Real Veganism

So I was hoping to write a huge post on why a vegan diet is the right diet. But it’s not a super easy argument to make. So I thought I’d postulate and opine instead of prove. Sorry.

The Costs of Vegetables and Meat

One argument I hear often when people are trying to talk about how terrible the meat industry is relates to the cost of raising animals. And that cost comes in many forms, including financial and environmental, two concerns I’d like to address here.

The financial cost of raising cattle and other meat animals cannot be as skewed as the big documentaries would have you believe. The Sierra Club claims in one of their food cost campaign videos (The True Cost Of Food) that a steak really costs $815/lb because of all of the water consumed, environment impacted, etc. They claim that part of this is due to the US government’s skewed subsidies for food, giving a huge majority of funding to the meat industries and a tiny sliver of an amount to the vegetable farmers. But the fact is that in the US we eat about $2,000,000,000,000 ($2T) of food every year, and the government subsidies for food ring in at about $20,000,000,000 ($20B, or about 1% of the total spent on food in the country, or about $65 per person per year – not so much). And if the true cost for a pound of steak was $815 (as they claim in the video), we would be spending approximately 100% of our GDP on beef alone. Believe it or not, that isn’t the case.

It is true that steak is more expensive than vegetables, and the environmental impact is significant. But the scaremongers of the industry don’t expect that you’ll research these things. Financially, meat is a luxury, but it’s fine. It’s not going to break the economy, it’s not significantly skewing the prices for veggies, and it’s not a significant portion of the taxes you pay. So quit whining about it.

The environmental impact of industrial cattle and poultry farming, however, is a big deal. Many articles and people have been talking about the environmental impact of driving cars versus eating meat. This article references a Michael Pollan quote in which he says “A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.” The article then goes on to say that Pollan was wrong, but it doesn’t comment on the immensity of the impact of going vegan. True, the impact of switching to a vegan diet is only 2 tons of CO2 and switching from a Hummer to a Prius is more than double that (just under 5 tons CO2). But that’s still huge. Eating vegan will result in a net reduction of CO2 output of roughly 10% (for the average American with a footprint of 20 tons CO2-eq per year). That’s a big amount.

The thing is, though a vegan diet is considerably more earth conscious than a meaty diet, we’re not looking at all the individual environmental impacts for which we’re responsible. Some recent studies point to pets as a big culprit of environmental impact, a medium sized dog having roughly the same impact on the environment as two SUVs. Ouch.

The Right Choice

So maybe veganism isn’t so financially important. And maybe eating less cow is only making moderate steps toward saving the environment. So why is it the better choice?

Even a small step toward reducing emissions is a step in the right direction. We don’t know yet how to reset or reverse global warming and the intense CO2 production we’re getting quite used to. So though we can’t fix everything by switching to a vegan diet, it could help us slow down the problems and give ourselves more time to find a solution.

In space, no one can hear you scream for a hamburger. For any kind of sustainable or limited resource farming, cows are a terrible way to produce the nutrients we need. When we’re counting on sun for energy and recycling for nutrients and dealing with limited space and time, plant-based diets will definitely be the best way to travel. Trips to Mars and beyond will likely include plant based diets. And as we run out of resources on our own little rock, plant based diets will become the way to go at home, too.

Vegetables are a drug we can all enjoy. As I’ve talked about in previous posts, my vegan diet has left me feeling better, sleeping better, playing sports better, etc. Almost everything about it has increase my happiness, fitness, and mental agility. And all foods taste better now. I still struggle to understand why this isn’t benefit enough to convince everybody to give it a try, but it’s not so easy to believe another person who tells you that “giving up steak and bacon is the best thing I’ve done this year!” I don’t even think I’d believe that now, and here I am asking you to believe it.

What the future holds for us

I’m sure it was hard to be vegan 100 years ago. Fruits and vegetables and nuts weren’t available year round. Restaurants weren’t so plentiful. Being vegan would be a struggle. Only the people for whom it was important and to whom resources could be devoted could afford to be vegan (e.g. gladiators were vegans). But each year we learn more about the benefits of a vegan diet, and it’s getting easier and easier to afford and make time for vegan food. Each year understanding and prevalence grows. It is a sustainable, healthy way to keep nutrition up and keep disease down. And I predict that it will only get better. Our need and desire for calorie-dense, preserved foods will transition to a desire for nutrient-dense, fresh foods, making plant based diets an extremely attractive option. It won’t happen within my lifetime, but somewhere down the road we’ll be majority vegan, and it will be good for all of us. Einstein once said “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet,” and I happen to agree with him. And I look forward to that world.

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My Vegan Experience

My first month of veganism far exceeded my expectations, and in the best possible ways. I have felt healthier, happier, and more energetic than I can ever remember feeling before. Some effects were immediate, some I noticed for the first time only a few days ago. Here are some of the things I’ve observed in myself and my behavior in the past month:

  • Animal Products: My desire for meats and animal products is waning. I definitely expected this would happen, but I thought I would have had more cravings. Even when I was in Chicago (Jan 14), watching my family eat a beautiful deep dish pizza, I noticed that part of me really wanted to take a bite, but a new part of me just wanted a plate full of fresh vegetables.
  • Grains and Sweets: My desire for grains and sweets is less. I didn’t think this would happen. I would have thought that giving up animal products would result in a stronger desire for comfort foods, like sugar, starch foods, chips, etc. But more and more I just want vegetables, fruits, and nuts, the raw-er, the better. I’m even tempted to eliminate things from my diet that I wasn’t planning to eliminate until later in the year, like caffeine, alcohol, wheat, etc. Weird, but I like the feeling.
  • Slumber: I sleep better, I wake up easier, and I wake up feeling more rested. On nights when I definitely don’t get enough sleep (thanks, Skyrim), instead of dropping to almost zero energy and falling asleep at my desk, I would operate quite happily at ~50% energy until I could get home to take a nap. And even my nap would feel better, more effective, more rejuvenating.
  • Energy: I have loads of energy. I’ve noticed that I feel better and more energetic, even when I don’t drink coffee. One of my favorite juices for the morning is carrots, clementines, lemon, and ginger, and it gives me crazy amounts of energy for the first hour or two of my day. I even find that when I eat sugary fruits, I can feel the effects, I tingle with increased energy within seconds of consuming the fruit. And it feels awesome. And if cutting coffee isn’t appealing, how about this: coffee is somehow more effective now. I can feel the energizing effects sooner, longer, and more powerfully. Bonus!
  • Exciting Foods: I’m actually excited about nuts, fruits, and vegetables in a way I never was before. I’ve never felt this way about any kind of food before. I almost feel high when I’m shopping for food in the produce section of the grocery. How awesome is that?
  • Sports: My volleyball team noticed immediately that my mood and manner had changed. I was more talkative. I was diving and going for the ball more. I could react faster and hit more accurately than I ever had before. Definitely an advantage during volleyball!
  • Happiness: I am ludicrously happy sometimes. I will spontaneously start laughing or dancing or loudly proclaiming my love of people, vegetables, homemade juice, etc. It’s a great feeling, but bordering on making me concerned for my own sanity.
  • Weight Loss: Nothing surprising here, as I wasn’t eating super healthy before and have now switched to mostly raw fruits, vegetables, and nuts. But I have lost 10 pound this first month, and I expect I will lose many more.
A typical shopping cart these days. Mostly fruits and veg!

It almost seems unreal. How could my vegan experience be this good? How could other people not be shouting from the rooftops about this? How come no one has ever told me before how good it would feel to go vegan, how little I would miss meat, and how easy it can be?

Well, I did experience one small hiccup, though. At a meeting at work, I found that the food we had ordered was most definitely not vegan, and there was little for me to eat. I survived it, and appreciate the hilarity of the situation. But I did not get my fill of food.
Everyone else ate delicious Davanni’s noodles, bread, and salad. Note the salad (with cheddar cheese and ranch dressing).
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My meal – a bottle of water and a few pieces of lettuce and broccoli I managed to clear the cheese from before I got bored with the task.
I can understand that not everyone’s experience will be the same as mine. But if even 5-10% of people experience what I am experiencing, wouldn’t it be worth it to try it? And that doesn’t even include many of the other touted benefits of raw vegan diets, like possible reduction, elimination, or reversal of various diseases, extended lifespan, clearer and healthier skin and hair, etc. (see this website for a brief and informal review of the pros and cons of a raw food diet; also: this guy, who probably represents the perfect storm of good genes, good diet, and luck, but his story is amazing nonetheless – he is 111 years old, and appears to be more active than most Americans).
My Bahn Mi sandwich from Hard Times Cafe – so good! One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, really hits the spot for carbs, umami, salty pickled veggies, etc.
Anyway, the first month has been amazing and wonderful and fills me with hope and excitement for the future. I could hardly have believed it would have been this great. I love my life.

My First Vegan Road Trip

My trip to Chicago with my family.

Though I had thought about it a little bit, it hadn’t really hit me that travel would be so difficult. As soon as I started packing my things for a trip to Chicago with my family, I realized I should bring a lot of food for myself in case we, say, stopped for some “edibles” at a White Castle (which we did on the way back from Chicago – I didn’t order anything, I just ate my almonds and a clementine). My brother Jake was nice enough to think ahead, too. He’s always looking out for me (including sending me all sorts of NYTimes articles about veganism – thank you Jake!), and this time he bought extra peanut butter and an avocado just because he thought I might need them to supplement my diet while staying at his place. I don’t think I needed them, but I was very happy that he was thinking of me (and the avocado was delicious!). The first real challenge of the trip (and truly the first real big challenge of my vegan experience) hit me as we were arriving in Chicago. I love adventure, trying new places, experiencing new foods, etc, and driving by all of the local restaurants made me jealous of omnivores. I wanted to eat out!

Well, eventually we did eat out, though it wasn’t anywhere vegan. To be fair, our group consisted of my two brothers (Jake and Josh), Josh’s wife and two kids, and my dad and his wife. Though I would expect to be able to sway my brothers or my dad individually to try a vegan restaurant with me, convincing the whole group just wasn’t going to happen. So, we went out to eat at a place called Lulu Belle’s Pancake House. I knew I would have trouble finding a delicious vegan option when I saw two things on the menu:
  1. “we offer delicious southern specialties” and
  2. “order anything smothered in sausage gravy for just $1.25”

The waitress, although accommodating, didn’t seem too excited about helping me find a vegan option. Not knowing exactly how to respond to my request, she went and asked the head chef. I learned then – and was reminded of this fact at each place we ate in Chicago – that the easy and common answer to “what can you make for me that’s vegan” is “anything, so long as we remove any animal products”; no substitutions, no creativity – just remove any animal products. Something like this:

“You want the veggie burger made vegan? Sure, we’ll just remove the cheese and butter. You want the veggie skillet? Sure, we’ll just make it without sausage gravy, eggs, or cheese. You want the Farmer’s Ommelet? Sure, we’ll, uh… we’ll fry up some mushrooms for you, I guess.”

My meal at Lulu Belle’s. Basically just veggies wrapped in greens and a bowl of fruit. Not bad, not good.
The other two places we ate at, The Art of Pizza and Grahamwich, were no better. I had high hopes for Grahamwich since it is owned by Graham Elliot, a renowned chef. I expected that a great chef would own a restaurant with intelligent employees that could understand, imagine, and possibly concoct vegan options. Nope. No such luck. I’ll have the most vegetarian option on the menu with any cheese or cream sauces removed, please. But I have to give them credit – they were at least understanding and a little knowledgeable. The 15-year-old kid who answered the phone at Art of Pizza thought vegan meant no salt. Nice try kid.
What I couldn’t eat at my brother’s house. Part of me was jealous, but part of me is starting to see this as disgusting.
Overall, my trip to Chicago was great. It was just tricky convincing my family that veganism might be cool, delicious, and worth a try. I found a place online called Karyn’s, and I was super excited to eat there. My family sort of agreed, in a “we love you and we’ll humor you for a while” kind of way, but it didn’t result in me eating at any Chicago vegan restaurants. It tended to go something like this: “Oh, yeah Spencer, that sounds awesome! Hey, I know: let’s order a deep-dish pizza loaded with cheese, pepperoni, and butter!”
Key take-aways:
  1. Most chef’s suck at being creative. Even if you’re not vegan, asking a chef “what vegan options do you have?” will probably give you a pretty clear picture of whether the chef is a creative, passionate, wonderful chef and gastronome willing to whip up a delectable dish or a slouch who peeled himself out of bed to warm up some food products for you in exchange for a steady paycheck.
  2. I love my family, and they are understanding and kind, but it’s hard to convince them to eat vegan food with me as a group. I’ll have to work on them individually.
  3. When you travel anywhere, bring lots of snacky foods. This way, when everyone else goes to White Castle, you can still eat healthy and vegan.

 

I’m still VERY happy with my veganism, and I look forward to the rest of a year of awesome, a lot of learning, and a little bit of challenge.

Half Way There.

“Dimidium facti qui coepit habet,” –Horace

(He who has begun has the work half done)



PROLOGUE

When I initially set out to write this first major post of my Year Of The Vegan, I didn’t expect it would turn out so long. But it did. If you don’t like to read, I’m sorry – there is a lot of information here. If you do like to read, I’m sorry – it’s not necessary well written. But this blog is as much for me as anybody, and this is what I wanted. Most future posts will be smaller by design, and I expect I will get better at distilling my thoughts to the essentials of experience as I practice blogging.

I’ll open with notes on each day’s experiences, then jump into the meat of today’s post. If you catch a few names or notions you’re not familiar with yet, don’t worry – all should be clear by the end of the post. If you want to skip right to the why of this blog, this post, this year, click here.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Safety in numbers isn’t just a civilian ambulatory safety strategy, it’s a happy notion for vegans as well. Because I [somehow] convinced Peter and Lindsay to be vegan with me, our entire house is free of consumable animal products (except for some emergency steaks in the freezer, just in case we have a visit from one of our carnivorous friends).

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

I’ve had to visit the bathroom significantly more times than normal today. Not exactly sure why. I’m hoping it’s a sign of cleansing, like my body has caught on to the scheme my brain already understands – no more meat products this year – and is beginning to flush the system. Other than the oddly frequent visits to the bathroom, I’ve felt energetic, happy, and generally wonderful. I’m still super excited for the coming year!

My coworker, Wanzhan, also suggested today that I record not only my weight, pulse, cholesterol, etc throughout the year, but my self-evaluated happiness and energy levels as well. I think this is a brilliant suggestion (I have my nerdiness to thank for that – the opportunity to record additional data excites me more than a normal person might expect).

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

I wasn’t so happy to deal with people today. I think it was the lack of sleep, but I was feeling pretty snippy for some reason. But though the mood wasn’t great, veganism was still doing well. I am not struggling with it as much as people would have thought so far, but then again it’s only been four days, and I haven’t given malnutrition or laziness a chance to set in.

I am impressed by how long it feels like it has been since January 1. It must be the fact that every day I am recording details of my life combined with the fact that I’m doing something so new, but I feel like I’ve been vegan for ages.  I’d say I feel like I’ve been doing it for a month or so. Interesting how my sense of time is altered.

So far I’ve really had no meaty urges or cravings to speak of. Generally, I’ve had less cravings than I would have expected, even for things that are non-vegan. People have offered me candy and other various sweets, and I just have no desire for them. And somehow the concept of eating a huge meal doesn’t sound so good. I’m perfectly happy and content to eat a small meal consisting mostly of vegetables. I wonder if or how this will change throughout the year.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Today I went out for dinner with my friend Tiffany. We went to Sen Yai Sen Lek, a family run Thai place at 24th and Central in NE Minneapolis. I’ve always loved this place, and wanted to see how they would do for vegan. Our waiter didn’t seem too comfortable with the concept, and even managed to bring me the typical omelet accompaniment with my meal (though he was very apologetic when he realized what he had done). But he asked the chef in back and supposedly they were happy to provide a vegan option. Aside from the omelet, the meal seemed to be vegan and was quite delicious (though perhaps not as spicy as I would like).

Anyway, this was my first experience ordering vegan food at a restaurant that doesn’t openly state their support for vegan dishes, but I thought it turned out alright. I like the food, atmosphere, servers, and patrons at Sen Yai Sen Lek enough that I’ll definitely be going back.

So far I don’t appear to be losing weight, but I’m fine with that. I’m giving my body at least two weeks to adjust to the vegan diet, then I’ll start to kick the weight loss into high gear. So far I’ve been to the fitness club every day, and I still intend to do so for the rest of the year. I’m hoping veganism will help me reach my weight goal, though that’s not what this year is about – this year is just about challenges, learning, and being healthier. Increased physical fitness and decreased weight would be a nice bonus.

As of today, I estimate this is the longest I’ve gone without consuming animal products since I was two years old. That is kind of shocking to me, but [probably] in a good way.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Today Peter, Lindsay, and I celebrated our first week of veganism with a meal at Ecopolitan (completely vegan, raw food) in uptown. I managed to forget to take pictures, but I think I’ll remember the experience for some time. I think I’ve actually eaten there before, but I didn’t really appreciate it until now. It is truly a magical place.

First of all, upon entering the building one notices that this is a more relaxed atmosphere. Successfully making your way though the first door presents you with several more options, not so clearly marked. The next door presents you very suddenly with the restaurant, and if your experience is anything like mine it will be packed with the hippiest of hippies and maybe a few normal people.

The staff were friendly, almost disturbingly so. It was as if I was at an acquaintance’s house and she was trying to be extra friendly. But I expect this is the way of most hippies, and it’s not necessarily anything bad, just a little different. Aside from the friendliness, however, the quality of service wasn’t anything to be proud of. For the most part, the casual attitude of the waitress ended up being a bit too casual, and she wasn’t as responsive as she should have been. As a matter of fact, when we were waiting to pay our bill I think she went to take a nap or went home for the night or something, because we didn’t see her again at all.

The menu was a bit of a fail as well. Not that I wouldn’t expect it, but they were out of many ingredients. The waitress spent the majority of her time at our table telling us what they were out of and what they were substituting for the day. This isn’t a knock on the problem of running out of ingredients, because I totally understand it given the type of restaurant. But this does mean that they might need to be a little more innovative with their menu planning or dynamics to make it less frustrating.

The winner here, of course, was the food. What a triumph of vegan cooking! It was a bit expensive, but not too extreme. Discussing with Peter, we came to the conclusion that some dishes are well worth the price – expensive, delicious, and difficult to prepare at home – as was my “rawvioli.” It was a tremendous dish, and I would gladly pay for it again. Peter and Lindsay ordered the Green Burrito and Falafal Wrap, respectively, and were relatively less impressed by their meals, thinking that they were expensive without being as impressively delicious or difficult.

We also tried the “Not-chos” (a fabulous success! I need to learn to make that nacho sauce at home – probably some sort of cashew or pine nut puree with some cayenne and turmeric?), and three deserts: Coconut Cream Pie (alright), some sort of orange cookie (not great, but good), and the banana and blueberry parfait (we will be learning to copy this at some point).

So the atmosphere was alright, kind of charming. The service was pitiable. The prices were a bit high. The menu was almost a catastrophe. The food was awesome – truly inspiring and delicious – and is the reason I will be returning to Ecopolitan in the future.

My veganist experiment is still going well, and it’s still hard to believe it has been less than a week. I am looking forward to nothing less than hope, inspiration, health, and general awesomeness.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

It has been almost a full week since my last animal product, the ½ pound of summer sausage I scarfed on a dare, and I can honestly say I don’t really miss animal products.

That’s pretty much all the excitement I had to report for today. Upon Peter’s request, I planned very little for today, and so that’s exactly what I got done. Made some juices, played some Skyrim, continued being vegan. Pretty good Saturday, I would say.

Sunday, 8 January 2012: The First Big One

Sunday! My first big blog post! I’ve now had a week to digest this whole veganism thing, feel some of the early bodily resistance, take some pictures, and record some thoughts and formulate new ones. It’s been a great week. Despite some ups and downs – not unexpected – this has been a fantastic week. Probably the best first week of a year ever I’ve ever had. I need to give myself drastic challenges more often.

Anyway, as this is the first big post, this is probably a good time to set the story for anyone out there interested in following along with my journey, including myself. Let me first explain my reasons for going vegan. Then I’ll explain my situation (including the featured players in my life), and then my thoughts on the previous week and the coming year, then I’ll go through the details of what rules, regulations, and resolutions I’ve made for this year.

SPENCE AND SPENCIBILITY

My reasons aren’t always clear or translatable or even understandable. Most of my friends react to my logic with a sort of stew of confusion, concern, amusement, and pity in various amounts. But I’m not trying to appeal to the most, I’m trying to appeal to at least a few, and especially to myself. And this kind of thing has fit the bill for a long time.

Challenge-wise, I’ve come a long way in my life. People who have known and will have known me for my eternity know that I was a most picky child. When eating at a chinese restaurant, I’d have the hamburger. Nothing made it into my mouth without first passing a personal sniff test. Even as a baby, I apparently refused to drink regular milk (I only had soy milk between 6mo and 2yr – perhaps I was an experimental vegan even then?). As I grew, so did my appetite for variety, newness, and challenge. Now I excitedly savor interesting tastes and textures – steak tartar, foie gras, unagi, baked tarantula, or “rawvioli” for example. And I’m no stranger to challenge (100 cups of coffee in 1 weekend!).

Curiosity-wise, I’ve probably grown as well. I think I’ve always been excited to learn more about the world (for example, when I saw “ENG 1101” on my junior high class schedule, and yelled out “Engineering!? Yeah!!” only to sink sadly into my seat when Mr. Loftus commenced with our first ENGlish lesson (no offense Mr. Loftus – you were a good teacher, and I do love English/linguistics, I promise). But somehow the more I uncover about the universe, the more curious I become. This could mean that my passions and interest will expand and gain strength, leading to my eventual invention of a cold fusion reactor or time machine or something. Or it could mean that I’ll slowly spiral into insanity. Either way, I’m looking forward to it.

So the stage was set for me. Desire for discovery and challenge were there. But then I needed inspiration. This came from many sources, all probably subtly connected. First, but certainly not most importantly, I’ll point to Steve Jobs. His passing shocked me more than I would have guessed it would. I’ve always admired many of Mr. Jobs’ qualities, and I want to make a dent in the universe someday, just as he did. I’ve known for a long time that he used to experiment with food (and other things), and it tickles me when I share thoughts independently with those I admire (for example, Carl Sagan and I independently but nearly identically commented on the size of the number googolplex). This was certainly one of many solidifying factors in my decision to go vegan.

The second source of inspiration is probably my oldest friend, Jesse. Though I’ve never told him directly, I hope he knows that I’ve always admired his sense of style and personality, even when I didn’t agree with it. At various periods in his life, Jesse has been an omnivore, a vegetarian, and a vegan. We haven’t always been the closest of friends, but I have always felt that Jesse supported me, apparently and somewhat oddly unconditionally. This might be my own delusion, but I’m fine with that. Furthermore, we were quiet close when we were kids, living just a few houses from each other, and Jesse will always be a source of inspiration and nostalgia for me.

The third source of inspiration is my best friend’s wife, Lindsay. I think more out of competition than cooperation or support, she and I drove a simple thought of veganism to a year of exclusive veganism, and then I pushed my restrictions and resolutions even further because of my naturally competitive and cooperative nature (yes, I can be both at once). Anyway, Lindsay was an essential catalyst in making this a year-long endeavor. I’m still kind of sorry that Peter got caught in the fray, but I’m super happy he’s going along with it – I don’t know how we would make this happen if we weren’t doing it together, as a whole house.

There are, of course, many sources of inspiration that I’m leaving out, and many crucial elements that have as yet gone unmentioned (my brothers and parents – by blood or otherwise -, my teachers growing up, etc etc etc). They are no less important, and I love, respect, and honor each and every one of them.

Typing all of this out, it makes me realize that this was going to happen one way or another. The pieces have been falling into place for a long time. I’m not sure what direction I’m moving in or exactly where I’m going, but the journey itself is becoming inspiring and thrilling. I love this life.

CASTING CALL

I’m amazed by the people I’ve come to know well, and I’m glad that enough of them support this experiment of mine to make it a reality. These are some of the people who will be big players in my Year Of The Vegan (though, as mentioned above, there are many others who will go unmentioned but are still of great import).

Lindsay. Probably one of the most important people in the next year because of her enthusiasm (and stubbornness) for veganism and her proximity to me. Lindsay is Peter’s wife (as of February 2010) and has amazed me with her dedication to veganism thus far, especially in terms of her label reading and baking experimentation. When she does things, she likes to do them right or not at all. I respect that. She is kicking butt at vegansim as far as I can tell, and I fully expect her to make it through this whole year unscathed.

Peter. Poor Peter. I love the guy, but he got roped into this somewhat against his will, an innocent bystander of the great vegan experiment. I hope (and trust) that he will survive the year. Peter and I have known each other since we were three and four years old, respectively, and have been best friends ever since. We didn’t really ever go to school together, aside from preschool, but we’ve managed to stay connected for so long, and now we live in the same house. It’s been an amazing 24 years of friendship thus far, and I look forward to many more. Peter is a stellar man, an awesome friend, a brilliant mind, and probably more than I deserve.

Karl. Without Karl, I probably would not have eaten as much meat or imbibed as much whiskey in the past three years. Karl I first noted for his exceptional athletic ability and wit on the volleyball court in 2006, and later noted for his exceptional meat eating and beer drinking abilities. Truly an amazing man and a great friend – the kind of guy who will take care of you when you drunkenly fall asleep in the grass next to the garage in the rain. Though Karl probably doesn’t agree with my decision to go vegan, I’m guessing he supports me and will happily eat steak alongside me while I’m eating tofu, and throw grapes instead of marshmallows when needed. Karl was also crucial in clearing the house of animal products at the end of the year, walking away with many grocery bags of food. This made the transition much, much easier with all temptations removed.

Amy and Allegra. Without Amy and Allegra, I may not have survived the last few years and perhaps would not have survived the coming year. They tease and rib on me plenty about the veganism thing, but I know they will support me to the ends of the earth. Plus, I’m guessing my taste buds will benefit from the exceptional quality of their cheffing skills.

Spencer Michael Bondhus. “I love me” is what I wrote on one of the concrete foundation blocks of the house I grew up in on Sheffield Ct in Burnsville, Minnesota. Those words are actually still there, faded and worn 20 years later, and it’s certainly still how I feel. I think it’s important to love and respect oneself, but to be constantly pushing and striving to make oneself better all the while. This is my goal. If I push myself to be just 1.4% better every week, I’ll be 100% better every year. I like that.

Countless others are finding articles and websites and cookbooks for me, and I am thankful that they’ve all got me on their minds.

PAST AND PRESENT

The first week wasn’t as much of a struggle as I thought it would be (though the dream I had about going to Fogo de Chao last night was a bit of a mare). My comments from the previous days (above) speak for themselves for the most part. Based on this first week, I am a lot less concerned about what might go wrong and more optimistic about what I will learn and discover.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

When this idea was born, it was simply “let’s be vegan for a year.” It has since taken on more refined definition for Peter, Lindsay, and I, and in my case I have added a handful of additional challenges to the mix.

Vegan, in our case, is defined as a plant-based diet. This means no consuming of animal meat (e.g. pork, chicken, lamb, etc), animal extraction products (e.g. eggs, cheese, milk, etc), or animal derived products (e.g. beef broth, milk solids, milk lactose, etc). We are not excluding yeast or honey (at least initially), nor are we specifically excluding other uses of animal products (e.g. leather belts or shoes, animal products in soaps or shampoos, etc), though we’ll likely tend away from using animal products in these areas as well.

It is important to note that this is an experiment. This is not religious, it is not spiritual, it is not moral, and it is not a comment on any of my beliefs in any of those areas. I am a scientist at heart, and in this case, I am my own experiment. Because of this, our rule is that we cannot willingly consume animal products and must do our due diligence to ensure the food we’re eating is vegan (specifically requesting it at a restaurant, for example, and reading food labels). And unwilling faltering doesn’t mean failure – we’ve only failed the experiment when we willingly or lazily consume animal products.

Monthly Modifications

In addition to veganism, I will be modifying my life throughout the year, one concept per month. Each modification will carry through at least until the end of the year. Some modifications will be a big adjustment for me because I do abuse or have abused them, some will be easy because they’re not that important to me, but still symbolic and important to officially give up. I haven’t necessarily settled yet on exactly what these items will be or what order I will undertake them in, but it will go something like this:

  • January: commence veganism!
  • February: No “fast food”
  • March: No artificial sweeteners or refined sugars
  • April: No carbonation
  • May: No caffeinne
  • June: No alcohol
  • July: No deep fried foods.
  • August: No eating out
  • September: No smoking of any sort (pipes, cigarettes, cigars, etc)
  • October: No gluten
  • November: Raw foods only (no heating above 110 deg-F)
  • December: No solid foods (juices only!)

You Are Here

The monthly modifications will also help keep my next goal active, healthy, and interesting – I want to blog throughout the year. I have never been good at keeping a journal, and have especially never been good about blogging. This year I intend to record my thoughts and experiences from every day and include at least one big blog post each week (probably on Sundays typically, and probably not as long as this unusually long commencement post).

¡Salud!

I’m already going kind of nuts with the veganism thing, and I expect it, if followed carefully and cautiously, to be incidentally good for my health. So why not toss some fitness in to balance things out? This year I plan to go to the gym at least once per day. This doesn’t mean I’m going to freak out and exercise myself to death, it just means I have to go to the club. Sometimes that will mean just a shower and a sauna, sometimes it will mean my own, personal, indoor triathlon. Two days of every week must be cardio focused, two days every week must be weights focused, other than that it’s free game.

Picture This

I am going to take pictures of myself every day for the whole year to see the time-lapse record of my aesthetic. Again, this is something I’ve been interested in doing for a while, and with all the other regimentation it just seemed natural to heap this on top. I’ve got two cameras for this: (1) a stationary tripod in my basement to capture full body pictures, and (2) my iPhone, with which I’ll take up-close face shots each day. I’m really excited for this project!

Meditate

I have been going through enough change early in this year, so I’m not going to force this one, but I am going to try. I might make it official starting in February. I want to meditate for five minutes, every day, immediately after waking up and immediately before going to bed. I’ve tried it a few times so far this year, and it’s been excellent. It makes my days brighter and cleaner and my sleep sounder.

Gimme A Head With Hair

I intend to see myself in new ways this year, including hair styling. Early on I’d like to grow my hair longer than I’ve ever had it to see what it looks like. Toward the end of the year I plan to shave it all off. I am sorry for those who I will offend aesthetically, but it’s not like I’m not aesthetically strange on a regular basis, so…

Go The Distance

It’s almost too much to add any more goals, but I’d also like to complete my first traithlon and double-century this year. Why wait?

EPILOGUE

So here I am, the year before me. I’ve taken the first few steps, and I’m feeling bright, ready, and excited. Bring it on!

Day 1, Done

Day 1 is at a close, and it was a great day. The basic concept of veganism was generally accepted by my mind, soul, and body, and I managed to comply with my other targets I intend to follow through on every single day this year: going to the gym, meditating for five minutes after waking up in the morning, weighing myself and recording my pulse, and blogging about my experiences.

My day started with lunch at the Birchwood Café with Robyn. I have always loved Birchwood, but I have never until today appreciated it so much for its support of vegans. I ordered the New Years Day breakfast hash, and it was delicious and filling and all I could want from my first vegan meal of my first vegan year.

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My first vegan meal. Delicious! Thank you, Birchwood!

Then I got to visit Judy, say hi, and play some Phase 10 with her, Allegra, and Robyn. (I won!) I brought some freeze-dried raspberries to Judy, and she let me try one. They were super light, tart, and delicious, and I look forward to my own adventures in dehydration throughout the year.

After Phase 10, I headed off to help Amy kill a giant fire-breathing spider (from Zelda: Skyward Sword), then back to home to help eat a magnificent noodle and vegetable curry dish with Peter and Lindsay. We also drank the Anchor holiday magnum beer for added deliciousness and intoxication.

And now here I sit with Peter, he playing Skyrim, me on my iPad. My snack tonight is carrots, hemp milk (“tempt” brand – quite good and creamy), and a growler of Flat Earth beer that Peter and I are enjoying. Vegan snacking seems to require a bit more planning, and it doesn’t satisfy my carnal urges as well, but I expect it will leave me feeling better afterward, and over time I will learn to associate that feeling with the snacking. Hooray for change!

Also, I am starting to believe that part of Peter’s escape from veganism will come through Skyrim. This game doesn’t do much to discourage killing animals and eating their flesh, raw or otherwise. Though I tend to let the cute rabbits, goats, elk, etc roam the country side freely, unharmed, Peter seems to be filling the carnivorous void in his soul with the pelts, chops, and bones of the gentle creatures of Skyrim. Oh well. It takes all sorts to make a [fantasy] world. As it happens, I’m guessing my Skyrim character will probably end up being nearly as vegan as me this year, but if I end up sneaking a bite of wolf chops with some melted troll fat and a side of saber tooth tiger’s milk, at least I won’t feel too guilty.

Stage 0: Digestion

Sunday 1 January 2012, 01:36

I have been vegan for 96 minutes. For the first time, it’s personal, it’s real. I saw Allegra enjoy a peanut butter M&M, and I thought “I don’t get to do that anymore” in a very sad, Charlie Brown fashion.

Until now, the impending veganism was alternately exciting and terrifying. Will my hair fall out? Will I be weak and crabby and angry? Or I will thrive, become super human and discover senses that until now were suppressed by the constant influx of animal products? But tonight I wanted what I couldn’t have again for at least a year, and what I may never want again.

I have high hopes for veganism. I hope I learn many interesting things about restricted diets, about other cultures, and about my friends and family. I hope I learn to appreciate cooking, unprocessed foods, and freshness. But most of all, I hope to learn many things about myself.

I’m excited to see my year in diary/journal/blog form – a lá Doogie Howser. I’m excited to reflect and compile information on how I changed over time, physically, mentally, emotionally. Learning is fun!

And so here I am at Phase 0 of my experiment, before the denial has set in, and before the half pound of summer sausage I crammed in my face between 11:57:00 and 11:59:59 on 31 December 2011 has fully digested. I’m ready. Let’s do this.