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I’ve never been one for labels. I think they give us what I like to term “health anxiety” but we love labels in our culture. For whatever reason, we need to define ourselves. My diet is mostly plant-based, free of meat along with most fish and dairy. I cook mostly vegan at home but when I go out to a restaurant or a friend’s house, I’m less strict.
I can’t really stomach meat anymore because I haven’t had it in years but I will enjoy cheese and eggs from time to time. A vegetarian diet isn’t really that difficult when you start to understand all the wonderful foods that you can have, but in my native state of South Carolina, a vegan diet is hard to put it mildly. There aren’t any vegan restaurants so if you want to go out to eat you end up with a salad free of dressing or hummus and veggies where ever you go.
But even with the challenges that a vegan faces, more and more of us are giving it a try–7.3 million Americans are considered vegetarian and 1 million are considered vegan, according to Vegetarian Times. It’s unclear how many have tried and failed to maintain a vegan diet though the pressures are real and present.
When Nobody Makes the Effort
Unsympathetic friends and family make it so much harder. I can’t say this has been the case with me. In fact, when I gave up meat five years ago it was so much easier than I ever thought possible. My husband eventually gave it up too and then cycled back to eating it once and a while when we went out to dinner. My brother made fun of me slightly, but for the most part, was intrigued by the move. But for many, unsupportive friends and family make no effort to understand the choice.
The Dairy Addiction
Giving up dairy proved a lot harder for me because eating out socially became downright painful. I finally settled with doing the best I can when I go to restaurant and not beating myself up. The New York Times talked about how our taste buds are accustomed to certain tastes especially that of the dairy we have starting at birth.
The “intrinsic attributes of dairy foods come from proteins and fat.” This I can understand. Cheese and ice cream taste good and their soy counterparts just don’t taste the same.
“Usually dairy products made with milk fat are softer and present a very pleasant viscosity and texture,” Daniel Granato, a researcher at the Federal University of Paraná, Brazil said. “Consumers do feel the difference between milk-based and soy-based products. And once their first reference is milk-based products, they tend to reject plant-based products made with oat and soy or other vegetable-based food.”
The Cost of Veganism
And still others in the article said that going vegan was more expensive.
“I really enjoy eating the way I do,” Megan Salisbury, 33, a social work student in Phoenix said. “But even a box of Gardenburgers is $4 — which doesn’t seem expensive, but when you compare it to the meat counterparts, it’s so much more.”
To be honest I’ve found a plant-based diet to be cheaper than a meat-based diet. Legumes, tofu, and tempeh are just less expensive than high quality steak, chicken, and fish. While produce is expensive, I ate a lot of it before I was a vegetarian anyway. If you choose processed foods, whether they be vegetarian or not, you’re going to spend more money than on a whole foods diet.
But whether you go vegan, vegetarian, or just plant-based, realizing that meat, dairy, and fish should be only a tiny portion of your diet is what’s really important.