I think I am experiencing a midlife crisis. I know it’s midlife since I just turned 46 and don’t expect to live much past 90. 90 is a respectable age. As I look back over the first half of my life I bear witness to smoking, drinking, fast living and meat … lots of meat. Probably if I kept up that lifestyle, my midlife mark would have been at 35. I always thought you spend the first half of your life trying to kill yourself and the second half trying to make up for it.
Lately I’ve been making up for it.
At the beginning of 2012, I was challenged to go vegan. Actually, it was started by my wife and the book, “The 30-Day Vegan Challenge.” She was a gluten-free vegetarian in denial about being lactose intolerant and I was a known omnivore with definite leanings toward carnivore. On January 4, 2012 I was eating whatever I wanted and washing it down with whatever I could find and on January 5th, I woke up 100% vegan.
Went to be with BBQ sauce on my fingers and woke up munching on tofu.
To make the challenge interesting, I decided to place a wager. The Best. First to break would have to do chores for three months. Seeing as how she was addicted to cheese, I was confident that I would both win the bet as well as go back to my meat-eating, milk-drinking, ways by February. Sitting back eating meatloaf and gravy while I watched her vacuum and dust.
A year and a half later I was still vegan — a reluctant vegan.
My diet in the beginning consisted of beans and nuts and lettuce and rice. And beans and rice. Pretty much a list of all the foods I used to avoid. In the first few weeks it was difficult staying true to the vegan lifestyle. A business trip with four men to Minnesota who insisted on eating at every steakhouse was the first test.
“I’ll have your cob salad,” I told the waitress at a popular midwest eatery, “With no bacon or bleu cheese or dressing. I’m vegan.”
To which she replied, “Why?”
Fifteen minutes later my salad arrived, covered in so much bacon, bleu cheese and ranch dressing that I couldn’t see the salad. While they remade my meal, sans everything that tastes good, I thought I would at least eat the rolls that were piping hot in the middle of the table only to find out they were coated with garlic butter. Butter. What’s wrong with eating butter?
As each medium rare and rare steak passed under my nose, a tear slowly fell down my cheek, seeing my old favorites passing by, as I begrudgingly pierced the single ripe tomato on my salad. Although I was away from home and anyone who cared about the bet, I stayed true and remained 100% vegan for those four days in Minneapolis. Including, buying almond milk for my morning coffee to wash down the bananas and pineapple I ate as my travelling companions stood in the omelette station line each morning loading their plates with sausage.
Similar trips proved equally frustrating as I sped through airports and truck stops and rest stops hoping to find a quick snack and realizing that the world hasn’t been designed for vegans.
Two weeks later, while on yet another business trip in New York City with two guys who ordered the Lumberjack Special, at a boutique diner I ordered oatmeal with strawberries. That morning I took quite a few on the chin about my masculinity. Jibes I could barely hear over the crunch of their bacon.
It was actually after that breakfast that something amazing happened.
A full month into being vegan and something felt different. I ate an entire breakfast and felt … great. Full without feeling sick. As if I had just eaten a cloud of happiness while my traveling companions were experiencing stomach pains and frequent trips to the bathroom. Was I onto something? Could being vegan really make you feel better about yourself and your choices?
At this point, I was into a pretty good rhythm with my diet. Eating whole grains and mostly plant-based foods with the occasional soy burger or fake chicken patty thrown in. We were also experimenting with other “replacement” foods to satisfy my cravings: pizza with Daiya, tofu wings, sweet potato fries and other delectable vegan treats. Dining remained a challenge but at this point I was starting to feel the positive effects of eating vegan. And then I had my annual physical.
I had already given blood to the lab so I would be able to discuss my results with my doctor at my appointment. That morning at the doctor’s office, I weighed in at 212 pounds (lost five pounds in the first 60 days) and proceeded to sit across from my doctor to discuss my numbers.
“Hm. Your cholesterol,” she said, reviewing the numbers with greater scrutiny, “has dramatically improved: HDL is 53 and LDL is 70. Pretty much cut in half from your last visit.” She looked at me as if I’d done something wrong. Checking my blood pressure, she said, “Perfect. 110 over 60. You seem to be doing something right.” My pulse rate was 70 and I passed the rest of my exam with flying colors.
“Whatever it is you’re doing … keep doing it,” she remarked.
“I have to,” I replied. “There’s a lot at stake. Or was it steak?”
Just saying that made me think of steak but the benefits of being vegan were starting to show in more ways than one, most noticeable when I fastened my belt the following month and had lost four inches in my waist.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. As much as I was enjoying the benefits of a meat-dairy-egg-free life, I was still dreaming of chicken wings. I was still the outcast at the company pizza party. I was still longingly looking at the glistening images of burgers that floated across my TV screen. I was still an omnivore at heart and was still hoping (against all hopes) that my wife would eat ONE SLICE OF CHEESE.
I am constantly reminded of a cartoon I once saw with two Tyrannosaurus Rexes standing over the grill watching the Brontosaurus show up to the cookout. The Brontosaurus announces, “I brought hummus!” to which the T-Rex replies: “Who invited the herbivore?”
Was this all worth it? Was being a restaurant’s worst nightmare the way I wanted to live? Would I ever stop dreaming about chicken wings?
And then I watched “Forks Over Knives.” Not since “Porky’s” has a movie had such a long-lasting profound effect on me. Seeing the evidence and hearing the results plant-based living so prominently portrayed, helped make this short-term bet into a life-long decision. Add to this, meeting T. Colin Campbell in person at a local Macro-Vegan Dinner and hearing his assurances that over time, I will see even more advantages. I was sure that leading a plant-based life was for me.
Eric C Lindstrom lives his (no longer) reluctant vegan lifestyle in Ithaca, NY with his gluten-free vegan wife, vegan daughter, vegan son, and vegan dog. This bog and this post landed him a book deal with SkyHorse Publishing and “The Reluctant Vegan” will be released August 2017.
AUTHOR NOTE: This post actually precedes the one below in my vegan timeline but I thought the readers would enjoy it.