Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vegan Tomato

{my grocery basket from the other night: organic strawberries, organic avocados, organic kale, frozen mango, almond milk, amy's frozen nondairy bean & rice burritos}

I've been putting off writing this post for quite some time. Partly because I'm afraid of what you will think, partly because it's a subject that's difficult for me to think about, partly because I'm not even sure what I want to say. But it needs to be put out there because I need some help! So here it is...

Since moving to New York, I have fallen off the vegan bandwagon big time. At first it was because I was going to all sorts of dinners and brunches with new people, and I did not want to limit our choices to vegan eateries nor did I want to be difficult. Now, I know what many vegans will say - just because you want to eat vegan doesn't mean you're being difficult. That may be true, but it is inconvenient for the majority of people (esp. the people that I seem to know), and I didn't want to be causing any of that either. The other reason? I like nonvegan food. I like cheese and eggs and butter... I do. Also? It's really hard to even find a vegetarian option on many NYC menus, so yes, I've eaten shrimp and calamari. (But no, I have not, however, eaten chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc.)

I am not proud of this. I feel like a complete and total failure of a vegan, and yet every time I say, "OK! This is it! Tomorrow I'm being vegan again!" it's never the last time. Scarily, that's the same thing I used to say when I tried fad diet after fad diet... that's not a good thing.

Do I still strongly believe all the things I believed before? Oui. Am I a hypocrite? Weak? A failure? LAME? Oui. I'll own up to all of that. I will be the first to say that I let my desire for goat cheese get in the way of how I feel about animal treatment. I let my overwhelming lust for margherita pizza cloud my absolute knowledge that dairy cows are treated like absolute shit. Like I said, I'm not proud of this.

That being said (you know that was coming, didn't ya?), I know that in the near future, there will be situations where it will be near impossible for me to eat vegan. Or, let's be honest, I'll be at a fab restaurant with friends, and I don't WANT to ask the chef to prepare me something on the side or I don't want to be resigned to eating a garden salad. I want to enjoy life! And it's not that I couldn't when I was strictly vegan, but dining out became a completely different experience. If I could have all vegan friends, I would, but to be honest, I don't have a single real-life vegetarian, let alone vegan, friend in my life.

So, I don't know... I don't know what I'm going to do. I know it doesn't have to be one extreme or another, but I am a very all-or-nothing type of person so this weird wishy washy medium is difficult for moi. Also, I have no doubt whatsoever that I will lose some blog readers and twitter followers who began to read/follow when I was doing the vegan thing, and that's fine, I understand that. I also know that many of you (including those who follow a vegan diet) will be supportive and tell me not to beat myself up. I am genuinely curious as to what you think, whether you have or are experiencing the same conflicting emotions, and what is to be done about it. I feel... like a fraud.


Lauren said...

Ha, I could've written this post myself! Jesse and I eat a mostly vegan diet, but I like sweets and margarita pizza and we both have been having the occassional fish dish (maybe once a week or less). I feel better physically when I am not as rigid (at least where the fish comes in--the dairy still makes me queasy!) but I do feel like I am breaking some sort of diet or "being bad" or need to hide it.

Also on the topic of vegan friends---every vegan I know has mainly vegan friends because it can be such a pain to socialize with non-vegans in terms of logistics. Giving up being close to friends and family based on eating choices is not something I ever want to do.

Caitlin said...

I too eat a mostly vegan diet. My little apartment is free from all animal products except for ancient ravioli in the freezer and some parm in the fridge.

When I shop for myself I try to avoid the dairy/egg stuff, but it's a different story for me too when eating out at restaurants. (especially late-night pizza) and when visiting family.
(It's taken them 5-6ish years to grasp the concept of "vegetarian" let alone vegan (or VAY-gan haha!!)

Even though I beat myself up on occasion as well, wouldn't sweat it if I were you. At least you've educated yourself about it and understand what goes on. Try not to feel like you're "being bad" either, just breathe, and move on.

But don't worry, the nonexistent vegan police won't come and put you behind bars. The goal of perfection will drive you crazy, so maybe the vegan police will show up with a straight jacket instead of handcuffs!

If you stop it completely for the sake of not being perfect, that's no good for the causes you write about, nor is it good for your bod :-)
Tomorrows just another day, and lunch is just another meal.

I do hope however that you continue with the VeganTomato blog. I don't have any vegetarian friends either, let alone vegan, so it's nice to read about your journey :-)

kylie said...

giiirl i have talked to you about this before but am still struggling with it myself. i don't know what has happened. i know i feel better when i eat vegan but sometimes i just get so BORED with it. i am going to my aunt and uncle's house this week w/ our ENTIRE family (some from 1/2way around the country) for this huge sunday dinner and i am dreading it! i don't know how to handle it. i will be so eager to hear everyone else's response to your post.

lauren, what you said about feeling like you need to "hide it" is SOOOO spot on it isn't even funny.

i am trying to get into this healthy relationship with food and i feel like if/when i slip, it gives me this huge guilt trip. having to "hide" what i eat cannot be healthy.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up! It doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. How about eating vegan at home and non-vegan when you go out? Or try something similar to Mark Bittman's idea of vegan-til-dinner. (You can listen to his recent NPR interview here: You're still making healthy, conscious food choices, so don't be too hard on yourself. Enjoy what you eat! :)

Sallie Ann said...

Hey Sweet Potato!

I don't know what it would be like if I didn't have established friends who knew my "deal." I'm fortunate that we have some really high scale restaurants that all my friends enjoy, even though, like yourself, none are totally vegan.

I'm surprised you're having a hard time finding vegan options on the menus. It's definitely happened to me, but usually in places like New Orleans or a rural area. You've inspired me to make a list of my favorite NYC vegan dining spots.

But, about you....follow what your heart and body are telling you. And don't feel guilty or conflicted. Just make the best choices for your state of mind. What I'm most jazzed about is that you've dicovered some great vegan recipes, and learned more about that lifestyle.

Many hugs on your wonderful new adventure!!!


Danielle said...

I completely understand your struggle. I've never tried being vegan but I have the same issues with being a vegetarian. One year I'm a veggie and then for some reason I fall off the wagon. Then, I feel guilty, conflicted, etc and I eventually go back but after filling myself up on meat. I love animals (I have 2 dogs & 2 cats), I'm currently listening to Eating Animals by Safran Foer, just as you did, I've watched Food Inc...etc...which means I'm educated about the issues and where the guilt comes from.

Don't beat yourself up. We're human. We cannot be perfect. And that's what the beauty of life is all about. You should be proud that you did it. And I completely agree with you that it doesn't have to be one extreme or the other.

Hang in there. Love your blog! And love your NYC adventure.

Also, we have some parallels. I was born in Seoul (but I was adopted at 7 months old), my mom lived in Quebec until she moved to the US at 18, and I still have relatives in Canada. And I am in LOVE with paper (as evidenced by my blog name).

Suz said...

Thanks for writing this! I'm not a vegan but I am trying to make other life changes and that feeling of failure sucks. I don't even like admitting it thats why I so admire this post!! But you are trying and that is so awesome! I think your reasons for wanting to be vegan are good and I also admire you thinking of others too. I guess it is a balancing act. Stick with it! You're doing great!

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting post and something that I know a lot of people struggle with.

I have a very good friend that has been a vegan for years. She admitted to me recently that she felt a lot better when she ate fish occasionally. She's decided to start adding a little fish back into her diet on an "as needed" basis. She asked me if I judged her for this (she's one of the people that helped a lot during my transition to a more plant based diet) and I told her that I absolutely would never ever judge her for doing what is best for her body and her life.

I have strong opinions about eating animals based on what I have learned about it. You have strong opinions about it too. Sometimes, it's really hard when those opinions and your lifestyle don't match. I know that I have had more than a handful of slip-ups for reasons ranging from blue cheese just sounds good to I'm eating dinner at somebody's home and I don't want to be rude.

Because of this and some other issues with food, I have stopped defining what I eat. That doesn't mean that I am suddenly abandoning a plant based diet, but if I wake up tomorrow and feel like adding a little dairy or whatnot to my day would be the right choice, I refuse to beat myself up over it.

I have several vegan friends that would hate this attitude and this response, but they would still be my friends.

I guess I feel like you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. I think just by making some changes (even tiny ones) you are doing a lot for the environment and for animals and for your health.

Have you read Alicia Silverstone's book - The Kind Diet? I really love her approach. She points out by just making little, tiny changes that you are doing a whole lot.

Meg said...

I'm sure this was a hard post for you to write, so thank you for having the courage. I'm not one of those people who thinks that we should pretend that veganism is easy for everyone and that no one ever has problems. And while I can't tell you it's o.k. to contribute to animal exploitation, I can tell you that it doesn't make me like you any less.

Some people would say that it is "easy" to be vegan. In some ways it is, relatively speaking. It doesn't mean giving up all yummy food or great clothes or good health. It's not martyrdom. BUT, it is a BIG change for a lot of people. The social aspect is probably the hardest of all and not something most are prepared for. But, after a while, you get used to asking questions and you do find other restaurants. Maybe you even find some vegan friends. And after a while, you also stop seeing animals as food and instead as individuals. It DOES get easier with time. Consider this all a learning experience, not a failure.

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why it is so important that we avoid animal exploitation and cruelty as much as we can. I don't remember if you've seen it, but Earthlings is a great documentary that's available on -- if you feel like you need that sort of thing. And I encourage you to find a animal sanctuary in your area to visit and even volunteer at. Putting a face to the suffering is important.

I can't make this choice for you, nor would I if I could, but I do hope that you (and everyone else) will do your best to be vegan. And even if you slip up with this or that food (trust me, I know how bad food cravings can be), please don't use it as an excuse to stop caring about other stuff like avoiding animal products in non-food stuff. Do the best you can, whatever that is. And thanks again for trying -- it's more than most do.

Anonymous said...


a good honest post. i think we do ourselves more harm then good when we beat ourselves up for not staying in that certain little box that we have created of things that we think we should be doing. don't label yourself. be kind what your body is asking for...listen...listen...listen.

wise words kirsten.


dharmagirl said...

i enjoyed your honest post, carolyn, and i respect your conflicted feelings. i echo what most of your commenters said, which is that you should be kind to yourself and do you best, at any particular moment. in my mind, eating vegan some of the time, and vegetarian much of the time, is an admirable way of living your values. that said, we're social animals, and when so many rituals and events involve food and making connections to a diverse array of food, it can be hard to decide to let dietary decisions trump building connections with others. even the dalai lama himself eats meat on occasion when he feels it would be a greater harm to refuse the non-vegetarian food. and i think his moral compass is pretty strong:)

i too have loosened up--a bite of ham here and there when visiting new friends who serve breakfast casseroles laden with the stuff. not cringing when my smart dogs touch non-smart dogs on the grill, because a new friend is generously cooking my veg food for me.

hang in there, as always, and trust yourself:) xoxo

The Jazzy Olive said...

Carolyn!! You are not a fraud. There are no rules to eating vegan, or vegetarian, etc. It is YOUR DIET, your life. YOU make the rules! You are only a fraud if you think you are beholden to someone else making these rules and guess what? You aren't!

I am a recent vegetarian, and I try to eat vegan when possible or at least shop at Whole Foods where in theory, the dairy is bought from cows who are treated better. I mean, cheese is delicious... so are things made with cheese.

I guess my point is that you have a good heart and you are trying to do what is right. If you feel like eating cheese on occasion, then do it. You are already doing so much more to help animals than most people. An occasional slipup is better than nothing.

Finally, I wanted to say that while you are correct, i is annoying to have a chef make something separate for you, etc, one option is to research a lot of vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurants in the city (but restaurants that also offer meat dishes) and then slyly suggest going to those with your friends. Or find restaurants that purchase their meat, dairy and egg products from sustainable, organic, humane farmers -- there are more than you think!


ashley-cita said...

I haven't read the other comments, but wanted to offer my (incredibly and admittedly) non-vegan opinion.

Life is hard enough without adding any additional obstacles. And, you've made some big, huge, changes recently. Big, huge changes that you're still adapting to, right?

Cut yourself some slack and pick up the vegan lifestyle when you can. :-)

TheAnalyst said...

Just do what you can and that is all you can do. Don't beat yourself up for not being vegan. After all, vegans aren't perfect either. Eating a mostly vegetarian diet is still incredible and you should be proud of yourself!

I think I said this before, but I will say it again. An approach I take is trying to eat 1-2 vegan meals a day. It doesn't always happen, but most days I can keep away form animal products until dinner. And my biggest non-vegan downfall is my insatiable love for pizza.

Again, don't stress. Do your best and you will be great! Besides, I doubt you would be judgmental towards a vegetarian, so remind yourself not to judge you either.

Meg said...


Just curious, have you tried Daiya vegan cheese? It's pretty new. I'm really quite impressed by the stuff. I love it on pizza and there are restaurants that offer it. Our local place only offers Teese, which is o.k. on pizza, but definitely not as good. Fortunately, Tofurky just started selling frozen pizzas with Daiya that are actually really good, imho (even got the thumbs up from a non-vegan friend). And you can definitely make your own using Daiya.

I know cravings can be tough, but sometimes all you have to do is find another way to satisfy them. I think I would have gone crazy had I not found really good vegan chocolate! I actually like the taste of rice milk chocolate better than the stuff I used to eat.

Meghan said...

Hi! I just found your blog through Megan at "Time After Tea" - I think no matter what you decide, you have an adorable blog and I look forward to reading along!!!

Carolyn said...

Augh all such WONDERFUL feedback and insight. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. Merci beaucoup for being the most amazing blog friends ever!

TheAnalyst said...


Yes, I tried Daiya. In fact I have some in my fridge that I need to toss, because I thought it was gross. (I hear the screams of horror.) I know many people LOVE Daiya, but I'm just not a soy cheese girl. Any brand I've tried taste plastic to me.

Carolyn said...

Meg - I've tried Daiya as well. And while the texture is spot on (I made a quesadilla), it does not taste like cheese to me, and I have a weird aversion to the cheddar taste. I think it's genius tho!

Meg said...

Well, sorry the Daiya didn't work out. The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook also has some good cheezy recipes. Most are made with nuts so the texture is a bit different, but they do have a cheezy taste that is unlike most commercial vegan cheeses.

And, of course, you can get pizza without cheese. I know that's blasphemy for some people, lol, but it's worth a try. Some places still put dairy in the sauce or crust (Domino's, for one), which is a problem for those looking for vegan pizza, but there are lists online of which chains have vegan options.

For what it's worth, Daiya doesn't have soy in it. It's soy, wheat and nut free. I know that doesn't make much difference if you've already tried it and don't like it, but I thought I'd throw that out there in case anyone was looking for a vegan cheese alternative but had food intolerances/allergies to those things.

Leslie said...

I really think you shouldn't be so hard on yourself. Absolutism and perfection are not maintainable. Life is hard enough without adding additional obstacles. I think it is amazing that you have been able to make such a huge change in your diet, not to mention in your life. Enjoy it and just by doing a little bit you are making a difference. (Written while eating a grilled cheese, sorry folks!)