Vegan With Benefits

What might also be looked at as my response to the writing prompt “What Eating Vegan Means To Me” was written originally for my friend, Amanda, as part of her Vegetarian Curious series…but I think she’ll be OK with me reclaiming it. :)

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I define myself as a vegan with benefits.

Mostly because it sounds witty.

I didn’t make it it up, but I adopted it almost a year ago when I found myself becoming accidentally vegan after a one-month Vegan Month of Food challenge in October 2011.

I say ‘accidentally’ because I fully intended to return to my smoked turkey and ice cream-loving ways when the month was over.I’d never cooked much meat at home, but chicken surely found its way into my soups, I ordered pork belly whenever I saw it on a menu, and I loved having the opportunity to taste an incredible assortment of foods when I lived in Austin, from pig feet to beef cheek to–in a moment of delicious ambition–pig brain.But I loved being vegan. I felt so much more creative–and successful–in the kitchen. I felt healthier, lighter..not in a gain-or-lose-weight way, but just generally less bloated and heavy. [TMI? Sorry. I'm prone to overshare. :) ] I was never a huge cheese person, so although I truly missed ice cream and my yogurt-for-breakfast routine, it wasn’t too hard to pass up pizza or switch to oatmeal. My skin looked great, most likely because of the lack of dairy, and, in one of the more self-serving reasons I was so happy, it was just kind of fun to say I was a vegan.

And yet, I still say I love meat…I just don’t eat it. And it is true. I do. I walk by the pulled pork BBQ at the Whole Foods hot bar and sometimes I really want to stick my face in it because it smells so good. I swear I wrote a recipe in my dreams last night that involved chicken and cheese and lots of Mexican-influenced flavors. And then there’s sushi. Oh, how I do sometimes get strange cravings for sushi. [Although I think that might really be for the pickled ginger and soy sauce...and the opportunity to use chopsticks.]

It’s also really hard to go out to eat when you are vegan…or even a lactose (semi) intolerant vegetarian. I’m not just talking about restaurants, where most of the vegetarian options are covered in cheese, involve eggs, or the word vegan on a menu is a foreign concept. [I nearly flipped out to see seitan on a menu in Central Virginia after moving from Austin, where things like 'vegan biscuits and gravy' are commonplace and unsurprising]I’m also talking about going to people’s houses and not wanting to be rude by asking a gazillion questions about butter or egg content–not that I won’t ask many, many questions about how something was prepared ;) –or turning away food that someone has graciously prepared for you. My family just lets me do my own thing, and I am fairly well known for bringing my own food to dinner parties and gatherings, but it can still be difficult if you are with people you don’t know very well.

So I decided to deem myself vegan with benefits, which, yes, I am aware pretty much sounds like I eat whatever I want, but what I want generally means vegan or plant-based.

It means that if I find myself at a once in a lifetime dinner, I will nibble on fish, and beef, and even bone marrow. I might just lick my plate clean of the sauce clearly made with butter because it is that good. [And I will probably pay for it later.]And that even if it isn’t a once in a lifetime dinner, and the seafood looks really good, I might just go for it.It means that I tend not to eat cakes and cookies and the plethora of baked goods that pile up in various faculty lounges and lunchrooms, but if a student spends hours making me a green cake with a fondant-covered Rice Krispies treat lizard on it, I will be eating it.

Or if I encounter Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Mousse.

I definitely want to eat that.It means that I prefer to eat burgers made from beans and grains……and I don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

[But if I am a guest at someone's house, I ignore the fact that I see bacon cooked in the beans.]

It means I tend to stick to sorbet when I go out for gelato…

…but I indulge in a Greek yogurt bowl whenever my lactose-averse stomach will allow.[And that I definitely ate the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ice cream I made with an ice cream maker by hand.]

Many vegans (or even vegetarians) would take umbrage with my outlook, since I don’t mind if others eat meat and lack true intensity or fervor in my anti-carnivorous preferences. Although I care about humane and ethical treatment, and I do feel great without meat in my diet, I do know that you can eat meat and be healthy (and purchase humanely raised meat), despite my herbaceous leanings.Maybe one day those cravings for a runny egg or a giant plate of pulled pork might take over and I’ll pack my (hypothetical) vegan t-shirts into a bag and donate them to a good cause.

But, for now, vegan with benefits works for me.