Occasionally I’ll make an on the spot decision. Heading towards the airport early last Saturday morning for a business trip to the USA I made one. I decided to go vegan for the week!
Why? Well, we’ve all seen the promotion for Veganuary and whilst I wasn’t prepared to attempt a month, I did wonder how a vegan diet would affect me both physically and mentally. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the effects would be more wide ranging than simply health, fitness, and attitude. Having recently watched ‘Game Changer’ I was interested to see if the benefits the film promotes were real. Regardless, with long haul flights to the USA and back for a week-long business trip I could at least say I had tried to repay my carbon footprint in some way. What I hadn’t realised at the time was that the vegan movement hasn’t reached Fayetteville in North Carolina. Being a vegan wasn’t going to be that easy!
I announced my intent to my colleagues accompanying me on the trip which elicited some looks of amazement as they know I love to hunt and fish. I then moved on to my first dietary challenge which was getting breakfast in the Aer Lingus lounge. The options were limited. Whilst cereal was available the only milk was dairy. This was to become a common theme and I was going to have to get used to black tea pretty quickly. With cereal off the menu I looked at the cooked option. I rarely eat a cooked breakfast except on a Sunday after a Saturday night! Obviously, the meat and eggs were off the menu, but I was able to avail of the potatoes and beans. Food on board is never very appetising, but I fell into that trap whenever you go on a diet – always thinking about food! On any normal day I wouldn’t even think about eating until early afternoon but the moment I set a dietary challenge my mind seems to focus on food continuously. So, another first, I decided to attempt the flight food and made my only break to the full vegan rules as the vegetable lasagne had milk in the ingredients. However, it was vegetable lasagne or nothing and so I was, I’m afraid weak.
My journey to the USA saw me land in Boston before getting a connecting flight to Raleigh Durham. The transfer time was supposed to be two hours but was soon extending out to three then four as the flight was delayed. I can tell you that the restaurants in Boston airport are not places vegans would find much to eat. In the end I settled for a bag of almond nuts and a bottle of Coke Zero (which is vegan friendly!). I was beginning to get a little concerned as I knew from previous visits if Boston airport was difficult then Fayetteville was going to an even bigger challenge!
It was late before we arrived at our Hilton Garden Inn hotel so there was no need to consider meal options until the following morning. I awoke with a dull head, feeling a little bloated. This could well have been due to the flight, but I regularly travel long haul and hadn’t really felt quite so groggy before. Breakfast simply wasn’t an option in the hotel and vegan dietary requirements certainly weren’t something they accommodated. They did have fruit and some porridge, but I wasn’t prepared to pay $14 for a bowl of porridge and an apple. If I had remained an omnivore, I could have eaten my fill of cooked and baked foods along with fresh fruit for the same price as they offered a buffet service.
We were due to meet our customers later that morning so on the way to their offices we stopped at Walmart, that well-known megastore. Whilst my colleagues discovered for the first time that you can buy guns alongside your groceries, I tried to find some vegan ready meals to have as a fall back should my search for vegan restaurants prove difficult. I hadn’t expected my challenge to be worse than I imagined but it would appear veganism isn’t something Walmart has decided to support just yet, well certainly not in Fayetteville. Equally my search for a non-dairy milk didn’t go well but that was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t know what it would look like or where they would keep it. I would find out later in the week though as there’s only so much black tea I could drink!
Meeting up with our customers and explaining my dietary decision for the week was met at first with disbelief and then quickly followed by some serious ribbing. I didn’t expect anything different to be honest. They all admitted that meat is a central part of their diet and social scene. Not only that they nearly all hunt. At the end of the day whilst heading back to the hotel I conducted a Google search for vegan restaurants. Nothing! A few restaurants came up but when I investigated further the best, they could offer was potentially vegan friendly.
I also started to realise that I couldn’t expect my colleagues to come with me as they weren’t adopting the same diet for the week and were keen to visit more conventional establishments. Hooters was their destination for the first night, so I elected to stay back at the hotel and tuck into my Walmart fruit and nut supplies. This situation became the routine for the week. After returning to the hotel I would head to the gym and then to my room. I’d eat either an apple, banana, some grapes, or strawberries along with some nuts. That would be it. Mornings would generally be another apple or banana and black tea. My American hosts for the week did take me to a Mexican restaurant on two day for lunch where I was able to get a rice bowl laden with vegetables but with the standard cheese removed. However, after two days of the same they weren’t too keen to head there for a third occasion and neither was I.
I have no doubt that someone reading this will be able to go onto the internet and tell me of a few locations where I could have found a full vegan offering in the area. However, I had a busy schedule for the week, so food was something that needed to be readily available and not a task in its own right. That’s the reality of life. Its easy to do things if it’s your only focus but when it’s the support act it becomes much more difficult.
Having watched Game Changer, I had expected to feel more energised each day as the diet progressed. I didn’t. I felt bloated. My ablutions certainly became more frequent but I’m not sure that assisted my daily routine. The biggest issue I had however was headaches. Now, for full disclosure I am susceptible to migraine and don’t travel anywhere without migraine medication. I’ve never been able to determine the cause of the headaches other than a change in the chemical equilibrium in my body can trigger an episode. In the seven days I underwent the diet I endured 4 migraines. On the days I didn’t have a migraine I still suffered headaches of some sort. Maybe the headaches would subside after a few days or weeks but that’s not something I’ll have to worry about going forward. The seemingly non-stop current promotion in the media claims that a vegan lifestyle provides a balanced diet without the need for supplements. When questioned about a protein deficiency the vegan response is that animals get their protein from plants and therefore human consumption of meat is getting the protein third hand. After this week I would challenge that. Even if the premise can be proven scientifically, the harsh reality of vegan food on the go is totally unbalanced. The table below shows the nutritional value of the foods I ate this week. Its clear to see it is heavily weighted in favour of dietary fibre and conversely lacking in protein for most food sources. Calorie count was generally low but for some reason I did not lose any weight.
As you can see from my weekly food intake for the week, my choice would appear environmentally friendly. However, looking closer we can see that the almond nuts only exist because of the transient nature of bee pollination employed in the USA.
As a vegan should I therefore eat the almond nuts as I’ve exploited the bee to get them? Likewise, the fruit wasn’t necessarily locally produced so I can’t determine the carbon footprint to get them to the Walmart grocery shelves. There were other side effects that I hadn’t even considered. Eating vegan in USA is very difficult. It resulted in a lonely existence. It wasn’t even a case of not expecting my colleagues, or customers, to come with me to vegan eateries as there weren’t any. It was more a case of me not being able to accompany them to their dining locations as there wasn’t a vegan option on the menu.
In the UK, we exist in our own bubble. We feel bombarded by minority groups for all manner of topics. Veganism is currently front and centre. Celebrities, the media, and a plethora of loud vegan groups are all telling us how it’s healthier for us and more environmentally friendly for the planet. Its not surprise that fast food providers have jumped on the bandwagon. If you are competing for business then why not promote to a vocal minority before the competition does, especially if you can keep your existing omnivores happy at the same time. The UK has a population of approximately 66 million. The Vegan Society claims that about 1.16% are vegans, or 600,000. The USA on the other hand has a population of 327 million and its estimated that 1.6 million are vegan. That’s just 0.5%. I can certainly testify to the importance, or lack of, that the USA places on veganism. Let’s be realistic. The world is not going to turn vegan any time soon. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here. It will never turn vegan. I’m back to eating meat and have to say the experience of being vegan is one I am happy to forget.
A final thought before I go. I haven’t yet worked out what would become of all of the cattle if the world became vegan. Without a reason to farm livestock, they become largely redundant, do we simply release them into the ‘wild’? If people think that they will therefore live free and wild, then they obviously don’t understand nature. Fortunately, that’s not going to happen!