The Trials of a Reluctant Vegan

Mike Little

, Below The Fold

A lifelong carnivore eschews meat for five days. Weeping ensues.

God help me. The editor of Out & About recently asked me to spend five days as a vegan simply to find out if an ordinary, meat-loving person could survive not only without meat and fish, like your average vegetarian, but also without the rest of the banned items on the vegan agenda, including animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products.

I agreed, with this caveat: I would stick only to the dietary strictures of veganism. I did not toss out my leather shoes and purchase footwear made of hemp. I do not want shoes that I can smoke.

Not that it mattered much in the end, for I discovered, the hard way, that I simply cannot live on fruits, vegetables and sundry meat and cheese substitutes alone. On day three I found myself at the edge of a pasture, and all the cows in that pasture looked like diagrams of livestock, complete with serrated lines within which the words “round,” “chuck ribs” and “prime ribs” were spelled out in letters only I could read. I think I was weeping.

The great and incontestable argument of the vegan community is that veganism helps put an end to cruelty to animals. Vegans claim, quite convincingly, that the animals that end up on the ends of our forks or are used as involuntary subjects for testing of consumer products are treated in a barbaric manner that proves we are not a humane species. They also claim, convincingly, that our reliance on meat creates havoc in the eco-system, and radically increases world hunger.

Vegan Requirements

I’m less certain about their claims that a vegan diet is healthier than one that includes their list of banned foods, and I find some of their prohibitions to be borderline absurd. I mean, what’s with the ban on wool?

I’ll be the first to admit I was woefully unprepared to take the plunge into veganism. Vegans must possess certain items, such as a food processor or blender, to say nothing of a king’s ransom worth of spices. I had none of these. They must also love to cook. In fact, to make it as a vegan it helps if the kitchen is your favorite room in the house. Me, I have two meals I can cook, three if you count a badly made omelet, and four if you count a salad drenched in non-vegan-approved ranch dressing.

Finally, to be a vegan you must be open to the idea of eating meat and cheese substitutes, many of which are, to put it bluntly, unpalatable. (Most of the meat and cheese substitutes are made from tofu and tempeh, which are soy-based, or seitan—it’s pronounced, tellingly, Satan—which is derived from the protein portion of wheat.) My samplings of vegan cheese, for instance, have convinced me that, while it may ultimately be discovered to have military or industrial uses, it is definitely not meant for human consumption.

Preparation

To prepare for my ordeal, I drove to Newark Natural Foods on Main Street and filled my cart with all manner of fake meats, real vegetables, and vegan-approved frozen foods. Why, I even bought vegan ice cream. It cost me $150. I bought tofu burgers, portobello mushroom burgers, tofu meatballs, lots of tofu for vegan “scrambled eggs,” a brand of sausage made out of what I remain convinced is mulch, tempeh pulled pork that also tastes like mulch, some frozen vegan dinners that included a vegan pizza, a couple of frozen Indian samosa wraps, almond milk (which rendered my coffee undrinkable), and even some bona fide fresh vegetables, although I do not much care for them except in salads.

On Facebook, vegans cast aspersions on me for relying on meat substitutes and prepared foods. They sent me complex recipes for things like squash soup. I did not bother to tell them that I would sooner eat chicken feed than squash soup. Or eggplant, turnips, endive, cauliflower, or zucchini, for that matter.

Day One

I began my first day as a newborn vegan with a tofu “egg scramble” that left me nauseous, perhaps because I didn’t follow the recipe. It called for curry powder, which I didn’t own, so I used garlic powder instead. It was not a pleasant introduction to vegan eating. I lunched on salad, but was put off by the Italian dressing, which I found too tangy. I’m a ranch man, and several days passed before I found vegan ranch dressing, which was (surprise!) inferior in taste to the real thing. For dinner I traveled to my girlfriend’s house, and made a vegan chili from scratch that consisted of kidney beans, onions, and tomatoes topped by melted vegan cheese. The lack of hamburger meat left me depressed and surly.

Again, I wanted to weep. And the sad part is that tempeh crumbles, which are actually edible but which I forgot to bring, probably would have made the meal palatable.

Day Two was a repeat of Day One. I made another tofu “scramble,” this time using curry powder (which I’d borrowed from my girlfriend). The results, which included mushrooms and onions, looked appetizing enough, but I found myself on my sofa with a severe case of nausea. I skipped lunch—too ill—and made a few sandwiches with imitation pulled pork for dinner. I am here to tell you that that “pulled pork” was not made from tofu, tempeh, or seitan, but worn-out car tires. Again, nausea ensued.

On Day Three, I was borderline delirious. So much so that I decided to forgo the tofu and make myself a grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast, using the imitation cheddar cheese that some vegans (I’m certain they’re lying) actually purport to consume. The sandwich was a gooey disaster and I didn’t come close to finishing it; I simply laid myself down on my sofa and waited, like a pregnant woman, for my daily vegan morning sickness to pass.

That afternoon I thought I discovered a solution to my problem: kimchi! I love kimchi, and I purchased some from the Newark Farmers Market on Kirkwood Highway. It was delicious, and I planned to live on it until some wise guy (well, about 10 actually) on Facebook sadistically informed me that kimchi is a vegan no-no since it is made with fish products. I nearly wept. For dinner I threw in the towel and ordered take-out from a very good Chinese restaurant, Bamboo House in College Square, but even then I was disappointed; the salt and pepper eggplant and tofu was bland and (predictably) lacking in texture, and did not satisfy.

On Day Four I said to hell with it and, eschewing breakfast, headed straight for Newark Natural Foods and purchased a hummus and avocado sandwich and some vegan potato salad. It was probably the highlight of my week. Why hadn’t I thought of hummus earlier? It might have saved me much agony.

That night I again took the easy way out by ordering broccoli in garlic sauce from No. 1 Chinese Restaurant in Newark. It was okay, but contained nothing but broccoli, and as Shakespeare I believe once wrote, “My kingdom for a water chestnut!”

On Day Five I finally got breakfast right, by making an ersatz BLT consisting of tempeh bacon I’d purchased at Newark Natural Foods the day before, the horrible fake cheese, and tomatoes. It was actually tasty, and I did not end up on the sofa, and if I were ever forced to live as a vegan I would make it a staple of my diet. For lunch I had a salad with vegan ranch dressing, and it tasted wrong. Like it wasn’t made from real eggs, but from spider eggs. I ate half of it and tossed the vegan ranch dressing off my balcony.

As for dinner, I headed to my brother’s house to partake of a vegan pizza with mushrooms, and it too tasted, well, not right. It was my sister-in-law who put her finger on the problem, exclaiming, “The cheese tastes just like the butter on your popcorn at the movie theater!” After that we “enjoyed” some vegan cinnamon bun “ice cream,” which had the chalky texture of, well, chalk. This time it was my niece who diagnosed the problem, saying, “It’s okay, but it’s not something I’d eat for fun.”

And that was it. The next evening I headed for the Half-Moon Restaurant & Saloon in Kennett Square, where I joyously abandoned my vegan diet by diving into a shank of wild boar like a ravenous animal.

There was kangaroo on the menu, but even I have some principles. During a recent trip to Vienna, Austria, for example, I drew the line at horse goulash. It’s a favorite with old timers who ate it during World War II, from what I understand.

But back to the subject at hand. My five-day trial was not an outright disaster; more like the pitter-patter of little fiascoes. But it proved that I will always be a staunch, if guilt-haunted, carnivore. To put it bluntly, the odds of my joining the vegan parade—despite my very real moral qualms about the treatment of the animals we eat—are exactly zilch. Because the flesh, my flesh, is weak. When all’s said and done, I’d prefer to be a member of the Donner Party than the vegan party.

And now I must hie myself to Cheeburger Cheeburger on Main Street, because all this talk of flesh has made me hungry.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.