The Yes Woman: Vegan for a week and hungry the entire time
If you remove meat and animal derivatives from my diet, I’m in trouble. I don’t know any other foods. Does salt count?
‘I spent an evening with friends. They ordered pepperoni pizza. The aroma made me homicidal.’ Photograph: Thinkstock
I don’t wish to sound judgmental, but I’m afraid of people who don’t eat meat. Vegetarians are frightening enough, but at least they have cheese. They can go into a deli or supermarket at lunchtime and find themselves something to eat without overwhelming difficulty.
Vegans are another story. Their lifestyle is so utterly restrictive that I presume they must have a level of personal discipline that makes them dour. When I think of vegans, I (in a spirit of true bigotry) imagine acerbically opinionated people in hemp sandals, pontificating at you as you place your fingers to your temple while cynically sipping on a latte. The kind of people who, as my mother has been known to say, would give your arse a headache.
Now, I can cobble together a modicum of respect for vegans who do it for moral reasons. They certainly exhibit greater fortitude than I can muster. And I won’t even mind too much if you’re vegan because you broke your jaw in an horrific accident so that you can only drink liquidised spinach from a straw. Truly, I won’t mind that. But if you’ve gone vegan for mere reasons of trendiness, or to lose weight, you are mad.
Veganism requires much forward planning and an irritating level of sacrifice. Without strong moral conviction, you just won’t be bothered to maintain a balanced diet. So veganism for weight loss is basically just starvation. It’s understandable, though: that hungry-chic look is so appealing. Don’t we all want to look just like we’ve wandered out of a gulag? “Ooh, I can see all your vertebrae.” Sexy.
Frankly, if you remove meat and animal derivatives from my diet, I’m in trouble. I don’t know any other foods. Does salt count?
To prevent a quick and ugly death, I enlisted the help of the team at The Happy Pear, Wicklow’s healthy-eating Mecca. With access to their Happy Heart Course recipes – a strict vegan regime designed to reduce cholesterol by 20 per cent in four weeks – I was equipped for my week as a vegan.
Because the course is designed to lower cholesterol and improve heart health, it is rather limited, so ingredients like avocado, oils of any kind, and sugar were off the menu. In the Irish tradition, I did not enter this experiment with an open mind. I entered it with a half-defeated air of devastation and presumed that I’d find the experience horrifying.
I consider meat to be the hero of any dish. I could go further and say that I consider meat to be the point of the dish. Without meat, dairy and other delicious things to flavour food, you have to work incredibly hard and use a lot of ingredients to force flavour into something. Without real effort and knowledge, the result is often an unappetising mush that is vaguely reminiscent of something that has already been eaten. And digested.
Going about my everyday routine was incredibly challenging. On the days when I knew I would be out of the house for 12 or more hours, I had to pack all of my meals and snacks before leaving in the morning. I had to carry fresh herbs around in my pocket as a garnish – without them, everything tasted boring, or even unpleasant.
Buying any pre-made food anywhere involved so many questions that it became tedious and wasn’t worth the effort. I don’t drink alcohol, but, if I did, the manufacturing process of most beers and spirits would prohibit my having those too. A simple cup of tea was an ordeal. Vegans are entitled to be a little self-righteous; the patience and sacrifice they exhibit are almost saintly.
I’m reliably informed by vegans that the pervasive, gnawing hunger you feel at every waking moment subsides a few weeks after making the switch. I was hungry for the entire week, regardless of how much I ate and, predictably, I did lose weight.
Veganism is an entirely feasible option for someone with a heart condition who wants to maintain health. It’s a sensible option for people whose conscience dictates they can’t eat meat or animal derivatives. On a practical level, however, the commitment needed is extreme. A true vegan can’t wear leather and can’t wear make-up. A true vegan can’t do much, really, or has to find clever ways around everyday obstacles, which is noble.
Now I’m going for a steak.
The Yes Woman says yes to . . . improved heart health and being nice to mammals, but no to . . .a life without ice cream