My foray into veganism wasn’t what it should have been. When you embark on this type of endeavor, you should be impassioned. You should love animals so much that you can’t tolerate the idea that they would ever be used for our food. You should worry that the wool being sheered from the lamb might hurt that precious being. Or, you should at least care about the environmental impacts of your scandalous meat eating ways.

I wasn’t impassioned. I didn’t care.

I did it for a guy.

Embarrassing?  Oh yes. But it was a worthwhile experiment.

Ultimate Uncheese coverI learned that our country is obsessed with cheese. “You can’t eat cheese?” Everyone kept repeating it when I decided to become a vegan. It was as if all other food was worthless; the only victual that anyone cared about was that coagulation of milk protein known as cheese. I would grit my teeth and explain that many people live without cheese: it’s not popular in Asia and billions of people live over there. People right here in America who are lactose intolerant can’t eat it. For many people it seems that a life without cheese was not a life worth living.

Naturally, I ran out and bought Jo Stepaniak’s very popular The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. It offered some amazing recipes that didn’t quite fill the cheese void, but came very close.

Vegan on a Shoestring coverLiving without cheese wasn’t the hard part for me: it was learning to change my shopping habits. I grabbed a book published by the People’s Potato Project Collective called Vegan on a Shoestring to help get me started. It contains recipes that can be made from very basic ingredients that most people already have in their cabinets.

It was terrific because in one day I had gone from a meat-and-potatoes girl to one who eschewed all meat (yes, this includes chicken and fish), all dairy, even honey (those little bees aren’t our slaves, you know). I was used to barely glancing at my grocery items as I threw them into my cart. Suddenly, I was forced to pore over every label to make sure no sodium laurel sulfate snuck into my bread. How terrible would it be if whey was the tenth or eleventh ingredient in a dark chocolate that I might want to try? The first year, this was an ordeal; by year five it was second nature. Though I gave up the diet, I still carefully inspect ingredients lists.

I was promised by the Internet—that most reliable source of information—that I would definitely feel better when I became a vegan. If I didn’t feel better, it assured me that I would feel much worse. It made sense: if you are not extremely careful when you are on a limited diet, it can be very easy miss crucial vitamins and minerals. I took a supplement just be sure I was hitting all my marks.  The crazy thing was, it didn’t really make me feel better or worse. I felt about the same as I ever had.

My friends often remarked that I was looking better, but I never felt that. What I started to feel was longing, a deep, powerful longing for things that I had never liked when I was a meat eater. Suddenly, all the fuss people made about bacon made perfect sense to me. The smell of greasy hamburger frying on some griddle in a diner became like a sick aphrodisiac.

Joy of Vegan Baking coverThis was followed in year four by an intense resentment to the foods that I had painstakingly learned to cook. When I first discovered that I could make macaroni and cheese with soy milk and nutritional yeast, I thought I should win some kind of culinary medal. The chocolate cheesecake that I made from tofu, with the help of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking, deserved to be in a food museum. (Do those exist?) By my fourth year, I’d had it with my creations. Nothing tasted good. The glutinous nuggets that I was pretending were chicken stopped being miracles and became odious lumps staring up at me, daring me not to eat them.

It was disappointing. I had worked hard to force myself into this lifestyle and I had stuck with it many years longer than I’d stuck with the man who inspired me. However, the truth for me is that I just didn’t have the passion needed to sustain the vegan life.


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