The Vegan Challenge

I think it was around 2000 when I picked up an anthology of horror stories at my local library (there was one by Isabel Allende, too – get off my case). The only one that’s really stuck with me, other than the Allende (which seemed to contain a few of the seeds for Daughter of Fortune, and was arguably, not really horror anyway) was a story set in an piggery.

The protagonist (henceforth known as “Bob”) for reasons I can’t remember, throws a colleague into a gigantic steel grinding machine. As the victim is torn apart from the feet up, he screams in orgasmic pleasure. Which puzzles Bob afterwards, but the death is ruled accidental and life, for everyone else, goes on.

Months later, Bob is gored by a bore in one of the pens, and as he drags himself out of harms way, the pig chews off his genitals as well.

As Bob, bleeding and mutilated, contemplates his future, he remembers the ecstatic shrieks of his victim as he was devoured by the grinder.

Dragging himself to the machine, he jumps in. And as the blades slowly shred his body, he realises that his victim had tricked him into the most horrible and painfully bloody death imaginable.

Which brings me to the Vegan Challenge.

Earlier in the year, I had the hempen gauntlet laid down to me by the host of Triple Z’s Punk Show.

The challenge? To go vegan for 30 days. No milk. No cheese. No honey. No cheese. No meat, obviously. And have I mentioned no cheese?

I turned vegetarian about a fortnight after the 2001 election (exactly a fortnight after the election being my birthday, which was celebrated by a bbq) and while animal welfare concerns were a part of the reason, the biggest factors were the environmental impacts of producing meat.

And because that was the primary concern, the next logic step was to go vegan, as most of the environmental impacts of cattle come from both beef cattle and dairy cattle be it deforestation for grazing land, greenhouse gas emissions from the cattle themselves, or emissions from transporting the final product.

So when Chris asked me (off-air, there was no ambush involved) if I was up for it, I said yes. But I asked if I could have a deferment for a bit, as I was soon going to go away on holiday, and it wouldn’t really be doing veganism justice to trial it while away from homebase.

The problem was, kicking it off as soon as I came back from holiday meant I hadn’t given enough thought to the problem. When I became a vegetarian, the worst time was the first month, when I had to adjust my thought processes to include consideration of what I would eat, where I would get it, and letting all my friends and family know ahead of time, that I was now not eating meat.

One of the reasons I hadn’t tried veganism before was because I knew that initial hurdle would be hard to get over, and knowing I was a bit ambivalent about the whole issue, I didn’t think I’d give it a fair shake.

And also because I can be a bit of a drama queen, as the first half of this post might hint at, obliquely.

So the Vegan Challenge, and the threat of public shaming through community radio, offered the impetus to stick to it for a month. If I could break that time down for you, it would go something like this:

Week One – Hunger

Inadequate preparation meant I was almost always somewhere in the peckish-to-ravenous spectrum. I had become more or less conversant in the vegetarian options in a two kilometre radius of my office, but vegan food is even scarcer. The vegan options most readily available aren’t terribly healthy – like potato chips – which would do away with the one positive side-effect of the Challenge (other than the renewed sense of smugness which glowed bright enough to light up the city at midnight).

In the next week or so, I worked out some local cuisine options and discovered that some pot noodles, containing almost nothing you couldn’t find directly on a periodic table, can also be classified as ‘vegan’. Score.

Week Two – Anger

O misplaced anger, where would we be without you? While it was Chris Jakeman from Triple Z who was ultimately responsible for my plight (If you discount me. Which I do.) I don’t see him that much, so I chose to direct my ire at my boss, who had also accepted the Vegan Challenge from Chris a year earlier, and had stuck to it. Just so he could lure other people into the mincer.

The bastard.

Abuse him here.

Week Three – Acceptance

(At this point I may have been getting confused with the 7 stages of grieving. Guess why.) Having reached the halfway point, I could see it was achievable. Survivable even. Not really enjoyable, though.

At least for me – for the last few years I’ve suffered pretty badly from reflux, and have most successfully treated the problem with yoghurt/ice-cream/something dairy-y, and this was unfortunately beyond me for a month.

My reflux got worse, both fuelling and fuelled by my bad mood and wholly-justified anger at Senator Bartlett, Font of Evil.

Week Four – Planning Future Gluttony

No dribbling tyrant, no megalomaniacal psychopath has ever plotted for world- regional- or local-government domination as fervently as I began planning my first meal on Day Thirty One.

Although by this stage, things were actually going fairly smoothly, apart from the reflux. I’d scouted local vegan food, was bringing in vegan leftovers from home most days, and had enough options albeit 90% pot noodles, to get me through the rest.

Week Four And A Half – Coasting Along

At this point, I realised veganism was possible, and while it probably wouldn’t be for me in the immediate future, could certainly be survived, and even enjoyed, once you had planned things out properly.

Veganism? Not the end of the world. It is undeniably a more eco-friendly way to live.

Done right, it’s healthier.

And the more people who become vegan, or even try it, the easier it will be to get a vegan option when dining out. Ten years ago, when vegetarians dined out, they often had to watch their friends eat, while they pecked at a few nuts and berries they’d foraged for earlier.

The downside

Until you’ve been at it for a while, every meal or snack is prefaced by a long process of squinting at labelling to see what hidden animal products might be contained in the most innocuous of foods.

Sometimes mistakes are made.

I did eat something that had honey in it during the 30 days. Not all vegans bother about honey, but I’d decided for the sake of my sanity not to care about yeast, so honey was supposed to be off-limits.

The reflux.

I’m sure there’s an alternative to dumping dairy on the problem, but I haven’t found it yet. Is there a Naturopath in the audience?

The upside – even if, like a sook, you don’t continue on as a vegan

It is worthwhile to take time out to examine everything you eat – what it’s made of, where it comes from, how many smurfs died to get it to your table, that sort of thing. Doing it every day at every meal is a bit annoying, but you start to familiarise yourself with things and it happens less.

I’ve been swept back into the loving arms of dairy, but am now showing more restraint. I still use soy milk for a lot of things, and eat less of everything else, now the novelty of being able to has worn off again. Before I went vegetarian, cheese was simple an added extra, since then, it’s become the centrepoint, soul and solitary reason to keep chewing any meal.

Well, not really, but it’s nice.

The verdict

Veganism – come on in, the whirring blades of death are great this time of year!*

*actually, it’s not bad. If you’re committed.


2 Responses to “The Vegan Challenge”

  1. 1 jeanie April 11, 2008 at 11:47 pm

    Oh Don – if only I had known what you were going through, I could have tossed a couple of really cool vegan recipes your way to help you through!!!

    Good on you for sticking to it though – and enjoy the freedom of the afterward!

  2. 2 don April 12, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Yeah, Nicole NOW tells me that you could have hooked me up. But I guess she thought this was more funny.

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