How To Be Vegan With An Asterisk

This post is the third in a series, The Other Side of Being Sick, chronicling my path to learning to be well once again. You can read the entire series by clicking here.

I don’t make resolutions, but I do take pause at the beginning of the year to see if there is anything in my life that needs tweaking. My pants need tweaking. Maybe it’s not so much the pants as it is the gut I’m trying to button into them. I’m fat. Fat for me. Consistently too big for my britches.

I took a moment to examine the situation and deduced that I was, get this, taking in more calories than I was expending. The fact that I’m a middle aged woman on the precipice of menopause might also have a little something to do with it, too. Just saying. Still, though, something needed to change.

So, I made the executive decision to go vegan for the month of January. Well, not exactly vegan. More veganish. Vegan with an asterisk, if you will. Vegan* Yeah, like that. Vegan under special circumstances. That’s what I did.

Had I gone 100% vegan I would be contractually obligated to talk to you about it several times a day. All vegans must reveal their veganess in every situation, especially when other people are eating things that aren’t vegan. 

Me (were I a full fledged vegan): Hey, friend enjoying those scrumptious marshmallows! Did you know marshmallows aren’t vegan? They’re made from boiled down pig hooves. My hummus is not made from boiled down pig hooves. It’s made from nutritious chickpeas.

My friend: *blank stare*

I’d also be an expert on all aspects of health and nutrition. It just automatically happens once you’re a vegan. I think I’d be a physical therapist, too, but I’ll have to check on that one with the official vegan delegation.

I didn’t do this for the sole purpose of dropping a few pounds and I’m not trying to drop a few pounds for the sake of vanity. I’m doing this as a way to hedge my bets. There is no guarantee that my desmoid tumor will not grow again. The only things I’ve been told that may keep another recurrence at bay are to stay away from hormones (be it from pregnancy, birth control, or hormone replacement therapy) and to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

The diet seemed very close to a vegan diet and, since I quit eating dairy several years ago, I figured I was already halfway there. So, I decided to go all the way. Well, most of the way. Ya know, vegan* and all. I gave myself the permission to have an occasional egg and decided if I ate a soup or sauce with chicken broth it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Veganish, ya see?

And since I’m now declaring I’m a kinda vegan, I think that makes me a kinda expert on the situation. So, I opened up to my Facebook friends and asked them if they had any questions to ask me, a kinda expert on being a vegan*, about the experience. Here’s what they came up with:

Have you tried jackfruit?

Most meat substitutes are made from wheat and I can’t with the wheat, so I only tried two fake meats, jackfruit and hempeh. Hempeh is like tempeh but instead of wheat is made from hemp. Makes sense, huh? Hempeh was eh. It didn’t blow my socks off, but it would be my preferred fake meat if I had to choose between the two. As for jackfruit, I can tell you this, it is the bastard lovechild of an artichoke heart and a sweaty gym sock. Jackfruit can go straight to hell.

Have you been extra gassy?

For the love of all things holy, yes. In the beginning, at least. I could have heated the entire house for a dozen winters with the fumes of all this digested broccoli and kale. Things have subsided quite a bit now. I think my innards have finally adjusted to my vegan* lifestyle.

Should we expect you to start wearing hemp and patchouli?

In addition to being a vegan* you could also say I’m a hippie*. I already own a couple pairs of Toms and I am eyeing a sweet, sweet pair of Birkenstocks when the husband’s bonus comes in. So, hemp, yes, I’ll wear it. I eat hemp hearts every day. I might as well wear it too. But I draw the line at patchouli. Besides, I’m more of a sandalwood kind of gal.

Have you been hangry?

Surprisingly no. For the most part, I don’t feel deprived without meat. And I’m not restricting my calories or the amount of food I eat. I never had a meal this month and thought, I need more. I’ve been able to stuff my gob just like before. Only now I’m stuffing it with healthy stuff instead of pork rinds and bacon jerky.

How much diarrhea cheese did you eat?

This question was asked by my friend Emily. We jokingly call my vegan cheese of choice, Daiya, diarrhea cheese. We also try occasionally to get #diarrheacheese trending on the internet because we think it’s so funny. I have eaten a fair amount of diarrhea cheese, I mean Daiya cheese, this month. It is delicious and tasty and has never once given me diarrhea. And, of all the fake cheeses out there, this one most closely resembles cheese. Perhaps, if you all share this blog post, you will fulfill our dream of coming up with a trending hashtag.

What would your grandfather say?

I don’t know, but I don’t think it would be pretty.

But what about pizza?

The great thing about being a vegan* these days is the abundance of choices we have. The company that makes #diarrheacheese has a line of frozen pizzas made with their vegan cheese and meatless meat toppings. They also happen to be gluten free. Mellow Mushroom also offers vegan pizzas at their restaurants. Or you can make your own. There’s plenty of recipes out there for vegan pizza dough. Add #diarrheacheese and veggies. You’re good to go. Somebody check the internet! Has it trended yet?

Are you forcing this on your poor family too?

No, I am not. They are free to eat whatever they want. And they do. No lie, my husband will eat an entire pound of bacon for breakfast all by his lonesome. He weighs less than me. Asshole.

Is your stool loose (asked in a grandmotherly tone)?

As with the gas, in the beginning there was a learning curve for my bowels. Things are regular now. Not too regular, mind you, but the train leaves the station daily at consistent intervals.

Have you started saying veg, like the Brits, instead of veggies or vegetables?

No, but that’s a bloody brilliant idea. In fact, I’m thinking of having roasted aubergine and courgette for dinner tonight.

Did you have that almost erotic yearn to sink your teeth into a juicy rotisserie chicken? (I’m asking for a friend)

While the smell of rotisserie chicken is intoxicating, the texture of chicken is iffy for me, so no. And I will neither confirm nor deny that I have had dirty dreams about rare steaks.

So, what happened during my month as a vegan*? Well, the month isn’t entirely over, but we’re close enough to call it done. I lost a few pounds, nothing dramatic. I did ‘cheat’ a time or two. I ate a few bites of steak one night because I was literally drooling over it. I had a few bites of chicken here and there. While I gave myself permission to have eggs, I only did so twice.

Then there was the night I let myself get too hungry and I ate a plate of ribs like my life depended on it and had instant, unrelenting, and devastating regret. I still get hot flashes when I think of that night. I’ll never be able to look at a pig again without getting nauseous.

On the upside of this experiment, I substantially increased my intake of vegetables and overall I feel pretty good, better than before I started this. Most notably, I’ve noticed a decrease in joint pain, which I’ve been plagued with since ending chemo.

The main thing I was trying to do was not eat actual meat while increasing my consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables and eat an over healthy and varied diet. I accomplished that most days, but I also sometimes got so tired of eating vegetables and beans I would just down an entire bag of vegan cheese doodles. And, I don’t really think that’s healthier than eating a dinner with meat in it.

Going vegan* is work. You will be making most of the food you eat, rather than popping into a fast food joint as soon as the hunger hits. I probably would have had less vegan cheese doodle dinners had I prepped more food each time I cooked. It’s easy to throw a veggie stir fry together if you have all the ingredients ready to go. That’s easily accomplished, but takes forethought. I know that now.

During this process I hoped to lose some weight, keeping the stress on my compromised leg. I did that, somewhat. While I’m not satisfied with the number on the scale, I know my body looks different and my clothes fit better. So, something is happening. I haven’t gained any weight, so if that’s all I get out of it, I’ll take it.

You may be asking yourself, if it’s so great and worked so well, why the asterisk? Why not go all the way? The asterisk helped remind me to not be so strict with it that I end up rebounding at the end of the month and eating a rack of ribs with every meal. Making a drastic change in your diet can be daunting. I wanted to take steps to be healthier, to stack the odds in my favor in ways that made sense. This makes sense. For me.

I’ve decided that it’s a change I can live with, hopefully permanently. The positives outweigh the negatives. It’s doable if I can give myself a little leeway here and there. And, I’ll never rule out going all the way, but even if I decide to go completely vegan, eschewing honey, gelatin, and any food without the vegan seal of approval, I doubt I’d go so far as to get rid of my UGG slippers. Those things are cozy as fuck.