Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Two Week Vegan Challenge - Days 3 to 9

Ten days into the Two Week Vegan Challenge and I'm not dead yet.

Apologies for over a week of radio silence -- unless you're annoyed by my self-serving exploit, in which case, you're welcome?

A few days into the challenge, my brother asked how I was feeling, to which I replied, "There's no way a slaughtered cow feels worse than I do right now." But after the initial 48 hours I've felt mostly ok.

Also, I should note that I've already received more invitations to get vegan lunch/dinner than I have regular lunch/dinner throughout all of 2015. Maybe it's just part of the vegan recruitment effort, but the sentiment is nice.

Eating food is no longer something I give much thought to; it's more of an emotionless process now. Before this vegan challenge, my mind would often ponder how, when, where, and what my next meal would be. I freely admit that untethering myself from these thoughts feels liberating, as I can focus my time and energy elsewhere. (Like on writing things that sound even more douchey than that last sentence.)

Most mornings I've had almond milk and vegan cereal for breakfast. The consistency and flavor is close to what I'm used to, and I could actually see myself continuing to include these things in my post-vegan diet. That's right, soon I'll be self-identifying as "post-vegan", which I hope takes the country by storm and lands me my own crappy reality show.

Monday, Day 3
I'm convinced that staying busy at work will be a blessing because I'll be too busy to remember that I'm depriving myself of regular food. By cruel coincidence, I've chosen not to eat animal byproducts during the same week I'm tasked with staring at mouthwatering sausage recipes/pictures for hours on end at work. It's part of a website launch for a client that specializes in -- you guessed it -- sausage products! I get it, God -- you're a first rate novelist, but maybe you could dial it back every once in a while?

A late night at work and I didn't bring dinner. So I've convinced a coworker to order from Green Peas, a local joint with a reputation for tasty regular food and vegan options. I opt for a vegetable quesadilla. In hindsight, it seems strange to have ordered a dish that basically has the Spanish word for cheese, "queso", in its title. Of course we all know that "dilla" is the Spanish word for "delicious". If cheese is the mortar that binds together Mexican food, guacamole is the layer of paint that hides all blemishes. And boy did I smother that quesadilla in guacamole. It was my first run in with the impostor vegan cheese, which was decent, but a world apart from the real deal.

Tuesday, Day 4
I've stumbled upon PETA's "Top 20 Accidentally Vegan Foods", a list of junk food that's technically approved for me to eat. This is a huge loophole, and a sight for sore stomach. So now I'm loading my shopping cart with items like BBQ Pringles, Airheads, Wheat Thins, Sour Patch Kids, and more. After showing friends this list, they'd remark that I could be the first person on a vegan diet to gain weight.

Wednesday, Day 5 and Thursday, Day 6
I don't really remember any significant Vegan-related events happening. The lack of protein may be causing my body to consume my brain. But I've noticed that all I've done with friends is talk about my vegan experiment, and in this way I'm only furthering the stereotype.

Friday, Day 7 - The Challenge Within the Challenge
I've grown so tired of saying the word "vegan" that I've challenged myself to go a full day without uttering it. This challenge was nearly a success until about 10pm, after I'd imbibed some whiskey and the forbidden word came barreling out of my mouth.

Saturday, Day 8 
A very late night out and I realize there's no satisfying or convenient late-night vegan option to soak up the booze. So I'm in my kitchen at 5am slicing a red pepper and dipping it into hummus. Later this morning I wake up amazed that my fingers weren't victim of a drunken knife accident.

I take a nighttime trip to the Getty Center with some friends. For being an art museum and a place you'd think would cater to progressive types, the cafe lacked any decent vegan options. Aside from fruit, the next best/only other option is a $7 pita/hummus combo.

Sunday, Day 9
I'm perched atop a bench on the back patio of Big Dean's Oceanfront Cafe, watching friends binge on beer and fried food that I can't touch. This is one of my favorite places in L.A., but seeing as they don't serve liquor, it's a completely different experience as a vegan. There's basically nothing on the menu I can eat/drink.

Later I meet friends for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Playa del Rey. Based on the menu, all I can do is cobble together a meal of side items: tortillas filled with zucchini, lettuce, jalapenos, and guacamole. We think the zucchini was probably prepared with butter or something non-vegan, but I'm not about to run into the kitchen to find out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Two Week Vegan Challenge - Day 2

9:00AM - I'm groggy and feel light-headed. Not sure if it's the lack of dead animal matter in my GI tract or the lack of sleep caused by the nasally, drunken drone of my neighbors impersonating the Real Housewives at 3AM. For six hours I've been semi-conscious and cycling between the same four websites. I didn't eat much yesterday and my appetite is still stuck in neutral. I've been spending less time than usual thinking about and obsessing over food. I'm eating a bowl of organic strawberries that have unfortunately tipped from being ripe to slightly beyond ripe. The only difference I've noticed between regular strawberries and organic strawberries is the extra $2. Seems like a smug tax.

10:30AM - I've returned home after buying a brand new, used $50 bike on Craigslist because my $70 bike was publicly sabotaged last week. Plenty of perks of living in Santa Monica, but one detriment is that bikes here are about as safe as a comb running through Donald Trump's "hair".

The thought of having a warm meal spurs a momentary interest in food, so I heat up a can of Amy's Hearty Organic Soups (Spanish Rice & Red Beans) on the stove top before the hunger urge passes. (And don't think I lack the self-awareness to realize how much this makes me sound like a privileged asshole.)

The simplicity of the preparation and ingredients is appealing. How bad could a can of rice/beans be? The answer: not so bad, but I'd guess the taste/quality is just a half-step above an MRE.

1:00PM - I take my brand new, used bike for a spin through the sun-soaked streets of Santa Monica. (I know, I know -- forced alliteration is the worst!) A workout at the Santa Monica Stairs is my mission, which I hope serves the dual purpose of getting exercise and keeping myself too busy to realize how much I miss actual food.

An episode of "Pep Talks", a podcast hosted by inimitable comedian Eddie Pepitone, is crackling in my piece-of-shit earbuds. Eddie, the "Bitter Buddha", is the best. I must look like a maniac riding my bike while laughing to myself, until I remember this is a common sighting on the westside of L.A.

1:20PM - A vegan-themed food truck parked along Ocean Avenue grabs my attention. I mentally bookmark it as a place to return to for a post-workout reward.

1:30PM - I see a shirtless man at the stairs whose body looks like a toy action figure, and all I can think is "Not recommended for women over 19, mentally." But I digress.

2:20PM - I return to the vegan food truck and idle past, slowly enough to read the menu and realize none of this shit sounds satisfying after a workout.

2:25PM - Coincidentally, my earbuds are transmitting the sound of Eddie Pepitone talking with his podcast guest about his vegan ways.

2:45PM - I stop by Whole Foods to post-workout reward myself with some vegan snacks. $21 later, I exit with a bag of trail mix, guacamole, peanut butter/chocolate chip cookies, and a soda.

3:00PM - Yesterday's leftover balsa-wood-based tasting crackers are a tolerable device for delivering guacamole to my mouth hole. The vegan version of the sesame sticks in the trail mix, which I'd looked forward to the most, taste sad and stale. The peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies are passable as real cookies, but they also bear a hint of joyless nutrition.

Most of the vegan food I've tried so far is just a more bland, less satisfying version of the food it's attempting to imitate. It lacks a certain richness I associate with regular foods. Everything tastes dried out.

Vegan food is the tribute band version of regular food: I might be fooled into believing I was experiencing the real thing if I were wearing a blindfold. Regular food is like Stone Temple Pilots fronted by Scott Weiland: marred by a toxic chemistry that leads to disaster, but responsible for a fuckin' enjoyable product nonetheless. Vegan food is like Stone Temple Pilots fronted by the Linkin Park guy, which is a limp and unpalatable imitation.

5:00PM - I've awoken from a longish nap, again, probably brought on by some combination of lack of sleep and nutrition. I make some pasta with alfredo sauce, which is decent at best. But then again, red pepper flakes make pretty much any food bearable; they're like the Tom Hanks of the spice rack.

8:00PM - I drive to meet a friend and we down some vodkas with sodas. She's incredulous that most beer/wine ain't vegan approved. I launch into a bit about Santa Monica's Vegan Oktoberfest, which I say is the perfect place for anyone who wants to get drunk and then preached to for hours on end.

12:15AM - Ralph's is mostly vacant, so I don't feel as self-conscious flipping over boxes of crackers in a search for the vegan stamp of approval. I buy some breakfast items for the next day (Almond milk and cereal) and a few more items that have escaped my memory at the moment. Probably for lack of protein in my brain.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Two Week Vegan Challenge - Day 1

12:05AM - Well, I'm an entire five minutes into the challenge and so far I haven't had a single craving for pizza, carne asada, or buffalo wings. This vegan thing is going to be easier than I thought.

7:30AM - Didn't sleep well or much. My body must be confused by 7.5 hours of no delicious animal products. Not eating breakfast because I don't feel hungry. Also, if you can't have chorizo breakfast burritos, what the fuck do vegans eat in the morning? Need to research this.

8:05AM - My friend has picked me up for a hike.

8:20AM - He's listened to me ramble about my new diet for the entirety of the drive. Guess this makes me an official vegan.

9:00AM - Started hiking with a group of friends and the first order of business is making plans to get lunch at a vegan-friendly restaurant when we've finished. Didn't take long for me to become a high-maintenance pain-in-the-ass.

11:45AM - Scanning the menu at this "vegan-friendly" restaurant and everything sounds delicious, but none of the items are actually vegan. Fortunately one of the others in our group is a long-time vegan, so the group acquiesces to our request to head elsewhere.

12:00PM - Walked down the road to Veggie Grill, an all-vegan restaurant. I've ordered a buffalo "chicken" salad; the "chicken" is actually plant-based. It's my first time seeing menu items placed in scare quotes, which are meant express irony. I'm genuinely concerned that mixing lunch with irony, or any other literary device, will destroy my love for all things buffalo, forever. And that's not hyperbole.

12:15PM - The buffalo "chicken" salad has arrived and it's "delicious". Kidding. It is actually quite good. The texture and taste are remarkably similar to real buffalo chicken. I'd like to do a blind taste test sometime. Finishing my meal with a vegan chocolate chip and walnut cookie. Good stuff.

3:30PM - Snacking on some vegan hummus and crackers. If the buffalo "chicken" was plant-based, these "crackers" taste like they're balsa-wood based. Yuck.

9:00PM - I'm at a comedy show in what feels like the hallway of a college dorm, if the dorm was full of sad, socially awkward men in their thirties. One of the side rooms has a makeshift bar, replete with beer, wine, and spirits. Beer and wine don't typically pass the vegan test, but spirits do! I ask for  vodka, but the only mixer is a Monster energy drink. Now I'm frantically Googling "Monster energy drink vegan?". Turns out no Monsters were harmed in the making of the energy drink, so I can mix it with my vodka.

11:50PM - I wouldn't say I've forgotten to eat dinner, as much as I wasn't interested or hungry. Will give it a shot tomorrow. Until then...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Two Week Vegan Challenge


For the next two weeks I'll be giving up all of my favorite foods to eat a strictly vegan diet. This isn't an effort to raise awareness for animal cruelty or to lose weight or to be even more attention-seeking than usual -- I merely want to test my discipline.

I've always believed that vegans choose their lifestyle not because they like saving animals, but because they like being difficult. And morphing into a stereotypical vegan pain-in-the-ass is my biggest fear. I usually pride myself on eating whatever, whenever, however without making a fuss. For the sake of the challenge, I'm fortunate to live in Santa Monica, which is like the Disneyland of veganism, if Mickey and Minnie Mouse were smug and high-maintenance.

You can follow along as I keep a running diary of this challenge. And feel free to offer your support, advice, recipes, insults, etc.


7:50PM - Just endured a brutal Friday night open mic. Time to walk to Chick fil-A to eat my feelings. Only a few hours until midnight, which is when the challenge officially begins and I turn into a pumpkin. Or a person who only eats pumpkin. Anyhow, need to get in a last bite

7:55PM - (1) Chick fil-A spicy sandwich and (8) nuggets is what I'd request as my last supper were I on death row. Do you know what vegans on death row typically request as their last meal? Trick question! Vegans have never been on death row because they can only be imprisoned in a metaphorical cell of their own joyless dietary restrictions. I'm eating by myself, which I assume will be a common theme for the next two weeks. 

8:20PM - I've entered a Whole Foods to stockpile vegan food. That's where vegans shop, right? What do vegans eat? God, I should've done more research. The challenge hasn't even started and I'm already the guy scanning the nutrition labels on hummus containers to find one that's vegan approved.

8:45PM - Well, I just spent $47 on a small bag of groceries that I'm probably going to hate.

9:05PM - I barely ever get McDonald's milkshakes, but fuck it -- going to take advantage while I still have time. And this Strawberry shake tastes extra good because I know it's going to be at least two weeks before I can indulge again.

11:59PM - This is like the New Year's Eve countdown, except I'm by myself and dreading tomorrow. Wait nevermind, this is exactly like the New Year's Eve countdown...