I could walk away right now. On the other hand...

ShutterstockI could walk away right now. On the other hand …

Over the past 20 days, my vegan challenge team and I have had a fantastic time. Everything is great. Everyone’s feeling fine. No worries. OK, I’ll check back in next week.

Ha! Not so fast. Did you really think four people doing the vegan equivalent of zero to 60 in six seconds wouldn’t run into a few potholes? Week three of our monthlong vegan experiment brought frustration, temptation, and outright rebellion for Laura, Matt, Ted, and me. Deep-seated weaknesses were exposed. Closely held beliefs were tested. In other words: Things got real.

Not that the exercise has been all struggle — far from it. Among the top benefits for all four of us: the expansion of our cooking and dining horizons. Who knew cheeseless pizza could be so satisfying? It probably wouldn’t have occurred to me to try it without being compelled to, but yum. Laura and Matt found vegan enlightenment in a pine-nut spread. “Thinking of it as a cheese replacement is no good,” Laura warned us. “But as a pine-nut spread that’s delicious on everything, très wonderful.” Other surprises: portobello burgers with guacamole, non-dairy chocolate shakes, and vegan carrot cake that was pronounced “the best I’ve ever had” by four out of four samplers.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

At a happy hour the other day, after I explained why I wouldn’t be joining the group in an oyster slurp, an acquaintance asked if I felt any different after 20 days off the animal train. “You know, not really,” I told her — a sentiment Ted, Laura, and Matt generally echo. Our energy levels are pretty much the same; the shiny vitality of our hair remains stable (although skin clarity has dipped noticeably for two of us since this shindig began — who knew?).

But that’s the sunny side of the story. Four of us pledged to eat vegan for 30 days, but only one — just one proud, lonely paragon of discipline — remains pure. What brought the rest of us down?


The most forgivable offense: Laura’s lack of vigilance on day 20. The story, just as we heard it, in a series of text messages:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Laura: The mighty have fallen L
9:37 pm

Laura: It was an Andes mint. I bit into it before I even realized what I was doing.
9:37 pm

Laura: It came with the check at a Thai place.
9:38 pm

Laura: Then I ate the second half because, fuck it, it was amazing.
9:40 pm


It pains me to report this, but I, too, faltered, after withstanding some of the most difficult temptations to date. I spent last week visiting my parents, who, though more than accommodating to my little experiment, also made me watch them devour cheesy pizza and accidentally put chicken in a tomato-polenta dish (it was supposed to go on the side).

But the worst came on Sunday morning, when I woke to the aroma of buckwheat pancakes on the griddle — pancakes full of off-limits ingredients like milk and eggs. It wasn’t a craving so much as the memory that got to me: The smell brought me back to countless lazy mornings of childhood, lounging around with nothing to do but read the comics and snarf mounds of buckwheat swimming in maple syrup.

I found myself thinking, Is it really so bad if I have a few pancakes for old times’ sake with Mom and Dad? Why pass up this rare chance to share a traditional weekend ritual? After all, food is so much more than a convenient package of calories to keep our bodies humming. It’s history, community, connection, a tie to the past, and a bond in the present. And damn if it wasn’t making me drool.

I went downstairs, almost ready to surrender. But my dad said, “You’re more than halfway done. Seems like a shame to give up now.” And then I realized I could probably veganize the pancakes with almond milk and a mashed chunk of banana instead of egg. So I whipped up another batch: delectable. The Sunday morning ritual, saved.

Which is why it’s so frustrating to confess that, after withstanding all of that, I put a splash of half and half in my coffee last Tuesday morning. I tried not to, I really did.


We open on a frantic sea of travelers rushing to their flights. Our heroine, laden down with a duffel bag and messenger bag, buys a coffee. She’s wearing a down jacket because she couldn’t fit it in her carry-on.

She heads to the counter for sugar and soy milk. But an employee beats her to it and whisks away the soy carafe for refilling. She waits. Minutes tick by. She glances at her watch. Her flight is boarding soon, and she still has to pick up some vegan snacks for the ride, because those Lorna Doone packets sure won’t cut it.

She rushes over to another coffee shop to see if they have soy milk. It’s crowded. She’s sweating, thanks to the jacket. As she peers around the other customers to see the counter, her duffel falls off her shoulder, jouncing her arm and splashing coffee all over her bag, sleeve, and floor. Time is running out. She frantically cleans up, then runs back to the original coffeeshop. Still no soy milk. No employee in sight.

I hit the same wall Laura did: Oh, fuck it. I’ve had enough. I hate black coffee. Half and half it is.


The third domino to fall: Ted. He was on tour with his band last week, and had amazingly managed to stay vegan on the road (thanks to a lot of Subway Veggie Delights). But then, before a show … well, I’ll let him tell it.

“Knowing we were hungry, our bassist showed up with smothered pork burritos as a surprise. Upholding my vegan values would mean 1) refusing his kindness and 2) wasting food. Sorry, I just can’t be that kind of dick.”

Ted accepted the burrito graciously in the spirit in which it was given (the bassist hadn’t been briefed on the vegan experiment). He ate the burrito. (“Pork is much more filling than I remember it,” he reported.)

So there you have it: the unvarnished truth. At the outset, I promised to faithfully reveal the triumphs and pitfalls of our vegan experiment, no matter how embarrassing or silly. I was curious to find out exactly where and how we’d be tempted, and why we’d make the choices we did. I never would have anticipated the way things shook out, but I do find them revealing. And we’re all rededicated to rounding out the month; one setback does not a total failure make.

And can we get a round of applause for Matt, the last man standing? Somebody get this guy a broccoli crown!