Recently, I got my vegan learner’s permit. I’m leaning in, or at least slouching in that direction. I started juicing my veggies, drinking almond milk and avoiding sugar, eggs and animal protein. And yes, the term vegan may be tarnished with militant undertones and deprivation rumors, but it quickly clarifies (if and when people are curious) what I eat… or don’t. I prefer the more positive explanation– I choose a raw, plant-based diet–but, it doesn’t roll off my tongue and frankly, it sounds a bit rainbow and unicorn-y.
Of course, labels rarely reveal the truth about anything food-related. As foodies, we are keenly aware of the FDA’s industry label biases –“All natural flavors!” that are anything but– or their faulty food pyramid scheme. And our personal food choice labels: paleo, gluten-free, low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, pescetarian, vegan-before-six, or raw foodist, describe our diet de jour more than tell the whole story about what we consume and why.
LITTLE WHITE LABEL LIE
Last week, anyone seated at the adjacent Parisian café table would have spied me cutting into a slab of bright red steak or spooning into a melted round of brie. And the pièce de résistance — the shame that would surely get me kicked out of Club Vegan– was my inability to resist slathering knife blade after knife blade of foie gras onto crispy squares of buttery toast. Oh, the inhumanity. But…it was Paris. It was the vacation talking! I was in culture shock. It’s not like I ate an ortolan!!!!!! Why am I exclaiming!!!?
It’s a syndrome of any rules-based diet: Thou shall not enjoy ______. Furthermore, if caught consuming said ______, thou shalt have failed. Hunger game over.
VEGANS, VAMPIRES AND DIET ZOMBIES
I LOVE good food– I live for my next fork full of a delicious, delectable morsel. And luckily, I’m finding that my journey towards health is more delight than deprivation. My mind is shifting into a lighter, kinder, calmer state of being (cough–less crazy). Eating mainly plants allows me to eat as much as I’d like. I’m losing weight without any effort. For breakfast, I drank a banana and cacao almond milkshake spun with chia seeds and sweet, Medjool dates. Much like a Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty, it was cool, smooth and decadent; unlike a Frosty, it added to my physical wellbeing instead of threatening it. That’s the good part.
The bad part is, preparation can be a hassle and organic fruits and veggies are expensive. I wash, peel and chop a ton of fruits and vegetables every morning. Packed lunches are still boring– almond butter on spelt bread isn’t sexy. Dinner is no longer a knee-jerk reaction. It takes more thought and planning, which sometimes leaves me falling down on my job as home cook and ordering (meatless) pizza. I’ve had to study and experiment with uncomfortable ingredients like seaweed and -ugh- fake cheese (don’t go there). Cheese is my weakness. My knees begin to buckle on the cheese aisle. So, yes, I still buy cheese when I want cheese. I’m leaning in, not keeling over.
Why do we feel the need to
defend announce justify label our personal dietary habits? Is it a matter of pride, a defensive strategy or a gentle way to warn our friends should they invite us out to lunch? Should the fact that I love meat but choose not to eat it matter to anyone beyond my kitchen walls? Nah, not really. Should the fact that I will eat a hotdog, if and when I want to eat a hotdog, ever matter to anyone but myself? Nah, not really. Rules to eat by take the fun out of food.
“On Mondays I avoid animal dairy; on Tuesdays, I am an organic vegetarian, but I will gladly join you for a non-GMO turkey burger on Wednesday. Thursdays are reserved for fasting and Fridays are date nights where I opt for wild fish, but who doesn’t know that?”
WHAT WOULD BITTMAN DO?
Mark Bittman has been making the network TV rounds lately promoting his new book, VB6 (Vegan before Six O’clock). He says he’s tired of the labels, but has conveniently found a way to monetize his weariness with two new, catchy ones: Vegan-Before-Six and flexitarian. Book selling devices aside, I dig Mark Bittman and applaud his double-life. He’s remaking the vegan image into a relatable one — an image that conjures up pleasure and vibrancy, health and optimism. He’s one of the smartest food writers around and I admire his noble take on eating for health. As you may or may not have noticed, vegans as an ethno-sub culture have managed to establish themselves as a loose collective of something akin to leather-bound book burners. Listen to the podcast “My Big Fat Vegan” and you’ll hear an occasional slur directed at those who choose the vegan path for health reasons versus animal compassion reasons. It’s as if they will eat their own. I’m not out to throw slurs at the vegan tribe (or this podcast). I love the vegan’s ethical stance; I’m just not 100% in. As in, I am fine with the chef cooking my veggie burger on the same grill that he cooks hamburgers. I wear leather shoes and buy leather purses and if you invite me over to your home and cook a chicken, then I will eat your chicken and most likely, with all sincerity, I will love your chicken dish and I will love you.
THE ROAD TO HEALTH IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS
Okay, so I won’t be nominated VEGAN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR at the year-end vegan societal ball, but I am losing weight and feeling extraordinarily good. My skin even looks good and my skin has never looked good. I may or may not be saving the planet, but I just might be staving off heart disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis for a few more years. The odds are slouching in my favor.
Click to read a rundown of my journey to eating healthier: