Day 1: The month-long vegan experiment — wherein I, my fiancé, and two friends try to strip all animal products from our diets (for several reasons, primary among them “just to see what it’s like”) — is off to a running start with a three-bean salad (green, kidney, cannellini) from my new vegan cookbook for dinner. Yum!
Days 2 & 3: Strange side effect of the new diet: dramatic hunger spikes. Usually, my desire to feed unfolds like this: Hmm, I’m sort of hungry. I guess I could eat anytime. OK, now the ole stomach is really rumbling. This process typically unfolds over several hours.
Now? On a Hunger Scale of 1 to 10, I go from a 3 to OH MY GOD I WILL CHEW OFF MY OWN ARM IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME THAT CARROT RIGHT THIS SECOND in about 10 minutes. I’ve been trying to get enough calories and pay attention to protein, but clearly something is off.
Ted and I also sample a few local veg joints. At the first, we try vegan pizza (read: no cheese) and a dense, tomato-saucy pasta. At the second, we feast on Thai curry and stir-fry, both starring tofu. “Best Thai I’ve had in the city,” Ted declares.
Good thing, too, because he’s off to a rougher start than I am. He suffered a major blow on morning 2 when he realized his favorite meat alternative, MorningStar Farms Sausage Links, contain eggs and therefore couldn’t shepherd him through the month. “Vegetarians always ask if you’d be willing to kill your own meat,” he mused. “I’d say, hell yes! Right now, I’d wrestle a deer to the ground and stab it to death with its own antler.”
Day 4: Morale skyrockets at our first dinner/support group with Laura and Matt, fellow explorers of Veganville. We kick things off with bread, quince, and tapenade for an appetizer, then a main dish I picked mostly for its fancy presentation: a bed of French green lentils, topped with a tower of polenta, in turn topped with a sauté of mixed mushrooms, hazelnuts, and figs, and crowned with arugula and pomegranate dressing. Consensus: damn good.
Matt finishes us off with bananas foster cooked in vegan butter substitute and soaked in a healthy dash of rum. The meal could go toe-to-toe with our finest animal-product offerings.
We compare notes: no uncontrollable cravings or digestive hurdles worth mentioning. We’re riding so high, in fact, that nobody thinks to check if the Guinness is vegan. Dammit, apparently not. Our first slip.
Day 6: I successfully brave a social outing with the non-vegan crowd: book club. Luckily, our host finds my experiment intriguing and serves lentils with slow-cooked squash; I add a mango salad to the mix and only have to skip the naan (offender: buttermilk). Once again, no one at the table missed the meat. Energy and mood remain at normal levels.
Day 7: It was bound to happen, I suppose: my first strong craving for a verboten foodstuff. The temptress isn’t bacon, nor cheese, nor even bacon covered in cheese, as I thought it might be. Instead, I catch myself staring longingly at a bakery case full of flaky, butter- and egg-infested pastries. But luckily, finding vegan cookies and donuts in Seattle is as easy as running into a skinny-jeaned hipster with a vinyl collection. And there’s always dark chocolate, tea biscuits, and my ironic tub of vegan animal crackers to help with the sweet tooth.
Day 8: OK, OK, this vegan thing has been great, but today, I’m overcome. Not with fiber-fueled gaseous emissions, not with a vitamin B12 deficiency, not even with the slavering lust for a ham sandwich at all costs. It’s just … boredom. I open the pantry to take stock: lentils, beans, tofu again? I’ve heartily enjoyed all our vegan dishes so far, but it feels like my culinary world has gone from Technicolor to black and white. Ted feels the same way (though he’s registering much higher on the Ham Sandwich Lust Index).
We make one of our old standbys, a noodle bowl that’s mostly vegan already, depending on your protein source. And I realize we’ve got to try harder. There’s no way we’ve exhausted the vegan smorgasbord after just eight days. It’s time to think outside of the box.
Day 10: Our stiffest challenge to date: going out to dinner with a group of new friends. Oblivious to our experiment, they squirreled reservations at a fantastic place with a chef who’s just won a Food & Wine The People’s Best New Chef award — a place renowned for morsels like mussels, collar of salmon, pork chops, and duck terrine. I just can’t bring myself to ask everyone to change their plans on account of my little “experiment.” “I don’t know if I can do this,” Ted warns as he looked at the menu.
To make matters worse, we worked up a righteous appetite snowshoeing all afternoon; gnawing hunger teams up with the delectable scents coming from this rock-star chef’s kitchen to weaken our resolve to critical levels. Still harder: The group wants to do the tasting menu — of course, who wouldn’t? — and the whole table is supposed to sign up. “Can just the four of us do the tasting menu?” our dinner companion asks. “Unfortunately, it’s got to be the whole table,” our server replies.
Moment of truth: Will I cave, overcome by peer pressure and my embarrassment at being the kind of fussy, look-at-me diner who goes to a decidedly non-vegan restaurant and demands special vegan food? What are we even doing here? This is a disaster! We’re not even real vegans!
I take a deep breath and say, as politely as I can, “We were actually hoping to do a vegan tasting. Is that okay?” The server checks with the chef, who immediately agrees to serve two versions of the menu. Everyone is happy (except Ted, who I catch absentmindedly buttering his bread as he stares at the specialty dishes floating by en route to other tables).
And the food? Fantastic. Off the top of his head, the chef presents us with two delicate miner’s lettuce salads, rapini with preserved tomatoes, a kimchi-like soup, and a main course featuring fried chickpeas and smoky sunchokes. “And this one is for our ‘special guests,’” he says at one point, coming out of the kitchen to serve a course himself. I couldn’t be more impressed, not even if he’d wrestled that rapini to the ground out back and strangled it with its own leaves.
Ten days, four people. No cheating, no lapses of willpower, four inadvertent consumptions of fish bladder. I’d say we’re doing all right.