Lessons Learned From Going Vegan for a Week

I temporarily gave up all animal products, resulting in lots of disappointment but discovery as well.


Caption by Misbah Kaludi

Khadijah Rashid, Staff Writer

After attending a COD Students for Animal Welfare film screening, I decided to accept my adviser’s challenge of going vegan for a few days. I soon extended the period to one week to try to better mimic the experience of someone who was convinced by a documentary to switch to veganism. Beginning with the worst cupcakes I’d ever tried and ending with the best pancakes I’d ever made, the week was full of discoveries about my body and food. 

The first meal I had consisted of strawberries and a bowl of Progresso minestrone soup. I’d gone home from campus planning to have a peanut butter sandwich until I realized I was out of bread at home. It brought to mind what Ashley Fiedler of the animal welfare club shared after the film screening. As a high schooler, she ate what her family ate. So trying to make such a major dietary switch resulted in a lot of skipped meals. It also reinforced the importance of club adviser David Ouelette’s advice—when cutting out animal products, find good substitutes.

Many of my go-to foods would not make the cut into my vegan diet. A cup of Greek yogurt is what I’m used to grabbing before a morning shift at work. A day on campus for me often involves a mac and cheese, pizza or burrito lunch. A dinner cooked by my mom often, though not always, includes beef, chicken or fish, and a late-night fix of instant ramen is always shrimp flavored.

With this in mind, I forced myself to make sure I was eating at least two meals and one snack a day, as I normally would. I didn’t want to give up nutrition and energy, even though over a weekend packed with school and work responsibilities it meant a lot of eating out, and a lot of money spent. 

One of the questions I got asked multiple times was whether I felt more tired than usual. I didn’t. In an eight-hour work shift herding holiday shoppers through a checkout line, my fruit smoothie breakfast and Beyond chicken lunch were getting me through more than fine. 

Among the new plant-based foods I tried were avocado tostadas with seitan chorizo (very good), gluten-free cupcakes (very bad), the Burger King Impossible Whopper (bad), Panda Express’s Beyond orange chicken (good), Panera Bread’s Mediterranean bowl without the dairy products (very good), and Taco Bell’s fiesta veggie burrito with several substitutions to make it vegan (very good). My late-night snacks mostly included assorted fruits as I denied myself the frozen waffles, lava cakes, and ready-to-bake cookie dough sitting in my freezer and fridge. 

All these choices caused interactions I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I had to call restaurants to ask about their vegan options. An employee at Panda Express pointed out all the vegetarian options to me when I struggled to locate the Beyond chicken I’d read about online, and I was asked in the Burger King drive through if I wanted to remove the mayonnaise from my Impossible Whopper, which reminded me that mayonnaise has eggs and informed me that it was normally on the burger. 

I also ended up talking to my family about our religion’s position on animal rights and my own motivation behind trying veganism. We discussed the Islamic idea that humans have some rights over animals that come with a responsibility to treat them a certain way. We then got into the gray area of whether choosing to go vegan as a Muslim for ethical reasons is permissible. If someone believes God allows them to use and consume animals, is forgoing all animal products challenging God’s word? Our opinions varied. Did I intend to adopt this diet long term? No, but I believed some good could come out of it.

One of the most interesting outcomes of my week of veganism was the mental effect of denying my cravings, and I don’t mean the several strange dreams about food featuring my family and friends. By regularly stopping myself from eating the things I wanted to eat and refusing the foods my family offered me, I had unknowingly switched my brain into Ramadan mode, in which I, as a Muslim, fast from sunrise to sunset. I realized this as I sat down with my lunch and thought for a second that I can’t be eating. It was the same feeling I get before my first midday meals after Ramadan’s end. I also don’t listen to music while fasting, and during this week I found myself involuntarily hesitating before playing a song as I got in my car, then reminding myself no, I wasn’t fasting.

I found solace in my usuals that I was still able to eat, like pomegranate smoothies and my mom’s lentils and rice. On my second-to-last day of veganism, I brought one of these smoothies to school for my colleague, Noah McBrien, who was going temporarily vegan with me. McBrien saved me a squash and quinoa dish served at a school event. I love squash, eggplant and most common vegetables when they’re prepared in the South Asian style I’m used to, but I could not find any enjoyment in the flavorless, stringy meal before me. I knew I needed to eat something, and I didn’t want any of it to go to waste, so I powered through. 

The meal was disappointing, and I was desperate to eat the more enjoyable things I’d been craving, but having a vegan buddy softened the blow. McBrien and I had shared our first vegan dinner of the week together, and as the days went by we continued to update each other on whether we’d eaten, what we’d eaten, and if it was any good. For me, anything that takes accountability and willpower is much easier when I’m not doing it alone.

I also find that when voluntarily removing something from my life, guilt isn’t a sustainable motivator on its own. This is something I discussed with the animal welfare club after the screening. Knowledge of the conditions animals experience in industrial farms is already one of my personal reasons for eating meat that’s in accordance with halal standards. A bigger switch to plant-based products for me would have to be coupled with the knowledge that I’m “voting with my dollar,” as mentioned in the documentary “At the Fork.” I would be keeping in mind that my decisions as a consumer can contribute to changes in agriculture practices.

Something else I took from my discussion with the club was that one mistake doesn’t indicate failure. I realized the batter in the tempura vegetables I shared with my sister one night may have been made with eggs, but I let it slide and kept making an effort.

Photos by Khadijah Rashid

It wasn’t that it was hard for me to give up meat. In fact, I didn’t eat meat again until three days after the week had ended. It’s dairy and eggs that are embedded into my daily diet. These were the two things I had to substitute when I decided to use a pancake mix to make myself vegan pancakes, expecting them to be tough and grainy. With almond milk and banana, I ended up making myself one of the best pancakes I’d ever had. I’m definitely changing my go-to pancake recipe.

I paired that breakfast with a glass of juice instead of milk, which was already something I’d cut down on in the past four years when I realized it was the source of my lifelong digestive issues. Most of my family members are some degree of lactose intolerant, so my fridge was already stocked with almond milk. I used this almond milk on a few of my vegan mornings to have a bowl of cereal, something I’d also mostly given up. I never delved into milk substitutes because I still reacted to Lactaid and didn’t like the taste of almond milk when I tried it on its own, but I realized that in a bowl of cereal I didn’t mind it at all. 

I didn’t experience abdominal discomfort even once over the course of the week. I hadn’t realized that was still a normal part of my life until it was gone. I did however develop two small white spots on my nails which generally indicate calcium and zinc deficiency. I’ve never developed those before, so in reducing my dairy intake further I’d want to make sure I’m still incorporating those minerals into my diet.

Although I won’t be going permanently vegan, this week was full of discoveries. First of all, some vegan food is good. Also, my body thanks me when I feed it a more mindful diet. While my moral standpoint on consuming meat and animal products hasn’t changed, my willingness to make a change has increased. Find me in the grocery store line with pasture-raised eggs sometime soon.