Vegan. A simple 5 letter word that conjures up mental images of free roaming animals living a full life to absolute derision by unenlightened omnivores. It’s been a positive lifestyle choice for many people and at the same time a way of life that is often confusing and unattainable for others.
Perhaps you’ve heard the joke that goes along like this; how do you know when you’re talking to a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. But, have you ever mentioned kale to a meat eater? You’ll be instantly attacked with tales of brisket and smoked tri-tip, followed by looks of indignation and scorn. How can you possibly survive without hamburgers and bacon? Seriously, you’re weird!
Stop. Let’s back things up a few years. Meat consumption in the USA has risen 432% from 1909 to 2012 according to the Earth Policy Institute (via NPR) which puts the USA way up near the top of all countries on earth in meat consumption. When did this “meateoric” rise begin? Looking at the stats you’ll see a slow build after WW2 then a small dip followed by a steady climb from 1950 all the way to the 2000’s. Go anywhere and you’ll find meat. It’s everywhere and if you believe the marketers you should be eating bacon for breakfast, burgers for lunch, and steaks for dinner. Seriously. How can this be? It’s simple really, money. The producers of the products are in business to make money. The costs to your health and the secondary by-products of the industry that waste resources and pollute the environment are just part of the business model. But, does it really have to be this way? Pull up a chair and follow along on my journey. I’m not here to berate anyone, I’m just relaying my experience.
(On a side note, I don’t use the word diet to mean eating to lose weight, instead I use it to describe what I eat. This is a big difference in terms.)
Back in 2012 I made a choice. That choice was to eliminate all dead animal body parts and their excretions from my diet. The company I work for was using a marketing agency that was promoting a healthy living campaign for us. Everything from eating right to proper exercise and getting good sleep was posted on a daily basis. Eventually we stopped working with the agency and I took over maintaining the Twitter account for the company. I quickly realized that the Standard American Diet, S.A.D., and the growing waistline of Americans, me included, wasn’t doing my health any good. I was cycling regularly and trying to stay fit. Cooking on the weekends consisted of barbecue during the summer months, tri-tip, smoked pork shoulder, ribs, you name it, I cooked it, and ate it. I was using 3 Weber barbecues at the time. A large classic grill, a small portable grill, and a large smoker. I had all of the meat bases covered. During the weekdays we would eat a “healthier” diet of chicken and occasionally fish. Oven-baked chicken, chicken stuffed with cheese, chicken pizza, chicken whatever. We were sure we had this food stuff covered. We’d add veggies to just about every dinner so we’d get that covered however it was rarely the main course. Melting cheese on veggies made them more palatable so we loaded just about everything with cheese like good consumers! In the late summer of 2012 as I was reviewing Twitter posts and it dawned on me to dig into the data and find out what happens when you eliminate meat, dairy, fish, eggs, and processed food from your plate. What happens is a person could reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and cancer. It was a revelation. The path I was on was doomed to fail even though the marketing I was believing was telling me otherwise. Some family and friends were struggling with their health and I saw the correlation between the food choices they were making and I realized I had to change something in my life. If I stayed the course I would probably develope diabetes, followed by heart trouble, and then cancer. In August of 2012 I made the decision. The seemingly radical choice to go vegan took a full two weeks to build into a habit. During that initial phase I ate some cheese and hamburger at a friend’s house during a backyard barbecue. The following day the entire family was travelling home from a soccer tournament so we stopped off at the legendary Southern California In-n-Out Burger. That right there was my last dance with meat. I had a double-double (animal style) and never looked back. From that day on I was in the groove and hooked on plants 100%.
Often I hear statements thrown my way along the lines of “I could never do that, I like cheese too much.” or my favorite “Where do you get protein from?” to which I answer the same place elephants get protein from. Was it hard to kick all of these things out of the refrigerator? Absolutely. Initially there was a learning curve that evolved from vegetable soups and salads to more detailed dishes with cashew cheez, lentils, and other legumes I would have never tried. I read as many blog posts and plant-based recipes as possible. One fateful day in September of 2012 I opened up the podcast app on my phone and found the Rich Roll Podcast. It may sound corny but this podcast changed my life. I was presented with a lifestyle, that first off was not lame, and secondly I wouldn’t be a weakling by not eating meat. Rich Roll and his wife, the very insightful Julie Piatt, were podcasting from Hawaii. Their easy going style was the perfect platform for delivering a message that yes, you can eat plants and not only survive, but thrive. It’s been 4 years now and I still listen to the podcast every Tuesday. Roll’s conviction and guest list are top notch. Every episode is a tour of the mind without being in your face about the vegan diet. I encourage everyone to listen whether you’re vegan or not. I guarantee you will enjoy the thought provoking banter and the stories that the guests bring. Truly, this is the best lifestyle podcast of all podcasts.
In the beginning weeks and months I discovered that taking the vegan lifestyle on the road can seem to be difficult. I learned quickly that finding something to eat in the middle of nowhere California seemed impossible but with some creativity you will learn that there are food options available right in front of you. All you have to do it look. Bringing pre-cooked meals along helped out tremendously. I’ve read about new vegans being nervous about not being able to eat when away from home. This is a real fear, but it’s almost always unfounded. When travelling you’ll find fruit stands that have a wide variety of items, plus many have prepackaged nuts or dried fruit from local suppliers. Many fast food places have veganizable menus. I can walk into any fast food place and at a minimum get something small to eat, or depending on the restaurant, I can get a full on feast. My key to success is to learn the menu and ask for substitutions. A quick search on Google while standing in line has given me many ideas.
You may be wondering about athletic performance. I mentioned that I was into cycling. I’ve been riding in the dirt on mountain bikes since 1992 and on road bikes since 1994. When I stopped eating SAD I quickly lost about 20 lbs and noticed that recovery after a hard ride was much, much shorter. I could literally destroy myself with hours of climbing on my mountain bike and the next day I wouldn’t feel barely anything. When I was eating SAD it would take at least 2 days to feel good after a big ride. Leg soreness and achy joints just took a while to feel better. Pre-2012 I had raced cyclocross for 7 seasons, and raced track too, for 2 seasons, with trips to the national championships and masters championships respectively. My fitness was high, or so I thought, and I regularly rode the local Strava segments like a race. After stopping the SAD plan in 2012 I put racing on hold and just rode my bikes. Going back and re-riding some Strava segments my times were better, but my fitness level was not nearly where it was. How could this be? Plants. Plain and simple. The plant based diet was making me stronger. I could climb faster and for longer periods without feeling like I was going to fall over and cook on the hot pavement. Even without high threshold training I was flying past my old Strava times. It had to be the vegan diet. Reading more and listening to other podcasts it became clear that the diet was working well for me. I’m starting to get the itch to race again, perhaps I’ll start training soon and get back at it in 2017. In the meantime just riding is a blast for me. An easy cruise or a blast in the dirt is all good.
There is a deeply rooted thought process that holds the premise that if a man doesn’t eat meat he is someone less of a man. This is absurd. In fact, the strongest man in the world is a vegan. Enjoy this video of Patrick Baboumian crushing it hard.
In the 4 years since I made the decision I’ve come to realize that going vegan is the ultimate fuck you to the industry that markets “food” products purely for a profit. I’m simply not participating in the marketing plans anymore, it’s that simple. My health isn’t worth the perceived convenience that comes from opening a box and microwaving a freeze-dried package of artificial ingredients molded into food-like blobs. It’s so easy to get blinded by marketing slogans and jingles that stick in your mind for years. Why do these companies do this? Because it works. If it didn’t work they wouldn’t do it. TV, radio, billboards, everywhere you go is this message of consume, consume, consume, and if you do consume like we say, you’ll look good, you’ll be cool, and more importantly, you’ll feel good! Seriously though, this is not working. Our country has a major health crisis and we need to change our ways or face the consequences. The addiction to sugar, salt, and animal fat is real. Too many of us are closed off to changes that really do benefit our health without taking away from the enjoyment of food. Look, I am a food junkie. There is nothing better than cooking up a new recipe and sharing it with my family or friends and seeing the surprise on their face when they realize that it’s all plants, it looks good and tastes great. So, in closing, to use the classic cliche, if I could do it, anyone can. Remember, without good health you have nothing.