The Crush Team Goes Vegan for a Week – Eeek!
Being that Crush is a food-focused publication, everyone who works at HQ is a food lover. It’s kind of a prerequisite. We cook a lot, we eat a lot, we’re constantly talking about food – it goes without saying that our lives are very food-centric. We’ve chatted a lot lately about alternative diets and lifestyles and it prompted us to look a little closer at how other people consume.
The vegan lifestyle is one that popped up over and over again and it is probably one of the most contentious. It’s a silly stereotype, but many people do automatically think ‘vegan = flighty hippy’. We felt that the only way we could be objectively talk about the lifestyle would be to actually go vegan for a week and then give our thoughts. Firstly we researched a bit more about why people choose this lifestyle, and then 3 team members and their partners (who had no choice in the matter) embarked on a week of vegan eating, and the results were really interesting.
Matt: Owner of Crush, has never dieted nor eaten any kind of alternative way a day in his life. A dietary rookie shall we say? Loves milky tea, a burger for lunch and is a big fan of cheese.
Annie: Matt’s better half. Art Director, busy mom of two little ones, big fan of lattes and creamy risottos.
Julie: Crush’s Editor. Usually veers away from carbs in favour of protein (read: steak). Loves to bake sweet treats and is scared of beans. Is a sucker for rich French food.
Tony: Julie’s husband. A big guy who enjoys a good peri-peri chicken, washed down with a craft beer. Exercises 5 days a week. Can be found trail running on Lion’s Head at the weekend.
Jess: Copywriter at Crush and trained chef. Starts every day with yoga and a smoothie. Has a questionable love affair with butter. Is committed to the cause of ethical meat.
Ash: Jess’s fiancée. Chef, opening a new restaurant in Cape Town shortly. Committed to running her kitchen as ethically as possible. Eats only free range meat.
First thoughts on going vegan for a week…
MATT: What’s Annie going to cook?! 🙂 Would my body handle going cold turkey on all the ingredients I thought I would not be able to live without? Why do old vegans with shiny, white hair and smooth skin look so healthy and content?
ANNIE: I was excited. I love trying new things. And since Matt and I were in the middle of a “100daysofhealthy” challenge it seemed fitting.
JULIE: Hmm, I’m really going to miss steak.
TONY: It’s going to be a long hungry week!
JESS: Mostly I was looking forward to it as it’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while but never made time for it. I was also a little nervous – I had no idea what to expect of the week.
ASH: I was really optimistic. I thought it would be a breeze.
What you knew about veganism before the week started…
MATT: Very little except that they didn’t eat meat. Then I found out that there was no dairy product, eggs or fish.
ANNIE: I knew the basics – no meat, no animal products. What I didn’t know was actually HOW and WHAT I was going to eat sans these regular household staples.
JULIE: I have friends who are vegan, and we share offices with a team who are mostly vegan, so I thought I had a good idea. However knowing about it and actually practising it are two very different things.
TONY: Honestly, not much, I thought that they just that they don’t eat meat.
JESS: Quite a bit as I had a number of vegan friends in the UK and have always found the lifestyle to be very interesting.
ASH: A lot more than the average person I would say – as a chef, it’s part of my job to know about different dietary requirements and what they entail.
What has been the most challenging part for you this week?
MATT: In the beginning of the week I had a weird headache that I put down to possibly getting rid of toxins but later found out it could have possibly been dehydration. You need to drink lots of water as those seeds and legumes seem to soak up a lot of fluid. Other more obvious challenges were eating out or meeting for a coffee. It’s very challenging finding places that cater for vegans. Having almond milk in my porridge with no butter, I found it too light, but the nutty flavour was good.
ANNIE: Definitely, without a doubt, not having milk in my coffee. Bring on the lattes.
JULIE: I thought the lack of meat would be the hardest, but actually cooking without dairy and eggs was really challenging.
TONY: Finding something to eat that’s vegan. 36 years of eating animal products means you don’t really think about exploring alternatives.
JESS: Having to stop and think about the entire food item before buying or eating it. Breakfasts were also a challenge, no butter with my jam, no eggs, no cheese. Sad face. I also found that I had to be super organised in terms of meal plans as eating out was quite daunting, because you know you’re not going to be welcome.
ASH: Not having dairy and eggs. I really struggled to adjust for the first few days.
What about the experience was easier than you thought?
MATT: I found it easier than expected to actually enjoy the taste of most of the things I ate.
ANNIE: Breakfasts. The easiest meal to ‘veganise’.
JULIE: Going without meat was easier than anticipated, but conversely going without milky cappuccinos and buttered toast was hard.
TONY: Eating a lot of vegetables was not as bad as I thought.
JESS: Dinners were no problem, basically like meat-free Monday everyday.
ASH: The lack of meat or fish products. I only started to really crave red meat towards the last day.
Did you know 60 billion land animals and 2.74 trillion fish are killed each year for our consumption? Source: Meat Atlas, 2014 & fishcount.org.uk
Has your week of being vegan made you think more about what you are consuming?
MATT: For me, a person who has never followed a diet, I found it taught me to be conscious of what I was eating instead of just spontaneously shovelling what was closest into my mouth.
ANNIE: Yes. As the week went on I felt great physically. Light and clean and healthy, we truly are what we eat.
JULIE: Absolutely. I found I was reading labels and consciously thinking about everything that went in my mouth.
TONY: I think I thought more about finding something vegan to eat as opposed to why I was eating vegan.
JESS: Definitely. We only eat free-range meat so I’m quite used to foregoing meat dishes or meaty options in restaurants and I’ve always thought that many restaurants in Cape Town could increase their vegetarian options, but this week made me realise how few cater to vegans and how difficult that must be.
ASH: I think I was quite aware before but I do feel believe it’s opened my eyes with regards to dairy.
Do you think what you’ve learnt will have lasting effects on how you eat/think about food?
MATT: Yes. I am more conscious of how peoples never-ending need to consume large amounts of meat negatively effects the planet, and how bad the quality of meat most of us eat on a daily basis actually is. You don’t have to have meat or butter with everything – there are delicious alternatives. I felt lighter and healthier, which I would also like to take into my future diet.
ANNIE: Yes. Being forced to create meals just out of veggies and non-animal products makes one think laterally. Some great little culinary lessons have been learnt, which I’m sure will make an appearance in the future.
JULIE: Absolutely, I really want to learn more about plant-based replacements in my diet. I’ve already committed to cooking more meals this way and am really enjoying exploring alternative things to eat.
TONY: Yes, definitely.
JESS: I think so, I felt really good for most of the week and I know that it comes right down to the dairy aspect, having cheese and milk again have not felt that great. I never really feel that great after eating a lot of meat, and am actively going to eat less of it now.
What has surprised you most about your vegan week?
MATT: I lost 2 kgs from either vegan week or stress!
ANNIE: How thirsty I got. And how expensive it is to live a vegan lifestyle.
JULIE: How many clever alternatives there are if you just think and research. Also, how tough of a commitment this really is.
TONY: That I survived.
JESS: How much I love butter.
ASH: Variety. It’s a challenge.
According to the American Dietetic Association, an appropriately planned, plant-based diet may aid in the prevention and treatment of many of the leading causes of death – including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. Source: ADA
What have people’s reactions been when you have told them that you are eating vegan?
MATT: That’s going to be tough. What no milk in your coffee!?
ANNIE: Most people felt sorry for me.
JULIE: Why? Has been the overriding question. What’s the point..? It’s surprising how uneducated people are about what they consume. I reckon most pay more attention to what they put on their hair and skin than what goes in the mouth. A scary thought.
TONY: Surprised and confused, yet they seem curious to know more/try.
JESS: “Oh god. Why?”
ASH: Not great. All my friends are chefs.
Could you be a vegan full time?
MATT: No, but I can be a more selective eater full time though.
ANNIE: NWIH..no way in hell!
JULIE: No I don’t think I could realistically considering that my job is food editor. I love food too much to be that restricted. However, my husband and I are committing to eating more vegan meals in the week where we can and where there are no work commitments.
TONY: No, but I do want to try to allocate time in my week to eating vegan, purely from a health perspective. I felt lighter and healthier during the week.
JESS: Definitely not. Butter and I are in a committed relationship and it’s getting kinda serious. Veggie? Absolutely, but nothing can separate me from my butter.
Best thing you ate?
MATT: Vegan falafels.
ANNIE: Oats with almond milk and peanut butter.
JULIE: The Black Bean Quesadilla’s from Plant were amazing, and vegan samosas that were made just for us with my Dad’s pickled chillies.
TONY: A veggie burger. (Fry’s Chicken Style Burger with avo, lettuce, tomato, pickles and aquafaba Sriracha mayo)
JESS: Ash’s vegan pho, with boosted flavour from good old Marmite.
ASH: Lentil Sloppy Joe’s.
Did you know that a Beef Burger produces nearly 6000 grams of carbon dioxide and equivalents, while a Fry’s Veggie Burger only produces 200 grams? Source: World Preservation Foundation
Ingredient you missed most?
MATT: Cheese, eggs, milk, steak, chicken, cream… I missed them all at different times and ways.
ANNIE: Good ol ‘cows milk.
JULIE: It would probably be cooking with butter, or milk in my coffee; it’s a toss up.
JESS: Erm… butter.
Best discovery/light bulb moment?
MATT: That I could survive on island with only plants and water for a week.
ANNIE: I really liked that you can cook Fry’s Chicken Strips in 8 minutes from frozen – tempting to have some in my freezer for busy days.
JULIE: Aquafaba! Mayo made from the brine in chickpeas – a revelation.
TONY: The vegan choc chip cookies that my wife made.
JESS: It feels great not eating animal products and that relying on meat and animal products felt habitual more than if they were something I really needed.
ASH: That I hated being vegan.
Thing you’ll take away from this experiment?
MATT: Mostly being conscious of what I eat. Also what you put in does really effect how your body feels. We probably have to look at alternative ways of consuming the food we do because of the effects it has on the planet.
ANNIE: I am glad I tried it – I got a small insight into the way vegans live. I really admire what they are doing for the planet.
JULIE: Huge admiration for those who live this lifestyle. More respect for the ingredients I buy. An interest in a plant-based lifestyle.
TONY: A small change does not need to be a big decision but rather a good experience.
JESS: Vegans make amazing, selfless sacrifices every day. Yay for vegans!
ASH: Just awareness I think. It helps when serving vegans at a restaurant.
Any other info on your vegan week that you want to share…
MATTHEW: You do really feel lighter in body and this lightness spills over to being lighter on the environment.
ANNIE: If I had to do it all over again, I would have prepared better. I would have downloaded more recipes and shopped accordingly. Being vegan is not easy, huge respect.
JULIE: I discovered some incredible raw/vegan restaurants in Cape Town that I just loved and will go back to – Plant Café, Scheckters Raw, Ravish and more.
TONY: Absence makes the heart grow fonder – I really missed eating meat and dairy, but I am going to try cut out those things for at least a few days a week. That way, when I do have it, I will really appreciate it.
JESS: Biltong-gate at House of Machines. (Ed’s note: Jess ordered biltong from the bar as a snack for her puppy and inadvertently popped a piece in her mouth before the cut off of the end of vegan week, which was 18h00 the next day. A good example of how easy it is to eat without thinking! It’s ok Jess, we’re not judging. Much.)
ASH: I do think that if my life wasn’t so food-oriented I would have liked to try go vegan for longer as I felt quite ill all week, perhaps my body’s reaction to going ‘cold turkey’? The week also has made me think about what I’m serving in the restaurant and how tough it would be to serve a vegan in the restaurant. I’ve been thinking about what vegan dishes I could make, because I would want to make something hearty that I can be proud to serve to a vegan.
What we found most interesting about this panel experience, was how it seemed that giving up meat was the easiest part of the journey and that all of us found dairy and eggs to be more challenging. While none of us will be converting to veganism, that was not really the point of the exercise – the idea was to learn more about the lifestyle, and that we definitely did. The overriding sentiment from everyone was that the week forced us all to be more aware of what we were consuming, which in itself is a pretty big achievement. We also all discovered interesting substitutes for certain ingredients and were forced to think out the box when cooking and eating out. The general feeling was of better health and a lightness, which makes a lot of sense as a vegan diet does cut out a lot of processed foods, as well as a lot of heavy, rich ingredients such as butter, cream and meat.
Probably the biggest eye-opener was in fact how uneducated the general public are about alternative lifestyles, as well as how judgmental. At the end of the day, as with lots of other things in life, we should not be wasting energy on judging people’s decisions and choices, but should instead embrace different opinions and alternative ways of thinking. Living in a bubble about your personal impact on the environment is also no longer an excuse, there are plenty of things each of us can do to change the way we live. Whether you choose to be a conscious recycler, eat a vegetarian/vegan diet, commit to supporting sustainable businesses, grow your own food, cycle instead of drive, shop ethically, save water or all of these combined, every small change collectively amounts to big, positive results.
Would you try a vegan diet? Why not start off with Meat Free Monday! It is simple and easy – you can find great recipes here to get you started.