At this point, I have completed one month of vegan eating (with the exception of the time I accidentally ordered a salad topped with cheese, and the time I mindlessly munched through half a bag of popcorn before remembering it had butter on it). It's been a worthwhile experience and a way of eating/living that I would like to continue, in large part because it feels like a contribution that I, as one person, can make towards sustainability.
Ten things I learned during my 30 day vegan challenge:
1) It's easier then ever to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Twelve years ago I became a vegetarian, and people thought I was crazy - even though I still consumed dairy products and eggs. They looked at my baked tofu as though they'd never seen such an oddity. Soy milk was only just starting to be offered as a milk substitute at coffee shops and restaurants. But now, vegetarianism is pretty mainstream, and it seems as though veganism is following suit. With the huge array of grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and veggies offered by even the cheaper grocery stores, crafting a healthy and varied diet is pretty straightforward.
2) You might need to try a range of milk alternatives before you find one you like. I love almond milk, but other people think it's too thick. Rice milk is thinner but sweet. Soy milk is ubiquitous but - for my taste - a little grainy. Coconut milk is still a new one for me, and I've had it only a couple of times. The point is - there are options, and they're widely available.
Same goes for ice cream made with said milk alternatives!
3) Dark chocolate: vegan! Coffee: vegan! Red wine: vegan! One reason this challenge was doable was that I didn't have to give up all of my vices.
4) Flaxseed makes a great egg substitute. 1 egg = 1 tbsp ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water. And flaxseed contains much-lauded omega fatty acids.
5) Things that taste amazing when you're craving something rich and umami, but cheese isn't an option: avocados (especially with a little lime juice and salt). Hummus. Stir fry made with sesame oil, nuts, and tempeh.
6) Rice and dry beans are relatively inexpensive. For a grad student, this is a big win. Quinoa is a little more expensive, but now that more stores sell it, prices seem to have dropped.
7) Fresh fruits and veggies are really good at standing on their own or with only a few additional ingredients. That means cooking vegan is easy. For instance: Brussels sprouts, beets, or carrots lightly coated in olive oil and salt and pepper, then roasted. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and avocado chopped up and mixed with a little olive oil, salt, and dill. Baked sweet potato topped with roasted garlic and steamed greens.
8) Vitamin-fortified cereals are a good way to top off daily recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals (especially iron and vitamin B-12).
9) Chia seeds may be a wonder food, but my Magic Bullet doesn't do a very good job of incorporating them into smoothies.
10) With a little planning and preparation, it's possible to be vegan and gluten-free without feeling deprived. If anything, these dietary changes have made me a more adventurous eater and a more confident cook.