Thanks to everyone who participated in the Vegucated giveaway contest! The winners were lucky commenters #7 and 8, which were chosen at random, funnily enough. I hope Melanie and Ashley enjoy Vegucated as much as I did and share their newfound knowledge with many others.
I also so much appreciated everyone’s comments. I considered responding to a few individually, but decided to hold off and address a multitude of your thoughts, stories and concerns in this post.
I would first like to say that in reading many of the comments, I recognized so many of my own thoughts when I was first considering a vegan diet — words like “scary,” “life changing” and “restrictive” floated around in my head on a constant basis. For awhile it was all I thought about. I would jealously ogle meat-eating restaurant patrons as I gazed into crowded restaurant dining rooms, street after street. I imagined I would never get to be “one of them” again. I watched Top Chef on repeat just to get it “out of my system” (or is that just because Bravo happened to always run Top Chef marathons when there was never anything else on?) I passed the cheese section at Whole Foods for weeks on end, guiltily taking whiffs of the delicious Parmesano-Reggiano air. If I told people I was going vegan, there was no turning back, I thought. I would get called out for simply being found in the cheese section, let alone eating the stuff. I would be crucified if one night I “slipped” and caved to my seemingly endless sushi cravings. If I go vegan, I thought, it’s all or nothing.
So when I finally did “go vegan,” I did something I never thought to do the countless times I’d considered a vegetarian/vegan diet before. I didn’t tell anyone. Sure, I might have made some passing comments to the effect of “I’m eating less meat these days.” And I maybe told my husband there wouldn’t be many more chicken taco nights for awhile (to his dismay). But essentially, I didn’t make a grand announcement. I didn’t even fully admit to myself that this was what I was doing. I just slowly stepped into it — an innocent flirtation that turned into a monogamous, long-time affair. That way, I didn’t have to come to terms with giving up so many things I loved in one fell swoop. Because I wasn’t. If I want fish, I’ll eat it, I told myself. If I get sick of tofu, I’ll go back to ordering chicken. For those first few months, occasionally I did. And as I lived that way for awhile — not telling anyone what I was doing, not really fully committing 100% — I continued to educate myself. I did that for a number of months — well past my honeymoon, even, where I did eat cheese and fish. Then one day, months later, I found I didn’t want cheese anymore. I didn’t want fish. Maybe I was realizing how much better I felt. Maybe I had “educated” myself enough to fully dissuade myself from ever wanting to eat another animal again. Maybe my taste buds had just forgotten what meat and cheese tasted like. But whatever the reason, one day it just kinda clicked. Since then, I haven’t looked back (aside from eating one mussel recently because I was ravenous, which my husband was quick to call me out on. This, of course, confirmed all of my previous fears that once you go vegan, you have to be perfect in public or you’ll hear about it).
Anyways, the moral of the story is that if you see any of yourself in my abbreviated story, rest assured that you are not alone. Through my own experience, I’ve become convinced that the absolute worst way to make any diet change is to do it overnight (unless, of course, there are dire health concerns at stake — then you should probably get working on that diet overhaul ASAP).
I know that different approaches may work for different people. I am only one story. But if I could pass on anything from my own experience, it would be the understanding that no one is grading you except yourself. You may get criticism from people on either side of the food spectrum, but ultimately, your own voice should matter most.
Start slowly, within your comfort zone. Maybe that means not eating meat for one day a week; maybe it means only eating meat once a week. And while you’re in that comfort zone, explore some things that don’t fall squarely within it. Educate yourself. Try new cuisines. Treat yourself to some new cookbooks. Make it a goal to eat at a new veg-friendly restaurant once a week. Don’t beat yourself up if you eat something “off limits.” Enjoy the process and think about this as expanding your food horizons rather than limiting them. I would have never discovered half of my favorite dishes and restaurants today had I not been forced to by virtue of not being able to eat half the things I ate before.
In short, if you’re considering going vegan, don’t sweat out the idea of making a drastic overnight change. Slowly incorporate new items into your diet, become more conscious of your food in general. Learn about the why of veganism, not just the how. Maybe one day you’ll forgo meat (and eggs and dairy) eventually, but don’t become obsessed with the end game. Enjoy the process. I certainly did.
Red Lentil Dahl:
I love Dahl (Indian lentils). This is a thicker, heartier version with a nice color thanks to the addition of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. Serve with brown rice and an Indian-spiced vegetable side for a full and satisfying meal. I like my Dahl mildly spiced, but if you wish you may add turmeric or play around with more cayenne for additional heat.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, freshly minced
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups red lentils
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 cups water
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
cilantro, for garnish
1. In a large skillet or Dutch Oven, heat the onion, garlic, ginger and mustard seeds in oil. Cook over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent and the seeds begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste. Add lentils and allow then to be coated with the onions, tomato paste and oil, stirring until combined. Add water and chopped tomatoes. Bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer, covered, for about 10 minuted.
3. Add remaining ingredients. Do not boil but return to a simmer and simmer on low, covered, for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may add additional water to thin out if dahl becomes to thick. Additional cooking may be required if lentils are not fully cooked. Serve warm, over rice or by itself, topped with fresh cilantro to taste.