I love my vegan diet. That thought occurs to me from time to time, and just this past weekend on a trip to New York City to spend the day with my two closest friends the foundation of my vegan world was one of just many topics we discussed.
Most of my friends are meat eaters, but they are good people, I swear. These particular friends are some of the smartest, most thoughtful and loyal people I have ever known and it felt great to catch up with them and have them share in my recovery as they were both instrumental points of motivation during the time immediately surrounding my bypass.
And while I was able to get a solid meal at the Cinnamon Snail there are a few things that bother me about vegan food and the people that are creating it for us to fuel our bodies, minds and spirits on.
I spent over a decade in the hospitality world and customer service became an obsession and elevating the experience for customers was a daily pursuit that myself and most of my teams relished. So when I venture out I pay attention to more than the food.
That fact leads me to my first issue with my new vegan world.
1. Staff members that don’t know what they are serving. Whether you are working in a vegan place or a place that has vegan options you need to be able to tell your diners what is in every dish. I see this everywhere, from road side shacks to places mentioned over and over again on “best of” and “must try” lists. I don’t think this is a problem exclusive to the vegan world, but if we did want to bring over more people to our world of pleasurable plants I think it would be a great idea to invest in training to turn our grain paradises into customer service shrines.
Moving on to what is on the plate. And this really goes to places that offer vegan options as pure vegan places get this part right.
2. Put some damn protein on my plate if you want me to digest paying 30 bills for your half hearted seasonal vegetable platter. What some establishments fail to realize is that we vegans are people, and believe it or not, have friends that we like to catch up with from time to time. Those flesh eating friends and I can amazingly enjoy each other’s company at a restaurant, which could be yours. A vegan option and a dish that is easily adaptable to turn vegan is really all I need. I never went to culinary school but have worked in some impressive kitchens with cooks and chefs of varying degree and every one of them could turn out a delicious vegan meal when asked.
While my second decade was in the hospitality world my first was spent in media, where words mattered, and to me they always will. Which leads me to my third psychotic hatred of the vegan world.
3. Menu items that read like a Hooked on Phonics training kit really drive me nuts. Having seen the word “Chickn” on many menus describing a fajita or pot pie is just silly. As are vegan meatballs, vegan beef stroganoff or any other description using terminology lifted from actual animals. People that use these terms don’t get why most of eat a vegan diet. I understand they are trying to appeal to a broader audience with these not so clever terms but it's counterproductive. Source organic food from a local and sustainable source, cook that food with thought and when presenting it to us, call your food what it is, not what it is not.
Vegans have been around for thousands of years but we have only really been arguing with everybody for the last 50. The amount of people consuming a vegan diet is growing every year, but overall the number is still tiny, it just seems larger because most of my fellow vegans yell louder than meat eaters. It can be considered annoying when they yell about their vegan diet but it’s hard to blame them because they have an enormous amount of new energy they need to burn and feeling monumentally better about yourself can be hard to contain sometimes. So please forgive them, for they know exactly what they do.
I don’t have a day that I can point to when I became a vegan. Most vegans I know can tell me the exact amount of time, usually down to the week they shunned a menu of animal based products for their current plant based lifestyle. Since being released from Vassar Brothers Hospital back in January I have had countless conversations and a handful of revelations that led me to pursue the path I am currently shuffling down.
I eat a 100% vegan diet. There, I said it. No animal products of any kind, but I am stopping short of calling myself a full-fledged vegan because I know I have a leather belt somewhere in my closet and one thing I can’t stand is a hypocrite. However, I will also not refer to my diet as plant-based, which seems to be the new way vegans are referring to the items they deposit into their stomachs.
Plant-based seems like an we are hedging our bets. What we decide to munch is based in the plant world, however, if our shopping list is only plant based, what is to stop us from dabbling into some hormone-laced coagulated cow puss once and awhile? Commit to the process people, eat purely plants. I also like referring to my diet as vegan because it pisses people off, including some members of my own family, and I’ve always been an instigator, open heart surgery was never going to curb that.
So as we travel down the wonderful world of food and experiences you should at least know what you are getting into. There has been a lot of trial and even more error in the past seven months but considering where I was in January things are looking good. I try not to preach my lifestyle, but if you have questions or even feign interest I can getting rolling, so be careful. Here is an old school late night top five primer on my vegan life. Send me any thoughts or questions, I only ask if that you practice CrossFit please leave me alone, if you think vegans are annoying you haven’t come across someone yapping about their CrossFit workout in between shots of their sweet potato-banana smoothie.
1. Where do you get your protein? This one drives vegans batty so if you intent is to get under our suddenly nourished skin cells then by all means doubt that we are eating enough protein. The standard American diet (SAD for short) has too much protein in it. We will get to that in the coming weeks. Cows never had the market cornered on producing protein. After all, cows don’t eat cows, do they? And we are all still anxiously checking twitter for the first American that succumbed to a protein deficiency in the Emergency Room. Greens, nuts, quinoa, beans, almond milk and tofu. Those are all protein sources I have eaten today, and I haven’t even had dinner yet.
2. What about calcium? Calcium doesn’t come from cows. Sorry folks, but it’s true. The mineral known as calcium comes from the soil. We certainly need it, but we don’t need it to derive from cows. Hmm, if only there were others things that came from the soil that we could eat to get our calcium. Moving on.
3. Can you eat at restaurants? All the time. But it requires some research and investigation. This is one area where I had a leg up on some vegans doing the switch over. Having spent a decade in the food and beverage industry I could tell rather quickly if an establishment was vegan friendly. If I didn’t know the chef at a place I wanted to try, chances were I knew someone that did so finding out how items were sourced and what ingredients were in every preparation was easier than I thought. It is however, always good to ask, chefs are notorious weirdos so changing a base of a dish can happen without a notation on the menu. I’ve traveled a handful of times this year and have yet to compromise my vegan diet, it just takes a little planning.
4. Are you tired all the time? I only feel tired around 11 pm after I have spent the day writing, hiking, running errands, cooking, jogging, flirting with my wife, and reading. But that is a big day, I don’t run errands every day. Accomplishing those tasks during my old life was much more daunting, and I was tired all the time, to the point where I started not to recognize the man I was becoming. My heart was drowning and my diet kept throwing weights on it to the point where it almost killed me.
5. Is it hard? Absolutely. The last study I read claimed that 1.5 million Americans classified themselves as vegan, or basically the size of San Diego, which, coincidently is an awesome place to be a vegan. But vegan eateries are popping up all over the country and in places far smaller than San Diego. Being a vegan is harder than not being a vegan, but when has ever taking the easy way out any fun? There are some awkward moments and tense conversations but change is something that doesn’t come easy to most people. But as I keep at it it gets much easier.
Now go eat a salad...And leave the cheese for someone else.