Under the Fork
Words by Cameron Hoover | Illustration by Mark Tabar
One meat-lover finds admiration for unwavering vegans after walking in their shoes.
Let me preface this story by explaining what it was originally supposed to be.
I was sitting in class one day texting my editor about veganism. I had never once in my life let the thought of being vegan cross my mind. Up until I went to college, it would’ve been cause for a parade if you caught me at a restaurant eating anything other than chicken tenders.
Anyone who’s ever been on the internet has heard the jokes about veganism. Where do they get their protein? Why do they always have to broadcast that they’re vegan?
That was basically the extent of my knowledge on the subject. I was sitting all high and mighty, acting like some kind of super genius, when two weeks later I’d find out I didn’t even know what the definition of the word was.
But I had a great idea pop into my head. Why don’t I go vegan for a month and write about it? I could prove to myself and all my vegan friends, which I have quite a few of, that being vegan isn’t hard.
I plunged headfirst into the world of veganism with a package of black bean burgers, some vegan chicken nuggets and a dream. “This is going to be easy,” I told myself with just the perfect mix of naivete and narcissism that I wish I could go back in time to punch myself in the face.
I made it about two weeks. Not even that long if you count the secret rendezvous I had with a couple of Chick-fil-A sandwiches one week in.
I wish I could go back to the start of that month and staple a sign to my forehead that reads, “BEING VEGAN IS GOING TO BE HARD AND TAKE PREPARATION, IDIOT” in big, bold letters.
Even during my two weeks as a “vegan,” I was vegan much in the same way a McRib is a sandwich: Ostensibly, we meet the criteria, but we are just a shell of what we were supposed to be, and the actual thing puts us to shame.
As I sat wallowing in self-loathing for not being able to eat a specific way for a month, I realized I obviously had to take the story in another direction. I couldn’t just pretend that I’d done it.
So all this begged a simple question to me: How the hell do vegans do it?
Well to understand this, I think it’s important to understand what veganism entails, but I found out pretty quickly some people have different definitions.
According to the Vegan Society, the authority on the matter, veganism is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
Before I began what was meant to be my vegan month, I posted a plea for advice on social media and received a million different bits of information from a million different people. One that I found interesting, though, came from a girl from my hometown who direct messaged me her thoughts because she didn’t want to be judged by people she knew.
“Check your soaps, colognes, etc.,” she wrote. “A lot of hygiene/beauty products aren’t vegan.”
“What the hell does soap have to do with your diet?” I thought to myself. I really believed she was insane. Turns out veganism is actually a lifestyle, not just a diet. Noted.
So I can’t eat anything with animal products in it. That should be relatively easy; just cut out meat, eat lots of vegetables and call it a day once the month is over. It’s not that complicated, right? Wrong.
“Even refined sugar, which has been processed in the same areas where meat was processed, potentially,” Tanya Falcone, coordinator for the Center for Nutrition Outreach and an instructor of nutrition and dietetics, tells me of what to watch for. “Those sugars aren’t used in vegan diets.”
Excuse me? Now I can’t even eat sugar? Pretty soon I am just going to go outside of my room and munch on the fescue growing in my apartment complex’s rock garden.
As I mentioned before, let’s just say my vegan diet wasn’t a dietitian’s dream. I work several jobs, and when you pile that on top of 16 credit hours and an increasingly taxing social life, you tend to just eat whatever the hell you can get your hands on.
I ate enough peanut butter during those two weeks to feed the French Foreign Legion. Someone also made the near-fatal flaw of informing me Oreos are vegan, which is disgusting when you think about it. What kind of mystery substances go into something chocolatey that aren’t actually chocolate? Anyway, I ate enough Oreos and Lays potato chips to give a rhinoceros a stomachache.
The few proper vegan foods I had, like chickpea “chicken” nuggets, black bean burgers and falafel, were pretty good. But I also met my mortal enemy during this time: the dreaded vegan version of a Hot Pocket. I’m not a religious man, but I thoroughly believe Lucifer himself appeared from the hottest recesses of hell to place vegan pepperoni on this planet. The texture when it hits your tongue is the most slimy, uncomfortable feeling I’ve ever felt.
I wake up in a cold sweat at least two nights a week having nightmares about it.
Being a college student certainly didn’t help. I only went “vegan grocery shopping” twice, but each time I went I almost blew a gasket looking at the prices of some of the food items. This went double for items actually on campus at the one single eatery that offers vegan options that don’t taste like a foot. Thankfully, my former roommate had a commuter meal plan, because I was a few $15 falafel wraps from Grazers away from living under an overpass for the rest of my days in higher education.
“When people look at the pricing, especially since you’re 18 or 19 when you come to college, you see how much everything costs,” Falcone says. “Definitely that affects people’s perceptions, once they get out of college as well. The costs of fresh fruits and vegetables, or even beans on campus, it’s almost impossible.”
Walking through the hallways of Franklin Hall, I notice a flier on one of the bulletin boards inviting people to attend a meeting for Veg KSU, a club for vegans, vegetarians and those who were “veg-curious” to come get “vegucated.” I’m no stranger to a good pun, and I’m still no closer to understanding what sort of iron will someone has to have to basically cut every staple of the American diet out of their own. So off I went.
Everyone there had been vegan for some time, but the part that stands out most is how simple they made it sound. I felt like a chump. I obviously opened my line of questioning with, “How the hell do you do this?” The response I got was basically, “How the hell couldn’t we?”
“I didn’t really think there was a good reason not to be vegan,” says Chanin Hale, a junior studying psychology. “Learning the truth about everything I had been turning my head to for so long, I couldn’t really ignore it any longer. I felt like if I was going to believe in this and love animals and claim to be this peaceful, loving person, I should hold these beliefs.”
Hearing the four members of the vegan club speaking in front of me, I couldn’t help but be inspired by their passion. These girls really loved veganism. They really loved animals and you could hear the fire in their voices as they talked about their love for conservation, among other environmental causes.
That’s when it hit me: I can’t be vegan if I don’t care about all of those things. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ll go out of my way to recycle a piece of paper or butt my nose into an argument with climate change deniers online. But maybe this vegan thing isn’t for everyone. Maybe I couldn’t continue because of how I started — selfishly, on some hubristic tour of self-centered aggrandizement trying to somehow prove myself just as worthy as these people.
The truth is I’m not.
“Veganism is a very healthy diet if it’s done well, but it can also get very unhealthy if it’s not,” Falcone says, peering into my fake vegan soul.
I didn’t do it well, but the benefits are glaringly obvious. I ate proper vegan food about three days in a row, and after those three days, I ran my fastest mile, texting my friend saying, “I feel like I can run through a (obscenity) brick wall, bro.”
So even if it’s not for everyone, my two to three weeks as a semi-vegan gave me plenty of respect for the people who do it day in and day out. The passion they exude for what they love is honestly inspirational, even if you don’t feel it too.
I’d like to thoroughly apologize to all the vegan friends I’ve made fun of over the years. And everyone else, maybe try it for a while. Do it right and you might love it.
Just avoid vegan pepperoni at all costs.
Cameron Hoover is a writer, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for the Fall 2017 issue of The Burr Magazine, on stands Tuesday, Nov. 28.