Beef and potatoes: Minus the beef … and the butter … OK, just potatoes

Spinnaker

For the March 9 edition of the Spinnaker, Features Editor Beca Grimm asked me to investigate a phenomenon known as “Meatless Mondays.” In the course of doing a story about this international campaign to reduce meat consumption, I spoke with a handful of vegans and vegetarians.

All of them pretty much echoed a similar sentiment: Going vegan is cheap, easy and healthy. This got me to thinking, which is usually a dangerous proposition.

In the interest of experimental journalism, I decided to give it a try — the vegan thing, that is. Like any good journalist, I was resolved to find the truth, or failing that, manufacture it.

So, I attempted to adhere to the strictures of the vegan diet for an arbitrarily selected number of days, in succession. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I seem to recall someone telling me doing something or refraining from doing something for 21 days makes or breaks a habit. Thus, I settled on 21 days.

Being a vegan, for the uninitiated, means cutting out all products derived from animals — it’s not as simple as just not eating meat. No cheese, milk, eggs or pretty much any other dairy product you can imagine. Or honey.

What follows is an account of my experience as I remember it from notes and the gray matter I haven’t gotten around to murdering with excessive drinking.

I began my journey March 9, the same day the “Meatless Mondays” story hit newsstands on campus.

I ate a grapefruit for breakfast. For lunch, I spent around $8 on the vegan dumplings available at the Outtakes in the Student Union. I can’t exactly recall what I had for dinner that night, but I’m relatively certain it was Coors Light (which ain’t got no animal products at all).

I could eat whole-grain rice. I could eat bean burritos, but not with Old El Paso instant black beans, which contain something called “hydrolyzed chicken protein.”

I religiously studied the ingredients list of every foodstuff package before I consumed it. I was told to especially look out for gelatin and albumen, as they are derived from animal products.

I found myself eating a lot of junk food — lots of chips and salsa. You see, in order to be a successful vegan, you have to cook for yourself. This presented a conundrum, as my culinary acumen has traditionally been limited to the utility of the microwave.

I did try to cook some vegan-friendly pasta, which didn’t turn out too bad, actually. I boiled some noodles, added a bag of frozen vegetables and copious amounts of Tabasco and garlic. Not too shabby.

Beca became concerned I wasn’t eating “real food.” She let me borrow some vegan cookbooks and ginned up a grocery list for me. She was my biggest cheerleader during this process, an island of succor amid an ocean of slack-jawed detractors, incredulous and derisive about my experiment — all in good fun, I’m sure.

I ran into a major problem attempting to conduct this lifestyle change over Spring Break. Not so much. I backslid.

Upon arriving in the Great State of Minnesota, after not eating anything besides airplane peanuts, my aunt offered to make me a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. I didn’t have the heart or the energy to explain to her my newfangled vegan ways.

The Monday following Spring Break, March 22, I got back to it.

Things were going swimmingly until Friday, March 26. On the way back to Jax from Miami, I lapsed again. Feeling weak and nodding off on the drive home, I succumbed to the call of convenience food. It’s virtually impossible to eat out on a vegan diet.

Something I noticed during this experiment was a pervasive feeling of fatigue I endured throughout its duration. I don’t know if this was the result of my deficient sleep schedule or the shock of removing animal products from my diet.

Anyway, I proceeded to try again Monday, March 29. The third time was indeed the charm, as I was able to last through the week on a vegan friendly diet consisting mostly of fruit, veggies, beans, rice, hummus and potato chips.

I must say, hummus wins the most valuable food award for me during this process. It was a life saver. Oh, and peanut butter, too. Clutch.

In total, I was a vegan for about two weeks out of the three when one takes into account the days I lapsed.

At the end of this little experiment, I came to the following conclusions: For someone who lives my lifestyle, going vegan is not cheap or easy.

In the end, however, I’ve grown to respect the vegan community more through this process. Vegans may say it’s easy to purge cheese, milk and eggs out of their diet, and maybe for them it is, but I found it nearly impossible to do so for an extended period of time.

I have profound moral qualms with the factory farm system in this country, the treatment animals receive in slaughterhouses and the exploitation of undocumented immigrants all wrought through the consumption of animal products and their derivatives. These are issues we must face as a nation.

And I’m going to try to keep up with “Meatless Mondays” as a way to help, and I would urge all the carnivores in the audience to consider doing so. But for me, veganism cannot be the means toward this end.