Veganuary: Our Editor Goes Plant-Based for the Month

How Will This Cheese and Egg Lover Survive?

Vegetables_Getty Images

 Getty Images_Vegetables

I’m not a vegan, but I’m only eating plants this month. Why? The main reason is simple: I know meat and dairy are hard on the environment and I eat way more than my fair share. Livestock creates about 14 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. According to the latest U.N. report on climate change, “balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods present major opportunities.” I don’t mean to be a downer, but I also don’t want to ignore this very important fact anymore.

As a food editor, I think about eating and cooking constantly and I now have to think about it in a new way. Normally, the food in our house features eggs-a-minute, milk with more milk, daily yogurt and meat. My love of milk and cheese is deep. I’ve been seen buttering my cheese. I run a lot and food is my fuel. It’s my job, my obsession, and a daily source of comfort and joy, so going vegan—even for just a month—is a big change. 

Almost every meal I eat has animal products in it. At breakfast, green smoothies are normal for me, but my beloved morning coffee normally has milk and my 13-year-old’s breakfast is another story with buttered toast, mango milkshakes, and crepes. For me, lunch and snacks are indistinguishable. It’s normal to eat something like hard-boiled eggs, several bites of cheese, and a yogurt. My daughter confesses to eating a slice of pizza for lunch almost every day. Our dinner plates feature piles of carnitas, fundito, bacon cheeseburgers, chicken thighs, Vietnamese pork chops, squid rings, bone broths, hunks of crispy-skinned salmon. Of course, there are rice and noodles and soups and really nice roasted, steamed, smashed, and shaved vegetables of every sort supporting them, but the veggies are not the main story. Eating out is a freefall of tacos, sushi, shawarma, kebabs, and curries. Cooking for friends is a pageant of edible animals from land and sea. 

Already, it’s clear to me that eating only plants for the rest of January will help me pay attention to what I’m cooking and eating. It’s helping me be creative and maybe more compassionate. Moderation isn’t my strong suit, but I have successfully quit smoking and run three marathons and I think this will be a little like both: equal parts hard and rewarding.

Here Is My Plan

  • Eat only foods made out of plants for all of January.
  • Concentrate on whole ingredients and try not to eat too many vegan replacements.
  • Just eat a little sugar in my normal way and ignore the bone-char conundrum.
  • Continue to use whatever body care products and leather things I currently own.
  • Take notes and be honest, and try not to judge or complain.

I did not do much to prepare: I put a bar of milk chocolate and mini Kit Kats into a box and hid it. I made and ate paneer to get rid of the last of the milk and I put my soup bones into the compost bin. They were hogging too much space in the freezer. I made carrot ginger and tahini salad dressings, then went to a New Year’s Eve party and ate a vat of queso. I woke up with resolve. At lunch that day, I stated the phrase for the first time ever in a restaurant, “We are vegan.”

“That was scary,” my daughter said.

So scary! But why?

The whirlpool of fears includes: Being hungry, being full, being bored, gaining weight, losing control, offending vegans, alienating omnivores, missing out on fun, running out of time, changing my mind, changing in general. Change is scary. But there has been a lot of encouragement. For starters, I’m not alone—so many food publications are focusing on plants and moving away from dairy and meat this month, so good ideas abound. Most cuisines consist of foods that are made without animal proteins. I love most vegetables and hope many habits will stick around when Veganuary ends.

Will I find new favorite foods? Will I lose weight? Be more healthy? Will my skin glow as if illuminated from within? Then what? I don’t know what I’ll do in February. In the weeks leading up to this experiment, eating was tinged with melancholy (last cheeseburger, last fried egg). Will I go back to loving brisket as much as I did? I’m doing this with my whole heart but I don’t quite know what “this” is yet.

Check in every Friday this month for a weekly update from Heather.