There's no doubt following a strict plant-based diet is difficult. We live in a society that not only makes light of your dietary choices, but has made it fundamentally difficult to keep true to your regime, voluntary or not.
Unless you're a natural chef or someone who is adventurous in the kitchen, your choice of products to buy (or food to cook) is often limited to boiling, roasting, blitzing or grilling vegetables and eating it with some kind of grains. That, or an Acai bowl (provided it's made with almond milk).
Even those with the greatest of intentions sometimes lose their way. This was the case for Anna Monette Roberts, a food editor and former hard-core vegan for two years. Between the ages of 19 and 22 she was a self-confessed uber vegan, turning her nose up at anything containing dairy, eggs, seafood or meat. Now she's changed her ways, for reasons she believes everyone should hear.
Living in Los Angeles, the land of celebrity, yogis and health-conscious people in general, every corner had a vegan restaurant and a green juice joint. Anna had it pretty easy as a vegan for the two and a half years she resided in the Golden State.
Fresh kale all year round and berries aplenty, she felt utterly convinced that she was doing the right thing for the plant for animals and her health. This all changed when she moved to New York City after graduating college. Pursuing an editorial career in food, Anna attended a plant-based culinary school that surprisingly proved to be a problem.
It wasn't the course itself, or the fact she moved to a different city. It would be hard to not eat vegan studying a plant-based course, and New York City is arguably just as "vegan" as LA. All the same, Anna still found the lifestyle difficult.
"My weight (and energy) were at all-time lows, yet I attributed it to my busy schedule and the rigor of city life. The only thing I couldn't handle was the hunger. Sure, being vegan, I felt my stomach grumble every couple of hours, though, in New York, I felt painfully hungry constantly."
It was proving difficult to keep up with the vegan culture she had immersed herself in. She worked as a chocolatier in a vegan chocolate/wine shop, attended yoga classes every day at a notoriously vegan studio, and joined in many vegan meetups. All of a sudden, hallucinations you'd typically see happen to cartoon characters became all too frequent.
"I started dreaming of steak. I mean, x-rated, slow-mo, sizzling food-porn dreams. I'd wake up in a panic and run to the kitchen to stuff myself with spoonfuls of peanut butter, pea protein powder smoothies, and leftover lentils."
Despite eating each and every type of vegan protein known to man, Anna still had that charcoal-grilled, medium-rare steak seductively dancing around her mind, while she chomped down on her unsatisfying tempeh and the like. After battling with vegan pride and fear of loss, Anna was advised to listen to her body and eat meat after seeing an expert in holistic nutrition.
Her nutritionist told her: "If your body is trying to tell you on a subconscious level that it needs the nutrients from a steak, then listen to it." Denying the truth for a while, Anna continued with her lifestyle but still suffered with the meat dreams, now wishfully craving Asian glazed salmon.
Right before Christmas, the hallucinations got a lot worse when Anna was invited to a farm upstate to learn how to slaughter chickens. She was begrudgingly excited by the prospect of the act, and it left her in a pickle. She didn't go on the trip, but by that point, her carnivorous instincts had kicked in. They proved hard to ignore.
Coming clean to her sister at the Christmas dinner table, she said she was going to eat a steak at New Year's. Eying her ghostly complexion and exposed ribs at the time, she didn't even blink before saying: "Yeah, that's a good idea." With the idea greenlit, New Year's swiftly came, and the seared, bloody steak that haunted her dreams lay in front of her at the table. Not a single vegan fibre in her body tried to fight the meaty aromas.
The first bite had her dancing with giddiness, and the moment couldn't have been more perfect. She recalls: "a lot of people claim that going back to meat can be upsetting on the stomach, but I didn't have a single problem. The same went for returning to dairy."
The biggest challenge to giving up veganism is realizing how much you let it define you and your environment, including your personal relationships. Anna said that after giving up an exclusively plant-based diet, she "became aware of how enraged and difficult [she] was."
"Over the past few years, I didn't have much compassion toward fellow humans, and I blamed them for factory farming and their lack of consciousness. I demanded that my friends and family go to vegan restaurants and questioned them for their eating habits constantly."
I think the take-home message from all this, is that you should try your best to make sure your approach to food is healthy and doesn't make you bitter towards other people, especially if they aren't vegan like you. Your body is constantly evolving, and what may work in one city in one period of time in your life, may not work in another.
It's all about being open, experimenting, and seeking the guidance of professionals when necessary. The key word here, as with all walks of life, is "balance". No matter if you're a vegan, omnivore or pescatarian, what's most important is that we give our bodies the nutrients they need, and that we're happy with what we put into our mouths, our bodies and our lives.