January 1st kicks off yet another Vegan Holiday, this one a monthlong celebration, Veganuary. (We’ve barely had time to recuperate from World Vegan Day, celebrated a mere two months ago!). Vegans are considered by many to be joyless and dour, yet we certainly have busy holiday calendars.
I’ll say it loud, and I’ll say it proud: I’m vegan, and I’m anti-Veganuary.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’d be thrilled if hundreds — even dozens — of Good News Veg readers went vegan this month. A good place to start would be the Epicurious 5-Day Comfort Food Meal Plan. Or, read why chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (who unapologetically hunts, cooks and eats meat) decided to take the 30-day vegan challenge, how he felt about it halfway through, and the 60 Great Vegan Recipes he created for the task.
Why am I against Veganuary?
Because I’m a realist. Most people who make New Year’s resolutions don’t stick with them.
In 1990, I decided to stop eating meat, cold turkey. (Why, is a long story. The short version: I loved my dog). For three nights, I ate peanut butter on rye with a generous pour of Liberty School cabernet. I was hungrier and less healthy than before I’d made the switch. I craved broiled chicken, my three-times-a-week, go-to supper.
I went to the bookstore. There, I discovered Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet. That’s when it dawned on me: I had to learn to cook.
My friends Jerry and Christy, the only vegetarians I knew, taught me how to make pesto, and suggested the first of many Moosewood Collective cookbooks. I quickly mastered mulligatawny soup and West African groundnut stew.
Thinking beyond chicken had opened a new world of food possibilities. Cooking took less time than I’d feared. The payoff was greater than I’d imagined.
But here’s the thing: Quitting chicken, cold turkey, I’d set myself up for failure, unnecessarily. Chicken was a habit, and breaking habits, as we all know, requires willpower. Denying myself chicken made me crave it more.
Which is why I don’t think Veganuary is such a great idea.
I did not give up dairy cold turkey. I broke the habit gradually, with self-imposed rules. I would no longer cook with dairy, but I’d eat pizza out, with friends. I bought goat cheese from the farm down the road, where I was certain the goats were treated kindly. It took two years to give up cream in my coffee. I’m okay with that. (And now I actually prefer the taste of Silk soy creamer over dairy).
If you’re interested in breaking your chicken or burger habit, psychologist Wendy Wood suggests in her book, Good Habits, Bad Habits, figure out what’s keeping you stuck. Perhaps you don’t have time to figure out what to eat instead of chicken. Or is it that the expiration dates on your spices pre-date the Reagan Administration? Professor Wood labels these habit-inducing constraints friction. Removing them is the key.
Here’s how to start: Before your next trip to the grocery store, browse the Good News recipe page, and find a recipe (or two) that appeals to you. Make a shopping list. Once at the store, you’ll find yourself lingering in produce and grains, and perhaps picking up a new spice or two. By the time you reach the chicken section, I bet you’ll realize, hey, I don’t need so much of this!
Want to learn more about how to break habits? Listen to the popular Choiceology podcast, where host Katy Milkman interviews Professor Wood. Her advice extends way beyond food choices.