A few years ago I started meditating in earnest in the hopes of discovering my true life purpose and quiet some of the demons that perpetually scream in my head. I didn’t realize that meditation was really a way to sort through the voices in my head but well, that’s what it became. One particular voice, one that I associated with my crunchier-than-thow self, kept asserting herself. “Go Vegan” she’d say. “Shut up. What about ice cream,” I’d reply. But she would persist. “Go Vegan. You will be happy you did. It is best for the planet, best for your health, best for your wallet, best for those size 8 jeans you keep shoving to the back of the closet.”
“But I get meatimony,” I’d say referring to the regular gifts of free range, grass fed beef, pork, etc., from my ex who works at Hearst Ranch. “That’s for the kids,” she’d say. “You don’t even really like meat.” “F-off,” I’d say. “There’s no way I can get enough protein and what about the milk in my morning constitutional?” “Green tea is better and your allergies will benefit from local wildflower honey,” that damn voice replied. “I’ll prioritize vegetables,” I pled. After all, I am the mistress of all things close to the earth in the oven. My friends said so. But it wasn’t enough. The crunchy little extrovert was not letting me get away without the dietary equivalent of a daily colon cleanse. She sent my best friend after me with the carrot I couldn’t refuse, the promise of slenderness. That’s right, Rebecca, that trail-blazing hussy handed me the book “Skinny Bitch.” She’d read it and was hooked. She went vegan first damn her! The voice inside me wanted to go vegan first. Now there was no stopping me. She went vegan first. I would go vegan best!
So November it was. After the Thanksgiving meatimony Heritage Turkey it was time. Out with the meat, cheese, milk, chicken, fish, chicken stock, baked goods, and nail chewing (meat) and in with nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, greens, greens, greens, and more greens.
The first few weeks were a little rocky. I struggled with commitment. Was I totally vegan, vegan on the weekdays, vegan on ash Wednesday, or vegan vegan, like a religious thing? If a little chicken stock ended up in my meal would I freak? What about the eggs in pasta? These are all the questions waiters would ask, friends would ask, I would ask when faced with a food choice. I just kept telling myself, “prioritize vegetables. Fresh vegetables.” And so it went. For me it really wasn’t that hard. I’m a big cook the meals for the week on Sunday kind of a person. I make a pot of beans, whip up some quinoa, chop salad veggies, and roast a pan full of interesting vegetables. I’ll do curries, and granola, and make up weird (to my kids) casseroles with stuff I find at the farmer’s market. And I’d eat it all within the week. I’d pack snacks and big salads and giant plates of casserole and think to myself I couldn’t possibly eat it all but somehow I did. My office mate would look on in wonder as she struggled with the food choices in the local cafes and quick stop lunch spots.
The first big pay off came a few weeks into it when I realized that my jeans were not only not snug, they were hanging off my butt. My arms were leaner and my thighs were definitely displaying some muscle I hadn’t seen in awhile and I wasn’t doing P90X. I was only walking the dog and doing my usual yoga. So I kept going.
The second big pay off was my joints. I’d been suffering from bursitis in my ankle from skiing too aggressively without stretching the previous year. I’m a show off on the slopes. It was really painful to the point of needing daily icing and hot/cold treatments. One day, a few months into the vegan thing not only was the pain gone, but the persistent swelling was gone too. “This can’t be right,” I thought. But after talking to a few nutrition experts I learned that a mostly plant-based diet helps alleviate joint pain.
The third big pay off was mental energy and clarity. I’ve always had a knack for mental work and been accused of displaying exceptional perspecacity but to my perfectionist mind I was always confused and lagging behind. One day I just felt clear, focused, and on top of it in a way I’d never felt before. Perhaps it was the fact that I could no longer drink much because my body just won’t tolerate toxins. I’m not sure but the effect continues. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m truly listening to my body and making sure I do what it asks of me or maybe the aliens have inhabited my body. Whatever, it feels good and I’m sticking with it.
I haven’t found the magic pill but I also haven’t suffered from colds or flu this winter. I sometimes get bored with food but not in a way that makes me want to binge on Ben and Jerry’s. I haven’t become a zealot. Just the other night I was eating out with my kids and my daughter had a New York Strip. She offered me a bite and I took it. I can’t say I wanted another one but I sure enjoyed the bite and the memory of good steak.
In my quest to make my body a temple, I’ve found some phenomenal resources. First, “Clean Food” by Terry Walters is a must. It’s a seasonal guide to eating close to the source and has lots of recipes and information about dealing with food you’ll find at your local farmer’s market. “Color Me Vegan” is a wonderful cookbook by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau who is an expert on plant-based cuisine. It has recipes even my kids will eat and helps put into practice the most important nutritional concept which is color and variety. I love her views on potatoes in particular.
Now that I’ve passed the phase of “what the hell do I eat” and moved into the world of endless possibilities, I look forward to food in a way I never have. I am continually surprised, which is weird given I was raised in a vegetarian culture, at the variety, flavors, and excitement of the food choices available and no matter what I choose, my clothes fit great, my joints feel awesome, my mood is stable, and I’m a happy hippy camper.