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Veganuary Challenge 2019

 
 

JANUARY 17 - 23

Three weeks down, one week (and a day) to go! Traveling this past weekend was quite the food adventure, with some highs and lows and even a negative Yelp review (yeah, I went there). If nothing else, it was a great reminder of the importance of knowledge when it comes to diet. When I’m out of my routine, it’s easier to lose track of my goals each day in terms of getting enough calories, fiber, healthy fats, vegetables, water, and nutrients. And when I’m on vacation in a tiny seaside town in north Florida where the terms “gluten-free” and “vegan” are not yet commonplace, it gets even more challenging. Thankfully, this small town had a stellar health food store right around the corner from a gluten-free/vegan-friendly bakery, and with the help of the Happy Cow app and some extra researching, we managed to find some delicious meals — and make some new friends along the way!

We kicked off the trip with a meal at Graze in Nashville before heading to the airport:

The rest of the weekend was spent running around the 30A Festival looking for vegan hacks at different restaurants. We were mostly successful, with the exception of one pizza place where we ordered two 10” pizzas with gluten-free crust and vegan cheese, and they charged us a whopping $57. The place shall remain unnamed, except on Yelp where I left a pretty snarky review. (You’ll hopefully understand when you see the photos below.)

^^^ $57 PIZZAS!

On the last full day of the trip, I found a vendor at a pop-up market selling all vegan, gluten-free baked goods (NaturBaker) and chatted with the owner a bit. I found out that her husband was a plant-based ultra-athlete, and, long story short, a few hours later Jeremy and I were having lunch with Sean (The Travel Trainer on 30A)! I love how the plant-based lifestyle brings people together. We ended the trip on a high note, but I was definitely ready to get back home to my kitchen! I spent a couple hours prepping food for the week the day I got back, including making this delicious cornbread to go with the thawed-out chili in my fridge:

Since then it’s just been getting back into a routine. My “Day One” breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and some kind of creation in the kitchen for dinner. Last night I met a friend for appetizers at a local “Mexican” restaurant, and had some decadent deep-friend peppers. Today for lunch I bought a salad at work and loaded it up with healthy stuff. Tonight it was Beyond Meat burgers and sweet potato fries, with an avocado aioli that was super easy to make. It gets easier every day!


 
 

JANUARY 10 - 16

Time flies when you’re eating delicious food! Also when you’re traveling and generally getting back into the swing of things after a long and lazy holiday.

I posted my last update the day before I left for a weekend trip with some girlfriends. It was a wonderful experience and we all ate vegan food the entire time! I’m very lucky to have such loving and supportive friends. They modified their recipes to make them vegan, and we all got to try some new things. Everything was absolutely beautiful and delicious. Take a look:

Getting back on Sunday and starting back at work Monday didn’t leave me much time to cook or prepare anything for the week — not to mention the fact that I am traveling again this weekend. In fact, I’m writing this from the airplane! But this is where all that major meal prepping a couple weeks ago is still paying off: I froze half of the huge batch of chili I made, so I pulled that out to thaw this week, and I still had some of those pre-made frozen burritos! This was enough to get me through these past couple days, along with Jeremy’s amazing vegan gumbo that he made in honor of the Saints game on Sunday night, and a couple of Beyond Meat burgers on Tuesday night. Holy yum! And check out the nutrition comparison between a 4oz Beyond Meat burger and a 4oz beef burger!

I’m now entering the third week of #Veganuary and I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do when February 1st hits. Just like the handful of times in the past when I went fully vegan for long stretches of time, after a few weeks it really gets easy to maintain this way of eating, and the benefits are abundantly clear. I feel strong, clear-headed, healthy, and most of all peaceful about the fact that nothing I’m eating is contributing to animal suffering. The Vegan Calculator estimates that I’m saving about one animal life per day by choosing a vegan diet and way of life.

And that’s really what it comes down to: choice. We are so lucky to have choices about what we eat and how we live our lives. If we were cavemen in survival mode 100% of the time, we wouldn’t have the luxury of choosing not to kill animals in order to eat. But we’re not cavemen, and we have so many incredible options when it comes to food. There is absolutely no reason that we have to kill animals to survive. We can get all the nutrients and vitamins we need from plants.

Before I took on this challenge, I had been on the “dairy-free pescatarian diet” for two years, meaning that I did not consume milk, butter, cheese, or other dairy products, but I did eat eggs and fish — and honey, if you’re a vegan who counts that.

So what will I do after #Veganuary is over? I don’t know yet! Jeremy is convinced that he wants to keep up a totally vegan diet. We are both learning a lot, and having so much fun cooking! I am torn about eggs and honey, because they are byproducts that, in the right circumstances, don’t have to cause any suffering to the animals who produce them. But the “right circumstances” are hard to come by, and it’s a slippery slope from “I only buy eggs and honey from my friends who are farmers” to “it’s an ingredient in the dish at a restaurant that most likely came from a factory farm, but I’ll just let it slide this time.” I’ll have to post about my research on eggs another time, but just Google “Vital Farms eggs” and “sex testing on eggs” to get started.

Fish, on the other hand… that’s really hard for me! I’m not going to lie! I absolutely love fish, especially salmon. I was born in Florida, and I have a family full of fishermen. Visiting them and eating fresh fish is such a treat! But that’s a once-a-year thing, and the rest of the time I’m surely eating fish that was farmed, or overfished from our oceans causing all kinds of other environmental issues. (This also brings up the topic of hunting in the wild vs. factory farming, which is a topic I’ve become very interested in over the years of my plant-based journey. Again, I’ll save it for another time.)

For now, I’m really enjoying eating all plant-based. It’s a creative outlet for me, and it’s very empowering. My self-esteem goes up when I pay close attention to what and how and why I consume what I consume. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the month goes!


 
 

JANUARY 9

This weekend I’m going out of town with a group of girlfriends, and to keep it simple they have all agreed to go vegan for the weekend! We are all on our own food journeys, but it was easy to put together a menu and food plan that is 100% plant-based that everyone is excited about.

Today I got in a really good workout at the gym since I probably won’t be exercising too much (other than yoga) this weekend. I must have burned way more calories than I thought, because even after my delicious burrito lunch I was super hungry when I got home. So I had an early dinner, and then an evening snack. Another nice thing about the plant-based diet is how much more you can eat!

I’m not sure if I’ll have time and connectivity to update over the weekend, but I’ll have a full report on Sunday!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • My “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal, OJ, probiotic yogurt drink

  • Macrobar mid-morning

LUNCH:

  • One of my pre-made frozen burritos with the brainstormed breakfast scramble I made on the 6th, and then put together into burritos to freeze on the 7th. So easy, so cheap, so healthy!

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • My workout kicked my ass today so I by the time I got home around 5pm I was starving! Jeremy heated up some of the chili I made and I toasted an English muffin — another easy, cheap, delicious meal. All that food prep is really paying off!

  • An hour later I had “dessert” a.k.a. my favorite afternoon snack a.k.a. a sliced apple with peanut butter and a glass of almond milk. Mmmmmm!


 
 

JANUARY 8

This is where all that cooking really pays off: when it’s Tuesday, and the week is starting to pick up and get busy, and I don’t have the creative energy I had the past two days — let alone the time it takes — to cook and prep a bunch of food, and yet… I still need to eat!

It was a very long, non-stop day, so I’m going to keep this short. But I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been following along and asking questions, sending recipes, and being genuinely supportive of my #Veganuary exercise. I wasn’t sure how this would all be received, but it’s just a great reminder that the best way to love and support people is to let them live their lives without judging them or telling them they’re doing it wrong. Literally none of my meat-eating friends have so much as smirked at my vegan posts the past week — at least, not to my face! Thanks, guys!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • My “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal, OJ, probiotic yogurt drink

  • Macrobar mid-morning snack

LUNCH:

  • A serving of that chickpea curry I made last night for my friends who just had their first baby — you know, quality control. It was deeeeeelicious. Holy smokes. Those Happy Pear guys know what they’re doing!

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • I kinda failed at dinner tonight. My after-work day was pretty nonstop, from about 4pm until about 9pm. Jeremy brought back some of my favorite vegan cookies from Los Angeles on Monday, and I knew I was in trouble as soon as I had the first cookie. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t daydream about that bag of cookies a few times today! When I got home, I decided that a cookie would be an “easy, quick snack,” and began the internal justification dialogue of breaking down the ingredients and telling myself it was healthy, haha! I’m all about indulging, but I also have been feeling soooo good this past week without binging on refined carbs, and I really want to keep it up. I ended up taking the rest of the cookies to my friends, along with their curry. Better just to not have refined carbs in my house in large quantities at this point! (Note: I did wash it down with a glass of almond milk.)

  • I was still out and about at 7:30 when I went to my favorite vegan restaurant in Nashville and got a smoothie, which ended up being my dinner. The smoothie had oats, banana, cacao powder, peanut butter, hemp hearts & hemp milk in it, with no added sugar, so not the worst thing in the world. But also not a proper meal! I’ll have to make up for the lack of calories and nutrients tomorrow.


 
 

JANUARY 7

One week down, three to go! I forgot two things about eating a vegan diet: (1) it gets me to cook a whole lot more, which is such a fun and creative way to kill time (much more rewarding than sitting in front of Netflix for two hours); and (2) I feel 10x healthier, stronger, and clear-headed. I have more energy, I sleep better, and my cravings for unhealthy foods go way down.

I had some of the chili I made yesterday, and good news: it turned out great! I had a toasted gluten-free english muffin with Earth Balance butter on the side and it was delicious. So I guess that means I owe you the recipe. Basically, I took this recipe for classic chili from thewholesomedish.com and veganized it. I didn’t have an onion or any garlic so I roasted some corn with the spices before adding the rest of the ingredients. I threw in some quinoa as an afterthought, which I was worried about later because it didn’t seem totally cooked when I took the chili off the heat, but after sitting overnight in the fridge and getting reheated again for lunch today (2min in the microwave), it was fine.

Here’s my veganized version of the ingredients:

This chili is absolutely packed with nutrients: protein, iron, fiber, vitamin B-6, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, folate, and phosphorus.

The best two ingredients? Zero cholesterol and zero animal suffering.

Tonight I had a couple hours set aside for cooking, because my friends just had a baby and I signed up to bring them a meal tomorrow. I had to grab a couple things at the grocery story for the recipe, and while I was there I got an idea to pre-make some burritos using that “leftover scramble” I made last night! So I got some tortillas and then came home and got to cookin’.

I didn’t learn how to cook until 2013, and it wasn’t because I suddenly took an interest in the Food Channel. It was because I was doing a lot of work on my mental health with my therapist and therapy groups, and was realizing that I didn’t take very good care of myself. As part of my effort to practice self-care, I decided it the time had finally come to learn how to cook. I spent an entire summer experimenting in the kitchen almost every day. I used vegan recipes and mainly a cast iron skillet, and after a few months I had a handful of tricks up my sleeve. Plus, my self-esteem had grown immensely by learning to take care of myself in this way — and by deeming myself worthy of the effort! Not only was it an exercise in self-care, it also became a creative outlet for me, and I still lose track of time when I’m cooking today. It feels exactly like writing a song or painting a picture — time slips away and I feel energized and excited the entire time. Plus, with cooking, I get to eat the piece of art I make at the end!

For my friends’ meal train, I made one of my favorite recipes: coconut chickpea curry — recipe by The Happy Pear (twin brothers in Ireland who run a vegan restaurant and post all kinds of amazing recipes on their Instagram profile). I have made this dish about 10 times since I discovered it months ago, and every time it blows my mind. Sometimes I add fresh spinach just to get a bit more iron. I usually make a batch of turmeric brown rice and mix it all together to keep in the fridge.

While all of that was simmering, I decided to make the burritos I had brainstormed at the grocery store. I needed some taco sauce, so I used the El Pato I left out of the chili recipe and found a taco sauce recipe online. Once that was done (about 15min later), I simply put the burritos together and put them in the freezer. These will last for several weeks, and are super easy for a quick meal or lunch at work. (Side note: I wash and re-use plastic ziplock bags, which also saves money!) Just to make sure they tasted good, I heated one up and added sliced avocado, and I must say — I surprised myself! That Field Roast from a week ago was not mind-blowing on its own, but mixed into this scramble I made yesterday it’s seriously delish. And the taco sauce I made turned out great!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • My “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal, OJ, probiotic yogurt drink

  • Macrobar mid-morning snack

LUNCH:

  • Leftover chili with a toasted English muffin (gluten-free) and Earth Balance butter - so delish!

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • I had my favorite afternoon snack when I got home: sliced apple, peanut butter, almond milk

  • One of my new pre-made burritos: organic whole-wheat tortilla with tofu, black beans, Field Roast scramble, taco sauce, spinach, and avocado


 
 

JANUARY 6

Nearly one week into the challenge already? I feel like I’m just getting started!

Today (Sunday) was a very slow-moving, simple food day for me. I didn’t do any vigorous exercise and only had a few excursions out of the house. Interestingly, since I’ve been committed to a 4-5 day workout routine since last July, and counting calories using MyFitnessPal from July - December last year, I’ve started to really notice the way my body craves food. When I’m eating a plant-based diet that is low in sugar and refined carbs, I tend to only feel hungry when I’ve been burning calories and need to replenish, and I tend not to have cravings for sugary or oily junk foods. Now… don’t get me wrong… take me to a party where there are potato chips and I turn into a crazy person. But when I’m out of the practice of indulging in foods that are addictive, I don’t crave addictive foods! Imagine that!

All that to say: I didn’t eat a ton of calories today. Maybe my body had all the calories it needed still left over from last night’s huge Indian meal, haha! I did spend a couple hours in the kitchen cooking up some food to have on-hand this week. Details and photos below!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • My “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal (see yesterday’s update for a photo!), OJ, probiotic yogurt drink

  • I had a Macrobar a few hours after my breakfast, which held me over until my 2pm lunch

LUNCH:

  • Leftover quinoa, lentils, and brussels sprouts from the other day. Like I said the other day, another benefit of having a plant-based diet is the shelf life of all your food! Saves a lot of money and time not having to throw leftovers away every few days and cook something new or buy more groceries.

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • I did some food prep this afternoon, and used up some leftover tofu and that Field Roast “celebration roast” I had on New Year’s Day by making a scramble and adding spices (turmeric, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper) and black beans. Again: shelf life! The tofu had been in my fridge for over a week, and the roast has been there since Tuesday.

  • I also made a big pot of 4-bean chili with quinoa. My recipe for the chili was a little wonky. You can see the ingredients I used (I ended up saving the El Pato for a future recipe). I didn’t have an onion or fresh garlic, so I started with sweet corn and spices(???) and then promptly burned the spices and had to rescue the dish before adding the beans, veggie broth, and quinoa. Thankfully it’s hard to go wrong with chili (even when you almost burn the base, haha). I let it simmer in my ceramic cast iron dutch oven for a few hours, then turned off the heat and am going to leave it on the stove overnight. I’m going to make some GF cornbread tomorrow, and will have this a meal probably a few times this week. If it turns out okay, I’ll post my (loose) recipe.

  • I had small portions of both of these batches while cooking, so by the time I was done cooking, I wasn’t hungry for another big meal today, but I did post this photo of my beloved go-to “mini-meal” of apple, peanut butter, and almond milk. Look at all those nutrients!


 
 

JANUARY 5

Ah, Saturday. The first of two days each week when I usually fall off my self-care wagon. I don’t go to the gym on the weekends because my gym is in the basement of the building where I work, and I don’t count calories on weekend. (Side note: I was using the MyFitnessPal app last year to count calories and get back into reality about portion sizes and calorie content of the foods I eat. I’ll do this for about six months every few years. It’s a really great way to look at my diet and understand my consumption. It’s also the only way I’ve ever lost excess weight — and kept it off.) I also tend to go out more on weekends, so I end up indulging in foods I don’t have at my house.

I do try to stick to a healthy breakfast on the weekends, since I get up relatively early (7-8 AM is “sleeping in” for me now). Even if I plan on going out for brunch, I’ll still try to have my coffee + oatmeal first thing when I get up, just to stabilize my blood sugar and get some fiber into my system. Right away. Sticking to my early morning breakfast routine also ensures that I’ll take my vitamins, which means I’ll get my orange juice and probiotic yogurt drink. I’m a creature of serious habit, and one tiny change in a routine throws the whole thing off. This is something I’ve worked on for years and still work on every week. I’ve gotten better at adding spontaneity to my life, but when it comes to food (which is so linked to my mental, physical, and emotional stability and serenity), I have to have structure or I can quickly slide into bad habits.

All that being said, eating plant-based and going out to restaurants these days is actually not that hard at all. Most places are getting used to specialty diets and allergies, and anyone should be able to easily and quickly tell you what ingredients they’re using. Today, for example, I went to my favorite burger joint (that has a delish vegan burger option) for lunch with a friend, and had to ask them about their hamburger buns, since a lot of breads have eggs in them. (Eggs, fish, and honey are the only animal products in my regular diet, pre-Veganuary, so I had never asked about their buns before. Heh heh heh… buns.) Theirs do have eggs, so I just got the vegan (black bean and quinoa) patty and chopped it up with the lettuce, tomato, and yellow mustard. Their hand-cut fries are to die for, too, if you’re ever in Nashville and looking for a simple/delish burger place.


Today I also wanted to talk about two things that come up a lot in the conversation about a plant-based diet: IRON and CALCIUM. There are several myths about both of these nutrients, which can probably be linked to marketing and advertising campaigns that got embedded in our psyches somewhere along the way. The main theme of the myths is that the best (if not only) source of these two important nutrients is animal products — milk for calcium and red meat for iron. This is simply not true, and anyone who tells you that it’s true is just uninformed, which is totally understandable, since it’s hard to separate marketing and advertising campaigns from true facts these days. So much of this information enters our minds at some point early on, then becomes fact over time, and we never stop to think about our sources — or better yet, go research them on our own. I’ll post a handy-dandy chart showing all the plant-based sources of iron and calcium, but for example, my bowl of oatmeal today had nearly 30% of my daily intake of both iron and calcium, thanks to the blackstrap molasses and maple syrup!


WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal, OJ, probiotic yogurt drink

LUNCH:

  • Vegan burger patty (no bun), hand-cut fries, and a Mexican Coke from Grillshack

  • What I had to do to make this vegan: I just had to ask the guy at the counter if their veggie burger or bun had any egg or dairy in it. The burger didn’t, but the bun did, so I skipped the bun. Easy!

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • I belong to a dinner club that meets every few months for a family-style dinner at one of the many local Indian restaurants. We call this gathering “Faith Naan More” (formerly known as “Hot Mumbai Nights”), and it’s been going strong since 2014! So tonight’s dinner was Indian food at a new place that just opened in Nashville called Chaatable. (Quick review: Cons = very crowded, very Americanized, very hip, kinda pricey, and not necessarily great for big groups — but Pros = they had some really delicious and interesting twists on traditional Indian dishes, very good service, and a whole separate vegetarian menu that listed out all the vegan options! Five stars for that alone!)

  • Being the only vegan in the group, it was a good chance to challenge my inner critic as well as my inner victim (that part of you that wants to pity yourself when you can’t have what everyone else is having). Ordering vegan in a group is easy. If it’s family-style, just know that you’re going to end up chipping in on things you might not get to try, but that means you can help yourself to extra servings of the vegan stuff. Ultimately, the goal is to have an enjoyable experience, not to nickel-and-dime your friends, right? But if the menu isn’t vegan-friendly (or the group you’re with are mainly animal-eaters), the easiest thing is probably to ask for a separate check and order your own meal. If everyone’s going dutch, it’s obviously easy because you just order your own meal.

  • I got to try their samosa chaat, vada pav (the potato filling only, not the buttered roll), cauliflower masala (best thing I tasted, hands-down), jackfruit biryani, fried okra, spinach, laccha paratha (a layered wheat bread that can be made vegan), and pan seared maggi noodles. I was stuffed!


 
 

JANUARY 4

I’ve been getting so much LOVE about this challenge so far! Friends, co-workers, meat-eaters, and vegans alike have reached out to me the past few days with encouragement and recipes. A few people have even said they want to try the #Veganuary challenge themselves! I will say that jumping into the deep end with a vegan diet is not easy at all, and, funnily enough, even though I hate to think about one more animal having to suffer on this planet, I actually don’t recommend going vegan overnight. Like I’ve said in previous entries, it’s taken me 20 years to get to a place where I feel very confident about eating a vegan diet for one month, and about eating a 95% plant-based diet year-round, because I’ve been cooking this way for years, and doing my research, and wrestling with my own beliefs and values around my diet and how it affects not only me but other living beings and the planet. The vegan way of life, as far as I’m concerned, is more of a spiritual path than just a way of cooking. It is a lifestyle choice that takes determination and commitment — the kind of determination and commitment that usually only comes when a person holds very strong beliefs around why they’re committing to a way of life. Eating for your health is certainly something that you can become very passionate about — and seeing the changes in your health and body and mind will only solidify your beliefs around your diet. But I do think there is much more to going plant-based than just changing what you eat. It’s changing how you think, too!

That being said, to aid anyone who might want to try this challenge, whether that’s switching to a 50/50 animal/plant-based diet for the month or going full-bore vegan, I made this little graph to share ideas for replacing everyday items in your fridge with plant-based versions.

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • “Day One” breakfast: coffee, oatmeal, OJ, probiotic yogurt drink — but I mixed things up a bit!

  • Coffee: I put my turmeric and cinnamon directly into the cup and then brewed my pour-over coffee on top. It was delicious and I felt like I really got them into my belly!

  • Oatmeal: I added about a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses (super high in iron, more on that later) in addition to the maple syrup, as well as a small scoop of salted mixed nuts (in addition to the usual seed mix). Breakfast FTW!

  • My mid-morning snack was a peanut butter Macrobar (details in my January 3rd post below)

LUNCH:

  • Leftovers! Look at this beautiful bowl of goodness! Last night’s dinner (scroll down for details about this dish — Jan 3) is today’s lunch, and only took a few minutes to prepare. I added avocado on top and it was absolutely heavenly.

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • My lunch really filled me up, and I wasn’t hungry again until it was time to go to my friend’s house where we had a little ladies’ gathering with snacks. I brought some popcorn seeds, almond/cashew milk, and dark chocolate (more on how to find vegan chocolate later). Popcorn paired with cold almond milk is another one of my favorite snacks, and it’s surprisingly good for you! I use a little bit of coconut oil (and last night we used avocado oil) to pop the seeds, then add salt.

  • Popcorn is a low-calorie snack, especially when you use minimum oil (or air pop it). It has fiber (to help process the carbs), protein, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B-6!

  • Fun fact: Regal (and some AMC) movie theaters’ popcorn is VEGAN!


 
 

JANUARY 3

Let’s talk about fish! This is the one animal I have gone back-and-forth on the most over the past 20 years of experimenting with a plant-based diet. From the perspective of animal suffering, I think fish are the easiest animals to stay in denial about. They seem like inanimate objects (until you watch “Finding Nemo” of course), and, after all, Jesus ate fish! But it doesn’t take very long on Google to find plenty of research showing that — surprise surprise — fish have feelings, too. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully give up fish, but for this challenge I will commit! Fish is also the one animal that actually does provide a nutrient we haven’t always been able to replicate with plants (until recently): omega-3.

You can read all of my ridiculously-researched findings and thoughts and ongoing updates about the supplements I take in THIS BLOG POST. Regarding omegas specifically, it can be very confusing and there is a lot of information out there. Here is an excerpt from that post about omegas:

The problem with vegan sources of omegas (such as flax oil) is that they are mostly ALA (omega-6), which can be converted to the EPA and DHA (omega-3s) that provides all of the amazing benefits of omegas. However, most ALA gets used up as energy in the body, and only a small amount gets converted into the EPA and DHA omegas that you would get from fish oil (which, again, is the stuff you want). I was incredibly excited to discover a new method of extracting EPA and DHA from the algae that fish feed on, which is where they get it in the first place. Studies are starting to show that this may be a viable, sustainable alternative to fish oil.

That post goes on to describe my experience trying Ovega-3, an algae-based omega supplement that hit all the marks for my daily intake, except that I later found out it contained carrageenan. I also went back to having fish in my diet around that time, so I switched back to a fish oil. In the years since I last updated that blog post (2016), a lot more research has been done about algae-based omegas. For this #Veganuary challenge, I realized I’d need to go back to an algae-based omega source, and was excited to read all kinds of articles about new algae-based omega supplements on the market. I landed on a new company out of Texas called iWi, and ordered a bottle of their Omega-3 supplements (Amazon’s Choice!). I’ll be updating that blog post with my latest research about omegas, as the trial-and-error continues.

It makes sense to take out the middle-man (or the middle-fish) and go straight to the source of the EPA/DHA — algae. This is just like taking out the middle-cow and going straight to a cow’s source of protein — plants. (Fun facts: Did you know that pigs and chickens are omnivores and eat meat as well as plants? Cows, sheep, and deer are herbivores.)

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST/SNACKS:

  • Typical “Day One” breakfast with the addendum bevvies from day two: coffee, oatmeal with chia flax hemp seeds, probiotic drink, turmeric OJ (see Jan 1st and 2nd updates for details)

  • This morning I got a little creative with my coffee and added turmeric on top of the cinnamon and cardamom, hoping to aid in bringing down the inflammation of my sinuses. I usually sprinkle these spices on top of the coffee grounds in my V60, but I think I’m going to start putting them in the actual coffee cup to get them more directly into my belly. (Yes, these are the kinds of things I ruminate on at 6:20 AM while I’m making coffee.)

  • My mid-morning snack during the work week is almost always the same: a Macrobar, ideally peanut butter or peanut butter and chocolate chip. I rely on these to bridge the gap between my early morning breakfast and my usually-after-1pm lunch. I actually order them by subscription from Amazon so I can get a 15% discount! I’ll go into vegan protein bars another day, but after doing a ton of research about them years ago, I landed on these and have been really happy with them.

LUNCH:

  • Let’s talk about food prep! Last night I roasted some savory sweet potatoes with broccoli, and made a big batch of turmeric brown rice with peas and cashews to mix together with the veggies. This is one of my main go-to dishes that never seems to get old. Sometimes I add black beans, and I always top it with a half or whole avocado. This dish is packed with vitamins, protein, healthy carbs, fiber, healthy oils, iron, and more! This will be my lunch today and tomorrow.

  • I posted pics of this meal on my Instagram (@sarahsaturdaygram) so you can see the spices and products I used.

  • To make the roasted veggies, I toss them in a very small amount of olive oil (more on oil another time), then season with salt, pepper, paprika, and my favorite Italian herb blend. Roast for about 40min at 425 (or until you feel like they’re done to your liking), stirring them once or twice during baking.

  • To make the rice, I follow the instructions on the bag. I rinse the rice thoroughly first, either by massaging it in water in the pan (massage, drain, refill, repeat) until the water stays clear, OR, by putting the rice in a fine-meshed strainer and showering it with the sink sprayer. I make my rice in an enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven. I boil the turmeric into the water. I don’t add the peas until near the end, and I don’t add the cashews until I’ve taken it off the heat.

  • This dish is delish when topped with half of an avocado!

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • During the work week, especially, I can be more structured around food and tend to eat my biggest meal at lunch, after my workout. “Dinner” for me is usually 1-2 “mini-meals” or snacks that I try to keep low in sugar — that is, unless you’ve got a food thief who cooks you a delicious meal to make up for eating your leftovers. You see…

  • While I had planned on having leftovers from the roasted veggie / rice dish for at least the next day or two, someone (I won’t name names) ended up scarfing my leftovers while I was at work today. But can you blame him? That is seriously an insanely delish dish. And the silver lining? My handsome food thief is also doing the Veganuary challenge, and he also loves to cook, so he made up for it by cooking up a delicious dinner for us. Plus, he made enough that we’ll both have this for lunch tomorrow as well:

  • Nutritional yeast quinoa, spicy lentils with onions and peppers, and roasted brussels sprouts — with a toasted, buttered Ezekial brand gluten-free English muffin on the side

    • Did you know that quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah,” is a superfood? It’s naturally gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. It’s got a pretty weird, kind of nutty flavor. I’ve never figured out how to cover up this flavor enough not to just taste quinoa in the dish, but I think Jeremy might have found the hack in this recipe: nutritional yeast! The cheesy, earthy flavors in the nutritional yeast (plus some added salt, of course) perfectly blended with the flavor of the quinoa, and both of us were blown away by the results! More on nutritional yeast later.

    • For the lentils, we just used a can of Simple Truth Organic Lentils, which I’ve never tried before. They were delicious, and so easy to heat up and add our chopped onions, garlic, red and green peppers, and spices to. Lentils are high in protein and fiber, have zero fat or cholesterol, and also provide calcium and lots of iron!


 
 

 

JANUARY 2

Boy oh boy, this exercise is already kicking my research-obsessed brain into high gear, ha! If you couldn’t tell by my first post, I am big on facts and information! I love to know the truth behind claims and theories, because the more informed I am about something, the more confident I am about my choices. I’m excited to indulge in my fact-finding missions for these posts and I hope it helps anyone who happens across this page.

I was starving today by lunchtime! I started back at work today after two very slow weeks, during which I also came down with both a stomach virus and a serious chest cold. (I only get sick like that once every several years, but when I do, I’m out of commission for at least two weeks.) I work out over my lunch break almost every day at work, and hadn’t been to the gym in over a week. I eased my way back with a fast-paced walk on the treadmill followed by a circuit training class, but I easily burned 350+ calories, and I was seriously hungry when I got back to my desk. That’s another thing I love about plant-based food: after a really great workout, the last thing I want to do is load my system with hard-to-process meat and dairy. A plant-based lunch that is high in protein, amino acids, fiber, and healthy carbs after a workout always makes me feel amazing!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST:

LUNCH:

  • Leftovers! One thing I love about vegan cooking is that, unlike animal products that have a shelf life of 2-5 days, plants can last much (much) longer when they’re fresh, and practically forever when they’re canned, dried, or frozen. This makes meal planning super easy, and keeps the cost of groceries way down. Anyhoo… for lunch today I had leftovers from my New Year’s Day meal: black-eyed peas, turnip greens, cornbread, and a slice of my cute little “Celebration Roast” by Field Roast.

DINNER/SNACKS:

  • Another thing I love about a plant-based diet is that — when I’m watching my sugar and oil intake — I can really eat a whole lot more and not have to worry so much about putting on the unnecessary pounds. I usually have a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack between meals. I believe this also helps keep my metabolism going, and I know that it helps keep my blood sugar levels in-check (again, as long as I’m making smart choices). Eating to manage my blood sugar is one of those food-as-medicine-for-mental-health things that I’m passionate about, which I’m sure I’ll get into later this month. Anyhoo, I digress, so I should probably start another bullet point.

  • Around 5pm I had a snack (or I like to call them mini-meals) of an Ezekial Sprouted Whole Grain English Muffin with Crazy Richard’s peanut butter (ingredients list: peanuts!)

  • Around 7pm I went and met up with friends at The Fox in Nashville, to celebrate our friend’s birthday. This is an amazing bar with an extensive menu that includes tons of vegan options, even a vegan charcuterie board! And my meat-eating friends could still get all the animals on their plate that they wanted. It’s so exciting to see plant-based menus becoming a normal practice for many restaurants and bars. What a time to be alive!


 
 

JANUARY 1

I stopped eating adult cows, baby cows, adult sheep, and baby sheep in 1999. That was my first big step, and it took Mad Cow Disease and some anarchist activists in Madison, Wisconsin to help me take it.

In the 20 years since then, my journey toward a 100% plant-based diet has followed a meandering path from the cheese-and-bread diet to malnourished veganism, from pasta to poultry to pescatarianism — and then finally, in 2012, when I hit bottom and started on the path of recovery, to the focused and straight line that has brought me to today: day one of the Veganuary challenge in 2019.

I say all of this because it’s important to remember that change takes time, and committing to something as incredibly important and deeply spiritual as choosing to be fully conscious about what I consume every single day is not something that happened overnight. And it’s not clear-cut. It’s not conveniently compartmentalized in the “lifestyle” box or the “health” box or the “groceries” box. The things I put into my body every day — food, drink, sights, sounds, and even thoughts — make up who I am. The motivation behind my consumption each day is what causes both my suffering and my serenity. The effects of my actions, whether I decide to think about them or not, send out ripples in all directions, and eventually make their way back to me. Buddhists call this karma. Scientists call it causation. Christians call it The Golden Rule. Whatever it is, I know that it’s real, because I’ve spent 20 years experimenting and collecting the evidence of its existence.

When I strive each day to minimize the amount of suffering I cause to other people, animals, and the planet, my conscience feels lighter and I feel more peaceful. With each conscious choice I make to take care of my physical body, my mental health, and my environment through what I eat, my self-esteem grows. When I think about all of the suffering, rape, and murder that happens on farms and in slaughterhouses all over the world, and I can say with full certainty that I did not contribute to any of it in any way, neither through what I purchased nor what I consumed, I feel more at-ease. I sleep better at night. There is no shadow of guilt in my consciousness.

 

I truly believe that all of us, on some deep level, sense and feel the suffering we cause when we eat animals and animal byproducts. Without any kind of spiritual connection to our food, or consciousness about what went into creating the animal products on our plates, we live in denial. Denial, in my experience, is the core cause of my most painful suffering. Today, my spiritual aim is to find and root out all of the denial in my consciousness. Shining the light of awareness on the things I eat has been one of the easiest and most rewarding ways of eliminating denial from my life.

And so! While my diet over the past two years has been 95% plant-based, with the occasional eggs or fish or bite of someone’s dessert making up the other 5%, I am committing to this month-long challenge as a way to kick off the new year and delve deeper into my consumption. I already know that a plant-based diet does wonders for my body, mind, and soul. I’m using this challenge as motivation to write these thoughts I have about consumption, food, self-care, mental health, self-discovery, and all the other things that my diet touches every single day. I hope you’ll find something here that inspires you!

WHAT I ATE TODAY:

BREAKFAST:

  • Coffee with cinnamon, cardamom, and the best half-n-half replacement I’ve found : Silk’s Protein Nutmilk

  • Bob’s Red Mill Quick-Cooking Rolled Oats oatmeal with a teaspoon of maple syrup and a mix of hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flax meal

  • What I had to change to make this vegan: This has been my go-to breakfast for a few years now, and I switched to the nut milk creamer two years ago, but for this challenge I did have to change the sweetener I used in my oatmeal. I have been using ethically-sourced honey, which is technically an animal by-product, and therefore not vegan. For this challenge I will switch to maple syrup — basically the same thing but with a different (delicious) flavor. Easy!

LUNCH/DINNER:

  • As it was the first day of the year, and I live in the south, today’s the day we make our good luck meal of turnip greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, and pork. However, instead of the animal version, we made the plant version! Turnip greens with onions, spices, broth, and vinegar; black-eyed peas simmered in a vegan Worcestershire sauce with some other spices; Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free cornbread made with flax eggs (1 Tbsp flaxmeal, 3 Tbsp hot water, stir and let sit in the fridge for 15min); and for the “pork,” Field Roast’s Celebration Roast, a grain-based meatloaf stuffed with butternut squash, apples, and mushrooms.

    • While I’m not a huge fan of fake meats, companies like Field Roast have been creating some really great new products that aren’t just a bunch of processed soy. The Celebration Roast was tasty enough, but did have a bit too much “fake” flavor for my liking. I’ll probably fry up the rest and chop it up to hide it in a rice or bean dish this week. I need to get a cookbook like “Field Roast: 101 Artisan Vegan Meat Recipes” so I can start experimenting at home.

  • Greens are for green dollars, peas are for pennies, yellow cornbread is for gold, and “pork” is for progress!

  • What I had to change to make this vegan: This was all pretty easy to make vegan, other than a couple ingredients in the cornbread. Instead of 2 eggs I used 2 flax eggs; instead of the melted butter I used a combination of melted coconut oil and Earth Balance Soy-Free butter; to grease the pan for the cornbread I used coconut oil.

SNACKS:

  • Since breakfast started later, and our New Year’s Day feast happened around 2pm, I was pretty much stuffed for the day, but I did have my favorite snack as an evening mini-meal:

  • 1 organic Gala apple cut into slices with 3 Tbsp of peanut butter (preferably a brand like Crazy Richard’s that is made with just peanuts and no added salt/sugar), and a tall glass of Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original almond milk (no vanilla or added sugar).

    • While there is a bit more sugar in this mini-meal than I’d like, I have to also remember that it’s all naturally-occurring sugar from the apple and peanuts, and it’s accompanied by fiber, which is key in carb consumption. We need carbs in our diet, but without enough fiber to process the sugars, we end up with extra sugar in our bloodstream, which causes so many of the health problems we see in the world today. There are some sources that suggest we should try to eat at least 1g of fiber for every 5g of sugar, while diabetes-focused websites suggest looking at the net carb count, which you get by subtracting the grams of fiber from the grams of sugar (this suggests that we need a 1:1 ratio of fiber:carbs). Anyhoo, I’m off on a tangent now so I’ll have to finish the fiber/carb convo later.

    • Click here to see my handy-dandy comparison between almond milk and skim milk


 
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Sarah Saturday