Over the last thirty days I embarked on a culinary cuisine cruise out into the pearly blue waters of veganism. Inspired by Dr. Colin Campbell’s incredible scientific and nutrition twenty-year undertaking called the ‘China Study‘ and the subsequent book on the specifics from collected data and statistically analysis of the rural Chinese diet and that of Americans, I took Dr Campbell up on his offer to “give it a try for thirty days and see what happens.”
My commitment was this. No meat. No dairy.
So, no cheese, no smoked Gouda or fresh Parmesan.
No meat, no pork, no bacon.
No eggs, no milk, no butter.
But would all this equal no fun?
I would not consider myself much of a cook, probably a 3 on a 10-point scale. I can measure, chop, over boil and burn. I can’t blanch, dice well, or even spell sauté without checking the dictionary. However, despite my big, bumbling hands over the open flame or a sharp chef’s knife, I decided to give it the old college try and push myself for these thirty days.
Amazing, unlike the rest of my previous existence, I discovered that despite eating enough calories everyday for the past 29 years of my life, I have very limited knowledge about the things I shove into my mouth, and further still, my stomach, digestive system, blood stream, cell walls, colon, kidneys, liver and heart. I have a father who grew up on an apple orchard and could easily identify different varieties as well as stages of any apple from its size, shape and color, and in one generation I have been removed from the land and relegated to knowing only the colorful logos and package designs of crackers, high-sugar cereals and fruit juices and basically nothing about where my food comes from, what is in it, what pairs well with what, and even so lost as to not even know but a handful of standard fruits and vegetables. Heck, I didn’t even know that cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin and bell peppers were fruits.
So I threw my library card around, grabbed a bunch of cookbooks and started to learn more about my food choices, options and recipes. I chatted with friends, scoured the super markets and health food stores for odd items like mirin, amare, kuzu, brown rice syrup and vegan mayo. I bought vegan chocolate chips, almond, rice, soy and hazelnut milks, vegan cheddar cheese and even drove 25 minutes south of town to get dried lobster mushrooms that I had to reconstitute myself (don’t ask me if I knew what that word meant before, I would have had zero idea).
I have now cooked a Thai stir-fry, soaked cashews overnight to make a vegan cream substitute, roasted pecans, walnuts and pine nuts, found a favorite desert cake that doesn’t use butter, eggs or milk but still rises and is topped with great tasting chocolate chips. I have eaten sea vegetables, had salad for breakfast, chopped more veggies, learned that a mandoline isn’t just a small, sweet-sounding, wooden instrument and even tried to fool a couple of friends into believing that a tasty meatless alternative was chicken. They weren’t too convinced, but they admitted several times how much they liked the pine-nut-and-basil seared Gardein chicken with lobster mushroom beurre blanc braised kale and roasted fingerling potatoes (Thanks Tal!).
Food is designed to be so many things.
It is taste, nutrition, energy, health, community, a social setting, a tradition, a feast, a famine, a late-night craving, a recovery smoothie, a habit and a diet, a problem and a solution, familiar and foreign.
Food is a design in our lives regardless of our attention to it or not. And the consequences of our focus or disregard have clear effects on our futures.
These last thirty days have taught me more about food than the last 10 years. I have understood that I could eat just plants and be completely healthy, energetic and even feel better than my previous omnivore diet. I have learned the environmental cost of eating meat. I have come to understand the crazy level-5 vegan radicals by sharing in their experience, and understand how food can easily become a vice and a health threat if left unchecked and unguarded. I now see health not just as being cancer free or cancerous, but as avoiding diseases of affluence by taking steps that lower and sometimes even almost completely eliminate my risk for certain life threatening conditions such as strokes, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
I have learned that as homo sapien sapiens we have been incredibly designed. However with this design comes an unrivaled dilemma with food.
I still have plenty to learn about design. I have learned, however, that perhaps one of the best ways to explore the uncharted (and even hidden) territories that stand before us are to give it thirty days of discovery, to see what new islands lay just around the corner and to see how your life may find a whole new land just under your feet.