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The Vegan Experience Day 26: The Feed-A-Meathead Challenge

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!

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A vegan dish from Craigie on Main

Days 26: Wednesday

Breakfast: A grapefruit and some awesome bread from Sullivan Street Bakery
Lunch: A tofu and mushroom Báhn Mì
Dinner: Beet salad with horseradish and a vegetable plate from Market Table

Last week I wrote an entry about The Vegan Super Bowl Snack Challenge. The goal was to create some vegan snacks, serve them at a Super Bowl party alongside meaty snacks, and to get people to finish the vegan ones before they went for the meat.

I lost the race.

Or, to put it more precisely, I didn't even get past the starting line. Overwhelmed with work (It's not easy testing and writing a recipe a day) and underwhelmed with the idea of watching grown men do bodily damage to each other, I ended up skipping the party and spent all night cooking at home by myself instead (one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday night).

Still, I felt that in the name of good reporting and good science, I'd need to devise some sort of "is it possible for declared carnivores to enjoy vegan food?" test. I think I've come up with a good one.

Before I explain it, a disclaimer: I'm sharing this with you with the knowledge that a) my dad doesn't read this site, and b) that none of you will go and tell my dad about my diabolical plot.

Agreed? Agreed. Here goes:

My dad is what you'd call a meatatarian. He's always loved all things meaty, the fattier the better. Aged rib eye steaks and medium-rare prime rib covered in compound butter. Foie gras seared until crisp with a liquid custard center. Pork belly confit'ed in its own fat, served deep fried and crispy. Slabs of fat-laced tuna belly. Grilled hamachi collar bones. Potatoes cooked in goose fat. Peking duck with crispy skin, and anything served with bacon. You get the idea.

Then, in the late '90s, my dad went along with everyone else in selectively listening to only parts of a roguish scoundrel of a doctor named Robert Atkins' diet plan. The message that came through? "It's ok to eat only meat and fat and plenty of it." For better or for worse, my dad threw himself into his new diet whole-heartedly and hasn't looked back. Having lost 15 pounds* and for the most part having kept it off, he's been contentedly been eating a mostly-meat diet for the last decade. It's not that he doesn't like vegetables, it's just that given the choice between carrots and pork belly, he'd pick pork belly every single time.

*and most likely having drastically increased his risks of heart disease and cancer

Why am I telling you this? Because here is my goal: I'm going to get my dad to eat an entirely vegan meal without even noticing it.

I'm not going at it alone. To help me pull it off, I've enlisted the aid of Tony Maws, one of the greatest chefs I know. A winner of the James Beard Award for Best Chef, Northeast, his restaurant Craigie On Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is casual fine dining at its absolute finest. They are by no means a vegan or even vegetarian establishment (for instance, check out the fine meal Carey and Ed enjoyed there a couple years ago, or take a peep at how they make their deservedly well-hyped burger), but the man certainly knows his grains and vegetables. I can think of no better chef to try and pull off this feat of cooking prowess.

Tomorrow night is Friday—the final day of self-imposed four weeks of veganism, and man is it gonna receive one hell of a send-off! I've got reservations for two at Craigie on Main, and I've asked for an all-vegan tasting menu (the restaurant is quite accommodating to dietary requests, given advanced notice).

The waitstaff all know what's going on and should keep mum on the project, so the only way my dad is going to call me out on this is if he actually notices the lack of meat. If we can get through at least five courses before he makes a comment, I'd consider it a success.

What's the point of this exercise? Is it simply to pull one over on ol' pops? No, the real reason is that as I've said in a few previous posts, I think one of the real barriers to a reduced meat or even vegan diet is a mental one. It's the idea that without a block of protein on your plate, a meal is not complete. I myself had this block before I started this diet, but as I've quickly come to realize, it's a completely unfounded bias. Once I realized that meals can be perfectly satisfying even when not centralized on one big hunk of something, the prospect of eating meatless meals became much more appealing to me.

I'm not out to convert anyone to a strict vegan or even vegetarian diet—I myself am not going to adopt a strict diet—but I strongly believe that the more people realize that meat is not essential for a satisfying meal, the better and more delicious the world will be.

P.S. I'll update you on Monday about how it went!

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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