One Punk's Guide to a Vegan Diet by Todd Taylor

One Punk’s Guide to a Vegan Diet by Todd Taylor

Feb 18, 2020

Originally appeared in Razorcake #110 June/July 2019

Here is a printable PDF and full text of the article.

Illustrations by Laura Collins
Layout by Todd Taylor

This zine is also available directly from Razorcake.

One Punk’s Guide to a Vegan Diet by Todd Taylor

The Slow Decay of the Day to Day

It happened gradually, at a rate so slow I didn’t really notice it was happening. I gained weight. It happened over the course of a decade, due to working all the time and not paying too much attention to the food I ate. I wasn’t feeling very good. I was a workaholic. I didn’t exercise much. I walked. I skated. I got injured repeatedly. I just kept eating like when I was a kid.

Ten years ago, my health problems caught up with me. For the first time in my life, I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My skin and respiratory allergies were horrible. I was thirty pounds heavier than ten years before and was still gaining weight. I went to my doctor for a physical and she wanted to prescribe medication. I’d done a bit of research before my visit. Admittedly, it wasn’t much. I’d read The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health by T. Colin Campbell.

I like my doctor. She’s no bullshit.

“Isn’t it true that every single animal cell contains cholesterol—and all animal foods contain cholesterol, like meat, milk, and cheese?” I asked my doctor.

“Yes. Plant foods do not contain what’s considered cholesterol.”

“What if I stop eating those foods? Would that lower my cholesterol?”

She hesitated and let out a sigh. “Maybe a change in diet will help, but these pills are specifically designed to do just that.”

“I’m worried about the side effects. I don’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life. Give me six months and I’ll do another blood test.”

She sighed again. “You can try. Even if you eat a completely cholesterol-free diet, your body will still make cholesterol. We just need you to get into a healthy range.”

I had been vegetarian for a short time during high school, but gave it up when I felt lightheaded and generally not great. Admittedly, I didn’t change my diet much; I just didn’t eat meat.

For the six months between physicals, I ate meat once a week. I was hooked on chicken burritos. I tried to remember to exercise—to exercise for exercise’s sake, not just hauling boxes, getting laundry done, or walking to the video store, the library, and the local donuttery—but I was still working twelve to fourteen hours a day, six days a week.

Also at that time, although I knew, intellectually, I didn’t want to cause harm to animals, I continued to eat them. I’ve never killed and plucked a chicken or slaughtered a hog, but I was an excellent barbequer. I wish I could honestly say I initially stopped eating meat due to mass slaughter, inhumane conditions, and the harm meat-eating is doing, to the point of changing the global environment, but that just isn’t true. I liked the taste of meat, cheese, and dairy. They were cheap. They were readily available in the working class neighborhood I lived in. They were a short walk away.

My dad, who is a master scrounger, helped me back into cycling. I’d largely given it up after college. Los Angeles is a dangerous place to cycle, even more so a decade ago. I slowly incorporated cycling into my day-to-day activities.

My return doctor visit six months later was deflating. I was hoping the conspicuous yet admittedly slight modifications in my diet would miraculously improve my health. They didn’t.

“You have some improvement in your cholesterol and your blood pressure’s a bit lower, but they’re both still too high,” my doctor reported. “High cholesterol can be caused by eating too much fat or carbohydrates.”

My weight was within a pound or two of my previous visit, which was a bit sad because I was cycling and had made the fourteen-mile round trip on bike to the medical offices, something I wasn’t sure I could have done six months before without resting after the hills or risking hyperventilation.

“Give me six more months. If I can’t bring them down, I’ll take the pills. I’m making changes.”

She sighed and reluctantly agreed.

I’d read more about cholesterol, but didn’t bring it up with my doctor. The body needs cholesterol and, when functioning correctly, it makes what it needs. Cholesterol helps with hormone production and keeps membranes in the body functioning correctly, including the stuff that insulates the brain’s circuits. The highest concentration of cholesterol is in the brain. Cholesterol-lowering pills, statins, reduce the brain’s natural ability to make the cholesterol molecules the brain needs. Pills designed to trick the brain? Oh, hell no, I didn’t need that in my life. My brain’s tricky as it is.

The Significant Weight and Cost of Appearances

I then made the decision to make a clean break from meat and dairy, to cut it all out and see if it made a significant difference. I work better with self-made, well-defined parameters: “If you know it’s not vegan, don’t eat it.” (Which is simpler to say than to do in practice, but it’s good to have a goal.)

The six months after the clean break from meat and dairy were rough. I had meat fever dreams, watched BBQ competitions on television, and without the easy, delicious add-ons of cheese, milk, and eggs to dishes, I was initially at a bit of a loss as to what to eat. First was the process of removal of parts of foods I loved to eat: cheeseless pizza, burritos without meat, cream, and cheese. I ate a lot of pasta with only red sauce and held the crumbled sausage and parmesan.

It slowly dawned on me that just because I wasn’t eating animals, it wasn’t a default to healthier eating. Random food—let’s be honest, snacks and junk like Oreos, Bac-Os, Ritz Crackers, and unfrosted Pop Tarts—had somehow slipped through the processed foods industrial machinery. They seemed vegan by accident. I ate them because I could, and because my food-brain was slowly rewiring. (Bac-Os are ridiculous and Oreos are delicious.) At a picnic, I didn’t even think twice about ripping open some Tapatio Doritos, which, if I had just read the back of package, I would have known had milk in them.[1]

So that’s one of the first things I learned. Turn the package around and read the ingredients, no matter how animal-free it logically seems. Yeah, Altoids mints have ground-up horse hooves in them, but so do Planter’s dry roasted peanuts. They both contain gelatin.

It’s a vegan minefield out there.

Goddamn it, the capsules used for a lot of pills—like vitamins, pain relievers, and supplements—aren’t vegan.

Double goddamn it. Dear the United States, why are you so preoccupied with the appearance of things? Animal products are often used in food and drinks, purely for aesthetics. Many beers aren’t vegan because they’re filtered through dead fish—isinglass—to make them bright and clear.[2]

Triple goddamn it, some orange juice isn’t vegan, depending on how it’s sweetened. If it has sugar refined from sugarcane, there’s a chance it’s not. Bone char, derived from cows, is used in refining some (not all) sugarcane to make it bright white. Although not in the sugar, the sugar is processed through super-heated cow bones to make it bright white.[3] It’s striking how often animal products are slipped into foods and food production solely to make them look more “appealing.”

Quadruple goddamn it, bordering on what the fuck. I know they’re not food, but not all vehicle tires, including bicycle tires, are vegan. Some are produced with animal-derived stearic acid, instead of using refined tree oil or vegetable and plant-based products in their manufacture.[4]

On the same tip of tracking the ingredients of what I’m about to eat, although it sucks a lot of the time, when at a new restaurant, I have learned to ask specifically, “Is there any meat, cheese, or milk in it?” Then I’ll say, “I’ve got allergies to dairy,” instead of saying I’m vegan. It’s surprising how many places don’t know what’s in their marinara and how much food comes to restaurants in pre-processed bags.

I also learned to not beat myself up if meat or dairy slipped through the cracks. I didn’t run to the bathroom and stick my finger down my throat to purge the offending Tapatio chips or a fortune cookie. I just made a mental note to be vigilant, not only in the grocery store and at restaurants, but at social gatherings. Accidents happen. I lived.

Underused Pork Shoulders and Neon Tongues

Let me back up a bit. I know food is super hard-wired from our childhoods. My parents grew up in scarcity (my dad lived through the Battle of Britain as a child). Many foods developed during the late ’30s/early ’40s were specifically engineered to have a long shelf life, to be portable, if not precooked and pre-assembled. The goal was quantity—to feed lots of people. In wartime, Spam makes some sort of sense. Fruits and vegetables are perishable and spoil easily. They’re difficult to transport. Advances were made in canning and pasteurization. Food vacuums were developed in containers so they hermetically sealed. (The pop of the top of a jar of spaghetti sauce, for example.) These are good things.

Yet, since WWII, these prepackaged, laboratory-developed foods have come to dominate the United States supermarket and have become what most consider “food.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sixty-three percent of the calories in the Standard American Diet come from refined and processed foods.

To get heavy for a moment, engineered “foods” are part of food capitalism’s colonization.[5] These “foods” have replaced the nutritious, real foods that they’re based on, and they’re almost all intentionally engineered with extra sugar, salt, fat, weird shit, or unpronounceable chemicals. Miniscule examples include Velveeta—originally advertised as a “nutritious health food”—being labeled as “Pasteurized prepared cheese product”; and carmine, the red color in lipstick[6] and “strawberry” milkshakes, being made from crushed-up beetles (70,000 insects per pound of dye).

With all the food package reading I’ve done over the past ten years, if the ingredients make sense and you don’t need a degree in chemistry to understand what they are, it’s probably okay to eat. (And, yes, there are some engineered vegan-friendly supplements like nutritional yeast that sound downright chemical-ly which I use regularly: “Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”)[7] It was and still is intimidating and destabilizing to relearn how to both eat and cook from the basics, by mixing individual ingredients. At times, it seemed like an unscalable wall or a minefield.  Sometimes—to this day—I’m just fucking tired and hungry. I had to seriously rewire the urge to rip a packet open, plop some meat in a pan, smother it with cheese, maybe include a vegetable, and feed myself.

But the hard-wiring goes beyond my environment growing up. It’s genetics. As infants, we all crave sugar in the form of mother’s milk. We need salt so our muscles and nerves work. And bitterness—found in many vegetables—is a taste cue for a toxin. Our infant brains think we shouldn’t eat them. There are studies that show how manipulated the Standard American Diet has become, which taps into ancient brain stuff and deep-seated survival instincts. According to the Harvard Medical School, “some of the brain mechanisms involved in our pleasurable response to sugar and fat are the same as those involved in our response to opioid drugs like morphine and codeine.”[8] It’s not a mistake. It’s by design and partially why I fucking love potato chips—you delicious, crunchy little devils—and have to watch myself around them. It’s also why the United States is fighting Type 2 diabetes and obesity epidemics, especially in low-income, disadvantaged populations.[9]

There is also ample scientific research which states that taste buds change over time—as quickly as within a few weeks—depending on how deeply you modify your diet. Years back, I started by not taking sugar with my coffee and stopped habitually drinking soda. Now, I can’t believe how sweet sodas are and rarely drink them straight, because that shit’ll kill you. I usually have to cut the soda with whiskey.

Since we’re talking tongues, my friend Noah Wolf said something to me one day that really stuck with me. We both love avocadoes, and he said, “What if how I tasted an avocado was different from how you did? How do we know? Humans have only one tongue. For some people, avocadoes may taste absolutely horrible.” Valerie B. Duffy, professor of Allied Health Sciences at the University of Connecticut hasn’t released the definitive paper on universal avocado taste, but through her research, “we know that some people live in a more ‘pastel’ taste world and others, a more ‘neon’ one.” We taste the exact same things differently, with differing intensities—for some people, cilantro tastes strongly like soap—and our own taste can change with diet. That’s fascinating to me.

No Dancing Bears Are Allowed Across My Threshold

I vowed a life-long war against hippies when I was sixteen, but now I have to admit that I look forward to vegetables, legumes, beans, seeds, fruits, and grains being main dishes. I crave them. (I craved nuts so much I became allergic to them.)

My shift to a meatless diet was like one year-long, non-edited shot in an experimental film no one would want to watch. I ate bananas. I learned to squish water out of tofu, then marinate it to give it flavor. Spinach wilted in a pan with garlic. Time moved slowly and uninterestingly, until I found myself at the doctor’s office twelve months after the initial bad news physical. She pulled up my blood work on her computer.

“So you totally stopped eating meat and dairy?”

“Yeah. Nothing the past six months.”

“Your bad cholesterol dropped a lot.” She showed me a chart that looked like the big dip of a roller coaster. “It’s quite good. I’m still concerned about your weight and your triglycerides. Do you eat a lot of bread and white rice?”

“I do. I’m also a potato-eater.”

“Cut back on refined carbohydrates—sugar, flour, cereals. Eat whole grain bread and brown rice in moderation.”

“I’ve been riding my bike more.”

“Keep it up. You’re actually doing it. Not many people pull it off. See me in six months.”

She noticeably didn’t sigh.

Indulge me to widen the scope up a moment. I come from a school of thought in punk rock that rejects large, harmful corporations at any possible intersection. If I can’t avoid them, I do my best to lessen my exposure and reliance on them. It’s why I’m a member of a local credit union instead of a major bank. I’ve installed water cisterns, capture water from the gutters, and run a greywater system to water trees from the shower. Solar panels cut back on my reliance on the power company. As I’m leery of big money in punk, I try to live as conscientiously as possible in other areas of my life. The more aware I became about the widespread violence to animals—especially factory farming—the more I continued to lessen my exposure to it. In the process of eating healthier, my reliance on Big Pharma also lessened. Eighteen percent of America’s national budget was spent on healthcare in 2017.[10] I am currently not on any medications.

There are undeniable direct links between health and the food we eat. Food is a big beast for a lot of people; it is for me and I learned that I didn’t have to do everything at once, but build a foundation and go from there.

I know I’m a deeply weird person for a lot of reasons. One of them is I can eat the same thing for years without getting bored of it, barely thinking about it because I know it’s good for me and I know what’s in it. I find comfort in routine and take pride in making something the best I can through a long process of refinement.

Cultivating a taste for new food requires exposure. I had to try to make new things in the kitchen. I traded recipes with friends. I came across my favorite and most-referenced, still-heavily-used-today cookbook, the Veganomicon. I adopted the basic spirit of the movie Forks over Knives—adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet as much as I could, leading myself by the fork, by making food that tasted good to me.

Some non-vegan standbys weren’t easily replaced, but others like oatmeal served as the foundation for more fruits in the morning with mix-ins of shredded coconut and sunflower butter.[11] I built up a pantry of staples—I love garbanzo beans and learned to make a double batch of hummus that was much better than store-bought and less than half the price.[12] I tried out new-to-me spices like cumin and coriander, and added them to my arsenal of chili flakes, paprika, and dill. I wood-shopped some “spice bleachers” in the kitchen so I could see all of the spices at a glance to keep my options open.

It’s not all joy, but I still try to find the pleasure in both preparing and eating food. Part of it is ritual—like the difference between taking the time to enjoy a record spinning on the turntable versus swiping a selection on a glowing device.

I approached exercise in a similar way. I’m just not suited for a gym. I found what worked for me. I first explored my neighborhood by walking and then discovered the greater L.A. area by cycling through it.

All Food Cops Are Bastards

Okay, so now a little bit about vegans. This is one of the times when it’s totally cool to kill the messenger. I agree with the message, but there are some well-earned stigmas associated with vegans and their veganisms. There’s no shortage of self-entitlement, clueless levels of privilege, and “kale will solve everything!”-isms that make vegans easy to hate and mock.[13]

A lot of vegans are fucking arrogant and classist. There’s no shortage of terribly over-priced vegan restaurants in Los Angeles or pricey pre-packaged vegan options at the grocery store. I’m a cheap bastard and a hungry person. In good conscience, I can’t spend ten dollars for a meager portion (fuck you dollar-coin “pancakes” and half-sized “open face” sandwiches), walk away hungry, and return visit to a restaurant. Fortunately, Los Angeles is lousy with non-bougie vegan options in unpretentious strip malls and modest storefronts—Mexican, Salvadoran, Peruvian, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Ethiopian, Mediterranean, and Sri Lankan joints—that don’t necessarily advertise they’re vegan or vegan-friendly but rock both ample portion size and reasonable price. 

Eating a plant-based diet is often unfairly and incorrectly viewed as being an expensive lifestyle, limited to people with lots of money and access to grocery items only found in big city stores. This can be true if you're buying a lot of plant-based meat and cheese alternatives and processed foods. If staple food items like beans, grains, legumes, and produce are the center of your plate, they can be as cheap as any other diet. Dollar stores and international markets often have lots of these items available.

It is undeniable that I now have the privilege of having the time to make meals with my partner. We spend appreciable time shopping, chopping, cooking, washing dishes (and now gardening). It’s no small time commitment. I realize it and am grateful we can do it together. Eating healthier on a budget would be harder if I had children or was fully responsible for someone else’s well being, lived outside of biking distance to a decent grocery store, was still working twelve-hour days, or didn’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.[14] I recognize that, regionally, Los Angeles benefits from the San Joaquin Valley, “America’s salad bowl.”

Another thing I want to make clear is that controlling what I ate was a direct action for me to take control of my physical body. I don’t feel a sense of superiority over those who make different dietary choices. I am in an ongoing process and don’t know all the answers. I just know what’s been working for me.

I’ve also learned how strongly hard-wired food is in culture and how cultures engage with food can be wildly different. Food is not only something we need to sustain ourselves; it is also a powerful symbol that’s tied into notions of gender, power, virility, emotional state, and status quo. (i.e.: “What’s wrong with you? It’s just meat. It’s been eaten for centuries.” “What are you? A pussy?” “It’s not meat. It’s chicken.” “Tofu grows man boobs![15]” “Humans won the struggle for life over all the other beings on the planet. We get to eat meat! They’d eat us if they could.” Stuff like that.)

The rest of my family is omnivores, so are many of my good friends. I eat at the same table as them. As vigilant as I am with my own intake, I have no compulsion to slap a slice of bacon out of their hands, talk down to them, or think less of them because they’re making different dietary choices than I am.

If asked, I do recommend easily swappable substitutes for dairy butter (Melt and Earth Balance), animal milk (soy, flax, almond), and vegan-friendly seasonings and shortcuts (Braggs Liquid Aminos, Better Than Bouillon vegetable base) and share recipes for stuff like pancakes where they’re hard-pressed to tell they’re vegan after they’ve eaten them.

The United States, the Land of Meat Reverence

There’s a massive pro-meat bias in the U.S. and it’s not by random chance. It truly saddens me that yesterday I walked through the shadow of a billboard in my neighborhood advertising a three dollar fast food value meal. I totally get why people eat there, often blocking traffic with the backup from the drive-thru. It’s fucking cheap. Well, today it’s a financial bargain. It’s also inexpensive to buy because the U.S. government subsidizes the meat and dairy industries $38 billion annually, while subsidizing fruit and vegetables with $17 million (.04% of meat and dairy).[16]

The meat-and-dairy industrial complex in the U.S. dominates the food production landscape. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American adult consumed an all-time high of 222 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018,[17] and 276 pounds of dairy in 2012 (which includes 199 pounds of fluid milk). The popularity of butter and cheese has never been higher.[18]

In comparison, people in the United States consumed an average of 115.4 pounds of fresh and processed fruit and vegetables per person in 2015. (Including 48.3 pounds per person of potatoes (mostly as French fries) and 28.3 pounds of tomatoes in 2015 (mostly as pizza sauce (and technically a fruit, but it’s included as a vegetable in their graphs.))[19] Factory farming is leagues away from truly independent farmers or small communities raising animals for meat and milk, from hunters who eat what they kill, and people who live off of the land the world over. It’s a completely different scale and proportion.

The Smoke of Nutrition

“Nutrition” is a complex set of variables. Beyond food, nutrition is affected by environment, metabolism, and genes. The science behind the links between nutrition and health is contentious; and the field of “nutrition” is full of often contradictory claims. It’s dizzying trying to figure out who to trust. And then there’s the fact that healthy people die unexpectedly all the time for no diagnosable reason, which chucks a “Fuck it, eat anything. What does it matter?” wrench into the whole works.[20]

That said, it is entirely possible to be totally healthy, fit, and vegan. Just ask Olympian Carl Lewis, sixty-two-year old power lifter Rocky Leudeker, or Cro-Mags’ singer John Joseph, a five-time Ironman triathlete. So let’s dispel some myths.

No one gives a flying fig about your protein intake until they find out you’re vegan. I appreciate the concern. The body doesn’t store protein, so it’s important to ingest it regularly. And, yes, animal-based proteins are more similar to humans’ and are used by our bodies more readily than plant proteins. Got it, but this is where I push back.

Somewhere in the slide carousels in our culture’s brain, the word “meat” got transposed over “protein.” They are not synonymous. I learned this from my buddy Derek Whipple. A fifteen-ounce can of black beans has plenty of protein: 24.5 grams, almost half of the recommended daily forty-six to fifty-six grams.

Protein is a nutrient, not food. Proteins are made from nine essential amino acids. If you’re committed to a diverse diet—nuts, seeds, beans—instead of onion rings and French fries—it’s totally obtainable. The only single amino acid found solely in a handful of plants is B12[21], which is easy to get as a vegan supplement. I’m grateful to live in Southern California. I get my vitamin D from being outside so much. Plants pack more nutrients—and fiber, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and phytochemicals[22]—into fewer calories and less saturated fat than meat.[23] With no cholesterol. And fiber is only found in plant foods. Who doesn’t feel better when pooping’s easy?

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the majority of processed meat consumed in the world is carcinogenic and presents a risk of stroke, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.[24] We’re talking hamburgers, hot dogs, pork, beef, and chicken. Processed meat goes through an industrialized supply chain from slaughter to your plate. More often than not—and increasing in regularity—hitching a ride in the meat are additional hormones and antibiotics, as well as bacteria and parasites.[25]

The long-term health consequences—which were accumulating in me a decade ago—and hidden costs are anything but affordable, from medical costs to not being able to work because I was sick. Backed by a conclusion from The Journal of the American Medical Association, if you eat a lot of meat for protein, the chances of developing heart problems increase. The more plants you eat for protein—especially substituting plants for processed red meat—those heart risks go down. The source of protein is important.[26] I’ve done my body some good by eating more of my protein from the ground, from plants.

The World’s Been Put on Fire to Feed Us

I’ve almost always felt insignificant and have had resistance to joining groups, but I felt that if I was to be part of something larger, I wanted it to be for good. When I ate meat, I used to joke I’d have no problem killing a pig or a cow with a hammer so I could eat a pepperoni pizza, a sizzling sausage, or a choice steak. The older I get, I’ve become more conscientious of not wanting to cause harm to others, and that now includes animals. I want to be in league with humans who believe overwhelming scientific evidence that the greenhouse effect is fucking up the planet and making it uninhabitable for all living beings unless drastic measures are taken. The clock’s ticking fast. Yeah, yeah, this is super-big picture and we’re only tiny drops in a vast and mighty ocean, but the food we put on our plates is a mirror to what’s happening to the planet. There’s a direct correlation.

According to the UN[27], raising and killing animals for food is the number one cause of greenhouse gas emissions. (It’s 18% of all emissions, ahead of all internal combustion transportation.) Over nine billion land animals are eaten each year by U.S. consumers alone, 99% of which are raised on factory farms. Nearly 30% of earth’s ice-free surface is devoted to livestock production (as opposed to only 8% devoted to crops consumed directly by people).[28]

America’s two biggest crops—soy and corn—are not primarily grown for human consumption, but for animal feed and fuel. A mere tenth of the food livestock eat gets turned into food we can eat. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy,” lead researcher Joseph Poore from the University of Oxford reported. “It comes with an immense cost in emissions.”[29] The whole livestock production system is so horribly inefficient and unsustainable that it’s jeopardizing the planet. Visualize a country where meat took a back seat on plates. 800 million people could be fed with the grain currently fed to livestock in the U.S.

The counter argument to foregrounding a plant-based diet and sunsetting the dominance of meat and dairy comes from The Meat Institute. People in the United States spend less than any other developed nation in the world on food.[30] As I’m writing this, the neighbors are grilling skirt steak, feeding themselves a filling meal with a cheap bag of spice-filled beef. The fragrant smoke coming through the window makes me think of the distant, cumulative harm that’s caused by getting that meat to that grill. It’s a catastrophe that’s just out of immediate sight because it’s so big and all around us, but hasn’t obviously crashed quite yet. I admit—the severity of the situation juxtaposed to an ordinary urban-working-class front yard barbecue is a strong source of cognitive dissonance. Is it from the sole perspective of privilege to not only think about the future, but to plan for it and act accordingly for myself? I’m not sure. Ten years ago, I was in their position—literally in front of a grill—and I’m not sure if I would I listen to me.

Boring Things Are Often the Most Effective

(They’re Just Not Photogenic)

“The recovery of the people is tied to recovery of food, since food itself is medicine.” –Winona LaDuke

We all need food to survive. We can’t opt out of it. Food is so tied into survival that talking about it is like talking about a religious or political belief system.

It’s not easy to determine with certainty how many vegans are out there, but in the U.S., best guesses are that about 1% to 1.5% of the adult population identify as such, a small number compared to the roughly 88% percent who consider themselves omnivorous/carnivorous.[31] Vegans are a strict minority.

I’m fully aware that a plant-based diet itself isn’t a magic bullet to health, weight loss, and enlightenment. I’m a fucking horrible cheerleader, and let’s just say that I get a little “short” with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons because part of their core mission is an ongoing effort to convert people who largely don’t give a shit about what they’re trying to sell. I don’t want to be that type of person. To me, veganism isn’t a contest against other people. It isn’t a popularity contest for who’s the most vegan. It’s not a cult I care to join. It isn’t a bat I wield in judgment against non-vegans. It’s a personal path I believe in. It is a component which is helping provide me with two things I highly value: the healthiest body and mind I can get—and in the long term, for pennies on the dollar.

I’m fortunate. Although I have health challenges unrelated to diet and exercise, my yearly physicals with my doctor have become routine. We no longer have conversations about cholesterol or high blood pressure because they’re not needed.

After ten years, I’ve lost and kept off more than thirty pounds. It hasn’t been from a “diet,” but by fundamentally changing what I eat day in, day out and how I approach food. My body moves much more easily and my legs no longer chafe. I get sick less often. At forty-seven, I’m in much better shape than when I was thirty-seven. That feels good.

As you age, it’s a hard transition from the time when the rental on your body becomes ownership. It’s a lifetime commitment. Here’s the advice I give myself: Balance and moderation in food (Oreos, potato chips, and whiskey on special occasions. Minimize the junk.). Exercise regularly and break a sweat doing it. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but don’t give in. You can change, little by little, how you interact with the world, every time you make a decision of what to eat.

Helpful resources if you’re interested in exploring a plant-based diet

Websites (tons of helpful videos) (helpful tips for new vegans) (good, affordable mailorder in the United States with tons of vegan options)


Forks over Knives (Grounded in the evidence uncovered by the world’s largest study of diet, The China Study, a convincing film about adopting a plant-based diet for overall health.)

What the Health
(focuses on the health issues that come with an omnivorous diet that are less prominent in plant-based diets)

Cowspiracy (ponders the environmental and sustainability issues that come from animal agriculture)


Veganomicion (Worth every penny. By far, the most frequently used/referenced book in our kitchen.)

[1] The milk apparently helps the powder stick to the chip.

[2] Isinglass is a gelatin, the membrane of tropical fish bladders. It was introduced in the 19th Century when transparent glasses replaced stone and metal mugs and cloudy beer was thought to be bad or spoiled. These beers can now be clarified through Irish moss or seaweed.

[3] The less-available alternative is sugar beets. Turbinado and muscovado sugars are good vegan alternatives, too.

[4] Kenda, Specialized, Michelin, Bridgestone, Schwalbe, and Continental have said they are vegan. Goodyear, Pirelli, and Dunlop aren’t. I couldn’t find the source of the “refined tree oil.” If it’s palm oil, my partner Jennifer notes that’s another problem because of the massive deforestation caused by palm oil plantations.

[5] All of you politically aware folks out there, if you’re ever sitting in a fast food drive-thru, take a moment to reflect on how you’re being colonized.

[6] Again, I know, not a food

[7] A single-celled organism grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill it. Yeasts are members of the fungi family, like mushrooms.


[9] According to the National Institute of Health, in 2011–2012, more than a third of the U.S. population was obese. Incidents of type 2 diabetes have doubled in children in the past two decades. The food environment has changed drastically to one with increased portions and limited access to healthy food choices.


[11] Cut some apple or pear in at the beginning, plop it in the water, and poach it along with the oats with some cinnamon and cardamom. Delicious.

[12] I also carve cucumber sharks and watermelon whales for special occasions. Cutie pies!

[13] Kale’s fine. It’s easy to grow all year round here. On the converse, kale deniers, you’re really getting huffy at a vegetable? Also, avocados are great. Toast is a proven technological variation of bread. But I call class war on avocado toast if it’s over three dollars.

[14] A food flip-flop has happened in the past two hundred years in the United States. Meat used to be consumed in small quantities because it was largely unaffordable and in the dominion of the upper class. What was originally considered peasant food—fruits, grains, vegetables, especially those grown without pesticides—are now treated like luxury items in many modern grocery stores.

[15] Soy is such a misunderstood bean and rats are not humans. According the study titled Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence: “In contrast to the results of some rodent studies, findings from a recently published metaanalysis and subsequently published studies show that neither isoflavone supplements nor isoflavone-rich soy affect total or free testosterone (T) levels.”




[19] In other words, taking pizza sauce and French fries out of the equation, people in the United States eat almost thirteen times more meat and dairy than fresh fruits and vegetables a year.

[20] Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy died at forty-nine of a heart attack as he was resting after working out.


B12 is made by microbes. It is an important enzyme that facilitates two reactions that affect every cell in human bodies and produces substances essential for normal body function. Some early humans weren’t B12 deficient because they used human shit as manure, their water wasn’t chlorinated, or they didn’t wash after pooping. (But diseases like cholera were rampant.) The best way to increase the amount of B12 absorbed is to increase the amount of free B12 available. The most effective way to do this is to take B12 supplements. No matter how much steak you eat the body will only absorb a very small amount of B12 at a time, about 1.5 to 2 millionth of a gram every four to six hours.

[22] Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by plants, generally to help them thrive or thwart competitors, predators, or pathogens.

[23] Saturated fats are solids at room temp.


[25] The 2006 spinach and 2018 Romaine lettuce E. coli outbreaks were both traced to cattle feedlots (either on leased land or via an adjacent canal.) ( ,








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