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The Vegan Experience Days 14, 15, and 16: The Wife Effect

[Illustration: Robyn Lee. Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Note: For the four weeks between January 14th and February 11th, I'm adopting a completely vegan lifestyle. Every weekday I'll be updating my progress with a diary entry and a recipe. For past posts, check here!

Days 14, 15, and 16: Friday, Saturday, Sunday

Breakfast: Crispy potato, mushroom, and onion rösti. Flax seed toast. Avocados. Cranberry-nut bread from Acme bakery with plum jam.
Lunch: Zucchini, mushroom, and poblano pepper tacos. Vegetarian Chili.
Dinner: Some big salads. Roasted butternut squash and raw carrot soup with pumpkin seeds. Vegetarian mapo dofu.

I'm over halfway through my four weeks of veganism, and it seems like pretty smooth sailing from here on out. I've got my routines, I have a well-stocked pantry, I no longer need to rely on frozen vegan pizza for lunch emergencies (after remembering that every one of the numerous bánh mì shops in the area have vegan-friendly options), I'm now down to 170 pounds (and counting), my doctor just reported a 80-point drop in my total cholesterol level (it used to be terrible, now it's below average), and I've been eating just as tasty meals as I ever have before.

At the risk of sounding too much like a, well, self-satisfied vegan, I'll point out that it's not all puppydogs and video games. I get the occasional strong craving, like the other night when the lobby of my building smelled like awesome hamburgers, or this afternoon when Maria Del Mar posted this ridiculous looking grilled cheese recipe. Yeah, gooey cheese sandwiched in crispy cheese is still enough to get my stomach grumbling.

Tastings at the office are also more difficult. As I type I'm in the middle of frying a batch of chicken wings for a tasting between Frank's RedHot and Tabasco's newer Buffalo-style hot sauce. I will not be eating said wings, but I will be smelling them for the next couple hours. Urgh.

Perhaps the biggest un-expected side effect of the diet is not about me personally, but it's about what it's done for my wife.

I mean, there's the obvious: she'd win the Oscar for Best Supporting Wife if there ever was such a category, so she's as happy as I am at the health benefits it's had for me, but it's for purely selfish reasons that she's happy now.

She's the type of woman who you'd say to her, "hey, today, forget about the consequences. You can eat anything you'd like without feeling bad about it. What'll it be?"

Bacon? Nope.
Ham? Nope.
Pork chops? Nope.

She's more apt to say things like, "oh, can we have arugula and butternut squash soup?"

With my normal recipe testing schedule, we end up with a glut of meaty leftovers in the house. There's only so many bowls of Chile Con Carne or Carnitas-Stuffed Tacos that I can give away to my doorman and mom.

Guess who gets the rest for her packed lunch? That's right, my wife.

I'm a little evil that way. I load her up with leftovers so that I can clear out the fridge for the next round of testing. If it's true that there's no such thing as a free lunch, my wife pays for hers by having to eat Ultra Crisp-Skinned Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder five days in a row.

That problem is completely gone, and she's never been happier with the way we eat at home or the way she eats out.

She's actually got it easy. I pack her lunches that fit her general food preferences—arugula and squash soup, for instance—she eats more of the same when she eats at home with me, but since she's not staying 100% vegan/vegetarian, she's not above, say, heading out for a shared Chinese feast with her colleagues—something which I unfortunately can't take part in.

Seeing how she behaves, I think I'm coming to the conclusion that it might be pretty close to what I do once I reincorporate meat and dairy into my diet: stay vegan whenever I have the choice, but not make a big deal out of it if I want to hang out with friends at a non-vegan establishment, and definitely work on including more vegetarian recipe development into my weekly lineup.

Once again, it all comes down to personal choice and a cost/benefit analysis. For me, the benefits of excluding meat from my diet at home outweigh most of the costs, but the cost of excluding myself from certain social situations is greater than the benefits of avoiding a few rogue nuggets of ground pork in a Chinese feast.

P.S. Maria—I think your grilled cheese just made the coveted top slot for what I'm going to eat first when the month is up.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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