The Quinoa Chronicles: The Journey Begins – 30 Days as a Vegan

Vegan Column

By Michael Chin

Staff Writer

30 days. Vegan. For some people, this describes everyday life. For others, it describes hell.

I’m doing it, people. I’m going vegan.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m an avid lover of meat. I’m not one of those people who would default to veganism as a dietary habit just because they naturally stray away from meat. In the past, I’ve dreaded the prospect of going vegetarian. I just love meat (and eggs, and dairy) way too much. I’ve seen the documentaries about the meat industry and how terrible and inhumane it is. I’ve seen “Super Size Me.” You know what? They made me hungry. And I think they made you hungry, too, but you were just ashamed to admit it.

So if it’s not moral, then what is it? What do I hope to gain out of this month-long venture? I’m not even sure of that. Maybe I’m on some road to inner peace. Maybe I really am tired of hurting things in my own stupid new-age hippie way. My goals, though? I have none. My goal is to be vegan for 30 days. Is that so unworthy?

For those of you under a culinary rock (and I don’t imagine you frequent this Features section if you intend to remain so), veganism is a dietary restriction that limits one from eating any animal or animal byproduct. The shorthand version: dietary vegans (the kind of veganism I’ll be practicing) can’t eat anything with a face, or anything produced from anything with a face. No animal products. This includes the obvious (meat, fish) and the perhaps not-so obvious (dairy, eggs, anything containing either of those things).

My first days have been strange, but good. I had a few structural issues. How was I to start? What if I slip up? (Stipulation: if I cave at any point during the 30 days and eat meat, then I have to start over. A full month is requisite.)

At the time of this writing, I am three days into my vegan month. Changes have been small, practically unnoticeable. I’m beginning to think that this, like most things, is mostly nerves. Mostly pacing back and forth before actually becoming vegan, thinking about how difficult it’s going to be. But it hasn’t been. Right now, I’m sipping on a soy vanilla latte and enjoying the nutty notes on top of something otherwise nondescript and mediocre.

My first meal as a vegan was excellent; I ate at Native Foods at the Camp in Costa Mesa (there are other locations at the District, Fashion Island and Aliso Viejo). I had been there before, the first time not even knowing that it was a fully vegan restaurant. At my first venture to Native Foods, I had the Soul Bowl, a vegan take on Southern cuisine. Fried “Native” Chicken (a soy, wheat and pea protein substitute) is skewered on top of red beans, “jazzman” rice, steamed veggies and kale. The ranch sauce that accompanied the sauce already on the chicken (“chicken”), and homemade vegan cornbread rounded out the bowl. The layers made the meal interesting and delicious when mixed, and Native Foods’ lavender lemonade is superb.

My second meal at Native Foods Café (and my first real meal as a vegan) was Native Foods’ portobello and sausage burger. Though the Native Sausage Seitan looks a little like alien meat (“That looks gross,” a friend exclaimed as soon as the waitress set down my plate), the combination of portobellos and the spices on the seitan made it seem very sausage-like in both flavor and texture despite its unwieldy appearance. It accomplished everything and more that I expected out of sausage and portobello; caramelized onions and pumpkin seed pesto combined to complete the earthy, wholesome goodness. It was satisfying but not heavy, and I left our outdoor table feeling pleasantly satiated. Who needs ground beef?

The thing about vegan cuisine that I’ve noticed thus far is that one merely has to look past terms like “soy protein” and “seitan” in order to enjoy this food just as much, if not more, than non-vegan fare. What I’ve noticed and greatly appreciated in my ventures into vegan cuisine, both before and after I started this challenge, is how much more attention is paid to the ingredients and preparation of the food. At Native Foods, they have separate menus that give soy-free, gluten-free and nut-free options.

It might be because we live in California, where new-age culinary options are readily available, but this is my belief: The more thought that goes into a dish, the better it will taste. When you cook vegan, you have to put more thought into what you’re putting into your food. That inherent added thought has, thus far, pushed my curiosity and made this a true culinary adventure. And I’ve liked what I’ve found.

I’m not without cravings, though; my second night being vegan, as I walked out of a late show by some local bands at Detroit Bar, I was posed with a problem. The problem’s name was Alejandro’s Mexican Food, and vegan options were slim. As my friends chomped down on multitudes of tacos (they got tacos on tacos, I swear), I was almost tempted to break down. (Joke’s on them, though, because Alejandro’s is pretty budge when it isn’t 2 a.m. and you aren’t drunk. We were, though.) I woke up yesterday craving sushi, too. All I’ll say is this: I thank whatever deity in the sky that french fries and Oreos are vegan.

So far, things are going well. I’m still going to my old haunts, still getting the same old stuff for the most part with just a few substitutions. The withdrawals are slowly rising up from my stomach like indigestion, threatening me with prospects of future pangs. For now, though, I’ll take it one day (and one late night craving) at a time.