For many, the holidays are a time of rejoicing, of abundance, and of feasting. But it can be the most difficult time of the year for many others. This SNORK is a public service announcement, dedicated to shining a light on a group of people who are often mocked, marginalized, and misunderstood. I am, of course, referring to vegans.
Oh, I can just hear you: “Who me? Why, some of my best friends are vegans!”
Please don’t try to defend yourself. I’ve seen it first-hand; the way people roll their eyes when someone announces their veganism. I’ve heard, “Well, I’d invite so-and-so to the dinner party, but have you ever tried cooking for a vegan? It’s a pain in the ass!”
I can tell you what it’s like from both perspectives because I, too, was once one of them.
It all happened very suddenly. I was working out at the gym one day, when my trainer handed me a copy Skinny Bitch. His message, while as subtle as a blood-curdling scream, was not lost on me. By the time I finished reading it, I was so repulsed by the thought of food, any food, that I ate nothing but organic strawberries for the next three days. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.
So, just like that, without forethought, I made a drastic and life-changing decision. This was not a bright idea, by the way. It’s probably better to put a little planning into something that dramatic, but no – not me! I jumped right in. Hindsight might suggest that I was actually pushed into it by an over-enthusiastic 19-year-old trainer with less than 4% body fat, but I bear no ill will against him (and may he blow up like a balloon when he hits the age of 40). Anyway…
The first step toward my new lifestyle was to drive to Whole Foods and purchase about a trillion dollars worth of groceries marked “vegan.” Whole Foods makes it all so easy by clearly tagging vegan-friendly products. No pesky label reading for this girl. Thank you Whole Foods.
The next step was to eat the food identified as “vegan.” This was a little trickier than purchasing it. For example, there is a phenomenon known as “vegan cheese.” Now, if you have had a lifelong love affair with all things dairy, this rubbery impostor will make you cry real tears. I searched the web for the most recommended brands, bought them all, tested them in a variety of recipes and decided I’d rather go without than try to fool myself into believing this crap was cheese (or even food, for that matter).
After a few weeks, two things became obvious:
- The vegan foods from the supermarket are so highly processed, you may as well eat a Big Mac (no offense Mickey D), and
- Whenever mealtime rolled around, I wanted to curl into the fetal position. You see, preparing food was becoming a much bigger chore since my carnivorous days…so much so, in fact, that I hated eating.
Now this should alarm you. Here I was, a healthy American-Italian-Armenian (translation: unabashed food lover) and I did not want to eat. My meals became repetitive and uninspired. Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and almond milk. Lunch: peanut butter on apples or bananas. Dinner: sautéed vegetables with rice and beans, and a salad. Zzzzzzz…
I should mention that during this time, I did not force my family to get on board. Hubby and the kids were still enjoying omnivore cuisine. I would cook for them without ever feeling the least bit resentful as I listened to sunny-side-up eggs popping and squeaking in the frying pan. I did not once growl or grimace as I coated precious, tender lamb chops with my own concoction of mint, garlic, onions and lemon and then smelled their heavenly aroma as they sizzled upon the grill. Oh, no! I was more than happy to do it, while my rice was boiling on the stove.
You had me at ‘mallow.
I should also mention that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so much fun to be around during my vegan adventure. As a result, my kids went from being normal teenagers to becoming food pushers: “Hey mom, you gotta try this provolone!” Or, “Tonight would be a great night for s’mores! Whaddya say?” They were desperate because I was becoming a real drag, a chronic cranky pants, to be exact. But I remained steadfast (against my own instincts). Oh, and are you surprised that vegans can’t have s’mores? Well, chocolate has milk in it and marshmallows (my kryptonite) are made with gelatin, which comes from pigs. So cross those off the list, along with every other delicious thing you can possibly think of.
Something else that I longed for was dining out. So hubby took me to a local Mexican restaurant and assured me there must be something on the menu that I could eat. Of course, I asked all the pertinent vegan questions to make sure there was not a hint of the verboten in my meal. After I sufficiently interrogated the waiter, I ordered a vegetable burrito (which was not on the menu, so I explained how to make one). When my dinner arrived, it was essentially under-cooked broccoli, with a few carrot slivers, wrapped in a tortilla. I just looked at it, sighed and drank my meat-free water. Misery.
And then, the moment I dreaded the most…we were invited to a Christmas party – a Christmas dinner party. I gave my husband strict instructions not to tell anyone I was a vegan. I did not want to be one of those preachy, demanding people with “dietary issues.” Surely I could navigate the meal by eating side dishes, after nonchalantly asking about their ingredients: “Wow, those Brussels sprouts look super tasty! What’s in them? Oh, bacon? Like real bacon or those soy bacon bits? Oh, real bacon. Ohhh.” Curse you, real bacon! And of course I could always fall back on the salad, and perhaps have some salad and maybe take a little salad. God help me if the hostess got creative by adding cheese to it.
That first party went off without a hitch. No one was the wiser. But the second soiree took a nasty turn. While performing my new skill of undercover food detective, I was able to ascertain which items on the table were OK and which were off-limits. But something must have had a hidden criminal element in it, such as chicken broth or perhaps butter. How do I know? Because when I got home, I was sicker than sick. It was the kind of sick that makes you fear you might die, and then fear that you might not. I had passed up the gorgeous beef Wellington, skipped the creamy mashed potatoes, and ignored the luscious cheesecake only to be taken down by the wild rice or some frigging yams! Unbeknownst to me, when you give up animal product for any length of time and then eat it again, your body holds a clearance sale: Everything Must Go!
Yet I still wasn’t willing to give up. Why? Truth be told, I never felt physically better in my life (with the exception of the aforementioned “incident”). Gone was the arthritis pain in my knee. No more belly bloat. No more general malaise. Psychologically, however, I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself. But, life is full of trade-offs. Right? Certainly I would get used to this new way of eating. Right? People, I do not have what it takes to make a successful martyr. Sorry. No can do.
But here’s what finally tipped the scales and put me back on the meat wagon…my old pal, Whole Foods.
Each November, Whole Foods publishes a holiday menu full of catering fare. I always have at least 30 people for holiday dinners and, handy though I may be in the kitchen, I am not equipped to run a banquet hall. So I’ve always turned to Whole Foods for an assist. Basically I order the same things every year: one shrimp cocktail platter that serves 12 (if you show up late, you’re out of luck, my friend), an assorted crudité platter that serves 24, one Brie en croute that serves up to 10, and a double order of their turkey dinner for 8 (which consists of two turkeys and various sides). While flipping through the menu in search of additional dishes to round out the meal, I saw it. There it was, on page 10…the saddest thing you can imagine, especially during the holidays. Among the sumptuous offerings of “Rib Roast Dinner for 8” and “Roasted Pork Loin for 4” was “Vegan Dinner…for 1.”
One is the loneliest number.
In that moment, it all came into focus. I was alone. I was dinner for one. And, bloat be damned, I was hungry for cheese. Glorious, glorious cheese! And marshmallows. Real marshmallows made from Porky Pig! And wild salmon! And beef! I broke down is a puddle of my own wanton desire. It was not pretty, but it was bound to happen.
Therefore, when I say to you, “vegans need love,” I know what I’m talking about. So, the next time you meet one, or have to cook for one, or have to eat with one, keep an open mind. Do not judge. Do not mock. Instead, open your arms and give that skinny bitch a hug.