As the girlfriend of a typical red-meat loving Canadian man who does manly things like wear plaid shirts, drink scotch, chop wood, build things and play hockey, forgoing animal protein on my plate is usually met with concern. Not just by Matt, but by the majority of my family and friends. Where’s the protein? Are you really going to turn your nose up at a juicy steak or hamburger? Do you want chicken instead?
Even in this day and age, veganism still sits outside of what our North American culture considers to be normal and acceptable—well, outside of Los Angeles, anyway. Although you can easily meet your daily protein requirements on a plant-based diet and can get almost all the vitamins and nutrients you need from vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and legumes, people who don’t eat animal products are still perceived as weird, judgmental, hippy elitists. And sure, some of them still are. But not everyone who chooses a plant-based diet is weird hippy who’s judging you for eating meat. Some of us just don’t feel good about eating animals, especially if we’re highly sensitive and empathetic animal-lovers. Some of us have hereditarily high cholesterol and therefore benefit from a diet free of animal products. Some of us might be allergic to eggs and dairy, or have a hard time digesting animal protein. And some of us feel terrible for what we’re doing to the planet by eating meat.
I fall into the category of all of the above (minus the weird judgmental elitist – I guess I’m kind of a default hippy, being from the Pacific Northwest and all). I already avoid dairy because I’m lactose intolerant, and stopped eating beef, pork and lamb about a year ago because A) I don’t like it, and B) I’ve always had a hard time eating flesh from four-legged animals (cows, pigs and sheep remind me of dogs). I’ve considered going vegan for years, but never went through with it because I didn’t want to be “that” person. I didn’t want to be a bother at family dinners, and I didn’t want others to think I was being pretentious and difficult. I also didn’t want to cause concern for my manly plaid-wearing boyfriend.
But after a year of soul-searching that proceeded my 30th birthday last year, I decided it was time to live more in line with my values and to stop caring about what others think. Instead of announcing it to the world, I decided to see if I could go vegan without telling anybody—to be covert about how I ordered food, to cook plant-based without explanation, to avoid using the V word whenever possible. I decided to stop eating animal products on January 1st of this year for at least an entire month, and wanted to see how long it would take my family to find out. Here’s how it went down.
Matt and I planned to go out for Vietnamese, but our favorite restaurant (where they serve pho with miso broth) was closed for the holidays. We went to another place and everything has fish sauce in it, so I opted to slip up on day two of veganism instead of making a fuss. After dinner, we went to Starbucks and they messed up my order, giving me milk in my London fog instead of soy. I tossed it after one sip, but still had to admit defeat that day. North American Diet – 1, Bri – 0.
The rest of the week went fine. I ate my normal breakfast of oatmeal and berries, cooked up a big batch of vegan curry for lunches and made tofu stir-fry, tempeh and rice and other veggie-based meals for dinner (with chicken or beef instead of tofu for Matt). Since I’m the first one home from work, I was able to prepare the meals without having to explain my choice of choosing tofu over chicken. When he raised an eyebrow at our different-looking dinner plates, I said I just felt like having tofu.
I was confronted about my new diet behavior by the end of week one. “You haven’t eaten meat all week,” he said.
“Yup, and I feel great. I’m eating like an athlete – I want to be in as good as shape as possible for my marathon next month, so I’m cutting out anything that might be inflammatory or upsetting to my stomach,” I said.
Which is true. It wasn’t the only reason why I wasn’t eating meat, but it was all true.
This was a difficult week. Not only did I have a family dinner, but also several dinners out to eat for my birthday. Going out to eat wasn’t too much of a hassle—although I received some concerning looks from my family when I told the server to “hold the chicken” on my chicken salad, no one questioned it. Since I already avoid dairy, my mom got me a chocolate vegan cake for my birthday, which I pretty much ate all to myself (score!).
The real test was at Sunday dinner, where the host, a meat-loving family friend, asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner. In this case, I felt like I had to explain myself a bit, but I still managed to avoid using the V word. I asked for spaghetti with vegetarian pasta sauce, a meal he’s prepared before for me while making a separate meat sauce for everyone else since I’ve been beef-free for a year. Dessert was a dairy-free nanaimo bar—there could have been some egg in there, but I felt like I would have been pushing it at that point if I requested a special birthday cake.
Plant-based home-cooked meals continued as normal, with Matt announcing to several people on a few occasions that I wasn’t eating meat. Not in a mean way or in an overall supportive way, but in a matter-of-fact way. I met concerned looks with my usual response: “I’m training for a marathon and am eating like an athlete!” They seemed satisfied with that.
I feel way less bloated after meals and my skin has gotten much clearer. My recovery time between workouts and runs are noticeably shorter. I don’t miss eggs as much as I thought I would have, and I haven’t had a problem meeting my daily nutrient requirements for the day. I started taking a B12 supplement, however, just in case.
Matt hasn’t brought up my meatless diet this week, and seems fine to sit by my side and eat with different protein sources on our plates.
To veganism and beyond
Going vegan without “going vegan” wasn’t as challenging as I thought it was going to be. There were a few slip-ups, but that’s to be expected when you secretly go vegan for a month. I suppose it also helps that I live on an incense-burning, dreadlock-donning, local-food-loving island in the Pacific, so I had plenty of plant-based options available to me.
My hope from this “experiment” was to show everyone eating completely plant-based is not a weird or difficult thing to do; that I’m still the same Bri without eating animal products, only now I’m more in line with my values and feel better because of it.
So will I continue to eat completely plant-based? You bet. At this point, I don’t think I can eat animal flesh again unless my body requires it. I just don’t feel I can support a process that treats animals in this way just because we like the taste of meat and think we need to have it all the time. As my hero Jane Goodall says, “animals are put in terrible conditions to feed our appetites. [Factory farming] demonstrates not only the suffering of animals (remember, pigs are every bit as intelligent as dogs and all the pictured creatures can suffer, know fear, depression and pain), but also the harm we are inflicting on ourselves” in the form of obesity and other diet-related diseases.
Although I won’t be eating meat or dairy, I have added eggs back into my diet on weekends as I’m in a muscle building phase right now and they’re a convenient source of protein. Also, we can buy our eggs from happy hens from our neighbours down the road, which I feel good about.
As for convincing my manly, scotch-drinking boyfriend of the benefits of a plant-based diet…. well, let’s just say I hope to live by example, one tofu stir-fry and Jane Goodall quote at a time.