Let me start by introducing myself: I'm Hallie, a beauty editor who cares about health and wellness. It's practically part of my job description. That being said, I'm also a person who indulges in meat and dairy-dressed dishes at almost every meal. I'd even go so far as to say meat is always the pièce de résistance when I sit down to eat.
At Byrdie, we have two vegan editors who, with no judgment whatsoever, talk about their food choices in a way that just makes sense. I've gone out to meals with both of them and questioned my allegiance to meat every single time. Between that and the night I spent watching Netflix's Okja (watch it; you'll cry the whole way through and swear off the meat industry by the time the credits roll), I decided to experiment with a plant-based diet… for a week.
Before embarking on this (very out-of-character) journey, I spoke to Victoria, our wellness editor, about her experience and why she decided it was right for her. "At first, my veganism (I do feel the need to clarify that technically, I identify as plant-based, and while I use vegan as the more colloquial term, my entire routine is technically not vegan—I still own leather, for example) was basically a progression from being a nondairy vegetarian," she says. "After giving up dairy, I was so astonished by how great I felt that I decided to go all the way and eliminate all other animal products, too. I hadn't been eating meat for a few years at this point for personal moral reasons.
"But my aha moment came a year later when I took a college class about food, animals, and the environment. While diving into the ethics of our food system and animal cruelty certainly cemented my reasoning for avoiding those products, I was even more struck by the horrific environmental ramifications of factory farming, which is one of the leading causes of climate change. It inspired me to read a ton of literature on the subject, and I feel passionate about my role as a consumer in the fight for our planet.
"But physically speaking, I also know that my body thrives on my plant-based diet. (I also recognize that every body is different, and some people truly can't get the nutrition they need, but it works for me.) I try my best to eat sustainably, and I love the experience of buying my produce from the farmers market. It makes me feel connected to the planet, and I think that's a huge part of my health as well."
Inspired by her words and excited about the new vegan restaurants in the area, I prepared myself for a week without animal products. Below, I lay out the play-by-play and explain how it all went down.
I've eaten at By Chloe before (it's like a vegan Shake Shack with locally sourced ingredients) and was excited to have another reason to go. My favorite option, The Guac Burger, is a black bean, quinoa, and sweet potato patty with corn salsa, onion, guacamole, and tortilla strips, all piled high on a whole-grain bun. It's sweet, savory, and unbelievably delicious—especially for something with no meat whatsoever. I paired it with an order of fries and beet ketchup. Day one? A smashing success. I could get used to this.
I pick up cucumber-and-avocado sushi for lunch during the week a lot, mostly because Victoria once told me eating avocado will help with my hair health. So this meal was nothing out of the ordinary and left me feeling satisfied. It's small, but it's the perfect amount of food to get me through a working lunch. I was feeling full and happy. Perhaps my venture into veganism was going to be easier than I thought.
Excited to finally try Jajaja, a particularly Instagram-friendly new restaurant on the Lower East Side, I took a look at the plant-based menu. It referred to a meat substitute called "our chorizo," that topped a taco and its nachos. I was interested in something hearty, so I went for it. I'm still not sure what it was, but it was spicy, delicious, and accompanied by radish, cilantro, red pepper, onion, and wrapped in a turmeric tortilla. Basically, it was heaven on a plate, and I ate every last bite (and may have ordered a second). As I left, though, I realized my choices had been heavier and less traditionally healthy than I imagined. I pictured "going vegan" as plates of dry lettuce and raw vegetables, and what I had been eating was far from that.
As a full-on Thai-food addict, I already knew I'd like the tofu pad Thai at Mother of Pearl, a vegan restaurant in the East Village. I sat down, ordered the mixture of rice noodles, bell peppers, carrots, bean sprouts, and cilantro in a tamarind sauce. I left really full. Again, it was becoming clearer and clearer that in order to keep bloating at bay, I had to make some different choices, even if I was sticking to a strictly vegan diet.
Victoria always talks about how much she loves this quinoa recipe that she makes herself. Perhaps what I should have done was buy the groceries and make it at home. But I'm not exactly a cook. Instead, I ordered a bowl from Roast Kitchen, a vegan lunch spot near Byrdie HQ. It was satiating but light, and it made me feel so much better. I would eat that bowl every day if I could.
After all was said and done, I ate well. It just so happens that when I pitched this experiment, a ton of new, aesthetically pleasing restaurants had recently opened, and I was jonesing to try them. What I learned, however, is how I'd have to completely restructure my eating habits to make my mind (and my body) happy as a vegan. Usually, when I'm trying to eat healthily, I stick to grilled chicken, vegetables, and salads with cheese. Take the dairy and meat out of that equation, and you're left with… lettuce and vegetables. I wouldn't have been happy or satisfied if I just ate that. So instead I went to the other extreme and gorged on vegan tacos, burgers, fries, and noodles.
I spoke to Amanda, our features editor, about how I was feeling, and she put it into perspective. "It takes a lot of research and reworking what you've always considered healthy eating. It's a commitment for sure," she said. Victoria agreed that going vegan isn't always inherently healthier. "Fun fact," she said. "Doritos are vegan. So are Oreos. My favorite restaurant in Brooklyn is a Southern-style vegan diner that specializes in gut-busting comfort food. My usual order includes sweet potato fries and curry 'mayo' with a banana split for dessert."
To be honest, I'm happy to give it another go. This time with more research to equip myself with when all I want to do is order roast chicken for dinner. FYI: Yes, I did go to dinner one night during this week and get the roast chicken. I broke. But the rest of the week I held strong, and I'm good with that.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.