As a vegetarian of two years, I’ve always thrown around the idea of being vegan. Veganism, or the elimination of all animal products, including eggs and dairy, from one’s diet and lifestyle, isn’t exactly a familiar concept in small town Iowa. Living in a largely agricultural state, most people wouldn’t know how to live their lives without animal products.
I figured it wouldn’t be so dramatic of a change from what I was used to. Despite growing up in a meat-and-potatoes, Midwestern family, after two years I didn’t find myself craving steak or hamburgers anymore. I’d pretty much convinced myself that I hated the taste of meat. How hard could giving up milk and eggs be? I’d heard more than enough obese people telling me how unhealthy it is to be a vegetarian and I thought I could take a few more calling me crazy for cutting out milk and eggs.
Like many new, bright-eyed vegetarians, I was also aware of the negative impact of dairy farms and egg production facilities. I’d seen the inevitable pictures of sickly-looking cows in tiny stalls and chickens crammed into cages with their beaks burned off. I knew that this wasn’t true of all facilities, but I was still concerned enough to consider getting used to the taste of soy milk in my morning coffee and drowning my next failed relationship in Tofutti ice cream.
So, for a week, I went without any animal products whatsoever. I told my friend about this the Sunday before and he replied with the inevitable, “What are you going to eat? Salads?”
I’d heard this question constantly when I first started being vegetarian. So, being the stubborn individual I am, I decided to abstain from the haphazard combination of vegetables thrown into a bowl and explore other avenues.
What those avenues would be, I didn’t know. Being the reluctant dorm-dweller that I am, I was mostly confined to a meal plan. Despite the scary list of hidden animal ingredients that I’d found on several vegan websites, I decided to not hound the cooks about whether or not there may be hidden ingredients in the ketchup or have slight panic attacks about whether or not orange juice was vegan (yes, that did happen). So, I decided to abstain from more obvious ingredients and just focus on leaving out dairy and eggs. So, I was basically confined to veggie sandwiches and pasta with meatless marinara sauce and sautÃ©ed vegetables.
One can’t subsist on these things alone, however. I had to take drastic measures.
On Wednesday night, I eyed a suspicious looking veggie dog on the line at one of the venues at the dining center. It looked harmless enough, but I’d never had the nerve to try one. The words “veggie dog” sort of turned me off. But I was starving and I would probably cry if I had to eat another veggie sub with no cheese or my beloved ranch dressing. So I warily took a bite, only to realize it tasted no different from the hot dogs that I hadn’t eaten for two years. Maybe I’d just forgotten what they’d tasted like, but I could honestly tell no difference, and I was grateful for the change.
Later that week, I was missing dessert. Obviously, most desserts are made with milk, butter, and eggs. I was wandering aimlessly around a c-store reading labels and despairing over my lack of junk food when I came upon what I would be hopelessly addicted to for the rest of the week:
Apparently, a lesser-known company makes an organic, chocolate and vanilla bean, vegan version of Oreos. They were basically a healthier version of a snack cookie, being made from whole grains and green tea, and I was craving sugar. Again, I was surprised at how a seemingly off-limits, slightly wackadoo vegan item could be satisfying.
By the end of my week, I was glad to be able to eat cheese pizza again and rejoiced in the fact that I didn’t touch a salad the whole week. I found that being a vegan in a non-vegan state is challenging, but not entirely impossible. However, it wasn’t as devastating as most people I had told had thought it would be. I did miss a lot of dairy and egg items, and the lifestyle was an adjustment, even for a vegetarian.
However, I certainly couldn’t have made the switch permanently unless I had unlimited resources and cooked for myself instead of relying on college dining services. Still, being the most unhealthy vegetarian ever, I would be downing spoonfuls of peanut butter at 1 a.m. anyway.