Being vegan enticed me with assurances of glowing health and vitality, but it wasn't the joyful, cleansing experience I thought it would be. Despite carefully sticking to various gluten-free, vegan diets conceived by my doctor and dietitian, I had no energy and I got sick a lot. My blood sugar levels went crazy, and my pre-diabetic condition worsened. I tried for three years until the doctor told me to stop. I sold my copy of No Impact Man, silently cursing Colin Beavan for saying this was a good idea.
Recently, inexplicably, I decided to give it another shot. Maybe it was a guilty conscience, or vanity, who knows. I grew up seeing baby cow cages on front lawns in Ohio and studied environmental science in college. Still, I wouldn't be vegan if consuming moderate amounts of meat and dairy was essential for health. Sustainability is important, but I'm unapologetically anthropocentric when it comes to my own welfare. Turns out, soy was the culprit, so it didn't help.* My skin erupted, my meat-induced digestion issues returned, and my energy levels dropped. Granted, I'm not about to throw away secondhand leather. I'll continue wearing cruelty free alpaca and thrift shop wool. Oil extraction and the new clothing industry are responsible for both human and animal exploitation, so why continue the cycle when perfectly useful garments exist secondhand? The point is to be balanced and conscientious without judging others.
It's no secret I hate bulk bins. Zero-waste shopping doesn't depend on them- zucchini, potatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas, almonds, yams, and cabbage stand in for meat, pasta, flours, and rice. In Paris, dried foods (packaged or unpackaged) risk gluten contamination; fortunately, fresh beans and unshelled nuts are available at many markets, or in non-BPA lined reusable glass containers. Dark leafy vegetables, legumes, and root vegetables comprise the bulk of my diet, along with coconuts, avocados, olive oil, and whatever fruit is in season. Hummus and avocado are satisfying cheese and mayonnaise replacements, especially when ladled over falafel. I buy more recyclables than before, like gluten-free chia, hemp, and superfruits packaged in plastic-free paper at La Vie Claire, or buckwheat pasta my husband found in compostable cardboard. If that's too much packaging for you, the bulk selection at Causses (goji berries, olives, raw almonds, dehydrated chips) never makes me sick. Vegans unencumbered by a laundry list of intolerances can purchase fresh soybeans there.
For a homemade sugar / honey substitute, bake pitted dates 10 minutes in a 225° C oven, then grind with mortar and pestle. Alternately, simmer equal parts dried or fresh fruit and water in a covered saucepan for 15 minutes and grind. If you have time, raw vegan date syrup looks easy, healthy, and doesn't require a blender. I could still turn into Moses Martin, but right now, I have more energy and clearer skin. My stomach doesn't hurt, and my husband complimented me for being frugal. I promised forever ago I would post pictures of the food I eat. Presentation isn't my forte, so excuse the Pinterest fail photos. On a typical day, I might eat one avocado, one pumpkin, one pineapple, 500g beans, 500g leafy greens, 200g hummus, three beets, an entire botte of carrots or radishes, one zucchini, a whole head of cauliflower or broccoli, five peaches... you get the idea. Curries, chili, ratatouille, whole roasted vegetables, and coconut-based soups are quick, easy, and satisfying on cold days; otherwise, I copy grain-free meals from Shizen.fr and Mango and Salt. Let me know if you want the recipe for anything, but they're mostly self-explanatory. Just chop, roast, bake, steam, eat!
Clockwise from top: Chicory and avocado salad, endive salad, falafel, cauliflower pizza, salad, tandoori roasted cauliflower, coconut ice cream with stewed rhubarb, veggie chili, sweet potato and vegetable plate, salads, tomatoes and apples, buckwheat pasta with sweet potato, beet and hummus salad, cauliflower green curry, sweet potato kale burgers, homemade coconut milk and kombucha, goji berries with coconut and oats, guac, lentil salad, chia pudding with beetroot, salad, beets and sweet potatoes, coriander lime coconut chickpea salad, cabbage salad, salad, and stir-fry. Above: Mango, blackberry, and mint salad; butter beans with lemon, onions, and garlic. Not pictured: Most of the fruit / nuts I ate and all of the juices.
- Buy nuts and beans fresh, unshelled, not dried or in bulk
- Replace pasta and rice with spiralized vegetables; eat sweet potatoes and potiron for a cheap source of carbs
- Use chia seeds for pudding or egg substitutes (to make the pudding, soak a cup of chia seeds in a cup of nut milk)
- Instead of cereal, eat a real meal, or almonds, goji berries, and chia seeds in vegan milk
- Make your own nut milks and use the scraps for flour, cheese, yogurt, and vegan ice cream
- Substitute hummus and avocado for cheese
- Buy fresh herbs instead of dried spices, and always keep lemon, garlic, and olive oil on hand for flavoring. Make a batch of tandoori or curry paste in advance with fresh chilis / kaffir lime / tamarind and store in refrigerator for quick mealtime prep
- Eat whole fruits and vegetables instead of processed snacks- I 'm likely to eat a whole avocado or tomato and an entire botte of carrots or radishes in one sitting
- To take zero waste lunches to work, wrap sandwiches in cloth, chips / nuts / small snacks in drawstring linen bags, and pack other foods in a glass jar or stainless tiffin
- Try candelilla instead of beeswax
- Salt is less iodized in Europe, so be aware of possible nutrient deficiencies
- I visit VeganMania for toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and unpackaged soap; Causses, La Vie Claire, Epicerie Generale, La tête dans les olives, and street markets for food; Le Cairn for gluten-free, vegan treats and juices. Click here for a map of gluten-free, vegan restaurants in Paris.
*I do NOT advocate giving up any food- especially gluten- unless medically necessary, because it's often difficult to reincorporate into your diet. I only changed my diet after being diagnosed with celiac disease, lactose intolerance, egg intolerance, and a soy allergy by several doctors in several countries- skin prick tests, blood tests, the balloon test, drinking barium, endoscopies, you name it, all positive :( I don't let people bring gluten into our apartment, though, because it's too hard to prevent cross-contamination.