Back Twice Over

Long time no see, right?

Despite the craziness of the holiday season and everything else going on, I’ve decided to pick up the blog again. And before we dive in here, I have a confession to make:

I stopped being vegan.

And when I say I stopped, I mean, good god did I ever stop. There was no “Well I’ll just eat dairy and eggs” phase. I went straight from hugging cows and petting chickens to literally gnawing on them. Steak, man. Steak is really good, and that is really unfortunate on so many levels.

I couldn’t give you an exact date when I fell off the wagon, broke it into a thousand tiny pieces, and then set those on fire. It was in August some time. I think I know some factors that contributed to it though. See, I had to spend a week going into the office and thus packing lunch. That’s tricky enough for me, since I don’t do mornings and trips into the office often involve getting up while it’s still dark outside. Additionally, my doctor started me on some new birth control that made me feel like I was going to throw up anytime I ate.

What that turned into was eating nothing but crackers and bread with vegan cheese on it. By the end of the week, I snapped. I think I was just so nutriet deficient that my body nagged at me to eat the most nutrient-dense food it could come up with. It wasn’t steak that broke me. Or cheeseburgers or chicken wings, although all those things followed not too long after.

It was eggs. I was constantly daydreaming about fried, sunny-side-up eggs. Like, all the time. A few days into these vivid daydreams about delicious egg yokes the crispy egg white edges and fantasizing about eating that by itself or on toast with butter that I caved. I bought a dozen eggs and ate them all inside a week.

That same week, after my first eggy breakfast, I also ate steak and a bacon cheeseburger and I don’t even know what all else. Like, I said–I fell off the wagon and just started running.

Are you still reading? I feel like saying “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” except I’m an atheist, and apart from poetic value, those words don’t mean much to me. I will tell you this though–for my entire time as an omnivore again, I still ate at least one vegan meal a day. I still 100% agreed with veganism; I was just a fat chick with no self-restraint.

Here are some observations I made during that time. One, almost nothing that I daydreamed about tasted as good as I’d built it up to be in my head. The eggs were good, but they weren’t that good. Same with bacon, and real butter, and even cheese. (I’ll be fair though. Steak is still that good. And some cheeses are too. I did say “almost” nothing.)

Secondly, every time I ate meat, I felt grossly full, even when I didn’t eat that much of it. Sometimes that feeling of discomfort would stick with me for hours. I didn’t like it, but it was just such a damn commitment to go vegan again.

It’s easy enough to choose to eat beans or tofu instead of chicken for the span of a meal, even several meals, but to swear it off forever is intimidating as hell. I totally understand why people say “I could never be vegan.” I’ve said it. I think most people who are vegan have said it.

I did it again though, and once again, it was a pretty spontaneous decision. I watched a documentary and then immediately went into my kitchen and threw away every non-vegan item in there. I filled a huge garbage bag with frozen chicken breasts, sliced cheeses, rolled butter, eggs, bacon, and all sorts of other stuff. I wanted it out of my house.

Extreme? Maybe.

The documentary was “What the Health?” For those who aren’t familiar with it, the documentary exposes just how corrupt the meat industry really is. And by that, I don’t mean how they exploit workers or abuse animals or anything like that. It was way more simple than that. It’s about the lengths the meat industry goes to in order to hide how unhealthy meat actually is. In watching this documentary, I didn’t really learn much that I didn’t already know, but the information was presented in such a way that it really struck a chord in me.

Let me try to elucidate why:

I quit smoking about five years ago now. I don’t need to tell you why I quit smoking, because you know what cigarettes are and you know the effects they have on the human body. Anytime you tell anybody that you quit smoking, literally no one says “Why?” unless they’re being a smart ass.

One of the new bits of information I gained from “What the Health?” was the knowledge that processed meats (such as bacon, lunchmeat, sausages, etc) are considered Group 1 carcinogens, according to the World Health Organization, which is the same classification as cigarette smoke and asbestos.

Now, if I quit smoking–not that there haven’t been hitches along the way for that particular vice as well–but didn’t quit eating meat, what was the point of quitting smoking in the first place? I liked smoking, and I like bacon, but I’ve always been an all-or-nothing sort of person.

So, I pieced together an entirely new wagon and hopped back on it.

This was about a month ago, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving actually, and while you could easily make the argument that my timing is awful, I’d contend that it couldn’t have been better. What better time to change my eating habits than during the time of the year when it’s typical to make frequent unhealthy choices? And you know what? Since going back to veganism, I feel so very much better. Not just mentally and all that from not killing things just for food and lessening my carbon footprint, but also physically. Eating plant-based meals doesn’t make me feel bogged down and gross the way meat does.

That said, I will totally be making vegan Christmas cookies. You can’t eat healthy foods all the time, right? I sure can’t.

I will say this though: remember how whiny I was when I first attempted veganism? I missed cheese so so so much and I whined about it constantly. I didn’t like vegan dairy replacements, and I flat-out cheated more than once. This time around, it’s shocking to me how easy it is. I think it may be because I at least know what I can and can’t eat to a reasonable degree and I know of quite a few vegan alternatives that are pretty delicious and close to the real thing. (Violife cheese and literally anything made by Gardein, for instance!)

And now for some pictures of yummy things I’ve eaten in the last month because why not?

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Friends, Not Food

I’m sorry to say that my posts for the next month or two are likely going to be far more sporadic than they already are. I’m going to try not to let that happen, but a few things have changed since my last post.

Firstly, while I’ve been lucky at work to only have to cover a specific type of sales chat, of which there are usually only a dozen or two spread out over the fifteen hours that we’re open for chats, that is on hiatus until July or August. Or, to put it another way, I actually have to do real work again until that’s reinstated. I was using my downtime at work to blog, but I don’t have downtime anymore.

That’s the first reason why the posts may slow down.

The other reason is a lot more exciting and way more adorable:

I GOT A PUPPY! (Like my cats, she’s also not a vegan.)

Her name is Morgan and she’s an eight(ish) week old pit bull, black lab mix. Since we’re in the middle of potty training, most of my free time goes to her. My cats are not at all pleased with this squirmy little ball of energy, and because she is currently the size of a small rabbit, two of my cats (namely Kitten and Geno) could literally kill her. So, constant vigilance is required.

Other than puppy news, I’ve been a vegan for just shy of two months now and have only deliberately eaten non-vegan foods once. Prior to picking up the puppy, I even trusted myself to go to Moe’s Southwest Grill on Saturday and not get their liquid crack otherwise known as queso dip.

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Instead I got a burrito bowl with cilantro lime rice, black beans, pico de gallo, seasoned tofu, and guac. Plus the chips, more guac (instead of queso) and literally the best tomatillo salsa I’ve ever had in life.

Since Saturday, it’s been ridiculously hot, and since I don’t have central air, I haven’t been doing any cooking beyond that which can be done in a microwave. I did have my second salad ever since becoming a vegan, with some vegan steak strips I found at Walmart of all places, plus some leftover Hardee’s French fries, grape tomatoes, scallions, chow mein noodles and vegan ranch.

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In fact, I’ll probably have the exact same thing for dinner today because it’s still hot and I still have leftover fries.

Anyways, blog friends, please forgive my absence for a little while. Much like Arnold, I’ll be back.

Food (and other things) as Coping Mechanisms

Today, this post is only tangentially going to be about veganism. Instead it’s going to be about my mom, because it’s Mother’s Day and because I lost her quite recently. I want to talk a bit about how she, a dedicated carnivore and lover of all things cheese, made me become a vegan.

The very first time I ever contemplated veganism and vegetarianism was last September. My aunt rented a cabin in Deep Creek, Maryland and my mother and I went down with her and spent our Labor Day weekend by the lake. My sixty-six year-old mother, who loved to party even at her age, spent the weekend inebriated, while I spent much of it in a canoe by myself.

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With a view like that, can you blame me?

It was in this canoe, surrounded by water and trees and a sky that went on forever, that I contemplated my effect on the world around me. Not being a religious person, I feel that my role in the grand scheme of things is to be a walking, talking pile of stardust on a tiny rock in a distant corner of an insignificant galaxy somewhere in the vast reaches of the universe. However, when you look at it up close, this tiny, beautiful, miraculously life-supporting rock is all we have.

I don’t need to lecture any of you on the pollution that raising animals for food causes, and if anyone reading doesn’t accept that man-made climate change is a real thing, you should probably stop reading now. This post–and indeed this entire blog–is probably not for you.

Sidenote, à la Neil deGrasse Tyson: Science is real whether you believe in it or not.

From that point on, I made it a point to reduce my meat intake and even went vegetarian for about a month. Then Donald Trump won the election and there didn’t seem to be much of a point in caring about the environment (or even personal well-being) anymore.

I bought a pack of cigarettes and went to a wing joint. I’m bad at coping.

That was a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t smoke and even though I never went back to full-on vegetarian, I still continued to eat less meat than I did before.

Back to Deep Creek, my mother loved that vacation. She jumped in the lake before either me or my aunt did, prefacing it with “Sometimes you just gotta take the bull by the horns!” She loved the camp fire, the hot tub, brutally beating my aunt and me at 500 Rummy and making snide comments about it, and she even snuck outside one night by herself to go skinny dipping.

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She was diagnosed with lung cancer in February and died last month–not from the cancer itself but from complications from a surgery to help get rid of the fluid in her lungs from a case of pneumonia she couldn’t shake.

It was supposed to be the easy surgery, the routine one, the one that she recovered from quickly so she could go under the knife a second time and have the more difficult surgery where they removed the tumor and part of her lung.

I feel like I’ve been cheated. I have this image of her stuck in my mind, the morning of her surgery, sitting on the bed, being impatient because she wanted to get it all over with so she could go home.

She died twelve days later.

I didn’t buy a pack of cigarettes or go get wings this time. I went downstairs to the basement, hit my punching bag until my knuckles were bloody, and then a week later became a vegan.

Maybe I can honor her memory by making positive lifestyle changes instead of negative ones to help me deal with grief.

My mother didn’t want a funeral or any kind of service. She wanted us to throw a party to celebrate her life. So, we rented the same cabin in Deep Creek this August, and we’re going to throw the party there and scatter her ashes in the lake she loved so much.

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Happy Mother’s Day.

The Cheese and the Feels

I had a dream that I very surreptitiously visited a McDonald’s out of town, where I was certain I wouldn’t run into anyone who knew I was now a vegan. During this illicit, illusionary visit, I ordered a Big Mac and fries. I was so excited that I could barely wait to sink my teeth into this delicious mound of unhealthy, abused cow flesh. At the same time, I felt so guilty. I hesitated. I reminded myself that it’s not right that a cow should die just to feed my food addiction.

I took a bite anyways. I chewed once, twice. It tasted awful and I spit it out. Surely, it was just that bite. It was mostly bread anyways. I knew the second bite would be as delicious as I remembered. But it wasn’t. It tasted like chemicals and death. I spit it out and felt both relieved and disappointed at the same time.

From there, it got weird. Something about customers being served grilled cheese sandwiches in stainless steal bowls of ice water and being largely dissatisfied with the quality thereof, but the first part of that dream really stuck with me. I haven’t eaten an animal in nearly three weeks now (although I’ve inadvertently eaten milk products twice), and what I miss the most isn’t meat.

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It’s still cheese.

I miss ooey-gooey, savory, sharp, tangy cheese, and I don’t know why I’m not having dreams about that instead. I signed a petition yesterday to try to get Pizza Hut to offer vegan cheese, out of the hope that a large national chain of pizza purveyors can get access to some highly processed, largely artificial, restaurant-quality vegan cheese that actually tastes good. If so, I will gladly pay their obscene prices for their subpar pizza and be contended.

The really horrible part is that every time I get to the point where I tell myself that screw it, I’m just going to be vegan except for cheese, a vegan friend of mine posts a video on Facebook of a baby cow being forcibly dragged from its mother while both animals struggle in vain to reach one another again, bleating and crying and panicking the whole time.

It’s heart-wrenching, and is my love for cheese really enough to justify that?

Never mind the environmental consequences of the dairy industry, never mind the dietary consequences of consuming dairy products, and even never mind the cruelty inherent in the veal industry, which is propagated almost entirely by the dairy industry–is smoked gouda or sharp cheddar or fresh mozzarella really worth that kind of pain, the pain of having your baby or your mother ripped from you?

I’m not even a mom–in fact am vehemently against the idea of ever becoming one–and the answer is no.

Vegan Surprises Everywhere!

I have been a rather convincing vegan for two days now. Look at me go! I’ve acquired some new vegan products at the store (tofurkey is not nearly as gross as it looks!), I have strained my eyes reading the tiny print on a whole slew of nutrition labels (what the crap is sodium hexametaphosphate?), and I have googled “Is XXX vegan?” more times than I can count.

The real test, I think, will be the first time I eat out and I have to interrogate the poor waiter and then probably make a ridiculously complicated order.

My foods have ranged from highly processed items of questionable nutritional value to surprisingly simple items with only one or two ingredients. They have all been pretty good though. Today’s dinner was angel hair pasta with some of my homemade tomato sauce, which has always been vegan because people who ruin perfectly good Italian-style tomato sauce by putting chunks of meat in it should be punished.

(A reminder to the non-vegans: I still think meat is delicious, but it just doesn’t go in sauce. Or lasagna, for that matter. It’s wrong.)

Speaking of vegan cooking, look what came today!

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I finally cashed in my recognition rewards at work and got myself some books! I’ve already cracked open “Vegan Comfort Food,” and I can’t wait to try some of these recipes out.

That’s one thing I’ve noticed so far about veganism. While you can get by in a pinch with having a vegan grilled cheese sandwich (also yum, by the way!), you really have to plan and cook in order to make it work. Fortunately, cooking is my third favorite hobby.

The first is writing; the second is eating. Go figure.

Last but not least, I want to share some surprises I’ve discovered in these two short days. Panko brand plain bread crumbs are not vegan, even though bread generally is; Worcestershire sauce is not even close to vegan because anchovies, and oh my god, honey isn’t vegan either?!

When I think of honey, I think of plants. There’s clover honey, and orange blossom honey, and alfalfa honey. This sounds vegan. I would even go so far as to say it sounds extremely vegan.

Except for the bees. Crap.

In other news, I apparently need a new brand of chapstick. Burt’s Bees has always been my favorite. Doh!

Now Where to Begin?

Hi, Everyone! I’m Steph. I’m 30 years old and I am not a vegan. I have eaten meat, dairy, and eggs for all 30 of these years, and I own a leather jacket. My favorite foods are chicken wings and cheeseburgers, and I often wear aviators with my leather jacket because it makes me feel super cool.

What do aviators have to do with anything, you ask? Nothing. Tangents are fun.

All that said, I’m very curious about what it’s like to go vegan and I decided I might dabble with it to see if it’s for me. The reason I’m making a blog is because I like the attention and Facebook isn’t cool enough.

Just kidding. (A little.) The main reason is so that others, vegans and carnivores alike, can see what it’s like to try to change familiar habits into something completely outside of your comfort zone.

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For the vegans reading, bear in mind, I really love chicken wings. For the carnivores, you know what I’m talking about here. It is not in my comfort zone to say, “I will indefinitely refrain from eating chicken wings. And cheeseburgers. And bacon. And…” The list goes on.

I still want to though. I will probably wander off track more than once and just because I’ve said aloud that I will indefinitely refrain from eating animal products, it doesn’t mean that I won’t relapse. I know me, and let’s be honest: A small, roundish clump of hamburger does not very much resemble a cow or call to mind images of cruelty. It’s just a hamburger, and there will probably be times when I say exactly that as I’m about to take a bite of one.

But I will keep trying because this is something I truly want to do.

Here we go…