Chronicles of a Carnivorous Vegan: A University of Chicago student gets a taste of life without animal products

This past week the University of Chicago celebrated the dietary and philosophical practice of veganism through “Try Vegan Week,” presented by the UofC Vegan Society. Campus vegans rallied support for their cause through study breaks and information sessions about their eating habits and personal beliefs. Despite being an avid lover of all things dairy and crawling I decided to take up the challenge, to see if I had what it took to adapt to a new diet and lifestyle. I’m in housing with a meal plan so I was determined not to cook and survive the vegan experience on limited resources.

My pursuit of vegan perfection began with a quick search of the be all and end all–Wikipedia. “Veganism: a philosophy and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” List of famous vegans off the top of my head: hmm… Ted Leo, Dennis Kucinich, Pamela Anderson. But what did I know about truly becoming vegan? “Remember, pizza is not vegan,” my mom told me. Thanks Mom. None of my close acquaintances were vegans; my experience was limited. I heard that vegans sometimes smell strangely, although probably not from a reliable source. I have one (carnivorous) friend who loves vegan cookies and sometimes makes me split them with her but I don’t think that counts. Well, my lack of intimate knowledge only meant that I had quite the quest ahead of me. It was time to sheathe my knife and skewer and bid a fond adieu to cheese. Vegan week had begun!

In honor of vegan week there were talks every night along with free vegan cuisine. Of the five UofC vegans that were polled at one of the talks/question and answer sessions, all had become vegans for moral and ethical reasons. I learned very quickly that becoming vegan is much easier if you’re already vegetarian and if you have a support group of fellow vegans. I was already behind, but discouraged? Not I!

My first full day of veganism I was running late for class so breakfast was not really an issue, but when I searched later I discovered that my normal breakfast, oatmeal, was vegan so meal one was set. Peanut butter and whole wheat bread would take me through lunch. Wednesday night my friends were hosting a fondue night complete with chocolate and cheese. One can forget the social atmosphere that often centers around eating, and amidst the dipping and gossiping it was certainly hard to keep away from the cheese. So much for a support group. I began to wonder if vegans deliberately avoided situations in order not to worry about being tempted. That would seem to be a slightly sad existence until you made a lot of vegan friends, I supposed. Good thing I like strawberries.

For Thursday’s dinner I went for veggie stir fry. “Did you ask them to cook it in a clean pan?” my friend asked me. Whoops. Who knew what kind of residue was mixed in! I realized that the teriyaki sauce could even have some sort of animal something in it; I had no idea. I seriously needed to invest in a vegan book or at the very least search Google before dinner. At least I knew I was safe with my special vegan brownie, even if it dried my mouth.

Friday at dinnertime, I went over to the vegetarian section in Bartlett Dining Commons for the first time in my life and accidentally began eating a vegetarian enchilada. I’m from Texas; it’s not like I don’t know that there is cheese in those things. So much for having made the complete conscious thought switch. I switched to spinach, an apple and peanut butter, and a vegan cookie that made my roommate gag when I made her try it. I ate almost an entire pack of saltines later that night but was too hungry to check if they were vegan. Close enough, I supposed.

My first day back as an omnivore my roommate and I enjoyed an early breakfast. I had been told that I would not be craving meat after my transition. The first thing I wanted was Bartlett bacon. I don’t even like bacon. I suppose there are extremes in all cases.

But I had survived, was almost successful. All in all I have no desire to make the complete transition to veganism. I can understand not wanting to hurt animals, but I don’t think I could justify killing a bug while being vehemently opposed to the destruction of chickens. The environmental reasons are also somewhat convincing–a UofC study in 2006 by Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, assistant professors of geophysics, found that Americans who switched from the average American diet to a vegan diet reduce CO2 emissions by 1,485 kg per year. Fighting global warming is always admirable.

A decision as encompassing as becoming a vegan is very personal and I certainly admire the creativity vegans must apply in creating their cuisine. Being a vegan is not for everyone, but it was certainly worth the learning experience. Maybe next time I’ll try being a fruitarian: those individuals who only eat those plants which have fallen from the tree and are, in fact, dead. Shouldn’t be too hard.