Friday, February 29, 2008
VEGAN IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET
VEGAN IN A BLACK LEATHER JACKET
by Tea Krulos, photo illustration by Paul Kjelland
The morning of May 1st was crisp and cool, so I threw on my black leather motorcycle jacket and headed out for my morning cup of coffee. A few steps out the door I laughed at the irony of my choice. Today was the first day of 31 days of being a vegan for me. Vegans do not consume animal products of any kind, meat, dairy, and clothing made of animal products.
It all started a few weeks earlier. I was having a rough month, the type of month you get through and once you’re through it you know you can take on any challenge and it’ll seem piddely by comparison. I needed to move by May 1st and it appeared I had nowhere to go. My friend Paul Kjelland, a talented local photographer, made the generous offer that I could stay at his house for as long as I needed in May.
Paul is vegan, and my thought was that it would be an interesting experience and perhaps a polite gesture as a house guest if I adopted his lifestyle for the month. As it turns out, I found a place of my own before the month was up, but now going through with the plan to me really appealed to me, so I decided to go ahead a vegan way of life for the month of May.
The vegan movement started with the Vegan Society in Britain in the 1940’s. Donald Watson lead the group and coined the word “vegan” from the first three and last two letters of vegetarian because “Veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to it’s logical conclusion.”
To encourage me further, my new room mate, Jessica, agreed to join me in the vegan challenge. I took notes daily on what I was eating and discovering, and what follows are points of interest along the way.
MAY 1- Welcome to veganhood dinner party
I usually take a solid dose of half and half in my coffee, but today I start using soy creamer instead. It is not too far off. Real half and half is a little thicker, but after a couple of days my tongue has adjusted and the difference doesn’t bother me.
For lunch I have a Rabbit sandwich at the Anodyne coffee shop on Brady Street. It has lettuce, carrots, and onion with a delicious almond spread on white bread. After I leave though, I wonder “Was the bread vegan?” I didn’t ask. Later, Paul assures me that I hadn’t failed before I even began, all the bread at Anodyne is vegan. I ask him what he does if he doesn’t know if a restaurant uses vegan bread.
“Ask.” I ask if the answer to that question is “I dunno” and what he does if it is.
“Wing it.” He tells me.
To kick off my trek, Paul is hosting a vegan dinner at his house with a few friends and me.
The main course is red peppers stuffed with a mix consisting of brown rice (prepared with cilantro and lime juice) and fake crumpled beef. He adds habanejero sauce and onion for flavor. He also makes two great side dishes, steamed asparagus and a spicy side of black beans seasoned with onions, lime juice, cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, chili powder, and a splash of orange juice.
He also lends me two books, the first, and natural place to start is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Living. Of course I should have read this beforehand, but I zip through the book over the next few days. The other is a vegan cookbook called Simply Vegan, which comes in handy on nights I feel like cooking.
MAY 2- “My parents thought I joined a cult.”
I go to the Riverwest Co-op café for breakfast. The Riverwest co-op becomes headquarters for me over the next month, for a few reasons. It is close proximity to my house, everything on the menu is vegetarian and can be made vegan, the grocery section contains many vegan substitutes, and the staff is insightful and friendly. Inventory Co-Manager Shelly McClone who is a former roommate and good friend of mine. Shelly was vegan for about ten years, starting when she was 19 and still living in Appleton, a city not well known for it’s vegan ways. She became vegan around the same time she shaved her head.
“My parents thought I had gone crazy and joined a cult.” She says, but adds that they eventually came around to accept it. After becoming pregnant a couple years ago she decided not to follow a strict vegan diet.
“I figured I had done it a long time and didn’t want to limit my food during pregnancy.”
This morning I’m having vegan French toast which I admit I’ve ordered out of skepticism. Making French toast without dairy seems impossible, but I get my first of many pleasant surprises over the month. It’s not only good; it’s great, all the way down to hunk of non dairy butter melting on top. I eat breakfast often at the co-op over the next monthly, trying almost every dish on the menu. My favorites are the Ranchero plate- brown rice, black beans, tofu, avocado, salsa, and tortillas and Bi Bim Bop, which is not a ska band but a Korean dish that uses brown rice, grilled seasoned vegetables, tofu, kimchee (spiced cabbage) and BBQ sauce. Spicy!
Later at work, a co-worker offers me a bag of peanuts. I’m about to eat a handful when I notice that they are honey roasted. “Hey!”, I say, “Honey comes from bees!” I’m going the distance, here, folks.
MAY 4- Vegan pizza party
I pick up two frozen vegan pizzas, one with garlic almond cream, onions, and peppers, and one with garlic almond cream and tofu posing as sausage. They are both made by Simple Soyman, a Milwaukee based company that makes vegan meat alternatives. It isn’t the same as real pizza, but it tastes pretty good anyhow, Just different.
MAY 6- Hot diggedy dog
Hummus with El Rey chips, my favorite, baby carrots, a pasta salad with butter beans, and for dinner me and Jessica have chips and homemade guacamole. Look out, because pre made guac often has dairy. We also have tofu hot dogs (the Lifelight Jumbo Smartdogs) we are skeptical and a bit turned off by the rubbery, discolored appearance, but once we bite in, they’re really not that bad. We boiled them, and maybe they’re even better grilled.
MAY 9- Tofu Italiano
After work I cook up a dish called Tofu Italiano from the Simply Vegan cookbook. If you want to eat well as a vegan, you must develop at least some interest in cooking. I’m not a good cook. I get easily distracted and then stuff gets burnt, but I’m trying to put in the effort, and in this case it pays off. I make a spread of sautéed tofu and onion mixed with tomato sauce, peas, corn, oregano, and garlic poured over rotini pasta. It turns out well, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
MAY 10- Into the medicine cabinet
“No, now see, this says Glycol, which might be a form of Glycerin.” Me and Paul are looking through my medicine cabinet, at my small collection of hygenics. Vegan philosophy goes beyond what you eat. It extends to what you use, and what you wear. Paul is warning me that glycerin is often made from animal fat. In addition, even if cosmetics don’t contain animal products, many are tested on animals. He recommends checking out the Peta’s and the vegan society’s websites for more information. He explains he doesn’t know much about the details because he gets his supplies from local stores, stuff that is clearly labeled as animal friendly.
I key online later and find an easy to use list at caringconsumer. Com and am dismayed to find my soap, toothpaste and 2 in 1 shampoo/ conditioner are all made by companies that test on animals. Fortunately good alternatives to these products are easily found. I am relieved to see that my goopy hair treatment, which I assumed was pure lard, is animal product free, although it is almost pure petroleum product, which is not environmentally friendly.
MAY 11 – vegan jerky
Yes, they make vegan jerky which I can’t resist trying. I grab a big stick of Primal stick natural smoke flavored jerky. The taste is not too bad, but the texture is a little odd.
MAY 12- Mother’s day
“So should we just order a plain cheese pizza?” I’m trying to explain to my mom what a vegan is. My sister is a vegetarian, and I explain the difference to her. Then she asks a classic line many vegans hear in their life. “Can’t you just skip it for a day?” I tell her I could if I was a total wimp, but that’s just not the case. My sister ends up making a delicious vegan crowd pleaser- veggie burgers, fried potatoes, pasta, salad, and creamed corn.
MAY 17- veganmyspace . com
Yes, you can find a vegan alternative to almost anything, including the popular social networking site myspace. I wish I could tell you veganmyspace is 100% animal free, but after all, one Tea Krulos has just joined. I set up a profile and start adding vegan friends from Texas, California, and New York. I am able to find one fellow vegan on the site, Kellie, who is 21 years old, has been vegan three years, and is an aspiring experimental filmmaker. Her tagline reads, “I’m too creative for mass production.” She recommends I check out the web store Vegan Essentials at veganessentials. com, an online store that has anything and everything you might not find locally.
MAY 19- Beans and Barley
I stop at Beans and Barley, an eastside institution, and one of the first vegetarian, health conscious, and smoke free restaurants in Milwaukee. They have an excellent deli, a great dining area and a small shop that offers groceries, organic goods, earth friendly cosmetics, independent magazines, and eccentric toys. As their former dishwasher, I know firsthand how clean and orderly they keep their kitchen, because my back ached many nights, trying to keep up with their thorough cleaning regiment.
The vegan items on the menu are marked with a “V”, and the restraunt is equipped with many vegan alternatives.
“We understand vegans, and most of the entries on our menu can be veganized.” Co-owner Peg Silvestrini tells me.
Today I pick up some Savory Tempeh Stew from the deli, which is very similar to beef stew. The tempeh looks almost exactly like beef. I also get some of Bean’s own hummus blend and the Indian Basmati salad, a spicy rice dish with chick peas and other vegetables.
In other news, Jessica is having serious cheese withdrawal. She wanders around the house muttering “Cheese. Cheeeeeeeeese!” To make matters worse, our friend Jason sends her a text message mocking her symptoms that simply says “CHEDDAR! CHEDDAR! CHEDDAR!”
MAY 20- Vegan brunch
I go with Paul and some other friends for brunch at the Comet cafe. A Bloody Mary goes well with Kelly’s Vegan Scrambler, a dish named after my old neighbor Kelly Todd. I find out that Kelly has been vegan for over five years. She helped design the dish because she found it difficult to “…find good (vegan) breakfast items in the city.” She also rallies me on to consider full time veganism.
“You should extend it past May. Getting started is the hard part, it only gets easier as time goes on.”
Like Beans and Barley, Comet notes vegan items with an icon of the Comet mascot, a swan diving rabbit.
MAY 23- Raw power
A raw food diet is a great way to cleanse your system. When food is cooked, it loses a lot of nutrients, which is why raw foodists eat nothing that has been cooked. I decide to try it out just for today. I start the day off with a couple of apples, and an all fruit smoothie. For lunch I have a lot of carrots and some grape tomatoes. At dinner I have two giant portabella mushroom caps with a sliced cucumber on the side. I eat the mushroom with a steak knife and fork, like a steak, listen to classical music and drink a glass of merlot. Hey, I can be a classy guy once in awhile.
MAY 25- Outpost
Outpost started as a small co-op on the Eastside and has steadily grown into three large stores on Capital Drive near the Eastside, in Wauwatosa, and in Bay View. I cruise over to the Capital Drive location with Jessica and our friend Mel. I have some Southern Fried Tofu, which tastes similar to chicken, Creole style roasted yams, “Riverwest best” blend coffee, and a sweet green machine smoothie, a powerful dose of apples and green vegetables. The stores are well stocked with vegan alternatives to everything, groceries, cookbooks, beauty supplies, and more.
MAY 27 and 28- Memorial Day BBQs
The grilling season officially kicks off this weekend, and vegans love a good barbeques like everyone else. I went to two vegan barbeques and had my fill of vegan burgers and brats with plenty of sides and of course beer.
MAY 30- More options
I look over my notes to see other places vegans have recommended checking out that I haven’t made it to. So many places, so little time. East Gardens is an oriental restaurant in Shorewood with many vegan options. Whole Foods has opened a large store on the east side. East Side Ovens is a great place to get vegan bakery.
MAY 31- Last day?
I was pleasantly surprised how easy the month went. The healthier diet gave me more energy and I found I was awake longer hours, had a more positive attitude at work, and overall was able to get through the day easier. After a week I felt energetic enough to start a simple exercise routine, something I hadn’t done in months. I lost nine pounds over the month.
The big question everyone had was what would I do on the first? Run out and buy pork chops and a wheel of cheese? The answer is no. I have not maintained a strict vegan diet, particularly when it comes to bakery, but I have been eating more vegan options than not, mostly because I want to maintain a healthy system. I also appreciate the animal rights issues. You know, I’ve had my black leather jacket for a long time. Vegan Essentials carries a slick pleather jacket that looks like the real thing and is similar in price. Maybe it’s time to make the trade.