I’ve emerged from my first semester of grad school to get into the holiday spirit with y’all! One of my favorite things to do around this time is bake. Who doesn’t love some freshly baked goodies?! But every holiday season I dive into the festivities and my diet gets adjusted, which is something I feel is important to share.
Before we talk about my holiday food choices, we first need to talk about how I ended up vegan six years ago. So let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start I’m told. When I was nine, my family and I collectively made the decision to become vegetarians. We did this for a number of reasons, but pesticides and growth hormones in meat products were our greatest concern. At the time, I didn’t really care about the nutrition. I was just really excited to have this new identity as a vegetarian. Cut to a week later, I was crying at the pool because I couldn’t have a hotdog.
I eventually got over the loss of hotdogs and quickly made a discovery regarding my health. For years, I had suffered from crippling stomach aches. I routinely had to stay in bed in the mornings and sometimes had to come home from school. A month after becoming vegetarian, I found myself telling my physician that the pain had stopped. That was how we discovered that my body couldn’t process meat very well. Good ‘ol trial and error.
In addition to an inability to properly digest meat, I have an allergy to cow’s milk. (I’ve confused many doctors with this one – no one can say I don’t keep things interesting!) Given these two restrictions, I found myself inching closer and closer to veganism and in the summer between high school and college, I decided it was time to take the plunge.
The primary impetus for this decision was that I wanted to be more environmentally friendly. Diet plays a huge role in our daily lives and as a result, greatly affects our carbon footprints. The amount of energy and resources required to produce certain food items varies tremendously and plant-based items tend to require far less energy. Now it’s important to note that not all vegan diets are the same. It’s crucial to buy locally and organically and avoid overly processed foods in order to really form a more healthy and sustainable diet. (If you would like to read more about what constitutes a healthy plant-based diet, Harvard has a helpful, evidence-driven article, which you can read here.) So to sum up the why, I became vegetarian for my health, I became vegan for the environment.
Now that we’re at the point of my having become vegan, let’s talk about life as a vegan.
One of the primary misconceptions about a vegan diet is that it is ridiculously expensive. For the most part, veganism is on par with the price tag of other diets or even cheaper, given that I don’t pay for meat, poultry, or dairy. And contrary to popular belief, I don’t have to shop at health-food stores like Whole Foods. I can easily find what I need at Kroger or Publix as my grocery cart is typically mostly filled with fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, and whole grains – not super-special vegan food items. The only “replacement” foods I buy, which are foods that imitate non-vegan foods are vegan cheese and alternative milk/creamer, which are also usually available at Kroger and Publix. So as much as I love the wide array of vegan-friendly items at more expensive grocery stores like Whole Foods, I don’t have to shop there to get what I need.
What I Eat
Another misconception about veganism is that vegan food is bland and generally uninteresting. Vegans are some of the most inventive cooks I know and I personally enjoy discovering how plant-based ingredients can be transformed into amazing delicacies. And what’s even better is that as veganism becomes increasingly popular, restaurants are incorporating really interesting and delicious vegan dishes into their menus. I recently had an AMAZING, 100% vegan Thanksgiving dinner at Räv, in St Andrews, Scotland (where I go to school).
What Makes Me a Bad Vegan
There’s a reason why I’m an imperfect vegan. There are some compromises that I have made in my journey with veganism. The first was to return to vegetarianism around Christmas. I did this so that I wouldn’t further contribute to the stress of cooking for the holidays. Plus, there’s the added perk of being able to partake in some of my favorite traditional non-vegan holiday foods. We’re inching towards a more vegan-friendly Christmas menu as more and more plant-based recipes get added to our repertoire. My flexibility has just meant that we got to make that transition more organically and with less stress.
The second compromise is that, as of February of 2020, I eat eggs if I know that they are local, free-range, cage-free, humane-certified eggs. I decided to eat eggs because of a nutritionist I saw in 2017. She took a thorough look at my diet and said the only thing she wished I ate was eggs. That feedback stuck with me when I started thinking about making some dietary adjustments. Adding eggs back into my diet seemed logical for a number of reasons. Eggs are a natural source of B12 (the only vitamin I can’t get naturally from a vegan diet) as well as an easy source for many other important nutrients. I can get these nutrients from other vegan sources, but in addition to looking to shore up my nutrient intake, I was also looking to mix things up a bit. So I decided that reintroducing eggs would help me get all the nutrients I need and allow me to explore some new foods. I want to be very clear that it is absolutely possible to be healthy and get all your required nutrients through a vegan diet – I did it for years. I was just ready for a bit of a change.
I would consider myself to be 80% vegan. It’s been difficult to accept the fact that I’m not fully abiding by the guidelines of veganism and it’s very possible that I may take eggs out of my diet again in the future. However, in the meantime, I’m still fulfilling the purpose and intent of being vegan, which is to be healthy, avoid supporting animal cruelty, and maintain a low-carbon diet.
This holiday season, I’m maintaining veganism for as long as I can. Although, to be honest, I did eat a few non-vegan (but very yummy) traditional Christmas cookies that my German friend brought for me to try. (Whoops.) But apart from that side trip, I’m hoping to make the holiday season more vegan than ever this year. I’ve found some pretty amazing vegan cookie recipes as well as vegan cinnamon buns, which I’m definitely bringing to the Christmas breakfast table (see below). (I would like to note that this is not how I eat on a regular basis! It’s all for the holidays and then back to healthy foods we go.)
Making my diet more flexible has made it easier to sustain a low-carbon diet for the long-term. I’ve learned that if we can place greater emphasis on the intent of plant-based diets as opposed to the definition, a healthy plant-based diet will be much more attainable and welcoming. Why is this important? Well, making plant-based diets approachable means more people will feel comfortable making low-carbon food choices, which is vital to the mitigation of climate change.
And with that, I wish you all happy holidays and a joyous New Year!