I’m really getting the hang of this vegan diet. I am actually enjoying this new hobby: cooking. The great thing about preparing vegan foods is that no one really knows how it should look or taste, and everyone is pleasantly surprised when it’s not bland or doesn’t taste like tree bark. It’s very simple to impress someone with your vegan skills because their expectations are low, which gives you time to become proficient at your new hobby. Caren Baginski, also new to veganism, agrees that cooking and baking vegan recipes actually seems easier than the alternative.
I’m also very aware of the absence of my daily sugar crash/psychosis around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. This is the time of day when I pledge allegiance to the chocolate stashed in my desk drawer or, if I’ve depleted my reserves, I stumble outside and squint towards one of several chocolate shops near the office for my fix.
Now I reach for the almonds or brazil nuts and I still participate in snack time with my co-workers, only I don’t burn out before the day is over like I used to. At the start of this challenge, 20 days ago, I anticipated a decrease in the quality of my life. But I am more motivated, energetic, focused, and inspired than when I pounded sugar straight through the day in the form of coffee, energy bars, packaged snacks, and candy. This, I’m sure, comes as no surprise to you. But what surprises me is my utter lack of cravings. I have a gift card for a chocolate shop waiting on my bulletin board marked with the date I can use it, but I barely notice it throughout the day. I think this has something to do with the Supper Club I went to, hosted by Dani at my local Whole Foods.
The “Supper Club” is a monthly gathering where Dani cooks a four-course vegan meal in line with the Engine 2 diet. To remind you, the Engine 2 diet differs from other vegan challenges because it is based on low-sodium, nutrient-dense whole foods, no refined sweeteners, and no refined or extracted oils. Why no extracted oils…?
Last week at our third and final meet-up, “How Do I Live Without Refined & Extracted Oils?” Dani explained that there are two schools of thought in the nutrition world concerning oils, and it’s a 50/50 split. Some nutritionists believe that we need refined oils for the Vitamin E and “good” fat. The other half, including Dani, believe it is best to eat the whole food itself (the whole olive, the whole seed, etc.).The amount of Vitamin E we get from refined oils is quite modest, particularly when you consider the amount of fat and calories it uses as a vehicle. The true benefit, Dani says, of the oil’s mono-unsaturated fat comes from eating the whole food, which delivers the phytonutrients and the fiber that is not included with the extracted oil.
But let’s say you need to cook with oil and don’t know an alternative? This is a normal predicament to find yourself in because even Dani admits avoiding oils is the most challenging aspect of this challenge. It’s in everything, and we were never taught how to substitute oil with low sodium vegetable broth or carrot juice, lemon juice, or just plain water for sautéing. (I tested this challenge an hour ago when I roasted a garlic bulb in the oven for 15 minutes, sprinkled only with water and lemon juice. It worked).
Back to the Supper Club. Dani made one of the most decadent chocolate cakes I have ever tasted. This was a Healthy Chocolate Cake, which still contains cocoa powder (a mere 3 tablespoons for the entire recipe). The cake was formed entirely of fruit, vegetables, and whole wheat pastry flour, but unless we had the recipe in front of us we would not have known. It was still warm from the oven and topped with an icing that makes me salivate when I think about it. The chocolate icing was made entirely of macadamia nuts, milk substitute, medjool dates, hazelnuts, and 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. Not a pinch of added sugars. Have you ever made a chocolate cake using only a total of 5 tablespoons of cocoa, and no refined sweeteners? The table was dead silent while we ate that cake. It was served with a side of banana walnut “ice cream”. At war with our paradigm was the fact that we were eating something healthful.
I think that cake had a real, lasting impression on me. My dependency on refined sugar is conquered. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a raging sweet tooth, but now I know it can be satisfied with medjool dates and other naturally sweet and nutritious whole foods. For some of you, this may not sound like the eighth wonder of the world, but I before I took on this challenge I had surrendered to my sugar and dairy addiction with a passivity bordering on fatalism. I did not believe I had the strength to live without a commodity that grows nowhere near me, and must be heavily processed and shipped thousands of miles to be incorporated into my daily diet.
The most difficult part of this challenge was overcoming the fear of living a month without cream and sugar.
I know it can be intimidating to drastically alter your eating habits, particularly when you have no idea what nutritional yeast is or how to use it. This generation was brought up on highly processed imitations of food, yet we were also warned to avoid chemicals and ingredients on the label we couldn’t pronounce. But the hard truth is that most of us cannot correctly pronounce quinoa, tempeh, seitan, stevia, agave, jicama, semolina, or tahini. Why would we ever walk into a health food store/aisle and ask a salesperson out loud? It’s easier to avoid these seemingly exotic “new” trends or ingredients, but they’re just words, folks.
Take pride in walking into your health food market and demanding to know how this or that is pronounced, where to find it, and how it’s used. Fight back against indifference and all things familiar. You may end up shoehorning yourself out of a food rut you didn’t know you were in.