Vegan for a Week
If you ever become a vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian, even for a week, everyone always asks why. Constantly. It makes sense that it’s a big deal; you’re forgoing a beloved staple that many cultures have used as part of one of the most beloved traditions: eating. It must take a large reason. But when you’re the vegetarian in that equation, it’s hard to answer.
I have an eating compulsion. I made up my own name for my eating compulsion: I like to call it “runt syndrome,” because I developed it as a quirky little side effect of being the youngest child of three. All my life, I got the smallest portion since I was the baby of the family. Even in my early ’20s, my parents teased me by pouring everyone normal glasses of wine, and I would get a little thimble-full. So I learned to eat quickly, get greedy, and get seconds. It became a game to see who could eat the most the quickest, though no one else seemed to be participating or aware of this particular game. I became a very accomplished eater, despite staying skinny; people even urged me to join eating competitions. Years later and I can’t share plates with my fiance, or I will eat the entire thing. I will admittedly sometimes steal things off of his plate after I’ve finished my own. I even have problems dividing up food when serving it, because I know that my evil compulsion will take over, and I will secretly swipe the larger portion. Then I’ll eat it real quick-like. I’m lucky I’m not obese at this point.
It’s kind of cute, but at a certain point, I had to become a grownup and take personal responsibility for my compulsion that has no basis in reality. I’m not blaming my parents for my compulsion – I was smaller, so the small portions made sense. I’ve never been in danger of starving, so I think I can learn to take my time.
And also, the more really real reason I decided to go veg is I’d like to go back to being high school skinny. There are very few ways to go back to high school hot: you can become a marathon runner, pick up a drug habit, stop drinking booze altogether (NEVER!), a combination of Core Power yoga 3x a week with running, have an eating disorder, or become a vegan.
Most of these options were out of the question, so I tried less invasive things, you know, like eating with chopsticks to slow my roll and put myself at an eating disadvantage. But like a peg-leg marathon runner, I’d still find a way to hobble my way to the finish line before my normal, fork-bearing fiance.
I’ve never tried any diets before, but my mother’s Christmas break meataganza – meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for several days – finally threw me over the line from flirting with vegetarianism to desperately waving down veganism on the side of the highway, bloody, like a horror film.
Going into it, I knew I had some advantages and disadvantages. I don’t like meat all that much, so sticking to a no-meat diet wouldn’t be too much of a problem. The only meat products I liked have been the ones that don’t resemble actual meat: sausage, hot dogs, hamburgers. Ground-up, incognito meat. I had to have a little sit-down with myself and consider: if I hate all the meaty things that resemble flesh, the things with veins and fat and juices, I probably just don’t like meat. Why am I going to all this trouble, hurting the environment, not to mention killing cute things and some ugly things too, to consume something I could really give a rat’s ass about? Aren’t there rats’ asses in hot dogs? Why am I going to such trouble to consume rats’ asses in real hot dogs, when I could have a just-as-gross-tasting hot dog that is made of soybeans?
Where does this American machismo step in, even in me, where the little burly man in my head says “It’s tough to eat shitty shit! We like hot dogs because it’s awesome!” Isn’t it just as okay to not eat shit? Just putting that out there….
My disadvantage was my large appetite. All the vegan things at the supermarket are just so dainty, adorable, and expensive. The portions are tiny. Also, vegan things are made up of not-meat and not-dairy, and those are the things that fill me up in my non-vegan day-to-day life.
So the week after Christmas, I stocked up on vegan essentials: beans, brown rice, miso, soyrizo, tofu, seaweed, and a ton of exotic vegetables from the most epic Denver grocery experience ever, H Mart: Daikons, greens, kobocha squash, sweet potatoes. I made batches of brown rice and froze single servings. And I began:
My first meal as a decided vegan was a glorious dive into freedom, as I realized that I didn’t really like breakfast that much before. Sure, I love unhealthy breakfast – bacon, sausage, breakfast burritos – but you can’t eat those every day. I hate yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal. I could take or leave muffins. Suddenly I was free – nay, forced – to alter my breakfast routine and eat whatever I could make work within the confines of my strange new diet. I know, I don’t like meat and I don’t like breakfast – I’m a weirdo. But regardless of my strange tastes, it took altering my routine to even realize I was forcing myself to eat foods I didn’t like. I could have had bagels, but I actually enjoyed having brown rice with tofu and greens simmered in miso and sesame seeds sprinkled on top, for breakfast. By restricting my diet, I was actually becoming more in tune with what I wanted.
Furthermore, I felt absolutely phenomenal afterward. I didn’t need to eat as soon after my meal, and yet I didn’t feel weighed down. But that was just breakfast, and I was on vacation. How would I be able to keep this diet up at restaurants, or on a lazy evening after a long day at work?
My fiance took me out on a lunch date, my second test! We went to Sushi Sasa – possibly a tough place for those who don’t like fish, or so I thought. Luckily they had a vegetarian sushi plate! It was cheaper because it had no meat in it, and it was fantastic! I ate the entire thing without feeling guilty. I didn’t even realize I had been feeling guilty in my diet before, but when it was gone, I felt a weight off my shoulders.
Did I crave meat and dairy during my week as a vegan? Well, not necessarily. I craved different things, a lot, most of them fatty and indulgent. I craved macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, a hot dog, or ice cream. My cravings weren’t relegated to the animal kingdom – they were all over the place. A shift in me was occurring. I was getting more nutritionally satisfied by my meals, so I wasn’t as hungry, but I was more excited about my next meal because my taste buds weren’t being as recklessly indulged. And that’s not to say my taste buds weren’t happy – they just weren’t swimming-in-champagne-and-lard happy. They weren’t Double-Down-with-4Loko happy. That’s a good thing, stupid!
My taste buds were starting to actually notice more subtle things: we had vegan Mexican food at Rosalinda‘s (I know! awesome!) which was stir-fried cactus in tomatoes, garlic, and oregano – and I had never really truly appreciated oregano before. I would have never noticed that oregano if that show-stealer pork had been there. Why do you want all your meals to taste like meat, when they could taste like a myriad of different spices each time?
We’re eating these ginormous, fat-filled indulgent meals three times a day and completely satiating our tongues, while leaving our stomachs hungry an hour after. Think about your life in other contexts – what if you were completely, 100% satisfied in other areas? You wouldn’t have anything to look forward to. It would be like if you slept twelve hours every night. You’d be sluggish the next day, and you wouldn’t be very excited to go to bed at night. What if people kept giving you blow jobs three times a day? You’d be like, well, I can’t say no to this, but it’s really not so special anymore. I’m gonna watch Maury Povich during this one, thanks Susan.
I also found another weight lifted off my shoulders which I was previously unaware was there: I’m not killin’ things! I was able to watch the Cove and unabashedly sob at the dolphins being killed, and feel sad, but at least I felt like I was doing something to discourage their slaughter by not eating fish.
And the kicker? Whole foods are tougher to tackle – they’re more dense and hard. I had to chew like, a lot. I felt like I was working out my face muscles, which was a bonus, because I felt this would contribute to my goal of high school hotness. Sure, I kind of felt like a cow. But there was absolutely no way for me to horph down my food quickly. Wow, immediate cure of my runt syndrome, and I didn’t even need chopsticks!
Because veganism is often polarizing, vegans and non-vegans alike are quick to attack anyone trying it out. You know, to see if they really actually “succeeded” in being vegan, like it’s a contest. Well, did I? Yes and no. Before we get started, I did not succeed in becoming high school skinny. But fuck it.
Secondly, before my week as a vegan, I decided not to be an insufferable vegan – that’s to say, I refused to grill my servers to see if there was any animal byproducts in my food. I just chose dishes that had no visible meat or dairy products in them, and educated myself on common traps like ceasar dressing. I know, probably a cheat, but I would rather be a cheat than insufferable.
I also found out some little tidbits that I didn’t know, like that many thai curry pastes have dried shrimp in them, and almost all ramen noodles have for-reals animal in them (loving ramen as I did, I had naively hoped it was just meat-flavored seasoning. You can still eat the Top Ramen oriental flavor though, my intern tells me). I found that out by accidentally eating them first. Feeling like a failure, I checked in with our closest diehard vegan, Antoine von Frankenstein, who shockingly admitted that even he wasn’t as steadfast as I had thought: “If someone goes to the trouble of cooking something for me, I’m going to eat it.”
Good rule of thumb – respect humanity as well as your animal brethren. And hopefully, someone nice enough to make you something will make it like you like it.
More than a month later and the full veganism didn’t stick – mostly because of eating out. There are many vegetarian options, but very few vegan ones. But I am definitely a vegetarian. I try and eat vegan at home, and haven’t eaten actual meat since December 27th, except that one time when Father Guido took me to dinner and I stole a bite of salad off his plate without realizing it had bacon dressing. I don’t think I’ll ever cure myself of stealing food off his plate, but perhaps that was a gentle reminder to try and readdress that habit somewhere down the line.