Veganism: A Reluctant and Enthusiastic Odyssey

The Premise:

Some grey day in 2017. Probably a Monday. Actually, wait, scratch the grey – grey never did inspire great change in me. It’s more than likely a rare firecracker of a summer’s (March) day that makes you want to whip out skimpy clothes and flaking skin cells that haven’t seen sunlight in about five million years. Hypothetically (definitely) I’ve overindulged myself and my relentless stomach in the preceding forty eight hours. I would imagine I fell asleep the night before on my tummy, ballooned and bloated and too full to take off my makeup and/or brush my teeth. Probably set my alarm for an ungodly hour in anticipation of the 10k I was supernaturally going to find the strength to run in a vain attempt to burn off said overindulgence.

Overindulgence, a definition:

An alarming consumption of baked goods, grease and carb-laden food groups and a contemptuous disregard for the medical assignation of three meals a day. Symptoms can include: apple tart and cream for breakfast, cheese as an accompaniment to every meal and/or beverage and a feeling of fullness that oddly seems to lessen every time one ingests even more food (generally some form of fried potato – chip, crisp, roastie – you get the idea). Oh, and pints. Always pints.

The harsh sunlight is illuminating, nay magnifying, every bloated lump, every flabby limb. Limbs whose only stab at athleticism this morning has been the javelin swing to turn off my bleating alarm. And, once again, in the hangover of an already disappointing Monday morning, I decide my life is going to change. And, in so doing, change the world.

I have decided to become…vegan. 

Again. 

SO LONG scones, fried halloumi, deforestation, buttery heaven, whipped cream, climate change, saggy bingo wings.

HELLO health, vitality, rolling green fields of happy cows, lean bod-ay, lush forests, the gentle cluck of liberated chickens.

I’m going to be the kind of human that ‘just’ has a green juice for breakfast, who finds satisfaction in a buddha bowl instead of a garlic cheese chip. The kind of oddity who does an invigorating yoga session to cure a hangover, instead of lying in bed eating the closest thing to hand with my fingers and wondering when exactly I made the transition from relatively functional human to actual sloth and all-over humiliating cretin.

I’m going to be diligent, dedicated, focused and most importantly –

Sister barges in on a now extensive, very impassioned inner monologue:
‘We’re going to get 99s, do you want one.’
There’s no question mark because really, it’s not even a question. I mean, 99s like.
I’m going to be diligent, dedicated, focus…
‘I’ll just grab my shoes.’

I shuffle downstairs. Nobody changes their life on a Monday. And it’s so processed it’s barely even dairy, reeally.

The Execution:

This is a recurring pattern over the next year. Some would say it’s been a recurring pattern of my lifetime in various forms but I don’t like slander. Or people who know me very, very well. This particulat cycle continues on for another year, in which I continue to eat cheese then invariably feel guilty about it and then feel even guiltier about my complete lack of self-control. I long for the willpower of 11 year-old me, precocious, opinionated little Holz who turned vegetarian and thus turned her back on a surprising number of her favourite foods, earning as a special bonus the contempt of most friends and the definite skepticism of family. But no, she was unperturbed and undisturbed and powered through cravings, pleading justifications, her mind’s unfortunate penchant for shifting moral goalposts and the many, many awkward social interactions her vegetarianism caused and stuck firmly to her beliefs. I was half-formed then. I was supposed to be easily led, easily distracted, deterred, dented – queen of pre-teen ‘phases’ like flared jeans and scrunchies. I’m allegedly fully-formed now, solid, made, and yet my mind and morals couldn’t be more malleable. I taste disgust when I eat hollandaise-drenched eggs. 

And so, on yet another whopper day somewhere in the muddle of July 2018, I decided I was going to really try now. No ifs or buts or maybes. I’m researching, planning, meal-prepping, committing. All of the things I’m absolutely terrible at.

The Actual Execution:

Naturally, this lasted the whole of five hours and I actually started veganism last week (it’s now September). This time though, I decided to chronicle this culinary quest in an attempt to motivate myself and make my emotionally manipulative mind slightly more accountable for its actions. Below are the fruits of my labours. An odyssey, equally reluctant and enthusiastic, obsessive and willfully ignorant.

DAY ONE – TUESDAY:

Morning:

I wake up and can feel my arteries. I’m pretty sure that’s not normal but nevertheless I can feel them pulsing groggy and bloated, clogged with the buttered guilt of a trip home to mammy’s cooking. Does anybody else get food hangovers? No? Just me? Cool. 

The bloat is such that the idea of being able to contort my body into a sitting position feels like an impossibility. I am one giant, over-inflated inflatable. No touching toes today.

I’m an optimist and the perkiness surfaces like adrenaline after shock:

‘It’s actually really good to hit rock bottom’, Perky voice says. ‘This is a reminder of everything you don’t want to be. This is your talisman. Today is the last morning you will wake up feeling like this.’ She has the purr of confidence and seduction. I do love Perky voice.

‘No need to feel guilty because your life is about to change – today!’

I am cheered. I rise (in many senses). I glide through my kitchen preparing oatmilk coffee laced with cinnamon and turmeric because – I am one beatific smile – I am someone who nourishes their body. Antioxidants of the gods, cleanse me. I am actively not thinking about pastry or the cosy coffee shop 100 steps away. I resist the pull of Instagram – that conveyor belt of temptation and desire – that I know will be peppered with latté art and exposed wood interiors and varying forms of french toast, pancakes, seasonal fruits poached, marinated, roasted, plucked in a fascinating spectrum of ways with  enough infused marscapones to beat the band. Only ever a dollop of pretension, though.

I am reheating week-old stewed fruit that is emitting a pong of something dangerously close to nail polish remover. Inhaling acetone, I’m already making a mental list of those same, unvisited cafés to visit on my ‘day off’ days. I virtually have the menu planned by the time the microwave has hopefully sterilised my breakfast – vegans need cheat days, right?

I sit in the almost sunshine and mindfully spoon nourishment in the form of now incontrovertibly rotten fruit and soya yoghurt into my body. Despite my evident lack of enthusiasm, my breakfast does look beautiful and I find if I just hold my breath while ingesting, tastes pretty good too. I listen to the birds, drink in the fresh air, elated in anticipation of  this new chapter of life I’m about to begin.

Afternoon:

I go to a yoga class. It’s an imperative part of veganism, social media has taught me this much. I have to wear a baggy t-shirt because the figure-hugging Lululemon top my sister bought me for this exact purpose is just not a possibility at this current moment. Hi, I’m Ross and yes I’m still carrying a bit of holiday weight at the moment. 

The studio has mirrors for walls and I have the added pleasure of watching an art installation piece as my face turns colours no human face has achieved before. In ungodly contortions making sounds that some might consider imaginative, inventive, unique (read: otherworldly/mildly horrifying) I wonder if this is how I’ll die – shaking and writhing on a worn yoga mat that I can’t begin to think about how many people have previously secreted a spectrum of bodily fluids onto. 

The yoga instructor has a nasaly, faux-American accent and too much gel in his hair. He keeps asking if we’re ok, if it hurts, are we doing ok, guys? Nobody answers, for obvious reasons. We’re all too concerned with trying not to die, scream, fall over or slap him. I think leisurely about the ways I would like to harm him at this moment but remember this is not the vegan way, so instead devote my attention to my shakras. I’m pretty sure they’re all over the place, which would explain why I can’t find them. The poor craters.

Later that afternoon:

I AM A GODDESS. I breeze into work, high on serotonin, serenity and a fair pinch of smugness. I have a packed lunch full of tantalising greens and proteins. Organisation, dedication. I can do this. I am the caterpillar. I will be the butterfly. Reborn, rejuvenated. 

Evening:

Dinner service is almost over. The kitchen call – “So, what’s your story today? Are we vegan or what’s the craic?”

Graciously, and in between bites of my vegan power bar, I inform them that I have made the transition to PERMANENT vegan.

“So you don’t want cheese on your dinner, then?”

Some people are very slow. 

“Nope,” I trill. And the thing is, I genuinely don’t. I have a far nicer taste in my mouth than any halloumi could ever leave. Something approaching satisfaction, purpose, a belief in one’s own integrity to influence positive global change. 

I eat my vegan dinner like it’s the first time I’ve tasted food, taking the time to really chew, you know? I sit, sip, practice mindfulness and visualise this meal as fertiliser for the garden that is my body. No more of this headless chicken running around, stuffing anything vaguely edible in my gob and then wondering why I’ve a stomach ache.

I am clearing desserts when I stumble on it. Untouched ice cream. Unmolested yoghurt ice cream. Two of my favourite dairy products combined in one miraculous union.

BE STRONG.

But it’s going in the bin anyway.

DON’T DO THIS.

So technically you’re not harming anyone because it’s already waste.

BE COOL.

How can you be expected to talk about a menu you haven’t tried?

Logical. But still, STOP IT. THROW IT AWAY. THROW IT AWAY NOW.

Nobody’s touched it so it’s not gross, it’s just curiosity, and a good work ethic and when you really think about it, it’s actually more wasteful to throw it away and tomorrow’s a new day and and and….

I at least make it to the solitude of the service room before grabbing a teaspoon and scoop one delicious mouthful into a very guilty mouth. It is creamy richness and lush decadence. I let it dissolve like molten heaven on my tongue and then throw the rest away. 

I tell myself I’m still a hardcore vegan, that it doesn’t count (see previous line of argument) and instead celebrate the small victory of only having one teaspoon. I don’t think about how lame one must be or how far I’ve fallen to view that as a victory.

Tomorrow’s a new day.

DAY TWO – WEDNESDAY:

Morning:

Despite the ice-cream mishap, I wake up feeling wonderful – hungry in that invigorating way that makes you feel primitively alive and healthy. 

I jump out of bed instead of roll.

I finish off the gloop of acid fruit, that now bubbles somewhat menacingly. Easy peasy. Turmeric coffee – nectar of the ancients (and Deliciously Ella).

Afternoon:

After my spin class (yup, I’m losing the feta weight) I treat myself to an oatmilk matcha latté. I am hungry which is only remarkable by the fact that I then realise it has been a long time since I’ve felt real and actual hunger. It’s also been a long time since I’ve gone more than 90 minutes without snacking.

I have planned an extravagant lunch of vegan burger and roasted veg. I’m terribly excited about it. As I journal and sip my latté – because being a regular journaler is also a significant, somewhat mystifying condition of my veganism – I message my sister to show her how well I’m doing. Having seen me go for second (third when she wasn’t looking) helpings of dessert a few days previously, I feel the need to send photographic evidence of my resolute transformation. Particularly after spending most of the car trip home harping on about how strong I would be in the face of guaranteed temptation.

Within seconds of sending my message and as I am on the very cusp of heading home to lovingly prepare aforementioned lunch, I get another message: ‘Pint?’

Later that afternoon:

One creamy pint and a brandy later, I rocket into work feeling suddenly very loud and very unprepared for the calm and demure ambiance. Thanks to the lunch that almost but didn’t happen, the dehydrating effects of the spin class and the, you know, alcohol, there is a mild to strong chance I’m ‘merry’. It’s only 5pm. Dinner is at least four hours away and I now haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. Two distinctly pressing problems present themselves with neon clarity in the fuzz of my brain:

The first is that I need to eat food to soak up the alcohol causing my speech to ever-so-perceptibly slur.

The second is that I may die if I don’t consume food in the next thirty seconds or so.

And then, basking in the haloed, Hallelujah light of the hot lamps, I see them. Cinnamon scrolls. Salivating salvation, sugared Eden, devilish temptress.

Reader, I ate them.

I would love to tell you there was a discussion, an internal assessment of the situation, an extensive pros and cons list and a detailed analysis of the moral and practical consequences of my actions but all I can say is drink makes me Neanderthalic in my impulses. Ask any of my ex-boyfriends.

I then proceeded to feel both better and worse over the next five hours. Better because, with stodge in my stomach, I felt definitively more capable of human interaction and worse because I now have a barely chewed but fully ingested cinnamon scroll sitting awkwardly where my integrity once was.

Evening:

Dinner comes up, though I long stopped being hungry. The rest of the staff get a communal bowl of potatoes plastered with fried eggs that look like eyes. They stare at me, the eyes of the murdered, the trapped and tortured and mutilated. They know what I’ve done, they see the weakness in my soul. My dinner sits to the side, a special bowl for a special kind of traitor. I’m just about to feel touched for the chefs’ silent support of my vegan efforts (and of course, crippled with hand-wringing guilt) when I spot the halloumi chips sitting provocatively on top of my potatoes. Have you ever seen Edouard Manet’s ‘Ophelia’? I shit you not, that’s how the halloumi looked to me then. Like a bold and seductive lady of the night, confronting and affronting and absolutely irresistible. I knew I should toss it on the pile of dead eyes, leave it to the euphoric mastications of my coworkers but it was already too late. I’d lost to grammar – in using the conditional I was already recording my own defeat, adding another log to the pyre of things I would never do, simply because I ‘should’ do them. I ate the dinner I didn’t need and devoured Instagram.

DAY THREE – THURSDAY:

I have eggs for breakfast. I stop calling myself vegan. Tomorrow’s a new day.

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