February 6, 2007 – By Douglas Brown, Denver Post Staff Writer – Super Vegan puts the will to its greatest test. I loaded up on the bloody stuff the week before I knew I'd exile it from my life. I sampled 10 different chilis in one sitting. Fat wheels of soft salami. A pork burrito the size of a football. A bowl of raw fish at a Japanese restaurant. An entire plate of egg salad, shoveled frantically down my gullet with a spoon one afternoon, alone in the kitchen. Slabs of roasted cod spritzed with lemon. More … much more. And then I awoke on a Monday to the sad conclusion of the flesh fiesta. I'd turned vegan.
No meat, fish or eggs, plus the dairy I'd eliminated from my diet the previous week. And the first week of this journalistic experiment – I was removing categories of foods from my diet a week at a time to see how difficult it would be, and to find out if it affected my body and mood – I'd rejected sugar. So I was Super Vegan.
Being Super Vegan was sometimes OK, and other times almost harrowing.
A few days into the fast, I prepared a fantastic – I kid you not – faux-beef stew, with a side of vegan mashed potatoes and gravy, and when forkfuls of that melange of indulgences slid down my throat I experienced pleasure that could be described as giddy.
But then I walked past the Sam's No. 3 diner in downtown Denver one cold afternoon and witnessed the spectacle of plates covered with burritos and pork-packed green chile, the eggs Benedict and cheeseburgers and Greek salad draped with gyro meat.
And I could have wept.
I enjoyed an excellent vegan po' boy sandwich at Watercourse Foods, a vegan-welcoming restaurant in Denver. The restaurant substituted a fried, polenta-crusted portabello mushroom for oysters, and I could have eaten two or three, with great relish.
That evening, though, I saw an old friend who was visiting Boulder, a woman with a farm in northern Michigan so verdant it could be confused with Middle Earth. She mentioned how her family had been trading produce for meat with a nearby Amish family. And I felt jealous, because I knew the meat would be about as good as meat can be.
I dreamed of trading a few pounds of tofu for a slab of some of that Amish bacon.
My vegetarian wife, Annie, made superlative chicken soup, without fowl. She also whipped up excellent tacos using "textured vegetable protein" and traditional taco spices.
But during that week the newsroom also sponsored a taste test of several different chicken wing outfits.
I love chicken wings. I could smell them in the newsroom. I watched people pluck the glossy wings from the little square napkins they held in their hands and tear at the meaty appendages with their teeth. And I desperately wanted to do just that.
As they feasted on the birds, a blood-lust consumed me.
This expatriation from the world of ribs and cheesesteaks transformed me from an easygoing eater – I'm psyched about having salad for dinner tonight, honey! – into a lunatic carnivore, a bully for bologna, a chorizopath.
I'd turned caveman.
But me not eat meat.
Me want meat! Now!
The turn to neanderthal probably explained my moods.
The prehistoric folks were a simple people. One minute ecstatic, the next glum. Happy, then angry.
I'm guessing they were at their most testy when too much time passed since their last taste of tendon.
As the week dragged on, I found myself growing irritable. Increasingly, I never felt entirely satisfied; I walked around in a fog of mild discontent.
I also grew spacier than normal. Annie told me this three days into the meat-free week.
"You're more spacey than normal," she said.
One frenzied morning I searched the house – drawers, tables, pockets on pants and jackets – for my car keys, but I could not find them. Annie lent me her copy of the key, and I trudged across the Siberian landscape with my youngest daughter, Ruby, to take her to preschool.
"Look, Daddy," she said when we reached the car. "Your keys."
And there they dangled, still stuck in the door's keyhole. They'd hung there all night.
"You see?" offered Annie later. "Spacey."
Could meat abstinence lead to flakiness? In my case, I think it might have, at least during that first, protein-deprived week.
Maybe that explains Boulder.
But seriously. I've spent 15 years of my life with a vegetarian. She doesn't have a flaky bone in her body.
I respect those who shun meat. And despite my bouts of peevishness, I was glad for the meatless experiment. Every faux-meat recipe we tried satisfied, a much different experience than our stabs at attempting to reproduce dairy dishes with soy. I felt lighter on my feet (even though I gained a pound during the week), and I believe I had a bit more energy.
But by the end of the seven days without meat, I'd also gone three weeks without sugar and two without dairy. Many pleasures I once took for granted had evacuated. My food choices had dwindled dramatically. And for the next week, I'd remove gluten from the list of things I can eat: so no bread, among many other things.
On the last day of the meat sabbatical I realized something somber. I was eating just to fill my belly. Food had become dull. The thrill was gone.
Staff writer Douglas Brown can be reached at 303-954-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.