If you gave your average 8 year old kid $50, sent him into the supermarket and told him he could buy whatever food he wanted, what do you think he’d get? You now have an idea of my diet for the past 17 years.
The first time I went veggie was to curry favor with a chick in my marathon group. Supremely cute Detroit girl with amazing hair that tumbled down her head in tight, golden ringlets. People ate too much meat, she said, in a very non-judgy way, so she refrained from eating meat as a nod to the critters. Another guy in the marathon group had been vegetarian for eons and during a long run one day, he explained that a meat-free diet was more efficient for distance runners, so figured I’d give it a shot. Best case scenario, I’d feel lighter and more energized on my runs; worst case scenario, I could expand my diet a bit and hang out with my marathon group crush. I sure as shit wasn’t interested in any health benefits. At that time in my life, I was pounding more booze and drugs than all of Aerosmith put together. Between traveling across the country all week as a consultant, running marathons all over the world and partying like Led Zeppelin, it was a weird time in my life.
Predictably, my vegetarianism proved temporary. It ended after two years, when I found myself standing in a cheesesteak joint in Philly and instead of ordering the egg and cheese sandwich I’d planned on, I called an audible and had a cheesesteak. For the next couple of years, I was off to the meat races again. One night I came home with a bag of barbecued ribs and stood at the counter eating them while my two golden retrievers sat next to me in full-tilt begging mode. I pulled one out and slowly handed it to Cabo, who looked at the rib with such urgency and such intense desire that I stopped – in my fingers I held the ribs of a pig, an intelligent, affectionate and social animal kept by many as a pet. Just beyond the rib sat another mammal, also intelligent, affectionate and social. Looking into Cabo’s eyes, I saw her soul and I simultaneously realized that the pig was no less of a soulful, sentient being than my dogs.
I’d like to say that I gave up meat there and then, but for a short while, I continued to eat burgers, pepperoni pizza, chicken and all of the other things I’d eaten for most of my life. Finally, a few months later in an Argentinian steak joint in Reykjavik, Iceland, I had my last bite of meat. I was through consuming animals for food. After a sumptuous, wine-fueled feast with 6 of my closest friends, I put down my fork and said, “That’s it. I’m done with meat.” That was probably fifteen or sixteen years ago. Tack on my first two years as a vegetarian and I’ve got nearly two decades of meatless living. A shitty, shitty diet, mind you, full of chocolates, cookies, ice creams and cakes, as well as cheese pizzas and other tasty but junky vegetarian fare. Still, junk food diet aside, vegetarianism presented me with daily opportunities to act upon my beliefs. When I think of all of my beliefs, how many can I actually practice each day? They say vegetarians spare nearly 90 animals a year by simply choosing to not eat animal flesh, so every time I’d ask a waitress if there were a vegetarian menu or each time I’d order a meatless entree, I experienced a low level awareness that in that moment, I was acting with my conscience. And yet, the easier it became, the more it occurred to me that as someone who rescues dogs and who supports various animal rights causes, how in the world could I continue to eat dairy products and egg-based foods supplied by farms of incomprehensibly savage and inhumane conditions? Because when you buy random crap from the grocery store, that’s how the manufacturers obtain many of the ingredients. It’s cheaper, man. Gradually, I came to see vegetarianism as a half-measure, noble though it may be. I knew that with a simple choice, I could go one step further and so it occurred to me that I could only sit on the fence for so long – I’d either go back to eating meat or I’d go vegan.
No surprise, I’ve opted the latter and I’m now on day 14 of veganism. So far, so good. Truthfully, the first couple of days I still had a few chocolates left over from the holidays, so I suppose I’m really on day 11. Maybe 10. Either way, I feel better for a number of reasons. And before you start railing against me for being preachy, that’s not my bag. Everybody gets to make their own choices in life and nobody likes a preachy anything. The remarkable thing isn’t that I’ve gone vegan — a lifestyle now firmly-entrenched in the mainstream — but that I’m evolving from eating like a greedy, chocolate-smeared 8 year old kid to a relatively healthy adult. Go figure.
Losing out on the sweets has been hard, though. I know there are vegan alternatives to my favorite desserts and San Diego suffers no shortage of vegan-friendly restaurants and bakeries. But what about those cupboard-friendly snacks that I used to have at the end of the day? More pointedly, what about chocolate? Enter my friend Ivana, who approached me a couple weeks ago and bequeathed unto me, one of these:
Holy shit. Like a heavenly slice of ambrosia, Nohmad raw dark chocolate is utterly bananas. Not literally – it’s mostly cacao, but it completely scratches the chocolate itch. More than just a passable substitute, this stuff is flavorful, sweet and best of all, I only need a small square to totally eviscerate my cravings.* Game-changing shit for a guy like me and one more reminder that going vegan need not be a sacrifice or a struggle. I really can have the best of both worlds. I checked out Nohmad’s web site and was delighted to find a tasty selection of bars. I have placed my order for more. I promise to save one for Ivana.
*Nohmad Snack Co. has no idea who I am and they sure as hell aren’t compensating me for saying all of this nice shit about their products.