It was a gloomy December night and the cusp of a new year when Jonathan sent me a text that said, “We’re going vegan in 2013.” “I’m down.” I sent back. Putting aside our extensive and loving conversation, one might wonder why he left no option for refusal. Well, it’s this thing we do where we exert our dominance over one another through a relentless onslaught of ultimatums but regardless, in the 3 minutes between his request and my response I convinced myself I was up for the challenge.
Six months prior I had experimented with vegetarianism and if it wasn’t for thanksgiving I’d still be eating rice for every meal, but at least I’d have my dignity. So, this felt like the perfect opportunity for redemption.
It’s January 1, 2013 and I’m sitting in a Subway with my parents before boarding my flight to Toronto, it’s also my first official day of veganism. Feeling devoted, I order a veggie sub on whole wheat. Lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber-I made sure to ask for extra everything. If I wasn’t getting meat, I at least wanted enough vegetables to have it weigh like a chicken breast. Being new to this whole no meat, no dairy or no happiness diet, I had no idea you had to ask if your bread had prior relations with eggs, so I didn’t. For the same reason, condiments were exempted.
“Extra mayo, please.” I like Subway because when you ask for extra something they really give it to you. Not like Quizno’s or Pita Pit, where ‘Extra lettuce, please. I’m a vegetarian.” also means What did you say? You’re a hedonistic, pretentious f^*k? I once shared my concern with Jonathan over a foot-long ham and he said not to worry, “The employees at Pita Pit definitely aren’t familiar with the term hedonistic.” Turns out though, mayo is riddled with eggs-the kittens of the poultry industry as far as vegans are concerned. Who knew?
“You’re doing what?” my father asked after I unwrapped what essentially was salad on a bun and briefly mentioned my new endeavour.
“Going vegan. It means I can’t eat any meat or animal by-products, like dairy and stuff,” I explained.
“It sounds like voodoo and I think you’re going to starve to death.”
When it comes to my physique, my father never misses a beat. Two days, three weeks or six months without seeing me and it’s always the same “My God, eat something, would ya.”
“Maybe,” I said with a slight laugh. The kind you give your parents when you want to entertain their concern but know they could never understand because it’s a generational thing. I agreed with him, though. It had been 5 hours of being vegan and I had already imagined how my sandwich wrapper might taste roasted with a little garlic.
My parents were less than keen on the idea of my 140 pound-self eating less types of food, not-to-mention meat, the be-all, end-all of dietary options in my father’s mind.
“You’re 22 years-old, 140 pounds and I didn’t want to tell you this but I bought your Christmas presents at Gap Kids,” my mom said with equal parts compassion and wit. My father nodded in agreement, adding “You look decrepit.”
“I hate you both and you have no one but yourselves to blame for my crack addict metabolism.”
“You’re on drugs?”
“Besides, I’ll be eating the same amount of food, just different kinds,” I assured them.
My parents didn’t say anything. They just looked at one another the way they do when I talk about ideas they call ‘big city’.
I was half-way through my sandwich when my mom pointed out my lack of condiment due diligence, her voice underlined with pride.
“You know there’s egg in mayo, right?”
Since it only makes sense to claim veganism once you eat something on your first day, technically it had only been 15 minutes of an attempted animal-free meal. But in that 15 minutes I had managed to put myself back in the shoes of a washed-up vegetarian circa October 2012. I was feeling defeated, but I had to make quick decisions. I pushed the memory of a turkey long ago to the back of my mind and addressed my parents’ staring, as if to say ‘are you a failure or not?’
“You know, they say 7 out of 10 people accidentally eat meat within the first 3 weeks of trying veganism,” I said, swallowing a mouth full of egg-mayo.
“Really?” my mom questioned.
“Yeah. It’s a fact.”
It wasn’t. But I decided that given the unforgiving restrictions of veganism and my beginner status I was entitled to at least one ‘get out of meat free card’-and I took it.
Once I landed in Toronto and Jonathan and I were finally reunited, that night he began questioning me as to the contents of my meals that day.
“So what did you eat? And don’t lie.” I hated him for adding that second part because 1. I was appalled that he thought I would even consider lying and 2. It’s exactly what I had planned to do.
“Well, it’s only been one meal. And I had a veggie sub from Subway.” Everything about this was the truth, the sub I had was, in fact, vegetarian-it was just coated in a thick layer of mayo, too.
“Mmhmm.” He seemed less than convinced so I quickly pointed the conversation toward what we’d eat next.
“So have you given any thought as to what we’re going to eat, you know, long term? I don’t know if you realize but literally everything has animal something or other. I was reading the description on my thermos while on the plane here and it said ‘May contain traces of dairy.’ Does that mean I can’t drink from my thermos anymore? I paid a lot of money for this thermos. It has a little net on the inside that holds loose tea.”
“Okay, first of all, I find it very difficult to believe your thermos was made using any sort of dairy product. Secondly, you’re allowed to keep anything you already have that isn’t vegan, you just can’t buy anything new,” he stated matter-of-factly. My father was right, this is voodoo.
“So I can’t buy anything leather? This is the worst idea you’ve ever had. What about wool?”
“I discussed wool with Sam and she and I agreed that because sheep shed it for health reasons during the summer, it’s okay.”
“Right,” I said apathetically as my mind lingered on the issue of no leather. Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been on a journey to find the perfect leather jacket since I slid from my mother 22 years ago and to give up on that dream is to give up on myself.
“What about finding the perfect leather jacket?”
“You’ll just have to put it on hold.” He said this with little-to-no effort to console me, so I decided not to justify his solution with a response and went back to unpacking my suitcase, broken-hearted.
The next day was the first of my new job, and like the one before, I started it hungry for meat. I thought it a bad sign to wake up craving jerk chicken and an even worse idea to fulfill it, so I settled for coffee, hold the cream.
Thankfully my office is pretty conducive to living an animal-free lifestyle. The kitchen is relatively small with a single fridge and doesn’t hold anything to eat besides another person’s lunch. Since I’ve yet to resort to criminal activity to subdue my need for roast beef, this worked in my favour. The food court downstairs, however, will throw any vegan-baby for a loop.
I didn’t notice it before-likely because I was one of them-but the people that eat in food courts are merciless, meat-eating savages. If they’re not ripping KFC from the bone they’re swallowing chunks of teriyaki beef whole. I watched this one elderly lady suck on a bone for so long that when her lengthy, rather questionable relationship with the chicken leg finally ended, it came out it with a glossy, reflective sheen; much like me at 21. She eventually tossed it in the garbage but not before using it to check her makeup.
Walking through the crowds of people looking for a suitable lunch was like meandering through a butcher shop but instead of using knives to tear through their prey, everyone was using their teeth. How was I-a meagre 2-day old vegan-supposed to ignore the savagery happening all around me? And more importantly, what the f^*k was I going to eat?
After a near dietary crisis, I ended up settling for some sort of noodle, vegetable concoction that on a day when I wouldn’t have traded my soul for a pork chop, might have tasted okay. But today it just tasted like defeat.
It wasn’t until I got back to my desk that I noticed the invite to a late lunch. It was to celebrate my joining the team and the invitation said we’d be dining at The Keg. Why is this happening to me? I thought. To anyone who isn’t familiar with The Keg, let’s just say that if veganism is born in local farmers markets, The Keg is where it goes to die.
The restaurant was across the street from our building, so I had little time to devise a plan. As I sat with my manager and two other colleagues, thoughts were racing as to how I would find anything vegan in this meat haven. The menu was blanketed with animal: Tenderloin this and leg of lamb that. It didn’t take long to realize I had two options: either ask the server for something specially made, confess to my superiors that I’m vegan and forever be known as ‘Oh, f^*k. That guy.’ or order the California Club, purposely break my promise to Jonathan (for which I would feel horribly and is entirely different than the mayo fiasco because that was an accident) and forever leave veganism in the dust of my sandwich. Both were enticing options and it wasn’t until the server approached our table that I made my decision.
“Are we ready to order?” he said.
“Yes! I’ll take the club. Extra mayo, please.”
You can read more from Jamie Gillingham on his blog.
Feature image via.