The Vegan Experience Days 22 and 23: Charting My Cravings
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 22 and 33: Saturday and Sunday
Breakfasts/lunches: Tostada with black beans, avocado, pickled red onions, and arugula, salad and a veggie burger from Coppelia
Dinners: Potato and caper empanadas, chickpa, potato, and spinach jalfrezi with cilantro chutney, braised eggplant with tofu.
It's been over three weeks now, and I've got to say once again that this whole experience has been remarkably good for me. I'm consistently surprised at how easy it's been, how much more interesting my meals have become, and how much healthier I am.
There have, of course, been some exceptions. Brunch is still a nearly impossible meal to even consider going out for. Sunday I was meeting up with some friends who at first wanted to go to a typical American brunch restaurant—steak and eggs, eggs benedict, omelettes, pancakes, and the like. Obviously nothing I can eat there save for some fresh fruit. I managed to convince them to hit up Coppelia instead, the fantastically inexpensive and tasty 24-hour Cuban diner near Union Square, thinking that at the very least I could get one of their salads and perhaps an arepa or two stuffed with beans. No such luck; The beans are cooked with pork fat. I ended up with a salad and a veggie burger on regular toast (the standard bun has butter in the dough). An unfortunate state of affairs that was made slightly better by the relatively inexpensive Mexican Cokes and the very polite waitress. (Note to vegans: cuban food is not vegan friendly!).
If anybody knows of a brunch place that both vegans and non-vegans can enjoy simultaneously, I'm all ears!
Indeed, my entire breakfast routine, if you've been following what I eat, has become relatively monotonous. I start pretty much every morning with a slice of toast slathered with either refried beans or cooked black beans, along with half an avocado and some crunchy sea salt. Then again, it's no more repetitive than my old standard breakfast of nothing seasoned with Diet Coke.
Now that I'm eating only vegetables, I've found myself getting hungry in the middle of the day if I skip breakfast, so I eat one. It's a functional meal that I don't have to think about, so I don't mind the monotony, especially because I really love refried beans and avocados and—at least near where I live and work—both are extraordinarily cheap (pro-tip: avocados are 5 for $3 at New York Mart on Mott Street—that's 1/5th the price of the Fairway uptown!).
As a quick exercise to chart out my cravings, I decided to plot various foods on an arbitrary "meatiness" to "crave factor" scale. Why do I consider beef more "meaty" than chicken? Like I said, it's pretty arbitrary, but I think the rankings are ordered in a way most of us can agree with.
See, as the weeks have gone on, my cravings have been slowly diminishing to the point where I don't even really think about hamburgers or steak or any sort of red meat product any more. Take a look at that chart and you'll see that outside of a few major outliers (I will always love April Bloomfield's Spotted Pig Burger, and I've never been much of a cookie or ice cream eater), for the most part there is a solid diagonal line that runs from most-meaty-least-craved to least-meaty-most-craved. Seeing it all laid out like this is pretty interesting to me. What does it mean?
It means that given three weeks of total veganism, the things I miss most are the ones that are actually closest to what I'm living on right now. This makes me very hopeful that even after the four weeks is up, I can happily live eating pretty much exactly as I'm eating now, with the occasional addition of a slice of pizza, a bit of cheese on my pasta, perhaps some eggs on brunch days, and, well, a Spotted Pig Burger now and then.
Why would I want to live in such a way? Well as I said at the beginning, I've always been comfortable with the balance I've struck between the pleasure eating meat gives me and the harm it causes to animals and the environment. Every single person on the planet from the most hardcore carnivore to the most serious Level 5 vegan strikes this balance somewhere down the line, whether they do it consciously or not. I've always been of the mind that if you are going to make an important decision, it's your duty to become as informed and aware of the facts as possible. It's for this reason I've thrown myself into activities such as hunting and slaughtering animals and studying the facts about the environmental and social impacts of meat eating—I want to know the facts so that I can make an informed decision about my own meat consumption.
If I look at the cost-benefit structure of my own meat eating habits, there's been a definite shift over the past few weeks. The costs have remained fixed—it still requires just as many resources and just as many animals need to be hurt for me to eat a hamburger—but the benefits have changed. Having not eaten a burger for three weeks, it's only made it clear to me how many un-necessary burgers I was eating in the past.
Does this mean I'll give them up entirely? Probably not. I'm sure that I'll continue to eat them for work-related purposes (I've got nothing against meat eaters or vegans for that matter). But I'm equally sure that my recreational eating habits will be changed permanently.
If any of you ever decide to take the plunge and try out a meat-free diet (I encourage every one of you to try it—you may surprise yourselves), I'd suggest making a similar chart for yourselves to help gauge your own desires and whether they match up with your lifestyle.
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.