To celebrate my vegan birthday, I’m sharing some plant-based insights.
In April, I wrote about the 10 surprising things I’d learned since going vegan. The response was bigger than I could have expected. Now it’s my vegan birthday — 12 months with no bacon! — and I am settling into my whole-food, plant-based way of life. As it stands now, I can’t imagine ever going back.
So, it’s high time I reflect on 12 new things (dare I say insights) I’ve learned and noticed since April, which are especially intended for those curious about going plant-based. (C’mon, you bacteria-and-hormone-filled chickens, it’s a lot easier to make the jump than you might think!)
Here they are in no particular order:
1. Meat still smells good, but the sight of it makes me want to yak.
This sounds crazy, but the olfactory nerves that connect my schnoz to my brain have not made the vegan leap. The smell of cooking meat still makes my mouth water. Perhaps this is my nervous system’s last vestige to the cave-man style of eating I enjoyed for most of my life. Or maybe those ‘smell nerves’ are still connected to the fond, childhood memories of sizzling bacon wafting down the hallway on Christmas morning.
But, man, the sight of meat instantly conjures up mental images of roadkill, cadavers and zombies. Apparently, my optic nerves are fully committed to the whole vegan thing.
Today, holding up a strip of uncooked bacon is enough to make me want to spew out my plant-based breakfast burrito. When I helped my wife make pulled-pork sandwiches on a family vacation, handling that huge slab of uncooked pork loin felt a lot like holding a severed human leg — not that I’ve ever done that before, but still…
Not sure if there’s any point to this observation, but I find it interesting nevertheless.
2. No free samples anymore. Ever.
You know those miniature folding tables they set up at grocery stores? The ones with the smiling, aproned lady, a little microwave and tiny paper plates with steaming free samples? I used to love those. Pop a few in my mouth, walk around a bit and come back for round two. Sometimes I’d take my hat off and try to act like somebody else when I swung around for a third visit. She never seemed to mind.
Occasionally, I’d even be approached at my local coffee shop by an idle barista, with a tray of tiny paper cups filled with chunks of sugared morsels. I’d snap up three or four, or as many as I could before the tattooed server looked at me kind of funny.
I never, ever do that anymore. Ever.
I spend so much time being careful about what I shovel into my maw, that I always say, “no, thank you.” I have no freakin’ idea what’s in that stuff. ‘Free’ food is great, but you’ve now got to earn a trip down my gullet; it’s strictly “invite only.”
3. “Why the hell did you let me eat that?”
Previously to going plant-based, I often overate when stressed. And I was always stressed. Or I’d create some phantom stress to justify my chow-down.
See, I always was an emotional eater, but for me it could be any old emotion — stress, frustration, sadness, elation, boredom, cheerfulness, anticipation, confusion — all were perfectly good reasons to shift into binge-mode and feed my face extra-sharp cheddar cheese by the brick.
“Oh my gosh, the WiFi is out?! Where are the Funyuns?”
“I’m so happy it’s Thursday, I think I’ll eat myself sick.”
“My sock has a hole in it! Where’s that family-sized bag of flaming-hot Cheetos?”
Of course, I’d wake up the next morning feeling like a pregnant water buffalo and ask my wife, “Why the hell did you let me eat that?” She’d give me the side-eyes, and mumble something like, “As if I could have stopped you.”
My desire to self-medicate with food has somehow melted away. Besides, what are my options? Stuffing my face with carrot-flavored hummus always feels kind of pointless.
But maybe I’m just feeling less emotionally out of sorts lately, more even-keeled, which brings me to my next point…
4. I can’t cry. Seriously.
I’ve always thought it was healthy to have a good crying jag once in a while. It’s cathartic when you’re feeling down. In the past, just looking at one of our Visa bills was good for a 10-minute ugly-cry.
Now I can’t shed a tear. I’ve tried. Squeezed even. Nothing.
I recently read that those who eat a diet very high in vegetables and fruit are happier and in better moods. But I do not remember reading they can’t cry. For God sakes, I need to blubber!
My life kinda blows right now. I got laid off in April and my job search has been frustrating and unfruitful (is that a word?). My wife recently suggested — in her quietest inside-voice — that I look into being an Uber driver until something comes up. Ouch. My oldest daughter just moved to LA to start her life in the big city. My other daughter left for college on the East Coast. And my son wants me to help him study for his high school biology midterm this weekend. I should be swimming laps in a pool of tears!
Despite it all, I’m stubbornly optimistic these days. My glass is maddeningly half-full, and it’s driving me crazy. My hunch is this is a biochemical side-effect of veganism, one I didn’t anticipate. So, if you ever decide to go vegan, have a good blubber-fest first. It may be your last for some time.
5. The meat Matrix.
Once you get off the meat merry-go-round, the world seems a little… off.
I’ve read up on the science of the long-term effects of eating meat, milk, cheese, processed foods and all the other crap we habitually stuff down our faces — the stuff I used to toss into my gob like it was a wood chipper. Now I watch people snarf up this stuff and worry in silence.
I often feel like Neo when he realizes he’s been living in the Matrix, and reality has been a dream the whole time! Same here, but I was living a meat dream — that sounds odd, but stay with me here. I thought meat was necessary, healthy, an essential source of protein. I had been fed lies — literally! — and I ate them up like a pig at a trough.
I’ve woken up from my meat trance, and it’s frightful to watch the ones I love shovel in what I now view as slow-acting poison. After all, one in three Americans now dies of heart disease! We’re eating ourselves to death.
I try not to dwell on it, and I think it’s rude to comment on what people eat — I am not the sanctimonious type — but I think about it a lot. That’s probably why I keep writing about this stuff.
6. Stop freaking out.
Having a vegan coming over to the house gets people really uncomfortable, probably in the same way people used to get uptight when a leper came for dinner.
Guys, it’s not contagious! Relax. It’s not as if I’m there to sneer at your food choices. You wanna eat fried pig ears with gravy? Knock yourself out, Hoss. I’ll eat your cashews.
Same goes when there’s a get-together at a restaurant. Everybody suddenly obsesses over what “the vegan” is going to eat, pouring over the menu like they’re trying to solve the Da Vinci Code before the waiter returns. I always have to tell everyone to relax, that I’ve never gone hungry as a vegan. Not once. There’s always something I can eat, even if it’s just a simple salad.
So, listen, the next time you’re out with a vegan, chill, for God’s sake. They know what to do. They’ve done this before. You focus on your pig ears.
7. “Wait, people used to eat animals?”
Most of the diseases that plague us — obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. — are largely food-borne illnesses. Like big tobacco’s smokescreen of disinformation and confusion, the same fog of uncertainty sewn by the meat, dairy and processed food industries will eventually blow away and reveal the ugly truth.
You can’t fight science, and the science says our food is killing us. I heard on the Rich Roll podcast recently the former head of the American Cardiologist Association say there are two kinds of cardiologists: vegans and those who haven’t read the data. The data is clear, all you need to do is read it.
Oh, and once you factor in the environmental damage wrought by the global meat and dairy industries, it seems inevitable that the demand for beef, eggs, poultry and pork will fall by the wayside. Good chance Mother Earth is a vegan.
Think I’m nuts? 100 years ago women couldn’t vote. Everyone smoked. Life expectancy was 48 years for men, 54 for women. (I’d already be dead!)
I’ll check back in with you in a century.
8. I am Exhibit A.
If you have doubts that a plant-based, whole-food diet won’t work for you, you’re wrong. It’ll work. Don’t fight it. It will. (That sound you hear is me slapping that Philly cheesesteak out of your hands.)
Efficacy shouldn’t be a factor in holding you back from discovering your inner herbivore.
I finally quit taking cholesterol medicine after 12 years (total cholesterol has dropped to 136 without meds). I’ve lost 20 pounds of lumpiness — and I haven’t experienced the whiplash-like weight re-gain I did in previous attempts with “dieting.” My mind is more clear. I feel more optimistic. My skin looks better. I can’t cry. I’m less distracted by food fantasies and cravings. I could go on, but I don’t want to overshare.
9. It’s the blood, stupid.
I always worked out. I always tried to eat what the fitness magazines told me to eat (chicken, egg whites, fish, lean beef, etc). That didn’t work. This protein-obsessed approach got me on cholesterol and blood pressure medications, and brought on a lot of frustration and disappointment with the results. I still looked like a parked car.
Most diets and fitness crazes focus on what you look like on the outside. But that’s not health. That’s just optics.
Thinking about my interior health revolutionized my perspective. In particular, once I started focusing on the blood flowing through my arteries and what was in that blood, it reoriented my focus.
Once your blood gets healthy, your body can’t help but follow. This blood-first mentality is one of the reasons this life-changing shift came so easy for me. And perhaps for you, too.
10. Hello, my name is Dave, and I am a vegan.
One more reason why I tell people the switch has been easy: since I now think of myself as a vegan, it’s easier to pass on all the junk food and crap that floats by my face, like the impulse buy snacks that are positioned perfectly eye-level at the grocery store checkout — sneaky bastards!
In the old days, I’d try to be disciplined and not make eye contact with that king-sized Snickers Bar. I’d try to control my reflexive desire to inhale that meatball sandwich and show it who’s boss. But once all those foods are off the table as a result of changing how you think about who you are, they stay off the table, and it’s really quite effortless.
You want to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet? Simply change your identity and your stomach will follow in your brain’s footsteps.
11. Giving up animal products was easy… wine, not so much.
In my article back in April, I mentioned that most booze is vegan, and that I was carpet bombing my pancreas every night with a few glasses of wine. It became my reward for being such a good vegan. Like eating late-night salty snacks or ice cream, drinking wine every night became a habitual pattern for me.
So, in July I decided not to drink any wine, or alcohol of any kind. It was a loooooong month. It was as if time had slowed to a crawl. I proudly told a friend I met on the street that I wasn’t drinking that month and he said, “Dude, it’s only July 3rd, you can’t brag until at least the 15th.”
I’m not drinking at all this month either, and I’m reminded that the first few days are hard. Like eating, treating yourself to a glass of wine (or two… or three) becomes a mindless ritual, which is not unlike how many of us eat.
I think it’s always good to challenge yourself, push yourself to try new things, like giving up that glass of wine once the kids are in bed, or not ordering that Starbuck’s muffin that’s bigger than a gorilla’s fist. Go ahead, challenge yourself. It’s always good to avoid getting stuck in a rut.
12. Don’t follow the money, follow the science.
In journalism and politics, they say, “Follow the money.” When it comes to health, if you follow the money you end up eating steak, chicken, fish, eggs, processed food and dying before you’re ready. If you want to become healthier, I say, “follow the science.”
A diet that isn’t backed up by randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed science is just B.S. Any diet book that doesn’t rattle off lots of scientific studies is probably not worth your time. You’re probably better off just eating the book — think of all the fiber!
I like to watch the videos on nutritionfacts.org, which follows quality science done in the realm of diet and health. It’s free, easy and interesting.
Okay, yes, you may lose a few pounds on the Ding Dong diet, but damn it, your blood will turn to sludge, and your intestines will back up like the 405 at rush hour. Why not find out what’s been proven to work? As they say on the X-Files, the truth is out there.
A journey of a thousand salads starts with the first baby spinach leaf.
If you’ve read this far, you’re vegan-curious. Hey, nothing to feel ashamed about. It’s perfectly normal to have those feelings.
Or, perhaps you’re already on the vegan wagon and interested in hearing the gleanings of a fellow whole-food, plant-based geek. I have a lot more to learn, but it’s a thrill to meet people who say they’re thinking about it as a result of talking to me or reading something I wrote. What a thrill.
If you liked this article, be sure to check out my other Medium posts: