I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I think that I may have been secretly intrigued by the vegetarian, or more ‘radically,’ the vegan diet for a long time. Whenever someone drops the word ‘vegan’ in particular, a cloud of mysticism-induced wonder passes over my eyes as I simultaneously venerate such a ‘radical’ lifestyle while wondering how the heck anyone could ever possibly live that way.
My brother has been a vegetarian for a few years now and has never passed up the opportunity to distribute subtle pejorative hints regarding America’s pervasive omnivorous diet. Or, let’s face it, carnivorous diet. My brother began cooking his own meals when I was still in high school and has eaten Tofurky for Thanksgiving the last few years. His involvement in vegetarianism always got me thinking more about adopting a similar diet, but I always had numerous ways to justify still eating meat:
1. I freaking love bacon.
2. I freaking love charcuterie.
3. The animal is already dead – If I don’t eat it, its life would have ended in vain.
4. Vegetarian food is not readily available in America.
5. Follow up to no. 4, I’m secretly just too lazy to put time into finding delicious vegetarian food.
6. What about going out to dinner with friends? What if the restaurant doesn’t have vegetarian options (or only a lame risotto)?
8. MY FAVOURITE FOOD IS SUSHI!
I am sure there are other reasons not to be vegetarian, but there are even more reasons not to be vegan:
3. ice cream.
6. bagels with cream cheese.
9. basically any baked good.
10. And for good measure, think of anything that has milk or eggs in it and immediately rule it out of your diet.
So I imagine that given these numerous (and incredibly convincing) reasons to maintain my self-indulgent (though honestly sophisticated and finely-tuned) omnivorous diet one would be rather surprised to hear my official announcement that I have decided to adopt a vegan diet.
That’s right. I’m ‘going vegan.’
Now before you scream about ice cream, cookies, and sushi, I would like to make what I believe is a truly convincing attempt at justifying this decision.
I first considered extending my gastrocentric lifestyle to veganism a few days after I graduated college (around May 5 or 6). I had been working on my senior theological studies thesis project about theology of food and sacramental eating. A large part of my research investigated how ‘healthy’ eating habits (particularly eating locally-sourced, organic, and free-range foods) can help promote the development of healthy community between humans, nature, and God. However, destructive eating habits (particularly eating processed foods, cheaply produced foods, or anything produced by factory farms or agribusinesses) destroys community between humans, nature, and God. Eating is a fundamentally spiritual yet significantly socio-political exercise, so destructive eating destroys the overall well-being of people, animals, and all nature.
This got me thinking more about my diet. Since I started the project in August of 2012 I had been more conscious of what I was eating. My wife and I ditched Aldi and started buying more organic and fresh stuff from Woodman’s Market. I even decided to try eating only free-range organic meats.
At the same time my Bible and Theology friends Nate and Josiah along with their roommate Lukasz were considering vegetarianism/veganism as well, having come out of a recent Environmental Theology class.
Regrettably, this attempt was primarily in vain. Anywhere I ate meat I knew for sure it was not going to be local or free-range or organic.
So my research and problems with food sourcing were on my mind a whole heck of a lot. I was considering vegetarianism when my friend Kaia told me that dairy contributes to many negative health effects but primarily has quite negative implications for allergies. I did some more research and discovered that the milk protein Casein causes the body to create more allergen-trapping mucous while contributing to tissue inflammation. I decided then to cut dairy out of my diet because my seasonal allergies could be a helpful tool for the Spanish Inquisition’s torture strategies.
Well, if I am going to cut dairy out of my diet, to me it logically follows that this would be a great time to cut meat out as well.
A few days later my wife Kaitlyn and I moved in with Kaia and her husband Josh for a few weeks. Kaia is a vegan-leaning vegetarian, so staying at her house made the transition a bit easier. She also introduced Kaitlyn and I to a wonderful documentary called Forks over Knives that demonstrated the problems with eating animal products while describing how a plant-based, whole foods diet provides a quick solution to these meaty problems. It turns out humans weren’t really designed physiologically to process animal products. This biological aversion to meat has serious implications on human health, not to mention the environment. By eating a vegan diet, you can reduce your risk of cancer and actually reverse the effects of lots of different health problems (high blood pressure, cholesterol, digestive problems, energy problems, etc. You should just watch the doc – it’s on Netflix!)
I ate my last meat meal at a Chicago restaurant called The Purple Pig. I had been planning this restaurant-outing with my dad for a while and figured it would be a wonderful ‘Last Supper,’ so to speak. Purple Pig is famous and highly rated in Chicago, and it was fantastic. The charcuterie was fresh, the ingredients balanced, and everything was delicious and rich. Might as well eat the best possible if I’m not going back to it. Since I’ve been eating vegan, I honestly don’t really miss meat.
The bigger struggle for me is actually not eating dairy. I consider(ed) myself a connoisseur of fine chocolates and cheeses AND ICE CREAM!, but now I can’t really eat that stuff. Thankfully I’ve found alternatives to not only chocolate and cheese but desserts in general. Plus, it is really easy to keep making your favourite baking recipes but simply use coconut oil instead of butter and almond milk instead of milk. It actually tastes better and has an excellent texture. Plus, ’tis a lot healthier.
Anyway, I’ve been straight vegan for a good three weeks now. I still eat organic honey and organic cage-free eggs because neither ingredient is super bad for you and neither ingredient really destroys the livelihood of the creatures that produce them (including human workers and the environment). Thankfully I’ve been a cooking addict for the past four years. Kaitlyn and I have found some great vegetarian recipes since being married is closely associated with being poor. I find vegan cooking so much more interesting and exciting than cooking meat because it takes a different level of creativity, knowledge of flavours, and ingenuity to make a fun and delicious dish. Plus, I’m pretty sure seitan is the best thing ever. Unless you’re allergic to gluten, then sucks to be you 😉 If you love cooking, eating vegan is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be at first. Restaurants are also much more vegan friendly than you might expect. Overall, this a lifestyle change that I definitely do not regret making and will certainly stick with it indefinitely. Amen and amen.
Photo: black bean patty with spinach, sprouts, tomato, avocado, dijon mustard on a whole wheat bun. By Kaitlyn Newberry