Monday, June 30, 2008

Where's the beef?! Going vegan for a week


Let me just start off by stating that I am by no means a vegetarian. I wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of going vegan for a week but the fact that I already ate fairly healthy, quite a lot of vegetables and not a ton of meat led to me think it would be easy for me. Boy, was I wrong.

I work at the Hearst building in New York, which has one of the best cafeterias in the city. It has some of the freshest produce and uses fresh, locally grown, and organic whenever possible. It features a pay-per-ounce, hot and cold, buffet style, salad bar that changes daily. And as if someone knew what my project was for this week, Monday's lunch bar featured my favorite: Grilled hanger steak (which only comes out maybe once a month). Normally, I make myself a huge salad add a few scoops of what ever sides they might have and maybe 1 small piece of chicken or pork (...or a nice, juicy cut of hanger steak!) This was the miscalculation that led me to believe that this would be easy (and ultimately to me feeling faint by the end of the first day). The problem was, most of the "vegetarian sides" that I would normally get were loaded with either cheese, a cream sauce of some kind or at the very least, butter. Normally, I would crumble bleu cheese on top of my salad, and without this, it felt a little empty. This was going to be harder than I thought.


I've never been a big meat eater, and have gone back and forth with (lacto/ovo inclusive) vegetarianism for years. But when we embarked on this experiment, I knew there were going to be some things I really, really missed (CHEESE!). However, I'm always up for a challenge, so I put away my beloved string cheese (and Babybel mini cheese rounds, and cottage cheese, and parmesan...) and geared up for a week of deprivation.

While my office doesn't come equipped with a healthy cafeteria, there were several items at my disposal that helped to ease my transition: Plenty of fresh fruit, soy creamer (and eventually rice milk), raw almonds, dried fruit, and an interesting variety of flavored waters (hint water and mint water).


First things first: After a day of eating nuts and berries, Meg and I realized we needed to go shopping. Luckily, New York has many health food stores, so we took a trip to one nearby our house. We knew we needed some staple replacements, but we took the opportunity to try some new things. Here are some of my favorites:

Smart Dogs (vegan hotdogs) - Quite satisfying hot dog replacement - throw them on a slice of multi-grain bread, melt a Veggie Slice (vegan cheese slices) on top of it, and throw on some organic catsup - it's not half bad! Satisfies a craving for something meaty (non-vegetable!!).

Vegan chicken salad and tofu salad - We bought these pre-made at the health store. I bought these with the intention for them to serve as Megan's lunch (seeing as though she doesn't have a posh cafeteria). However, I pretty much ate the whole "chicken" salad one when we got home (I'm not sure if it was that good, or I was just that hungry - either way, it was pretty meaty).

Health is Wealth All-Natural Chicken-Free Buffalo Wings: These little guys came to me at a dark time. A couple of long days at work, combined with biking home in the heat, dehydration (more on this later), and the fact that I had eaten nothing but grass and twigs had left me quite cranky and in serious need of something MEATY. Put these in the oven, they toast up great - dipped in your favorite barbeque sauce, they are surprisingly stringy, juicy and chicken-y. It wasn't until about 2 hours later, when I remembered Megan had said something like, "Wow, these have quite a bit of fiber in them!". Yeah, I remembered that when I was on the toilet.

Tofutti Cuties - These delicious little morsels are good even if you're not vegan. I've eaten them for quite some time just because... they're friggin good! My favorite kind is Strawberry Wave.


By the second day, Frank was feeling kind of bad. It was turning out to be harder on him than it was on me. Poor guy. He had a headache and general malaise. After we ruled out "meat withdraw", we figured out it must have been dehydration. He just wasn't drinking enough water. That's important to note. I mentioned earlier that I have a lot of water available at work. So does Frank. The difference was, I drink it. A lot of it. After we pin-pointed the source of Frank's ailments, he added more fruit and water to his daily diet - problem solved! Anyway, on to my favorites:

Amy's Tofu Scramble Pocket - I love these. I ate them before going vegan. Loved them then and love them now. Basically, anything from Amy's Kitchen is fantastic. They specialize in vegetarian and vegan quick cuisine. Frozen meals, pizzas, burritos - It's all really good, I've even turned some of my non-vegetarian friends on to these products. I just had to make sure to check the labels (most things are clearly labeled if they have milk products in the ingredients list, some even have "vegan" or "vegetarian" clearly marked). I had one of her Indian Burritos later in the week for lunch, and it was great, too.

Soy yogurt - I was a big fan of the milk products before going vegan. I always had a yogurt in the morning for breakfast, so I knew I needed to find a decent replacement for this fast. We tried both soy and rice yogurt. The rice yogurt, to me, was too thin and had a funny smell. Frank, on the other hand, enjoyed it. I liked the soy yogurt much better (handily enough, Frank didn't like this as much, so we swapped out, he had the rice and I kept the soy).

Soy pudding - Again, a great soy replacement. Frank's not big on chocolate, so he didn't try it (more for me!).


On Friday (my last day of vegan) we decided to splurge a bit and go out for a nice vegan dinner at Candle 79 on the Upper East Side. Now, this isn't the type of place you can eat every night as it isn't cheap, but this is a great way to ease into going vegan. It can give you hope for what eating vegan can be.

They have a grilled seitan chimichurri on the appetizer menu that is the closest thing to eating steak while still staying vegan that I've ever tasted. If I could eat here every night I would probably keep this up indefinitely.


Unfortunately, we can't. Candle 79 was a great capper for an interesting week. We enjoyed lovely appetizers (I liked the stuffed manicotti - I was desperate for some "cheese" and it was a convincing replacement! Finally! Also, Frank just now realized that it wasn't real cheese - it was a tofu-basil "cheese", now you know it must be good!), their signature dish for an entree (seitan picatta in a white wine sauce with capers, this time the seitan was more chicken-y than the steak-like texture of the skewer appetizers), and a lovely chocolate-peanut butter dessert (chocolate peanut butter bliss, I think it's called). We got a chance to talk with the manager, Francesca, who offered a good description of Candle 79 - "A good restaurant that happens to be vegan." This is very true. They have a very accepting philosophy - they're not trying to push their lifestyle down anyone's throat, they're just providing people with good food. They equate food with love, so they are, in fact, spreading the love. That's pretty cool.

So, at the end of the week, Frank is done with being vegan. I was pleasantly surprised, though, when he didn't race to the nearest steakhouse at exactly 12:01 Saturday morning. I've decided to stick with it, though! I've been feeling very energetic all week, and I feel better morally, too. I'll save the factory farm speech for another time, though.

That's it for this week! You can check out my blog if you'd like an account of the (sometimes) grisly details of our week of going vegan.


ConsciousMama said...

Wow! I never thought that Frankie could stay away from not just meat, but dairy and eggs for a whole week. I'd just want to make one comment. As someone who has been vegetarian for 17 years and is vegan for a good percentage of the time, I've definately learned that all that processed vegan food is pretty crappy for the body. Soy as a health product is more of a myth than anything else. Yes, a little soy with plenty of fermented foods and sea veggies is a fine thing (mmm..miso soup!) But our culture, as with anything else, has taken a good thing and made ourselves sick with it. It throws off our estrogen balance and messes with our thyroids. (I HATE to say it, but as far as our bodies go, I'd almost have to say that small amounts of organically raised animal products might be better for our systems, although I'm opposed for other reasons.) I'm pretty convinced that years of loving soy (and wheat) products has been a major contributing factor to my hypothyroid condition.
Meg, I'm very excited to hear how great you've been feeling! If you're serious about incorporating vegan into your lifestyle on any level, I'd love to share some recipes. I also recommend "Feeding the Whole Family" and "Simple Food for the Good Life" for very simple recipes that are not big on soy products.
Props to you guys for being adventurous! I look forward to your raw blog ;-) See you this weekend!
Your absolute favorite sister,

Nonnie said...

It's great that you guys are trying different "ways of being" with food. However, I think that you should try making some food that is not very simple (e.g., salad) and that does not contain processed ingredients. I believe you would have a richer experience and, therefore, even more to report back on.
That being said, the blog is enjoyable to read and I'm looking forward to hearing more about your food adventures.

Frank Ferendo said...

Frankie I can't believe you are eating those "hot dogs." I remember when I tried to get you to eat them as a kid.

Good job both of you!!

christina said...

You guys rock!! I know how challenging it can be to step away from the normal pattern of our eating. What a great experiment! I bet if you continue, you will come up with even more creative ideas for meals!! Great job... I really enjoyed reading about your adventures!! Love ya! chris

Renee said...

i highly recommend "the voluptuous vegan" by myra kornfeld. but frank, you forgot to mention your foie-gras-fall-from-grace!