Junior Héloïse Schep

CRAZY CLEANSES: Vegan dishes prove easy to order, cook but hard to maintain

In the “Crazy Cleanses” series, Octagon staffers attempt to live for a week without an aspect of modern life, such as technology or trash.

In the first installment, junior Héloïse Schep tries to consume no animal products for a week.

I’m working on a story in Octagon class when I hear a voice from the corner of math teacher Patricia Jacobsen’s room say, “Ooh! Can you pass me some Red Vines?”

I reply without thinking twice, “Can you pass me some too?”

And just as I’m about to bite into the delicious licorice treat, my eyes widen in terror as I utter a phrase I never thought I’d say.

“Wait — are these vegan?”

From Jan. 7 to 11, I went vegan. I wasn’t allowed to eat any animal products, including meat, milk, butter and eggs.

Technically, vegans don’t use any fabrics or tools made from animals (like leather) either, but I focused on the dietary aspect more so than the lifestyle.

Though it’s been around since the ’70s, veganism has risen dramatically in popularity the last few years.

According to a report by research company GlobalData, in 2014 only 1 percent of U.S. consumers said they were vegan. But in 2017, that number surged to 6 percent.

When I visit supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, it’s almost harder to find items that aren’t vegan, keto or gluten-free than those that are.

So, I thought, how hard could going vegan be?

Well, finding vegan foods proved to be relatively easy. I rarely eat meat (although I often eat fish) and almost never consume pure milk, eggs or butter.

And I’ve basically eaten the same breakfast and lunch every day for six years, so I had to find alternatives for only a few ingredients.  

In the mornings, I eat yogurt, which, as a dairy product, is not allowed for vegans, but I was able to replace it with a slice of (vegan) bread and some fruit.

I don’t drink anything besides water and tea, so I didn’t have to account for any beverages.

My lunch — which consists of carrots, almonds and bread with peanut butter — was already vegan.

But the real challenge lay with dinner, the one meal I couldn’t control.

This was because my week of veganism coincided with paste-up, which is when Octagon page editors design the monthly print issues after school. More importantly, it’s when staffers take turns providing dinner for the page editors while they work — three nights in a row.

Besides paste-up, there was all the other food at school. Before becoming vegan, I never realized how much food was offered at Country Day — and how much of it wasn’t vegan.

Candy in science teacher Kellie Whited’s room, brownies during Book Club, class snack, advisory snack, and the popcorn, chocolate, chips and cookies brought into the Cave for paste-up — all non-vegan.

It was so easy to enjoy a few Goldfish crackers or a Kit-Kat without realizing they contained dairy, meaning I ended up breaking my vegan diet about once a day.

On Monday, I succeeded at a vegan breakfast and lunch (thankfully, those Red Vines were vegan), but paste-up dinner was pasta with tomato sauce and ground beef. So I spent most of my time picking each piece of meat out of the pasta to make it vegan, only to realize that there may have been dairy in the pasta itself.

On Tuesday, I didn’t break my diet, but it was a hassle. Our dinner was Panda Express, which puts eggs, milk or meat in nearly every dish, so I ordered from Poke Noke instead, replacing the tuna with tofu.

I thought I would hate a fish-free version of a dish that revolves around ahi tuna, but the tofu was not bad at all and even absorbed more of the salty soy sauce flavor than the tuna does.

However, I really missed being able to add “masago” (fish eggs) to the dish.

I was able to find a vegan meal from Chipotle on Wednesday evening but broke my diet with a few Goldfish crackers, which have cheese in them.

I brought chocolate chip cookies as an advisory snack on Thursday and broke my diet by eating a few. Not eating a snack that someone else brought is a bummer, but not eating a snack that you brought is nearly impossible.

Thankfully, my lentil soup dinner was vegan.

Friday seemed to go so well — until I ate a piece of milk chocolate in the Cave.

Looking back on the week, I didn’t miss eating meat, or eating dairy in the morning. I can go a few days or even a few weeks replacing these sources of protein with lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peas, peanut butter, almonds and rice.

I didn’t feel any less energetic, either.

What I did miss, though, was being able to participate in the social aspect of food. Being able to enjoy the food that comes with events like Book Club, paste-up or even advisory made me feel included.

Even though being vegan is more common nowadays, it’s the little things — like your classmates delighting in some candy during biology — that still set you apart from everyone else.

—By Héloïse Schep

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