The Halfway Update

It's been two weeks since I started an experiment where I, a lifelong animal product consumer, attempted to go vegan for 30 days. I still weigh the same and I haven't noticed any extreme changes in my physiology. It's really gone by quickly. My family and friends all said "30 days? That's a long time!" But you know what? I'm truly doing all right. These past two weeks I've discovered such edible pleasures as soy yogurt with Nature's Path Organic Hemp Plus Granola (both of which can be found at Trader Joe's) and vegan fast food options (In-N-Out's French fries are fried separately from all animal products!).

Even though I'm still searching for that perfect vegan cheese substitute, I've discovered such gems as, a Web site that can help anyone looking to cut dairy out of their diet by suggesting products, events and much more. It's tough feeling alienated when my friends are chowing down on non-vegan eats, but I've learned to plan for meals ahead of time.

In fact, only one slip-up occurred so far. On day ten, when at a function with my grandma, I succumbed to the temptation of a bite-sized brownie… and two cookies. Don't worry; I later caught flack from my vegan boyfriend, John, and some of my friends. I was disappointed in myself and was astonished to find how all encompassing this lifestyle change can be.

So, to get some perspective, I sat down with Elisha Valdez, the Catering Director at Real Food Daily. The restaurant, which has locations both in Santa Monica and in West Hollywood, ambitiously tries not only to satisfy their customers' taste-buds, but does so only with vegan and organic food that is as nutritious and unprocessed as possible. Valdez really lifted my spirits, and encouraged me to learn from this experience rather than being hard on myself for slip-ups.

"Don't make it too hard for yourself," she told me. "If you eat something that's not vegan, don't freak out. In the past, I used to be really hard on myself if I had [eaten] something and later found out that it wasn't vegan. As I get older, I'm trying to not be so militant and just realize that what's done is done. Move forward and try not to get wrapped up in the emotional, beating yourself up aspect."

Valdez has been vegan for 16 years. She entered into it for health reasons and stayed for ethical ones. Through this, her approach to her lifestyle has evolved.

"If you just do your thing and are happy, people will naturally be attracted to you and want to know what you're doing and want to be involved," said Valdez. "Any time you start judging, or comparing or being holier than thou, people automatically turn off to you. They don't want to hear what you have to say."

Elisha encouraged me to make eating convenient and not get overwhelmed. She told me about her favorite vegan hotspot, Trader Joe's. "Being vegan is expensive, and you can get everything you need there."

She also underscored the importance of eating mindfully and eating with intention. "It might sound ‘hippie,' it might sound out-there, but you can truly heal yourself with food."

Valdez answered a question that has been bothering me throughout this experiment. What is the distinction between being vegan and being animal-free? Does it mean that I only ingest foods that don't exploit animals or does it mean that I need to throw out my favorite leather purse? This is the distinction that Valdez made: "Being vegan is just a diet, it means choosing what I put into my body, but there is no such thing as being [entirely] animal free. If you ride a bike, if you use gasoline, if you use petroleum-based products, all these have animal ingredients."

After the interview, I ate the best meal of my vegan life. While at Real Food Daily, I had a club sandwich that used an ingredient called "seitan." Seitan is a protein made of wheat gluten, which substitutes meat protein and is seasoned to a variety of tastes. They used a chicken-like flavor of seitan and combined it with their bacon-like smoked tempeh (a product made of fermented soy, which, along with the seitan is made in-house) which tasted exactly like bacon. I also tried the nachos, which tasted so authentic I didn't even miss the animal products. These dishes were hearty, tasty and served in generous portions.

For dessert, I had the restaurant's version of a Hostess Cupcake. Although the dark chocolate ganache was adorned with a white loop-de-loop on top, akin to its preservative-filled counterpart, this cupcake was in a league of its own. The cake was moist, the ganache was rich but not too rich, and yes—there was cream filling, only its version was soy-based instead. I highly recommend Real Food Daily to anyone--vegan or not.

I don't know if I'll become a vegan for good, not yet anyway. But I believe this experiment will have a truly profound effect on how I view food. To read more about Real Food Daily, my interview with Elisha, my two weeks in detail, plus see yummy vegan recipes, please visit Happy (and humane) eating, everyone!