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Danny Kirk/the Gauntlet

Being Vegan

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Way back in October, Gauntlet writer Ben Hoffman embarked on a challenge. Laughing in the face of his meat-loving Germanic roots, he went vegan, completely cutting out all animal products from his diet. Now, his experiment complete, Ben checks in with an update from vegan land to make you feel uncomfortable carving up the 20 pound turkey your family will be feasting on in a matter of days.

Romancing the Meat Dream

Let me begin by saying that this has been a tough period for me. At some point, I decided a full course load and contribution to a newspaper weren't enough work: I was going to monkey around with my diet as well. I went vegan and soon all of the unexpected changes accompanying the switch--in attitude, time required to prepare meals and weight--came marching into the picture. And not a word of it a lie; it changed me.

In two weeks I lost 14 pounds, a ton of energy and most of my will to live. Then came the backswing, along with a mysterious gain of four pounds and a brief spat with an indefatigably chirpy attitude. It was the most hectic series of weeks I have ever known, even though I'm normally all over the map.

Then there were the lessons. There are a million lessons I saw unfolding when such drastic changes are undertaken. I learned dead animals are literally all around us, that the average diet is a monster lurking in every shadow. I learned what's good and bad, that being a vegan means more than supporting a belief. This isn't even glancing at what I learned about what 'good-tasting' actually means.

Upon my first bite of post-vegan pizza I had my most astonishing realization. The cheese was not as good as it ought to be! In that moment, the lessons compressed, the morals fell into place and it was plain to see: the benefits of watching one's diet far outweigh the costs. Even when restricting a diet to strictly hated foods, there is a lot to learn to love. Through all the times, be they good or bad, that melted cheese resonated: I can stay a vegan.

Looking back, I can honestly advocate an experimental dietary change to anyone interested. It has been, without a doubt, one of the most singularly character-redefining experiences I have been involved with and even after it finished I am still seeing tangible benefits from the process. I offer a word to the wise, however. Talk to somebody who knows about this type of thing before you try it. The worst thing you can do is go about this half-cocked. Plan your diet right, put in a sufficient effort and I promise you'll see the benefit. Don't and you won't.

Deceptive Eats

Like it or not, becoming vegan is a challenge. Before deciding on the lifestyle, it's wise to understand the more annoying daily difficulties. Among the chief frustrations--and make no mistake, restrictions rule the vegan diet--is the task of ensuring everything eaten fits within the diet you've defined for yourself. Though each individual must carefully consider their diet, there is a canonical definition for vegan--nothing that harms or ensnares animals--which categorizes food somewhat surprisingly. Below are some foods that stood out for various reasons in my adventure.

1. Sobe Black & Blue Berry Brew Juice-My first slip after going vegan. I decided to get it on a recommendation and found out upon drinking half of it that its milky hue was, in fact, milk.

2. Bread-It's always wise to check the label on foods, but in the case of bread I discovered something peculiar: most types--about 90 per cent--have no animal by-products. In fact, the only things which consistently warned about the possible usage of animal products were the flatbreads, which I didn't expect to contain any in the first place.

3. Margarine-So I've got the bread and I decide I'm going to have some toast for breakfast. Bust out the margarine, right? Wrong! Margarine has whey in it, a milk by-product.

4. Honey-If you want to get right into the nitty-gritty about it, honey-producing bees are actually captive animals. I can't say it was sorely missed, but I have to ask: bees, guys? For real?

5. Processed sugar-Apparently charcoal is used in the refinement of sugar and in most places, the particular type of charcoal used is bone charcoal made from--you guessed it--the oppression of animals. This point more than any other makes the vegan diet choice obscenely hard to properly plan. A huge quantity of foods use processed sugar.

6. French fries-I had a craving so I decided to hunt after some fries. Turns out if they're cooked in canola oil, they're usually okay. Get your hands off the poutine though, that's still bad news for old Bessie and Daisy.

The best way to ensure any purchase works is to read. Read the Internet, read the labels on food and, in particular, keep an eye out for the big "Vegan" signs in some sections of some grocery stores. Good luck!

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