Month

  2. Good article. Would have better if some of the reasons for veganism were discussed, which would have provided some the unseen benefits of your experiment.

    Question, would you feel creeped out watching the tomatoes or other plant foods being grown for your consumption as well?

    Point of clarification, it’s not the vegans can’t eat animal products, it’s that we choose not to. Cheese was the hardest for me to give up. It took a few weeks but I slowly weaned myself off. The reasons I gave it up were more important to me than how it tasted for the few moments it is inside my mouth.

    There is good vegan food as well as not so good vegan food (as with any food). Thanks for your article and giving good (vegan) food a fair review.

  3. First paragraph and already an error: “the honey dijon dressing I obsessed over every day was, in fact, vegan.”

    Honey comes from animals, bees, thus it is NOT vegan.

      • Actually there’s a lot of debate about that. Plenty of vegans eat honey! If you think about it, bee pollination is what makes possible most of our locally grown fruits and vegetables. They do it with humans or without ’em.

    • just because it has the word honey in the name doesn’t mean it actually has honey in it. Example: “I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

    • Honey is bee vomit and obviously that is considered an animal ingredient by most vegans, myself included.
      However there is a faux hungry product on the market called bee free. There’s also agave nectar and maple syrup that are good sweetener analogues to honey.

  4. Not really impressed with this article ,besides if I’m ever that way I’ll check out a couple of restaurants. All I felt reading this was whinning and complaining. It’s different for everyone that trys going vegan, but most the time when you don’t have a reason for something your chances at it are already known for failure.

  5. This article is so relatable. I don’t eat dairy so it’s great to know where I can get really good nondairy food. Well done, Olivia!

  6. you make a lot of good points, very interesting to see how difficult it is for vegans to order food from restaurants. but props to cornell for having so many vegan friendly eateries!

  7. Honestly I thought this was satire since it was so dramatic. Also if meeting the animal that is about to be killed so you can eat it creeps you out, why don’t you just stop eating meat in total?

  8. Being vegan (or any dietary restriction) can be tough on a college campus. Thanks for providing ideas for yummy/cheap vegan options around here. I’ll definitely be checking out the Plum Tree lunch!

  9. You don’t need to consider morals. You could instead consider ethics and science. Consuming meat contributes enormously to the average person’s carbon footprint, even if that meat is locally sourced, sometimes especially if that meat is locally sourced. Among other things, meat production produces tons of methane, which is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO or CO2. Even reducing your meat and dairy consumption is beneficial.

    We’re lucky, too, to be living in an era with great availability of ingredients, and an era when food science and various traditional methodologies make savory and cheesy substitutes easy to get and very tasty.

    Eating vegan will not make you a better or healthier person. There’s a ton of vegan food that’s filled with sugar, fat, and salt. There are extremely unhealthy vegans out there. It is better for the planet, though, and it’s better for the animals that would otherwise be slaughtered.

  10. I’m sick and tired of vegans who only read what they want to read. This article was not about morals and ethics, it was about someone trying something new. In fact, it sounded like she learned something new. Imagine that, learning something new by trying something new.

  11. Thanks for the article.

    Do yourself (and all life on Earth) a big favour and see the Earthlings documentary http://www.nationearth.com/earthlings-1/

    Too often the actual original motivation behind adopting a vegan lifestyle (not just a plant-based diet) are completely ignored, and so these days most people don’t “get it”.

    Earthlings will help you understand.

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