Fourteen months ago I switched to a vegetarian diet for health reasons. The net result was worth the pain and inconvenience of those first weeks of detoxing from eating meat for 50 years. But about a month ago, I came across a Veggie Challenge on Instagram and decided to try it out - as a vegan. So this my take on following a vegan diet for 31 days, in South Africa.
Exciting and challenging
The first two weeks everything was great. I cooked interesting meals at home and even managed to lose two kilograms. The weight-loss was not planned, but I do have to say not unwelcome. The challenge at this time was mostly finding things for snacking. Having a snack or two each day helps to keep my blood sugar levels stable - a good thing to do for anyone with a busy lifestyle.
As the challenge coordinator mentioned, there are more vegan snack options available these days than there had been say, 5 years ago. Unless you have high blood pressure, then these temptations are not an option. Too much salt, as you would have guessed no doubt.
So snacking options were severely limited for me, hence the weight-loss I think. I did have raw nuts in the cupboard, the bag is still fairly full, but nuts are heavy on calories, and I can only eat so much of them anyway.
Snacks remained a frustrating challenge throughout the whole 31 days.
Then the boredom started to creep in
Ever since leaving my high paying full-time job in January this year, we have been more conscious of the budget and eating out less often than before. On the vegan diet eating out in this country is a huge challenge on the best of days. Something I was not so aware of, until last month.
|Boerewors picture courtesy|
TempestSA at the English language Wikipedia
Allow me to elaborate for a minute. South Africans love meat. The more the better. We have a standing joke that people in South Africa eat boerewors for salad and chicken for vegetables. Seafood is probably considered a snack I suppose.
Unfortunately, there is more truth in that joke than you can imagine. Eating out options are extremely limited for a vegetarian, and borders on the near-impossible for vegans.
I do have to say this though: at the places where we dine out often, the waiters and chefs have been nice in trying to accommodate my vegan choices during October, but franchise restaurants are so restricted in their menus, that it became a problem for me after a while.
Whoever designs those menus seem oblivious to the fact that there are more food options out there than butternut (which I dislike except during winter), mushrooms (don't much like those either) and zucchini (also called courgettes over here). Whatever happened to lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, wild rice and all the other (very tasty) options to use as a base in cooking?
Even salads - which I love all year round - can definitely be spruced up with nuts, and the aforementioned ancient grains and starches in summer dishes.
Vegan proteins and vegan cheese
Fortunately for me, I had a vegan shake available which I could use to supplement my protein intake during the month. Since I have a dairy allergy (mainly the raw product - milk and cream) I even use the shake on the vegetarian diet.
Meat substitutes are readily available in supermarkets and are wonderful for home cooking. If only the restaurants shopped at the large supermarket chains too. (Hint?)
Back to the cheese. I like the taste of vegan cheese, but be warned, it is not a protein substitute. Aside from being expensive (even more so than the mature dairy version), I feel it a waste to buy because it is only a starchy food.
Fruits and vegetables
October is basically summer already in this country, so the abundance of fruits and vegetables is a pleasure to someone who has always loved fruit and raw vegetables. At least I got all my fibre and vitamins!
Enter the last ten days
By now I was getting really bored with the vegan diet. Except for the breakfast cereal, which I do eat every day of the week irrespective of the kind of diet - with almond milk.
Eating out became a chore, not a pleasure and I started to eat more 'normal' again, including cheese in my evening meals, and sometimes even for lunch. Two days before the end of the month, I started eating eggs again too.
Coffee, coffee, coffee ... my kingdom for a coffee
I drink my coffee black and have been since I was a child. I was the first person in my family diagnosed with the dairy allergy, after almost dying when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I have some tolerance for the mature cheeses, but still have to watch how much I eat.
I love coffee, Americanos, especially, but since hitting the sexy age of 50, drinking my coffee black has become a problem too. So I stuck to drinking coffee after a meal, but I don't have time to eat the whole day just so I could drink coffee.
I found a cappuccino premix - it does contain some milk powder - which I could drink at any time without the pain I experienced with drinking black coffee without eating. Vegan? Not so much, but I love coffee too much limit myself to two cups a day (I don't drink black coffee after a breakfast of cereal and fruit).
A veggie future?
I am not keeping up the vegan diet. That is not to say that I will not eat vegan meals, because I mostly still do at home, but as a South African the long term options are not worth it, at least not right now. Will the restaurants ever change?
I am delighted to say that some already have. Even on Friday when my friend, Vanessa, and I were having breakfast together for the first day of NaNoWriMo, our favourite meeting place had two new vegan options on the menu. I cannot claim to be the reason for it, but maybe I helped to raise awareness for the need that some of us have not to eat any meat at all.
But unless more people ask for a meal to be adapted to a vegan, or vegetarian, diet I don't think the average South African restaurant is rushing to include more interesting and seasonal vegetable-based options on their menus. And they really should.
PS: With NaNoWriMo challenging me once again, this will be the only post for November. But do keep an eye out for my newsletter, and #TheTinyBroom tweets twice a week.