Food lover gives up his animal based favorites
THE SANTA CLARA
October 29, 2015
Go ahead, indulge. Have seconds. Have dessert. Have a midnight snack. Add bacon. Extra cheese. It’s college, everyone gains weight. Live to eat. Eat for fun. Eat for comfort.
I’ve had a love affair with food since before I can remember. I was lucky enough to have been raised in a family of foodies, where most meals were home-cooked meals and meals that weren’t, were eaten in restaurants that could replicate the experience (minus having to do the dishes). As I grew older, I learned to cook and appreciate different flavors.
I boil pasta al dente. I value foie gras. I recognize the difference between medium and medium-rare. I pronounce “mirepoix” correctly. I watch “Chopped.” In short, I know food.
The problem is that my passion for food knows no bounds. I can’t limit myself to one piece of pizza, I eat Nutella by the spoonful and I devour Ben and Jerry’s like a teenage girl going through her first break-up. On a good day, I hover around 210 pounds.
College has certainly made it worse. The convenience of dining on campus and my hectic schedule pigeonholes me into seeking out comforting junk that will provide me fleeting pleasure followed by the inevitable stomach ache. It’s a vicious cycle.
I don’t know how most people stay in shape. Yes, it’s diet and exercise, but I believe it is also willpower, which is something I severely lack. Like if I suddenly lost 50 lbs overnight, I wouldn’t be able to stay skinny. I would just use it as an excuse to eat more food. “Woohoo, I’m skinny! Bring on the ham!”
But if loving food has taught me anything, it is that you never know if something is bad until you try it. So I decided to do something that was equal parts courageous, sustainable and masochistic: I ate vegan for an entire week.
Everyone who knows me told me not to. “You won’t make it.” “God wants you to be fat.” “You’ll die.” But I went against my better judgment and spent 168 hours in food hell.
For context, in the past six months alone, I’ve been to two funerals, had my heart broken and contracted bronchitis. Still, the first day of being vegan was one of my worst days in recent memory.
For breakfast, I ate a banana and some almonds. Lunch was avocado and cucumber sushi. Dinner was a brown rice and vegetable stir fry with soy chicken (like a rubber band, but less appetizing). My body yearned for sugar and fat from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. I was barely able to function from the sudden change in diet, so four cups of coffee were my remedy.
The days got slightly better. Days two, three and four were tough, but I could feel my body adjusting to the diet. I never thought of Benson as a great place to eat healthy, but they actually have plenty of options (you just have to be willing to eat right). I felt more energetic, I was going potty more regularly and the bloat I had gotten so used to had vanished. For the first time in a long time, I felt genuinely healthy.
But there were dark times. I had headaches, I hungered constantly and I spent a good portion of my Wednesday night googling photos of macaroni and cheese instead of studying for a midterm. Like I said, dark.
I decided to consult an expert and old friend: sophomore John Peters.
John and I went to high school together, and he is by far one of the healthiest dudes I know. He skis. He hikes. He played water polo. And he’s been “80% vegan” since second grade. Physically speaking, he is the yin to my yang.
Anyone who is under the impression that vegans are elitist flavor-haters who care more about animals than humans should talk to John. During our conversation, he was empathetic, and spoke with the knowledge and wisdom of someone who had well-thought out, concrete answers to questions that baffle most people .
“The best argument I’ve heard for veganism is sustainability,” he said. “If you take 100 acres of land, think about how many humans you could fit versus how many cows you could fit. It’s just more sustainable for the planet.”
I was in no place to disagree. He went on to school me about how the United States subsidizes corn and how it is fattening up our country. He related veganism to politics, the economy and especially biology.
“When you look at the human body, it’s a machine,” he said. “You put bad stuff into it, bad stuff is going to come out.”
His words struck home as plenty of bad stuff has come out of me. I asked John if he is ever tempted by junk food. He dismissed me.
“If there was a pizza sitting here in front of me, I wouldn’t even flinch,” he said. “I wouldn’t be tempted.”
I couldn’t relate, but I had begun to understand. I carried John’s words with me.
My week continued, and days four, five and six passed with little difficulty. I had lost a little weight and was beginning to feel normal again. I was getting used to the diet.
But, I missed my old friends meat, dairy and eggs. I hadn’t seen them in a while, and I was longing for their presence.
Day seven ended and it was cause for celebration. I went to The Counter and ordered a half-pound hamburger with bacon, mozzarella and jack cheese and a fried egg. It was accompanied by an order of parmesan fries and washed down with a Nutella, peanut butter and marshmallow cream milkshake. Needless to say, the stomachache that followed landed me in the fetal position.
I had done it. A glutton had become a vegan. It wasn’t the most well-thought out or scientific of experiments, but I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with food.
For one thing, my willpower is stronger than I once thought. I figured I would break at some point and cheat on the diet, but I didn’t. I stayed strong. No longer will I use mental weakness as an excuse to eat shamelessly.
Also, I discovered how idiotic it is to use college and on-campus dining as an excuse to eat unhealthy. Bon Appetit cooks up a wide variety of healthy options, and if I have the time to eat, I may as well try to eat healthy.
In the days that have passed since my week as a vegan, I have actually been eating healthier. Sure, I’ve had meat, dairy and eggs, but I’m learning a lesson in moderation.
Walking away from this experience has taught me to try when it comes to food. Try to exhibit willpower. Make indulgence an exception, not a habit. Have smaller portions. Occasionally skip dessert. No extra bacon. No extra cheese. Eat less sandwiches and more salads. Eat to live, not live to eat. I’ll try.
Food has been, is, and always will be my vice. It’s a tricky relationship, but no one ever said love was easy. The way I see it, there are worse things in life than eating like a king.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.