I've mentioned before that I have become a vegan. It's now had such an impact on my life that I'm going to write a whole post explaining why on earth I'd become a vegan, and why I'll be a vegan for life.
First, I should say that the term "vegan" isn't great. It's usually associated with freakshows who are so against killing animals that they won't wear leather. While I'm not going to frequent cockfights or go hunting, I have no problem with animals being killed. I like leather stuff, and animals dying is part of life with or without humans.
Another problem with the term "vegan" is that many vegans eat an unhealthy diet. They cut out meat, but don't add vegetables in their place, so they tend to eat a lot of refined grains. Doing that is more unhealthy than just eating meat.
I used to be a huge fan of meat. I would eat at Whole foods every day, and would get either a turkey sandwich or grilled salmon. At home I would drink milk and eat huge quantities of yogurt.
Then one day my friend Hayden loaned me the book The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. I wasn't particularly interested in the book as I had no desire to cut out meat. I thought that lean meats were perfectly healthy, and that anyone who disagreed was a hippie.
Just to be clear - I was against veganism on principle and was not considering switching to it. Evan always ate vegetarian when we'd have lunch together and I would make fun of her for being a vegetarian. I don't want people to get the impression that I am some sort of hippie, or someone prone to being influenced easily.
I read The China Study in one night, and it was fascinating. It's written by one of the scientists who led the most in depth nutrition study ever. He himself was born on a farm and was an avid carnivore. Over 80,000 people were studied, and the researchers discovered that animal products were absolutely responsible for causing cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and basically anything else that people in first world countries die of. I started the book as a skeptic and finished it as a believer. I am now totally confident that eating a diet with little/no meat and lots of vegetables will significantly increase anyone's overall health and life expectancy.
I thought that switching to being a vegan would be difficult, but I got lucky. I found a restaurant in Austin called Casa de Luz. I can not possibly say enough good things about Casa de Luz. They serve perfectly balanced vegan meals using in season and mostly local produce. 99% of what they cook is organic, and it is so delicious that a lot of my meat eating friends like to go as well. Best of all, you can eat as much as you want. Because it's a non profit, meals are extremely cheap, only $12 including soup, salad, hot and cold tea, and of course the entree and several side dishes.
I now eat at Casa de Luz at least once every single day, and find it to be the most pleasant eating experience I could possibly imagine.
For two months I ate totally vegan without a single exception. My skin cleared up completely and I lost more weight. I'm not happy about the 10-15 pounds I've lost, but it is mostly fat. I dropped the initial weight quickly, but since then have plateaued. After a week or so I never desired, let alone craved, meat. As time passed it seemed less appetizing.
At the end of two months I had a cruise which I planned before going vegan. Because 5% of my diet can be meat, I reserve that time for when I'm traveling since being vegan and traveling is very inconvenient. I decided that for the cruise I would eat whatever I wanted with reckless abandon.
Shortly after getting on the cruise I ate some bread with butter. I won't lie to you - it was delicious. I ate beef, chicken, and fish.
The dishes were good, but commercial food has a secret.
Food preparers have found there are certain tastes that make us think food tastes good. These are primarily salty, sweet, and fatty. As if it's a cold war arms race, every food manufacturer adds massive amounts of these flavors to their products so that consumers will continue to buy them. The problem is that we adapt to these new levels, which drown out other more subtle flavors, and we must continue to eat similar foods to appease our tastebuds.
When you eat less processed more natural foods, your taste buds adjust, and foods develop an incredible complexity to them. The food on the cruise was pleasurable to eat, but seemed boring to me - each dish was a blast of fat, salt, or sugar.
I felt seasick on the ship, which was odd. I've never felt seasick before, even on a small boat in a very rocky ocean. On day five I was sick of eating the unhealthy food and I tried to eat the most healthy offerings the ship had (not too great). The next day I wasn't seasick anymore - I never was... my stomach was just revolting at the processed food.
When the ship finally reached the shore again we drove the four hours from Houston to Austin and immediately went to Casa de Luz before we even went home. The food was so delicious that I had three plates of it. When I left I was happy and felt fantastic. I was worried that I would crave the meat and unhealthy food, but it was the exact opposite - I knew for sure that I would never go back.
To wrap this up, there are a couple things about my transition to veganism that I really want to stress :
I don't expect many people to do it, but I really hope that people consider trying a vegan diet out. If you're going to do it, you should first read "The China Study" and possibly Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. Each of these books precipitated a lasting instant overnight change in my motivation and diet.
Next, scope out some restaurants. Find one that has a lot of different vegan dishes and doesn't use any refined sugars or flours. If you're serious about trying to be vegan, I will even help you find them. In Austin your best bets are Casa de Luz and Mother's (try the tempeh enchiladas!). If you don't have some good restaurants to go to, you probably won't actually switch. If you like to cook, get some vegan cookbooks. I'd recommend doing the restaurant thing first so that it's as easy as possible.
Commit to trying it for 45 days. I am convinced that anyone who does it for 45 days will never go back. The desire for animals products completely disappears and is replaced with a mild revulsion for them. This is a very short period of your life that could easily have a huge effect and help you live for decades longer. I consider it to be one of the best choices I've ever made, along with the earlier choice to cut out processed and unhealthy foods.