I feel like I need to explain myself.
For the past month, I’ve been posting on Instagram photos that have been, well, questionable.
And I’m sure the hashtag #vegan wasn’t helping. (Did she mean #Vegas?)
Yes, the food editor who probably eats more fried chicken cutlets drenched in gravy than recommended by health experts was now vegan. Honestly, I wouldn’t have believed it myself — if it weren’t me I was talking about!
Here’s the story: My husband and I watched the 2017 Netflix documentary What The Health, which promotes a plant-based diet and discusses concerns about the health impact of consuming meat and dairy products. It was so convincing, my husband, who can easily polish off a pot of chili and six hot dogs for dinner, decided to go vegan for a month and see how it would affect his health.
To be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever hear my husband say the word, “vegan,” in a sentence where the subject was him and the verb was “eat.” This is a guy whose chest freezer in the garage is almost exclusively filled with various cuts of pork and beef.
And I have never, ever considered eating only plants. For anyone who knows my eating habits — really, you just need to follow my IG to know — my diet consists primarily of Spam musubis, cheesy burgers, ice cream and Slurpees. And only that last one is vegan.
I was slightly terrified of this new diet. I couldn’t eat any animal products. That meant no steaks, no chicken salad, no French toast, no buttery croissants, no mayonnaise, no lasagna, no roast beef sandwiches, no fro-yo, no chocolate chip cookies. I felt my heart sink. Everything I loved — primarily cheese, butter and bacon — was now banned. I wasn’t sure if prolonging my life would be worth it.
But a quick Google search eased my fears.
I had to give up butter, but there were vegan alternatives. (Remember margarine?) I couldn’t eat beef and chicken, but rice, olive oil, garlic and most breads don’t contain animal products. I had to give up ice cream and yogurt but blended fruits — bananas, strawberries — were acceptable swaps. And have you heard of Gardein? This company makes a meatless faux chicken tender that’s outrageously delicious.
And then there was the revelation that a lot of the foods I already eat are vegan. Oreos, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, unfrosted Pop Tarts, Ritz crackers, Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Thomas New York Style Bagels, Nutter Butters. I could live off these things!
Being vegan, at least for a month, started to seem doable.
(By the way, we didn’t change Landon’s or the dogs’ diets, in case you were wondering.)
And, as sadistic as this sounds, I was looking forward to the challenge of cooking with just plants. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of veggies and fruits — it’s the plight of being the Third Born and parents just giving up — so I can’t say that I’m well versed in cooking with these ingredients. I know how to roast cauliflower and steam broccoli but that’s about it. So trying vegan recipes was just going to force me to cook and bake outside my comfort zone — and I was actually looking forward to it.
The first week was tough. I hadn’t discovered vegan butter yet and I’ve never been a fan of beans. So I figured I was just going to survive off of Fruit Loops (vegan), musubis, bananas and Diet Coke. I had done that before.
Turns out, though, there’s a plethora of vegan recipes out there, all tested and tweaked and modified to fit the tastes of someone like me, someone who actually enjoys animal products.
I was making vegan chili (same as making beef-based chili and, surprisingly, no one missed the meat), spicy rice and beans (that tasted a lot like vegan chili), mushroom risotto, meatless meatballs (with beans and not beef), tofu fried rice, homemade hummus, cauliflower florets that were battered and fried and tasted a lot like sweet-sour chicken. People started sending me links to vegan food blogs or vegan recipes they loved. I couldn’t believe how many people I knew were secretly vegan — or at least part-time vegan — and never said anything. (I’m not going to lie, there is a weird stigma about being vegan. I can’t really explain it, but it’s there.)
I can’t stay that I’m entirely vegan. Honestly, I would probably be out of a job if I were. (It would be really hard being a vegan food editor.) But my husband has been devoutly loyal to the diet, and I’ve been cooking exclusively vegan for him at home.
I don’t know if I feel any better, if my body prefers a plant-based diet. I do eat a lot more vegetables than I ever did before, which is only a good thing. But I’ve also never eaten so many Oreos, either.
There’s got to be a balance, and I’m still figuring that part out.