Sunday, September 15

My weeklong vegan experiment on the Hill

Kale, the much-ridiculed vegetable, is somewhat of a symbol of veganism. (Creative Commons photo via

Kale, the much-ridiculed vegetable, is somewhat of a symbol of veganism. (Creative Commons photo via

With diets that frequently come and go, we are inundated with a plethora of constantly changing and often conflicting information on what to eat and what not to eat. It’s hard to discern what the optimal diet truly is – even the food pyramid of our childhood is now void.

Currently, one of the biggest health trends is veganism, with celebrities and ordinary people alike advocating for it. A vegan diet is animal-free and has three rules: no meat, no dairy and no eggs. Some choose to go vegan because of health reasons, while others do it for ethical reasons and a love for animals.

Because veganism is a more extreme version of vegetarianism, it’s often the butt of jokes and the object of ridicule. There’s a prevailing stereotype of vegans that they are a population who shove their beliefs down everyone else’s throats. Apparently, if someone is vegan, they’re defined by it to a certain extent, which doesn’t make sense because it is simply just a different diet.

On the Internet, there’s much heated debate concerning the validity of veganism, but it’s usually simply personal opinion without scientific backing. According to Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, a physician at the RFO Weight Management program of UCLA’s Center for Human Nutrition, a vegan diet has overall health benefits, but also has drawbacks that vegans need to be mindful of.

“(Vegans) tend to have a lower risk for heart disease, obesity, certain cancers and a lower risk for cardiovascular disease overall,” Surampudi says. “People who have a higher plant-based intake take in a lot less saturated fats and a lot less processing.”

Despite these benefits, Surampudi warns that there are certain nutrients and vitamins that vegans need to supplement. This includes protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc and calcium.

Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles, these food fads that I used to only read about are now all around me. What I really want to understand is, why is veganism such a big trend, and why is it such a big deal? If I went vegan, would my life be forever changed? Would I even notice anything?

To answer these questions, and hopefully to improve my physical well-being, I decided to go vegan for a week.

Day one

Lunch at Bruin Plate:

  • Italian-style seitan with spinach and whole-wheat penne
  • Grain and hummus wrap
  • Thai tofu stacker
  • Roasted Yukon potatoes and fennel
  • Cantaloupe and kiwi

Dinner at Covel:

  • Veggie burger
  • Fries
  • Vegetable rice
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Minestrone soup
  • Special K cereal

Thoughts: Lunch was pretty close to a typical meal I’d eat at Bruin Plate while dinner was more momentous, as I had my first ever veggie burger. Because I knew that my options were limited, I felt more compelled to finish everything on my plate. After both meals, I didn’t feel bogged down by the food, which was a refreshing change.

However, Mother Nature obviously had a vendetta against me, because my time of the month kicked in. The cravings that I would usually satisfy with Cheez-Its had to be grudgingly dealt with using vegan animal crackers and bananas.

Day two

Lunch at Bruin Plate:

  • Iced coffee with sugar and Vanilla Silk
  • Lemon-ginger tofu with bulgur
  • Red quinoa and garlic green beans
  • Brown basmati rice
  • Roasted butternut squash
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Cranberry walnut bread with almond cashew butter and pineapple compote
  • Corn, tofu and edamame with kale vinaigrette
  • Mangoes and blueberries

Dinner at Café 1919:

  • Verdura arrosto pizzette
  • Potato chips

Thoughts: I was shocked to find out that my favorite cranberry walnut bread at Bruin Plate that I’ve been eating this whole year is vegan. This reassured me that at the very least, I won’t starve this week. For dinner, the vegan cheese on the pizza was so convincing that I double-checked and triple-checked to make sure that I had ordered the right thing. They’ve nailed the mozzarella taste, and the texture is only noticeably different upon further inspection – props to whoever crafted this cheese. Even though there’s only one vegan pizza option on the menu at Café 1919, in my opinion the quality makes up for the quantity.

Day three

Brunch at De Neve dining hall:

  • Oatmeal with cinnamon and sugar
  • Veggie burger
  • Sweet potato fries with brown sugar and cinnamon
  • Coffee with non-dairy creamer

Dinner at Rendezvous:

  • Vegan spinach and mushroom quesadilla with guacamole
  • Rice, beans, salsa and lime

Thoughts: This day was definitely the lowest point of the week. Almost all breakfast foods include cheese and eggs, both of which I absolutely love, so seeing other people eating them when I couldn’t was heartbreaking. Everywhere I walked in De Neve dining hall, hunting for vegan options, the plates of waffles and scrambled eggs mocked me. I tried to enjoy my oatmeal and veggie burger, and although being a vegan prevented me from overeating, it also prevented me from being happy. Dinner wasn’t an improvement, as the cheese in this quesadilla was not on par with that of Café 1919’s cheese, and it gave the quesadilla a slightly slimy texture. However, that night I discovered that Thin Mints are vegan, and that made up for the subpar brunch and dinner. I devoured a sleeve; ironically, being a vegan gave me an excuse to justify eating unhealthily.

Day four

Brunch at Bruin Plate:

  • Red potato hash
  • Cranberry walnut bread with cashew almond butter and pineapple compote
  • Vegan brownie
  • Vegan pumpkin walnut bread
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins

Dinner at Bruin Plate:

  • Potato with broccoli
  • Seitan with brown rice, kale, carrot and peanut bowl
  • Cranberry walnut bread with cashew almond butter
  • Pineapple compote
  • Roasted carrots
  • Corn
  • Butternut squash
  • Kale vinaigrette
  • Blueberries and mangoes

Day five

Lunch at De Neve dining hall:

  • Penne with mushrooms and spinach
  • Veggie burger
  • French fries

Dinner at Bruin Café:

  • Thai curry vegetable bowl
  • Strawberry orange smoothie

Thoughts: It pains me to admit that I accidentally broke my completely vegan diet when I was so close to the finish line. Curse you, strawberry orange smoothie, for being my hamartia. It didn’t even occur to me to check if the smoothie was vegan until later, and it turns out that there isn’t a vegan smoothie option at Bruin Café.

Day six

Lunch at Bruin Plate:

  • Roasted cauliflower
  • Turnip greens and linguini with lemon and olive
  • Curried tofu with snow peas
  • Cranberry walnut bread with peanut butter
  • Coffee with Vanilla Silk

Dinner at Rendezvous:

  • Chow mein noodles
  • Stir-fried vegetables
  • Baby bok choy
  • Tofu

Day seven

Lunch at De Neve dining hall:

  • Potato chile colorado with flour tortilla and Mexican rice
  • French fries

Dinner at Bruin Plate:

  • Brown Calrose rice
  • Garlic green beans
  • Grilled Santa Maria tofu
  • Roasted Yukon potatoes
  • Fennel

The aftermath

It’s been a week of having my experience documented on many Snapchat stories and enduring vegan jokes, but by the end of the experiment I had gotten so used to the diet that I didn’t even realize that it was ending soon. While I don’t think I will become a full-time vegan, this experiment has definitely encouraged me to eat healthier and to reduce the amount of meat and dairy I consume. It forced me to stop overeating and try new foods that I normally wouldn’t try. It also showed me that I can actually survive without dessert.

Although people automatically equate being a vegan with being healthy, it doesn’t –you could only eat fries every single day and call yourself a vegan. I ate more fries and potato chips than I normally would’ve, and couldn’t eat some of my favorite healthy foods, such as Greek yogurt. Also, being a vegan doesn’t mean resigning yourself to bland and tasteless meals – I ate a variety of different foods and didn’t just survive off of salads. In fact, I didn’t have a single salad with lettuce this entire week.

I stopped experiencing food comas, didn’t feel constantly bogged down by meals, and had better digestion. Even though this was only a week, I truly did feel physically better, especially since this is the part of the quarter where I would normally stress eat. Moreover, I actually lost 3.2 pounds in one week. Although this surprised me, it didn’t surprise Surampudi, because weight loss is normal when one switches from a meat-based diet to a vegetable-based diet.

Being a vegan on the Hill takes more time and energy, but it isn’t too much of an inconvenience if your personal benefit outweighs the cost, especially since all vegan options in the dining halls are labeled. If anyone on the Hill is thinking of going vegan, I’d recommend trying it now since it would be more difficult in the real world.

Although this week of going vegan was a big lifestyle change, I still don’t understand why it’s seen as such a big deal. Veganism is just another diet that appeals to some and is unfathomable to others. Diet trends come and go, but a healthy lifestyle is a constant.

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  • Mahalet M

    Veganism is not a diet! Veganism is a lifestyle where you choose to avoid the exploitation of animals as much as is possible.

  • Elaine Vigneault

    Congrats on giving it a try. Please also consider visiting Animal Acres (Farm Sanctuary) nearby in Acton, CA. There you can come face-to-face with many of the reasons I’m vegan :)