Sunday, January 19, 2014

Interview with a New Vegan

About a year ago, one of my colleagues took a new job, and we had an opening in our office. That position was filled by my, now, friend Christian. From the moment we met, I knew I wanted to be best friends. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, a laugh I can pick out in any crowd, and a razor sharp wit. One of the things I appreciate the most about Christian is his genuine openness to having his mind changed. In the time that we’ve known each other, we have had numerous conversations about my diet, and the overwhelmingly positive impact it has on my life. He always listens to my point of view, asks tons of questions, and continues to ponder our discussion days later. To my delight, Christian recently decided to shift his diet toward vegetarianism, and agreed to try being vegan for 3 weeks in January. We sat down over lunch, so I could find out how things were going so far.


Dinner Peace: Why were you interested in trying out veganism?

Christian: A multitude of reasons. I’ve become incapable of rationalizing the ethics involved with meat and dairy farming. I’m keenly interested in improving my health, specifically my muscle to fat tissue composition, so vanity. I’m intrigued by a diet that would stave off my genetic predisposition for high blood pressure. And, simply, your individual passion for it is contagious. I knew all this shit beforehand, but I just didn’t care. Beyond that, all the other vegans I’d met annoyed me.

DP: I’m flattered! Why now?

C: Just the confluence of various factors coming together at once. I had become more open-minded to lifestyles I did not already ascribe; I had hit a wall in terms of fitness goals; I’m getting older, and taking care of myself is only going to get more difficult; and I just can’t rationalize it anymore. Honestly, looking at [my tattoo of] Ferdinand [the bull] sniffing flowers, looking at this happy bull feels shitty to then go out and eat it.

DP: What were you nervous about beforehand?

C: Exactly what my friend Kyle went through - not knowing what to eat, so just eating a bunch of hash browns. I don’t embark upon adventures without investigating them first, and being successful on the first shot. I still don’t know how to execute this in a long-term way. But, I work really well with rules and guidelines, so the mental fortitude part of this has not been difficult.

DP: What are you enjoying so far?

C: Vegetables taste better. One week in, I had carrots, cucumbers, black olives, celery, and radish with hummus. I knew I liked hummus, but I was ambivalent or against all of the produce. And now I like all of them! Celery tastes like celery, not wet, crispy dirt. Carrots are sweet as opposed to a nondescript orange mass. Cucumbers aren't just for making water more fancy! Black olives were always really low-quality, squishy and gross. Now it all tastes good. I feel energized and positive. I miss cheese, but that’s a pretty silly reason to not push through.

DP: What are your expectations for the end of the 21 days?

C: Honestly nothing. I mean, I expect to be roughly the same weight. I expect to feel a little more energized. I’m trying not to think about this ending. I expect to continue beyond the end of 21 days because I know the results I want will take ages.

DP: What are the results you want?

C: There’s a saying: “A six pack is made in the kitchen, not in the gym.” Food is the one spot in my life where I had absolutely no discipline. The rules inherent to being a vegan impose a certain discipline.

DP: They can, but they don’t have to. My downfall is how amazing vegan desserts are. I have to be very mindful of how much sugar I’m eating, and really trying to tilt the majority of my food toward vegetables and whole grains.

C: Fortunately, I’m not that interested in sweets. I do need to introduce the whole foods side to being vegan. My goal is to have 120/80 blood pressure, which no one in my family has. But I am at least winning that race.

DP: What sort of reactions have you gotten to becoming vegan?

C: A lot of interest, love, and support. The people I would have assumed to be on the opposite side of those have just stayed quiet. My uncle makes jokes, but not unkind either towards vegans or me, just jokes on the topic.

DP: For example?

C: My uncle is going to host me when I go to San Diego in February, and he said, “We’ll leave the light on for you, but we won’t leave the steak on the counter.” My cousin’s wife is trying it now that she can point to me and say that someone else in the family did it first. That was necessary to garner the support of her husband because he doesn’t see the point. He’s happy to support his wife, but the first domino has fallen, so it’s easier now. His little brother bought a vegan cookbook, and shared it with my sister, and they’re working together to start with a vegan day each week, and start eliminating red meat in their diet.

DP: How has this impacted you socially?

C: It’s culturally treated like a burden. You know your limitations, and your limitations are not someone else’s concerns, but once you say you’re vegan, people’s reactions are initially selfish. “Ugh, you’re vegan. That’s going to be so hard.” If they actually thought about it, they would realize there are vegan options everywhere, and move on. They tend to push the responsibility onto you. You’re going to be the complicated one, so I bequeath to you this complication. But, I don’t really care, because if I get to pick, I’m going to be selfish and pick something awesome for me. I would still prefer it to be collaborative though.

DP: Has anything come up that you would decline now that you’re vegan?

C: No, not really. If I were invited to a wine and cheese party, I would just drink wine. If I were invited to a rodeo, I would’ve said no to that anyway. If I were invited to a chili cook-off, I would bring some badass vegan chili. What’s available to me has not changed, just how I enjoy it.

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