Authors: Kirsten Steunenberg and Aleksandra Jovanovic
In the blog Reflections on the LUGO Challenge – What is veganism?, we introduced our readers to the concept of veganism and its effects on our environment. But, what is it like to be vegan? LUGO has interviewed two students from our university that were more than happy to tell us more about their personal lifestyle and what triggered them to become vegan or try the plant-based diet out. Let’s talk about veganism!
For how long have you been vegan and what spurred you to become Vegan?
Saskia: I have been vegan for 2,5 years now. I have always been busy with topics such as nature, climate change and environmental preservation. However, there was one moment in my life that has changed my personal lifestyle.
During a holiday, my friend and I were driving to the beach with the car, the air conditioning on its maximum level At one point, we started to have a discussion global environmental issues, and that we should think of how to change the current situation on an individual level. However, I realized that what we were doing at that moment (driving the car, full on airco) was everything but sustainable.
This situation triggered me to do some research on how to decrease my ecological impact on the environment. This soon brought me to the topic of veganism. I got super into it and I decided to try the vegan lifestyle.
Do you miss certain things in your diet?
Saskia: Well, I am a big cake lover… If I have lunch with a friend, we usually share a nice cake together. So, that’s something that I am finding difficult as a vegan, as sometimes there are no vegan options. However, I always try to bring my friends to places that are vegan-friendly and offer many alternatives for me as a cake lover! There are so many vegan lunchrooms these days, but this does need some prior research.
How do you substitute the things that you miss?
Saskia: When I first started reading about veganism, my first reaction was: No way … How can I replace my daily yogurt with muesli and fruits. I am so used to this, I can’t do this!
Yet, I soon realized that I can substitute my dairy breakfast with many plant-based options. For breakfast, I love to have fruit smoothies with almond milk. Or… oatmeal!
Breakfast time! Oatmeal with oatmilk, cinnamon, fruits, dates and goji berries…
Also, I have always been a cheese lover, but I sometimes treat myself with vegan cheese from organic supermarkets. Also ‘edelgistvlokken’ (nutrional yeast) is a good substitute for grated parmesan cheese for pasta dishes. So, there are replacements for everything these days!
Vegan Pasta Pesto: one of my favorite dishes.
Sometimes people can be quite negative and ‘joky’ about vegans. How do you deal with this?
Saskia: I think that this negativity around the word ‘vegan’ mainly comes forth
from human ignorance. Some people are just not aware of what veganism entails and think in a very simplistic manner. ‘Oh, vegans just eat carrots and cabbage. They are not getting enough proteins…’. These just some stereotypical examples.
One of the most negative personal experiences was during a day of work at a beach restaurant I have been working at. A man came to pay his bill and said that he really enjoyed his piece of bavette (steak). He asked me whether I have ever tried one. I answered him that I do not eat meat, so that I have not tried it.
His first reaction: Ridiculous! ‘These cows are slaughtered anyway… and soybean plantations are super bad for the environment’. At that point I thought to myself ‘Yes, but the majority of these beans are fed to the cattle…’. But, I had to hold myself from getting into that discussion.
Even though I felt quite mad inside, I thanked him for his feedback and wished him a pleasant day thinking ‘I chose to be vegan for myself, not for others, and I do not I do not work here to impose on others what they should and should not eat, I rather give them more options to choose from’.
Do you have some last words that you want to share with your reader?
Saskia: When you start to eat more plant-based food, do not force yourself to give up everything non-vegan all at once. Do try to focus on the things that you can eat. There are so many vegan options that will only let you discover new tasty things and experiment with that! Also, sometimes it is okay to choose a middleway. Especially in the beginning of a vegan challenge: you do not have to be full-on vegan. It’s already a great thing if you are vegan for a couple of days a week.
I think the most important thing is to stay conscious about what you are consuming and where it comes from. That consciousness is very meaningful, and from there you can make your own personal choices that will have a more positive impact on the environment.
Broaden your food horizon with creative alternatives!
How did you hear about the LUGO Vegan Challenge?
Vera: I heard about Leiden University Green Office for the first time at an information market from the University. LUGO had a stand over there to inform students about their activities and tell their goals. This made me enthusiastic and I decided to like LUGO on Facebook to stay up-to-date on their activities.
So, Facebook was also the platform where I first heard about the Vegan Challenge. I informed my roommates about the challenge, because I live in a house where we all try to live as sustainable as possible.
What was your first reaction?
Vera: At first I was quite enthusiastic, and one of my roommates as well. We decided to participate in the Vegan Challenge together. I have been a vegetarian for about 2,5 years already and I don’t have any issues with this whatsoever. This made me think that eating vegan for a month would be quite easy as well.
What did you eat in the first week of the challenge? How did you feel: stronger, weaker, tired, hungry?
Vera: Hummus! *Laughs* Lots of hummus… On top of that, my roommate is a really good cook and she loves to explore the vegan cuisine. She cooked us delicious, creative meals with tofu, tempeh and lots of vegetables. Cooking our own soup also turned out to be really easy and delicious as well.
But, I have to admit that the vegan challenge took place in a really busy period of the year. The exams were coming up and I had some other things to work on as well. Therefore, I didn’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen cooking the delicious vegan meals that are around.
At first I felt really good, although the vegan challenge was harder than expected. As a vegetarian I thought skipping on other animal products would be easy, but some people around me didn’t really get why I wanted to try this and I was struggling more than expected. After two weeks I became sick and I honestly don’t know if this was because of a lack of nutrients. I decided that, with the exams coming up, going back to my old vegetarian diet was a smart choice to make sure that I would feel better soon. After almost three weeks I quit the vegan challenge for that reason… Maybe I didn’t read enough about veganism beforehand to ensure I got all the necessary nutrients or maybe the vegan challenge just happened in a badly timed period for me, I don’t know.
Did you have a moment of weakness?
Vera: My moments of weakness were mainly around social events. My aunt cooked yummy food for her birthday and I felt really bad refusing something, just because there was only some milk in it. Also, eating out with friends was really hard. I found out that there are three types of restaurants: 1. hip and vegan restaurants that serve the best vegan food, 2. ‘in between’ restaurants that know about veganism but struggle to serve something good or don’t have vegan options on their menus and 3. restaurants that are, in my opinion, a bit old-fashioned and don’t serve vegan food and rather see their vegan guests eating somewhere else.
Vegan yummy food at the Vegan Junk Bar, Amsterdam
I experienced the latter unfortunately, when I rang up a restaurant to inquire about their vegan options and they didn’t serve anything good at all. These were some moments when I was struggling with being vegan, because I just wanted to have a nice night out with friends.
What is your general experience, will you turn into a vegan?
Vera: I definitely want to know more about veganism and I will stay passionate about sustainability in the future. I think for environmental reasons, veganism is still the best way to go and the vegan challenge didn’t change a thing for me about that. Although the challenge was harder than expected, haha. I will try to cut down on my dairy consumption, but for now I am not going to be a full-on vegan.
Thank you very much for sharing your experiences girls!