You might be surprised to learn that there are very few times in my life where I have felt truly restricted by being vegan. I am often asked if I find myself in situations where there is just nothing for me to eat, and to be perfectly honest, they are very few and far between.
But they do happen.
I think I am a bit spoiled. I first went vegan back in 2012, and now in 2015 it is pretty easy. I think to some of the vegan pioneers, like Dr. John McDougall and Dr. Michael Greger who went vegan in the late 70s and early 90s, respectively. I always wonder how much they struggled with it.
Of course in 2015, being vegan is super easy, if you live in cities, and if you have friends and family that are at least interested in health. If you live in rural areas, you can obviously still find plenty of vegan groceries (there will always be fresh produce, canned beans, rice, etc), but eating out may be a challenge.
And that is really the point. The only times I have ever felt truly limited by my vegan/plant-based diet is when I am eating outside of the home. So for McDougall and Greger, they may have struggled to find vegan-friendly restaurants, but they surely had zero trouble eating vegan at home.
So from a global perspective, being vegan is challenging only in the social aspects. Eating out, being among friends with very different diets, picking restaurants, social gatherings, etc. The not eating meat, dairy, and eggs thing is the easy part. It’s the enjoyable part. It’s the part that makes you feel fantastic every single day, full of energy.
Let’s talk about when it’s hard.
I am currently in Washington, D.C., staying with friends and searching for an apartment. Yesterday we attended the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which every year features the culture of a foreign nation, with music, artwork, performances, dancers, and of course cuisine.
This year’s featured country is Peru. I have been to Peru, and have traveled and lived in neighboring Ecuador. I felt like I knew a thing or two going into it about the type of food I would find.
I was eager to eat some authentic beans and rice!
But alas, the featured cuisine was less the traditional fare, and more what food has become in Peru. It was mostly grilled meats and french fries, which is very common now in Ecuador and Peru. I should have known better, but alas, no beans and rice were to be found.
Finally we found a place that had an avocado-quinoa-veggie salad. It looked awesome. But upon ordering, I asked if there was any dairy in the dish, only to find out it was covered in mayo. Eggs. Can’t do it.
A self-imposed food desert.
It is in moments like these (that happen really only once a year or so) that I felt like I was living in a self-imposed food desert. Food was in abundance around me, but none of it was an option. And I was starving.
I popped into the Native American Museum because I had heard the food was outstanding and figured there’d be some great wild rice dishes. All of it had bison. Some of it had cheese. It was a bastardized version of Native American food.
I ended with a food cart pretzel.
Not healthy, not what I was craving, but I needed fuel.
Sometimes, being vegan is hard.
I don’t want to sugar coat the experience. Sometimes, though not often, being vegan is hard. For literally 99.9% of the calories I consume, it is incredibly easy and undeniably enjoyable to be vegan. But those 1 in 1000 meals, 1 in 1000 moments, you have nothing to eat.
But that is not unique to being vegan. If you consider yourself a healthy eater and an omnivore, you will find yourself in the same situation as me. Surrounded by food, none of it healthy, and you might choose to not eat any of it.
This problem is not unique to being vegan. It is unique to caring about your health. Eating healthy is so abnormal in America that if you truly stand up for your personal health and commit to only eating healthfully, you will find yourself in situations where you have nothing to eat. That’s ok. Get the pretzel, get the fries, do what you have to do, and take pride in your decision to stand up for what is important to you, to the animals, and to the planet.