The other day, we stopped at a favorite Mediterranean “fast-casual” restaurant, very appropriately named I Dream of Falafel – because in truth, I do dream of this place. My dish of choice is also appropriately named the “Vegan Dream”, because also in truth, it is actually a vegan’s dream meal. Bright, vibrant colors provide a variety of plant-based nutrients, from cabbage, to chickpeas, to cous cous, to tomatoes, to quinoa, to cucumbers, to softly warmed pita bread, and of course – perfectly crispy falafel. The dish is also plant power protein-packed (see: chickpeas, quinoa, cous cous) and flavorfully spiced. The dreaminess of this meal also lies in the fact that preparing each of these sides separately at home would be labor-intensive and time-consuming. But here it is, all ready to go, and clearly labeled “V”. And not just for V for “vegetarian” (requiring me to investigate further as to the animal excretions that may possibly be present in each side dish), but for V for “vegan” (such a treat, really)!
In reflecting on this meal, I can’t help but feel astonished at how I now approach so many different types of food with such boundless enthusiasm. Ten years ago, if you would have told me I’d be so incredibly thrilled about this meal I would have likely laughed in your face and asked for my usual picky-pants dinner of pasta, bread, and cheese (no…like, really…that’s basically all I ate). The truth is that being vegan has opened up a whole world of food possibilities for me, many at which I would have previously scrunched up my nose. Because now, searching for and discovering vegan food from a variety of cultures is like a worldwide scavenger hunt. By educating myself on plant-based nutrition, my positive relationship with food has grown exponentially – right along with my palate.
And as more and more restaurants offer animal-free options, eating out as a vegan has become an amazingly delicious experience. In fact, I will shamelessly admit that many of my life choices, including day-trips and vacations, are loosely (a.k.a. fully) based on the vegan food options nearby (see: detour on a road trip back from Boston to eat at Vedge in Philadelphia, or tagging along to “support” friends at a freezing cold 8K in Chicago mainly so I could eat at Native Foods or Chicago Diner with them post-race, just to name a few).
From the vegan lens: I think many people assume that veganism means making sacrifices or “giving up” simple pleasures – giving up foods they “love”, giving up restaurants they enjoy, or giving up social experiences that make them happy. For me, it feels like the exact opposite. I’ve learned that when something is important to you – when it truly comes from your heart – it doesn’t tend to feel like a sacrifice, but rather an invigorating opportunity. It’s a lot easier to adjust your life when you focus on the ethical alignment of your actions, instead of the perceived physical and social depravation that may, at first, consume your mind.
Becoming vegan actually helped me gain, not give up. I gained a new perspective on food, life, and the world. I gained a willingness to embark on new culinary adventures (and in turn, I gained a plethora of new cravings!). But most importantly, I gained a sense of peace within myself. And really, that has proven to be far more fulfilling than any fleeting simple pleasure ever was.