Up until a couple weeks ago, I hadn't eaten meat in almost four years.
I wasn't entirely meat-free. There are the occasional seafood po-boy and Gulf-caught fish. And I eat cheese and eggs and drink milk on the conditions they come from safe, humane and local sources, if possible. I don't support factory farming. Period. And for obvious reasons.
Last month, I cut all of those foods from my diet and committed to a vegan diet for a month. I wrote about that experience in this week's Gambit. And judging by the comments and emails I've received about it, I did it wrong. Never mind that I consulted with a vegan dietitian, as well as Peter Singer, a vegan scholar if there ever was one, and my vegan friends, who have navigated the halls of New Orleans restaurant culture and could steer me in the right direction and that was what I wanted to find out: can a vegan experience the restaurant culture in New Orleans the same way a non-vegan does, which is something people in New Orleans live to do and some would feel they can't live without. I let a few others answer that in the article.
And I ate well. I won't bore you with my month-long meal plan, but it was balanced, healthy, nutritious, and I surprised myself in the kitchen. Katelynn Phillips said it perfectly: "If you think about all the plant varieties in the world, there are thousands. And there's really not that many meat options, so there is a ton of stuff you can eat ... People are just used to the American diet."
But I had cravings omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches, mostly. (I settled for a cheese pizza manchego on flatbread at the end of the month.)
As the month went by, I opened up the conversation to both vegans and people who eat meat, like Scott Gold. I don't personally agree with much of what Gold said (like the "sad, deprived existence" comment), but he echoed points made among many in the meat-eating community. I hoped his voice could lend some balance to the issue. It's one thing to introduce why one should consider veganism, but it's another to leave out the voice on the other side of the fence, which there clearly is, as Gold illustrates. After all, not only was I writing a personal experience, I had to produce a balanced story. I wasn't eating meat, anyway, so whose team was I rooting for?
But when I went out to eat the weekend after I finished the month, I ordered a sandwich with bacon. I didn't expect to order it, and I didn't feel guilty about it. It wasn't a decision I thought I was going to make, ever, but I did, and I'm in no rush to eat meat any time soon.
Perhaps that's where I went wrong, according to some readers: I didn't end the month deciding to become vegan full-time. Bottom line was, It wasn't for me, at least right now. This was just one man's attempt, not a vegan manifesto. At the very least I hope I started a conversation about veganism and hopefully readers will make better eating decisions because of it.
In a letter to Gambit, Derek Zimmer offers some (delicious) advice:
Buy a bag of kidney beans, a container of seasoning, and maybe a tub of Earth Balance spread, and treat yourself to some classic red beans and rice. Heck, grab a pound of soy-based sausage if you must! Top that off with a loaf of Leidenheimer's French bread if you're feelin' real saucy, and that's simply days of leftovers! Alternatively, touch a couple boxes of the ol' Zatarain's Jambalaya mix, add some chopped bell peppers, mushrooms, whatever (maybe more of that aformentioned mock sausage), and -- tadaa! -- you got yourself a delicious plant-based meal in 30 minutes! There's also this thing our ancestors invented back in the day called a "roux" -- basically you heat up oil, add flour, then water, which you then use to to make a cabbage, potato, bean, etc., stew! Oh, and ever heard of okra gumbo? Whew! What what a "sad, deprived existence" veganism in the Big Easy is! (Though certainly no where near as "sad" and "deprived" an existence as those of the animals inside factory farms!)
For more information, here are some New Orleans-related vegan and vegetarian groups and blogs: