I love meat. Bacon, medium-rare steak, charcuterie platters, Buffalo style chicken wings, those little cubes of ham in a salad bar, a big greasy cheeseburger, and anything and everything that comes from the ocean. I’ve tried horse, dog, tongue, bone marrow, monkey brain, chili powder coated grasshoppers, and most recently, snapping turtle. So why would I try being a vegan?
That’s a good question! I, much like you I suspect, have heard the spiels about animal abuse, environmental pollution, unsustainability, unsanitary food processing conditions, etc. over and over. They don’t convince me. That’s not the same as saying I don’t believe them. I do believe that most of what I hear about the negative consequences of our daily meat consumption is true, but those consequences simply aren’t enough to spur me into action.
What made me decide to try to change my eating habits was the documentary What the Health. Yes, director Kip Andersen made those classic arguments as part of his pitch, but they weren’t the focus of his work. What mostly got my wheels turning was all the corruption and bizarre behavior he exposed in the major health organizations. Organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and Susan G Komen are sponsored by companies whose products potentially cause the diseases those organizations are claiming to combat. I was particularly irked that representatives from these companies refused to talk to him, refused to look at the studies he found, didn’t want to be on camera, and didn’t get back to his requests for information. If their mission is to help the public, why the secrecy? Why the hostility? Why the non-answers and general weaselly behavior? It disturbed me. The documentary also talked about the California Medical Association opposing mandatory nutrition training for doctors, even as little as seven hours of training every four years. He filmed a hospital spokeswoman who said outright that her hospital’s goal is make money from surgeries, not to have people be healthier to begin with. The documentary also talked about the USDA and its role in the advertising campaigns of places like Burger King and Pizza Hut. It talked about how supposedly neutral fact sheets on the health benefits of certain foods are written by insiders of those food industries. It’s just all wrong. (All the sources from the documentary can be found on this page.)
Then, toward the end of the film, Andersen interviewed some nutrition experts who described how our modern anatomy makes us better suited to be frugivores. They explained how meals like brown rice and broccoli give our bodies all the protein we need, and how the idea that we need meat for protein is completely false. He interviewed multiple people who had reversed their diabetes and heart conditions and stopped taking other medications completely after switching to a plant based diet. Finally, he interviewed professional athletes, like NFL players who are vegan. Every vegan I know either has bad skin or isn’t super athletic, or in many cases, both. I know that’s weak correlation, not causation, but still, it’s my empirical evidence and it sends a signal that something is wrong with the vegan diet. But seeing these vegan athletes triggered something in me and I decided to give it a try.
For guidance, I decided on the book, The 22-Day Revolution, despite, not because of, its forward written by Beyoncé. I chose this book because 22 days seemed like a good commitment length for this experiment and the companion website is pretty snazzy. The experiment began the week of September 10th.
During my first grocery shopping trip, I bought only four items that were not in the produce section. When I looked down at the contents of my shopping cart as I waited in the checkout line, it seemed incredibly empty. I was sure I had forgotten to pick up quite a few items, but a cross check against my list confirmed that all ingredients were present.
I began cooking. I ate until I felt satiated, as I always do, but without meat and dairy, I grew hungry sooner after each meal. And after exercising, I was ravenous. That first two weeks involved several post-workout stops at GoodTimes for a burger and the purchase of mint chocolate chip ice cream popsicles—the kind of food I never keep in my house. Refer back to the title of this blog post for a moment. I fully admit that I did not fully adhere to this diet. I only made a commitment to being vegan at home. I have two to three of my lunches each week provided by my job. I ate the vegetarian option when there was one, but often times there wasn’t, so I happily ate whatever was offered. What can I say? I’m cheap and lazy about food sometimes, especially during the work week. If it’s provided for me, I’ll eat it no matter what it is. I also didn’t plan to stick to this diet when I was out with friends or out of town. If I have the opportunity to have meat expertly served up by a professional chef, I’ll certainly take advantage.
But, back at home, I was dutifully making shopping lists and following recipes. Over the next two weeks, I did start to break my habits, the craving for meat subsided somewhat, and I adhered to The 22 Day plan more and more. But…I spent so much time chopping and cooking. So much time. Chicken and pork are so easy to make. Open the package, rub in some spices, pop it in a Pyrex dish in the oven, set a timer, and walk away. But vegetables need to be minced, diced, peeled, cubed, sliced, julienned, and then watched carefully during cooking. It’s too much. If I loved cooking, I might have done better at this vegan thing. But for me, food is primarily for survival. I eat because I have to and I’m attentive to what I eat only because I want to be healthy and strong as long as I possibly can. Although I enjoy well-prepared food, there’s little pleasure factor involved in the time I spend in the kitchen. I get by listening to podcasts or watching Netflix at the same time.
One month later, the week of October 8, I was only up to Day 9 in the book. I reduced some of the recipes because I was only cooking for myself, but even then, I was eating some of the meals three or four times before they were gone. But this week, as I started the week’s shopping list, I noticed that a few of the recipes over the next few days were repeats. What the hell? The authors couldn’t come up with 44 distinct lunch and dinner recipes? Well, forget this then. It seemed rather disingenuous to call it a 22 day plan. I was already starting to tire of the same ingredients and spices (no more lentils with cumin, please!), so there was no way I was going to eat the same exact meals over and over. I abandoned ship and filled up my shopping cart with meat and dairy that week. So much meat that the dog ended up eating a lot of it before it went bad. My ridiculous pup, who had been acting like he had been starving from the lack of suitable table scraps, had a very good couple of days.
Then I got over my hissy fit and decided to keep going, half-assedly, a bit longer. I flipped through the book and selected a few vegan recipes for each week and bought meat for only one meal, no dairy. I officially ended the experiment on October 28 when I headed to Dallas for eleven days. There was no chance of me being in Texas and not eating my weight in barbecued muscle of whatever animal was available.
The best part of this experiment was getting new ideas for breakfast. Chia pudding, for example. I dislike cooking eggs and boxed cereal is not the way to get most days off to a good start, so having some new options was nice. And a number of the recipes, some of which came from other online sources, surprised me with how tasty they were. The featured photo below was an insanely delicious recipe that I made sans egg to keep it vegan. I’ll make this one again and again, and I’ll keep a healthy mix of vegan recipes in my weekly cooking routine. But don’t ever expect to hear me to become a true convert in this lifetime.
Nota Bene: Anyone who makes a documentary has an angle. Kip Andersen made this film because he is vegan and wants everyone else to be too. Therefore, if you watch it, you have to expect that he’s working the data and statistics to his favor and not presenting the opposing arguments equally or, possibly, even honestly. Here are a few good criticisms of the documentary for some counterweight.