Veganuary: My 31-Day Vegan Challenge

The Why and How of Going Completely Plant-Based

Vegetarian rice and beans recipe

​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Every January, we ask, and are asked, “What are your New Year's Resolutions?” “What will you be giving up this year?” Which usually gives me some anxiety. Why do I have to give up something? I truly dislike having the perspective of “giving up” because then I start to look at how my life will be lacking in that department. If I can’t have this, I want it more. At which point, I’m setting myself up for failure. 

Rather, I want to look at my new year as a way to gain something. Specifically, gaining strength; with my body, my resolve, and my discipline. It’s a challenge, you see? And I do enjoy a good challenge. (Me? Competitive? No…)

As I’m keen on learning new skills and expanding upon the ones I currently have, I decided to go vegan for January— affectionately called Veganuary. This was going to definitely test my resolve and discipline.

I’ve toyed around with the idea for the past few years, but even with a background in culinary arts, I felt intimidated by the prospect of only being able to eat plant-based items. No meat? Okay, I could do that. No seafood? Okay, this is a bit harder, as I love seafood. No dairy? I use non-fat Greek yogurt in and on everything. Truly, everything. No animal byproducts? I’m definitely going to be reading lots of labels, aren’t I? This is going to be interesting.

So, I ordered some vegan cookbooks (America’s Test Kitchen was my favorite!), spread out on my couch, and started to digest what the next 31 days were going to look like.

What I Learned

  • Sugar is NOT vegan. Since most white sugar is processed through animal bone char to bleach it, it is not considered vegan. Brown sugar is out as well, as it is molasses combined with white sugar. Solution: If you need sugar for a recipe, try using organic sugar instead.
  • Ketchup is NOT vegan. Since conventional ketchup contains sugar, and sugar is not vegan (see above), ketchup is, unfortunately, not vegan. Solution: Try using organic ketchup. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, make your own. Just make sure that you are using organic brown sugar when you make it.
  • Not all wine and beer are vegan. This one really surprised me. Upon more research, I found that many wines and beers use refining agents like albumin, gelatin, casein, and isinglass (fish byproduct). All products that are not vegan. Solution: If you still want to indulge in a glass of your favorite red or a pint of your favorite lager, you'll have to keep a weather eye out on the labels. Wine that contains bentonite clay or activated charcoal, or that are labelled organic, should be fine.
  • Not all chocolate is vegan. While good quality chocolate has a higher chocolate content, pure ingredients, and no additives, lesser quality chocolate can contain a lot of fillers, including milk, milk solids, or milk fat. Make it a point to check the label for any dairy or fillers. Solution: Look for higher quality chocolate. (Treat yourself!)
  • Chiles are a great flavor booster for your dishes. I've made several incredible dishes—one being a roasted poblano chili from ATK— that were so flavorful, that I didn't miss the meat in them.
  • Oat milk is actually quite delicious. As a recovering lactose-intolerant individual, I would still eat dairy even though it made me feel ill. There's something about adding a heavy cream to a sauce to make it creamier, or using milk for my post-workout protein shake to make it thicker, that just does it for me. However, going vegan for the month meant I had to use alternative non-dairy products. I tried oat milk and I have to say, I was quite surprised with how good it tasted. Even once I'm finished with Veganuary, I'll still continue using it.
  • You can still have fun coffee drinks! This is going to sound incredibly silly, but I was a little sad that I would not be able to grab a seasonal latte from one of my favorite neighborhood coffee shops. I know that it is more cost effective to make my own coffee at home. I know that I can make a good cup of coffee at home. But there is something about grabbing one of my favorite beverages out that makes me feel a bit normal in this COVID world we live in. So, when I stumbled across the Instagram account, @vegan_secretmenu, I was super excited! Whether I go to my local place, or the nearest Starbucks, I have fun ideas for how I can modify my drink of choice.
  • The "Vegan" label is a time saver! This one is truly amazing. Especially when I'm not in the mood to look at every single label of every single item that I'm buying at the grocery store. The label is a "V," which is used to mark food that is certified as being vegan.

One thing you should know about me is that I eat a lot. I mean A LOT. My family, friends, and colleagues can attest to the fact that I’m usually snacking on something at least every 2 hours. Homemade hummus, protein balls, and apples with peanut butter have been staples for me for a while and typically make it into a majority of my Zoom meetings, so it was great to see I could continue eating those. Phew!

What I really needed, though, was vegan dinner ideas. I searched through our site and came up with a robust list of possibilities. I’ve already made this vegan pesto (doctoring it a bit with some vegan Parmesan cheese), cauliflower and fennel pesto pizza with homemade whole wheat dough (I used organic sugar to keep it vegan), and our vegan tofu scramble. All were super tasty and pretty filling, without feeling like I had an anvil in my stomach. (Okay, vegan foods, I see you!)

While I’ve been struggling with not having dairy (whoa, did I quickly realize during this experience how much I used it as a go-to snack or topping), I’m excited about how creative I can be with my meal planning.

On the menu for this upcoming week: I’ll be making that delicious vegan pesto again, pairing it with fettuccine and this cheesy vegan garlic bread that has me drooling; I’ll be making vegan chickpea burgers, to satiate that burger craving I get every once in awhile; and these delightful looking cauliflower tacos