Ed's Final Vegan Diary: Reflecting on Vegan Month


[Photograph: Kenji Lopez-Alt]

It's safe to say it's not an accident that I chose February, the shortest month of the year, to be the month that I went vegan. Actually, I didn't choose it— Kenji did, and I have thank him. But even though I was relieved when it was all over, I have to say that my month-long vegan experiment may just change my eating habits forever. It's not that I'm going to stay vegan. It's that I learned so much during this month, much of it surprising. Where do I begin?

Everyone wants to know what I broke my vegan diet with. I thought surely it would be bacon, a burger, some barbecue, a pork chop, a steak, pork and chive dumplings, or some other meaty substance that would satisfy my carnivorous desires. But no—on my last day as a vegan, I bought a ball of salted mozzarella from DiPalo on my way home and left it out overnight (I follow the advice I once got from a mozzarella maker on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx: "If you put my mozzarella in the fridge it's on you"). The next morning I toasted a Hot Bread Kitchen bialy, sliced the mozzarella, drizzled some olive oil, and had the best breakfast sandwich I'd ever tasted, meat or no meat. Turns out, I missed dairy more than meat. That was the first surprise.

In fact, I haven't had any beef this week—nary a burger or a steak or a short rib. But when I do have one of those things, I want it to be worth it. And if it's a dry-aged steak, I'm going to try to limit myself to a slice or two. For me, the best tasting dry-aged prime steaks are grass-fed and corn-finished, which is not quite as good as raising cows on grass only. But my vegan month has made me keep an eye out for meat that's raised sustainably and humanely. Fortunately, I can buy beef like that at my local farmers market on Sundays, which does make things easier. I know some people might have a problem with me eating beef or pork or chicken, no matter how humanely raised the animals are, but at this point I'm not ready to give up meat or dairy entirely. What I will do is be more careful about what meat and dairy I buy—I've become expert at reading ingredient labels with tiny print, so I should know what I'm buying.

I did eat more vegetables, but my problems were three-fold: first, the way I usually make vegetables seriously delicious is by adding some form of dairy or meat, both verboten in veganland; second, I don't really deep down love vegetables like Kenji does; and third, I rarely cook vegetables at home. We are much more likely to have a salad at home, which likely includes some kind of cheese. I did find tasty vegan vegetable and legume options on restaurant menus, but cooking fully vegan at home is still not my strongest suit. I suppose the answer is just cooking a couple of great Kenji vegan recipes on Sunday that we eat the rest of the week. That would thrill my wife, and make me happy, too.

As far as dairy is concerned, I simply like it too much to give it up, but I will buy only cage-free eggs, and while I'll still sometimes drink milk, I've also kept up my soy latte habit at Ferrara's. Cheese is harder to limit in the same way, but I am trying to pay attention to where it comes from. I did lose five pounds during February, which was a little less than I was hoping for. What's been both interesting and encouraging is that I have continued to eat much more carefully and lose more weight.

So if the end result of my month-long vegan fling is I eat more carefully, encourage my friends to order the beef or pork so I can sneak a slice without ordering the whole thing myself, inquire about the provenance of what I'm eating (Portlandia references be damned), and lose weight slowly, it will have been a noble experiment with a promising outcome.