I decided to become vegan for lent this year as a way to think more intentionally about the environmental impact of my food, to sacrifice something I love, and most of all, to understand what it is like for people with allergies and dietary restrictions. I may need to give up complaining for lent next year, because it was a loooong forty days. Suffering in silence is not exactly my spiritual gift.
I found that cooking vegan food wasn't nearly as difficult as I expected it to be. When I was cooking at home, I found lots of meals that I genuinely enjoyed.
For breakfast, I'd already been making overnight oats, and I found that I liked the vegan version (soy yogurt and almond milk) better than the dairy version. I also often made avocado toast and toast with almond butter, bananas and cinnamon. Toast isn't quite as filling as I need for breakfast, so I also make homemade trail mix with crasins and various kinds of nuts.
I eat lunch at the school's refectory during the week, and Columbia does a great job of having a vegan option every day. I learned how to carefully read food labels to see what I was actually eating. For the most part, I was happy with my option, although there were some days when I basically ate rice and salad. It was hard to watch everyone else eating the better food. It made me learn the important of an "equally attractive vegan or gluten-free option." It's not enough to just have something for vegans or those who are gluten free, it also needs to be of the same quality that the rest of the meal is.
Eating in groups was harder than I expected. Weekly potluck dinners were terrible for me, usually meaning I could only eat what I brought (and a meal of rice and chips and guac is not exactly healthy eating). Although I understood why people brought the food items they did, it was frustrating to feel forgotten or, at worst, unwelcome.
I didn't get into the habit of making vegan alternatives, such as cashew cream or vegan cheese, mostly because it's pretty difficult to cook those for only one person. Vegan eating means lots of prep, lots of planning, and lots of dirty dishes. In a tiny kitchen, it's just not worth it.
By far, the most difficult part was eating out. I travelled twice during lent and gave up my vegan ways both times. I was frustrated to go to restaurants and have nothing I wanted to eat. There are plenty of good vegan restaurants, but it requires intentional planning and budgeting.
I learned so much over the forty days of lent and have a deepened respect and understand for my friends with food allergies or restrictions. I was on a short-term experiment that I could end at any time. It doesn't compare in any way to the way that so many people have to revolve their lives around their food.
Food is holy- there's a reason we gather around bread and wine each week. The way we nourish our bodies is holy work and I'm grateful for a season of learning how to do so in a new way. I won't lie though- I'm even more grateful to be able to eat Ben and Jerry's again!