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Cold Turkey

Big-boned meat addict Justin Droms goes hard-core vegan for a month. PLUS: Contributor Video Diary

While normal people do healthy things like exercise and not eat eight hot dogs in one sitting, I not so recently passed the 250-pound mark and didn't look back. But each time I gnaw the skin off a chicken's wing or peel the muscle off the leg bone of a slow-roasted baby cow-two things I do as often as possible-I feel more and more conflicted, not to mention more heartburn.So, in the interest of getting healthy and sparing a few dozen animals, I've decided to go 100-percent vegan for a full 30 days. That means no meat, dairy, fish, eggs, honey, or anything else culled from something with a face or legs.To keep myself honest, I set up a strict "Three Strikes Means Cabbage" policy-if I accidentally break the diet three times, I'll force myself to eat an entire head of raw cabbage. Using that disgusting prospect as motivation, I set off on a month of health, wellness, and mockery from my meat-loving friends.First, I have to make myself so sick of animals-and the tasty flavors they produce-that I won't miss them. Only one destination will do: my personal Graceland and New York's premiere Brazilian steak house, Churrascaria Plataforma. It's an all-you-can-eat food orgy during which methodical waiters parade yard-long skewers of meat past diners' tables, lopping off chunks on command. The clientele is almost entirely overweight, and I would guess that the management deals with more than a few heart attacks on the premises. These are my people-for now.My meal is startlingly similar to the last scene of Scarface, in which Al Pacino frantically inhales a mountain of pure cocaine to numb the pain of his impending doom. I behave in a similar manner, but with a pile of meat. I eat 18 different cuts from 10 of God's creatures: the octopus, the lamb, the squid, the cow, the shrimp, some kind of white-ish fish, the pig, the chicken, the tuna, the salmon, more cow, more pig-and a handful of cheese for good measure. When asked, I opt for rare, forcing the bloody flesh down my throat as I think about the animal it was plucked from, and if it had a name. It is delicious. But this is not the behavior of a sane person, and while holding back meat-vomit on the ride home, it's clear my plan might have worked.On Day One, I'm in the mood for a steak again. But that's out of the question, and I realize that I've been so worried about the diet that I haven't planned what to eat. The man who normally makes my cinderblock-sized turkey sub for lunch silently questions my manhood as I order a lettuce and tomato sandwich, which tastes roughly like licking a dirty crosswalk. I need to get some real food.Using resources from nonprofits like Vegan Outreach, Vegan Action, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I put together a grocery list and head to a place where George W. Bush has a negative-375-percent approval rating: Manhattan's Whole Foods Market. To my delight, I find vegan mayonnaise, vegan chicken nuggets, and even vegan steak. This might be pretty easy, I think as I check out.This might be the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth, I think an hour later as I try a fingerful of vegan mayonnaise. Some "analogues," as Vegan Action describes these food substitutes, taste a little off to the recovering meataholic. The mayonnaise, for one, tastes like vinegar-flavored Jell-O, and if you've ever thought to yourself, "Hey, I'd really like to eat some cat vomit," then vegan ham is for you. Others, however, are borderline outstanding. Vegan steak is flat-out convincing, and minimizes the time I'll spend staring at ground beef in the grocery store (although, like vegetarian Indian cuisine, it maximizes the time I'll spend in the bathroom). Vegan chicken nuggets are the best; though they're filled with a grainy meal, the crispy outside is just like the real deal, especially if drenched in a half-gallon of ketchup.\n\n\n
I am not a violent person, but when my fiancée orders the surf and turf, I'm one bean sprout away from Frisbeeing her plate through a window.
A sizeable chunk of "normal" food also qualifies as vegan. Other than fruits and veggies, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, for example, contain no animal products (provided you use the right bread). I entertain the idea of a month-long binge until a friend with a masters degree from Tufts School of Nutrition informs me that I'd risk deficiencies of vitamins A, C, and B12 that could eventually cause "permanent blindness," "bleeding gums," and "dementia," respectively. Dammit! But even with the all-peanut-butter-and-jelly diet nixed, familiar and vegan-friendly foods like soups, pastas, and burritos help make the diet less foreign.Then, thanks to PETA, I make a startling discovery: Bacon bits-the ones you would find in a cheap salad bar-contain absolutely no meat or animal fat. Handful by handful, I plow through more than a half-pound of the artificial bacon in 30 days, which may be some sort of world record. If kicking animal products has a patch, then these are it.To get in touch with my militant animal-loving poet brethren, I seek out their literature, and their habitat. In his book Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, Charles Patterson likens America's consumption of animal products to the Nazi genocide, claiming that "each day millions of … animals, most of them very, very young and all of them innocent, are transported to killing centers to be slaughtered for the tables of the master species."Needless to say, many vegans have extreme convictions about our relationship to animals, with true breeds forgoing fur, leather, and wool as well. The movement draws a fair share of, well, compassionate people, evidenced by one vegan website featuring poems like "To All You Animal Loving Hypocrites" with clever rhymes like "Animal's flesh is stolen from them to fill up a plate / With so much plant life to eat this is such a mistake."Next, I visit a popular vegan restaurant, New York's Candle Cafe. As I enter, I expect to find a den of dreadlocked hippies eating marijuana salads out of upside-down bongos. Shockingly, that's not the case. Illicit drugs are noticeably absent from the menu, and not one poem is recited. In fact, the homey eatery is filled with the same kind of well-dressed yuppies that filled Churrascaria Plataforma, but with one key difference: literally no one at Candle Cafe is overweight. So, being a Volkswagen-sized man in a flannel shirt, I receive a funny look from my energetic, rail-thin waitress as I squeeze into my vegan-sized chair.She recommends the hazelnut-crusted seitan, a crunchy, fried wheat gluten so reminiscent of meat that I inhale the entire entrée in under five minutes. After a convincing vegan brownie sundae and a curt lecture by the waitress on why dairy "doesn't do anything for you," I head home, comforted by the fact that I don't have to recite poetry, grow dreadlocks or eat out of upside-down bongos to be a vegan. Being a vegan might not be that bad after all.Eating among converts is one thing, but interacting with the nonvegan world is by far the toughest part of the experiment. I am not a violent person, but when my fiancée orders the surf and turf at a normal restaurant, I'm one bean sprout away from Frisbeeing her plate through a window. As I quietly accuse my vegetarian pasta of being a son of a bitch, I hide the fact that I'm drooling at her crab-stuffed lobster and filet mignon by drinking heavily throughout the meal. (Fun fact: Scotch is vegan.)During a Super Bowl party, I jealously tear through a bowl of nuts in the corner while friends chow down on Buffalo wings, pizza, and chicken fingers just feet away. Assholes, I think silently, while repeating the phrase "Oh, go right ahead; I'm fine" aloud. Still, it's better than facing the wrath of the cabbage.By Day 30, I've accomplished two things I never thought possible: losing 16 pounds in one month and, yes, consuming an entire head of raw cabbage in under two hours. (I commit my three unintentional strikes on a piece of dairy-based caramel; butter spread absentmindedly on a roll; and granola made with honey.) Suffice it to say, eating a cabbage is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds and, as such, is a great motivator-I never broke the diet again, and now highly recommend the technique for child-rearing.As my month ends, I'm significantly thinner, and my total cholesterol is in notably better shape, but I've also increased my blood pressure by eating more salt-laden foods like the bacon bits, and I've increased my blood sugar by filling up on a higher than usual load of breads and pasta. Maybe I've done more good with the other half of the vegan experiment: the effect that my restraint has had on animals' wellbeing. After dialing up Boar's Head deli meats and employing some third-grade math, I find that by avoiding my enormous daily turkey sub, I've personally spared the lives of 1.8 turkeys-1.8 turkeys! Elated, I name the full turkey I've hypothetically spared Timmy.As I emerge from my month as a vegan, I look forward to continuing on the path toward better health and to celebrating my new appreciation of the vegan lifestyle. And after all the sacrifice and discipline this month required, I can think of no better way to do so than by eating Timmy and several of his delicious little animal friends.

Justin's Results

WeightDay 1: 260Day 30: 244 (better)Blood pressure:Day 1: 124/65Day 30: 141/93 (worse)Blood SugarDay 1: 104Day 30: 125 (worse)Total CholesterolDay 1: 149Day 30: 137 (better)Justin's Good Reasons to Go VeganThe decomposing corpses of egg-laying hens that have died of asphyxiation or dehydration are found in cages with the live birds.Although their normal life span exceeds 20 years, dairy cows are usually killed at five to six years of age.Poultry farmers frequently cut a third to a half of the beaks off of chickens, turkeys, and ducks to keep them from pecking each other.The American Dietetic Association reports that, on average, vegetarians have lower body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and rates of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.After they're stunned, hogs are dunked in hot water to soften their hides for skinning. Botched slaughters condemn some to scalding and drowning.Having enough compassion and discipline to choose the vegan lifestyle permits you to smugly refer to nonvegans as "murderers" while they eat.Source: Vegan Outreach's pamphlets Why Vegan

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