Do All Good Things Have to End? The Final Chronicle.
By Michael Chin
When I tell people about my vegan month, I’ve been met with a lot of the same reaction: “Wow, good for you. I don’t think I could ever –– ever –– do that.”
My reply, trying as hard as I can not to sound snarky, is simple: “It’s not as hard as it seems.”
As much as I feel like I’m brushing them off with such a curt reply to their astonishment, it’s true. I don’t think much of what I did. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of myself. Thirty days as a vegan was a little tough, yes, and I had close brushes with failure during the hell of midterm week. But was it the most difficult thing I’ve ever done? Not at all. You’d be surprised how quickly your diet adapts.
My veganism ended pretty similarly with how it began. My month started with friends cooking breakfast for dinner at my apartment. It all came to a close last Sunday night. We were all working late at the New U, as Sundays usually go. We had planned a feast that seemed more and more of a distant dream at every passing minute. By 11:30 p.m., when we finally got out of the newsroom, we didn’t feel like making much of an effort. So, we went to the IHOP across the street from John Wayne Airport.
Let me tell you something that seems obvious, but it’s something that isn’t said nearly enough. I love breakfast food. Bacon has made its way into other culinary realms, but to me its true belonging is next to a stack of pancakes and two fried eggs. God, I love breakfast food. It’s pretty unreasonable how much I enjoyed my dinner last Sunday at IHOP.
What’s crazy, though, is this completely unexpected result of my dietary experiment — my tastes have literally changed. I enjoyed the bacon, eggs, ham and sausage of the Breakfast Sampler, but I was still fixated on my hash browns. I always return to the secretive, existential wonder of well-cooked hash browns. Don’t give me any of that pre-frozen pan-fried slop. I’m talking real hash browns, fried on a griddle, perfectly crispy on the outside with potato shreds cooked to a creamy but not overcooked inner sanctum of starchy nirvana. Bacon’s great, but it ain’t got nothing on hash browns.
My second day after returning to a non-vegan diet, I tried to go back to my normal ways. I continued eating Wahoo’s out of logistic necessity, a habit really, but instead of getting my usual tofu burrito I opted for the fish. I regretted it. It tasted okay, I guess. But from the first bite, I started to feel greasy. It was wrong. I had tofu for dinner and order was restored to my world.
I was talking to this chef I’m writing about for another piece about being vegan when she told me that she had been vegetarian for a year to see how her tastes changed. I liked how she described the change in palette that occurs when one stops eating meat. The way you experience food shifts, mostly just because when your tongue stops interacting with the kind of fats found specifically in meat, you’re able to better taste meat’s innate richness. Your tongue builds an immunity of sorts after decades of having meat with most of your meals.
It’s true. Though there are a lot of meat substitutes out there that mimic pretty well what you would normally taste, these flavors are on the very front of your palette. The lower notes, the undertones of what you taste, can only really be achieved by a specific type of food. Like I said a couple weeks back, “Beef-Less” is not beef, and soy bacon is not bacon. Some, like my first week’s Native Foods sausage seitan, can replicate pretty efficiently the spice of real sausage; similarly, the cheese on zpizza’s vegan option is a good substitute, but it’s not a true replacement for gooey, stringy masses of slightly browned cheese on a good slice of New York pizza. Sometimes this has turned out for the better. I can say pretty confidently that my ventures into soy milk and coconut milk have thoroughly trounced my already-high opinion of the real milk in my fridge.
So, what now? The end of an adventure always begs the question of what comes after — the denouement of this venture into a culinary foreign land. Though I’m happy to be back in the embrace of non-vegan comfort (I almost cried the first time I had sushi), I have found that it’s not entirely worth giving up a vegan lifestyle. I’ve decided to split my week. Mondays through Thursdays, I’m going to be vegan, and Fridays through Sundays I will not.
The Quinoa Chronicles may be ending here, and let me please take this brief moment to thank all of my friends and others who have supported me throughout this crazy trip. I implore you all out there — and I mean all of you, from the almost-vegetarians to the gun-loving burger guzzlers — to try a month vegan. I know it sounds completely insane to some of you because I was once on that boat as well. But at the bare minimum, at the very core of this experience, has been a revelation about the taste of food that has made me appreciate the true diversity of flavors in the spectrum of our edible world. You don’t have to go out of your way to find new tastes, and you don’t even really have to change your diet that much.
Think of veganism as camping out in your own back yard when you’re a kid. You spend so much time inhabiting the same space, looking at the grass and the trees and the grain of the wood on a picket fence, but a simple shift in perspective –– a yard lit by the moon rather than the sun, a month with a dietary restriction –– can make you notice so much more and replenish a sense of wonder perhaps lost by the mundane monotony of everyday life.