Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Every other week I have to wake up at 3:30am on Mondays and Wednesdays to work from 4-8am. I patrol my campus, keeping an eye out for…well I don’t see anything all morning. But my eye is out there, and the way I manage to keep it open is by listening to one of my favorite radio programs: the hilarious Free Beer and Hot Wings Morning Show. If you don’t know the show, it’s too hard to explain it, but they often have interviews with some very interesting people. This morning they were replaying an interview they had a in the past with a man who is part of PETA. The reason they were talking to him was because this guy legally changed his name from whatever it had been to “”

Yeah, that’s a pretty dumb thing to do.

But, as you would hope, is a real website, and it is devoted to getting the real KFC to use more humane practices in raising its chickens. The radio hosts had a lot of fun pointing out how ridiculous this guy was, and they eventually turned to making fun of vegetarians and describing how much they wanted to eat popcorn chicken (one of my favorite foods of all time). A timely thing for me to hear I thought. They also mentioned that if you actually went to the site, it had so many gross things on it you would not want to eat chicken for at least a little while. So, as I am sure many of you will do, I went to the site. Obviously.

It is not that gross if you expect to see the transformation of thousands of animals into food. It’s bloody and full of injury and death for the chickens, but nothing truly shocking. What was truly disturbing though was an undercover video they made of some chicken factory employees throwing chickens against a wall and stomping on them for fun, then going to a party to celebrate being factory of the year. Those people just have problems as human beings if they enjoy that, regardless of animal rights. I hope they don’t have children. Now, this is the point where my discussion of this topic can go basically two ways. I can express furious rage about the way we treat animals, or I can act like it doesn’t bother me at all. There is a lot of gray area in between there, which is where I actually find myself, but this issue is so charged that any tendency you display in one direction is usually interpreted as a firm stand for the extreme position. So I will move to a tangent that interests me personally and keeps me out of the two angry camps.

As you should know, Devin and I did not try this vegetarian thing because we are part of PETA or angry at anybody, but I do have my own concerns as an aspiring biologist about the practice of raising chickens. Last spring some high up person from the Center for Disease Control came to speak here at my school. He was in charge of the department heading up the investigation into the avian flu. He was an amazing speaker. I think he had given his speech a few too many times because he could talk a mile a minute, pacing back and forth excitedly while clicking through hundreds of flashy images and moving graphics without even looking over his shoulder once (and he was always right on cue). The gist of his speech was this: factory bird farms are virus mutation factories. Seriously, if we wanted to see how quickly we could generate new viruses, we would probably create a giant chicken warehouse, except it would be contained as a biohazard facility instead of maintained as a source of human food. By putting hundreds of thousands of birds in one room without sanitation or ventilation, we roll the dice on how many times a bird virus can mutate before it becomes dangerous to birds, and maybe even humans. Keep in mind that by dangerous I mean capable of wiping out 40% of the population. We obviously aren’t trying to do it. Farmers are not thinking about pandemics when they raise chickens, and especially in places like China, chickens sell faster than you can grow them. But if one day we are faced with a plague of historic proportions, we may have nobody to blame but ourselves.

So here is what I have to say about chickens: Go ahead, pack them into trucks, hang them up by their legs, slit their throats on an assembly line, remove their feathers with boiling water, do what it takes to provide billions of people with chicken on a regular basis, but be responsible at all costs. When we have the foresight to avoid catastrophe, but money talks us into sitting on our asses instead of taking preventative measures, we have failed to act as a species and as a community, and our priorities have become grotesquely backwards.

You don’t have to be a nut-job to be worried about these things. You just have be one of those people who would do anything to keep their grandchildren from living in fear. I think there are a few people like that left.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Look it up. It means a fear of vegetables. And its a condition I suffer from. This sort of thing might be something I should have thought about before starting a vegetarian diet, but alas I did not have that foresight.. Actually, thinking back on the past few days is funny. I have been vegetarian for four days now, and have essentially not eaten any vegetables - certainly in no more abundance than I did normally. Fruits either. Both are something that people assume vegetarians just absolutely love, and may even be the reason they chose to give up the beef in the first place. A love for the plants. Not so true with me.. and probably not others as well.

Before I go on, let me pause, because I feel I must come clean and admit that I do not actually suffer from Lachanophobia (I shouldn't poke fun at real afflictions by claiming I have them...shame..). There are plenty of veggies I enjoy - peas, carrots, broccoli, green beans, corn. And I love just about every type of fruit. Yet the veggies I like are standard and boring, and I feel like I am going to need to learn to like more of 'em.

This diet so far has actually shown me how much I eat that isn't meat OR veggies. I have relied heavily on my friends at the bottom of the pyramid, the grains, and those on some edge of the pyramid above fruits and veggies..? which are the dairy products. My cheese intake has already increased two fold it seems, and I eat yogurt and granola like its my job....if only..

However, I have what may be a coming of age tale in my vegetarian quest. And so it begins...

While I know full well that this is a blog about going vegetarian and not a blog about burritos (sorry burrito fans) I do feel I need to tell one more burrito story. I call it the tale of two burritos.

Only just yesterday, I found myself in line at Qdoba with a 2 for 1 coupon for this delicious dish. I decided to take a chance, go out on a limb, and also make my choices a good experiment. For my first entree, I chose a Queso burrito without the normal chicken I would get (so beans rice cheese queso sauce pico etc). For the second one, I got their grilled vegetables burrito, complete with three new veggies I am not so comfortable with - zucchini, squash, and red pepper. Well, I ate the queso burrito last night, and let me tell you, it was incredible. I actually didn't even miss the chicken. That seemed like a big step in the right direction.

Then tonight, I had my second burrito. I went into this one thinking there was no way I was going to like it. And this is when I thought I may have a fear of vegetables.. With that first bite, I opened up the top, and stared down into a sea of rice, beans, red peppers, green zucchini, and weird looking squash. Normally when faced with these items in a dish I pick around them and laugh at the thought of calling those pretty decorations actual food. I poke them, and see them squish and squash. If I bite one, I secretly think "icky" and think of the gross slimy texture, and then think about why I still say icky at age 21.

That was the old me. I can say with pride that I sucked it up and took that second bite (the most crucial I've found). And to my surprise - and delight - the grilled vegetable burrito through and through was better than the queso burrito. Of course it still could have used the queso sauce (although Qdoba doesn't support this blog (yet).. if you haven't had a burrito with this sauce, stop reading, go get one now, they are amazing). Now this is a step in the right direction. Not only did I not miss the meat, but I actually feel like I preferred the veggies on some level. Who knows, this may stick!

Its good to get over fears. Now I just need to learn to cope with the smell of cow juices...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Cow Juices

Just over two days into a life without meat. It is still not that unusual at this point, but psychologically it is harder than an ordinary two days without meat. You know how it works I am sure, how you want something that much more just because you know you can’t have it. I have not been face to face with any delicious cuts of meat yet, that will be a sad day.

There is something very appealing about the look of meat, isn’t there? I was in the dining hall trying to figure out how to find food I am allowed to eat and I wandered over to the previously foreign vegetarian bar. There was a stir-fry there with what looked like delicious, marinated, grilled cubes of chicken in it. I was excited, because it looked like I might be able to eat some chicken and claim ignorance because it had a big sign over it reading “Vegetarian.” But no such luck, the supposed chicken definitely crumbled into little granules when I ate it…tofu...not half bad when its soaked in Asian liquids, but noticeably worse than chicken. It was nice to have something resemble meat though. I do appreciate the fact that the dining hall is assembling protein-laden dishes for me to eat for the next few weeks, makes my protein planning a little easier.

The dining hall is not always so kind, however. A couple hours later I was driving behind the building and got a big noseful of burgers on the grill. That made me pretty mad, but I held it together, reminding myself that the dining hall makes the worst burgers in the world. But you know, it doesn’t matter, the smell of cow juices dripping into a fire is equally divine no matter what grade the meat they seeped from may have been. (Now I am aware some people deny the existence of cow juices, claim they are blood or something, but they are wrong)

I am about to go grocery shopping (an awesome pastime) but my grocery list looks pretty different these days. Grace taught me about complimentary proteins, so I have a table that tells me how to match up various foods. I will be buying so many new things. I suppose that’s good to diversify my diet regardless of the circumstances. I was reminded of the existence of veggieburgers last night! It filled me with hope. They have inferior juices to leak out onto the fire, but if I cook some cow next to it, I can smell the real juices burning while it cooks and fool myself into thinking I am eating the tastier, yet forbidden, option.

If anyone has any favorite vegetarian meals you should post them, or make them and invite me over ☺

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Carb Overload

One thing I am wary of (based in large part from advice from fellow vegetarians (cool I can now use the word fellow) (yes I am using too many parentheses)) is overloading on carbs. Especially in the beginning, when I lack confidence in my ability to cook tofu, will this be important. It may be less a lack of confidence and more a lack of tofu that led me to cook sub par fried rice tonight, but either way, my caloric intake today relied heavily on those carbs everyone seems to be so focused on these days.

So how do I get the protein I need without those delicious meats?

Saturday evening may have given me one idea. For dinner I stopped off at a place on campus I tend to frequent - Boca Grande. They have some great burritos, which just so happen to be pretty much my favorite food. Nothing better than a chicken burrito, right? Well not this particular night. I opted for essentially the chicken burrito without the chicken (they had a veggie burrito, but the grilled vegetables looked questionable at best and inedible at worst). This meant a tortilla with rice, black beans, cheese, and pico. NO meat. Good. While for the majority of my brick-shaped meal I was left with something to desire. Until the last few bites, where the cheese had been concentrated. Mmmmm. Cheese is good, and is kosher since we're not going vegan. Sweet.

My burrito experience reminded me of something I had figured out this summer with Alex. In one of our famous trips to Byerly's grocery store in the wee hours of the night, we began discussing our upcoming vegetarian diet, and decided to do a little research on how to get protein sans meat. Byerly's has this great section of loose foods such as rice and beans that are kept in plastic containers like cereal dispensers in college dining halls. We decided to check it out. Luckily, each container has the nutrition facts clearly posted, which allowed for quick math. Comparing the protein per gram serving of a few types of beans to just about every meat in the store yielded some interesting results. The beans we looked at actually had more protein per gram than any type of meat. In fact, most types of cheese had more protein as well. With all the fat and calories that come along with those amino acids in meat, beans, cheese, milk, soy protein based foods like tofu, and protein bars may indeed be healthier options. The problem then, with cutting out meat, may end up being iron and the nature of the protein one gets from vegetable sources. But thats a battle for a later post.

For now I will rely on what I subsided on in my semester abroad in Ecuador - rice and beans. And lentils. And pig. Lots of fried pig... wait, no. They love it down there, but I could have done without it then (tongue? no thank you) and will do without it now. But maybe they've got it figured out down there anyway. After all, I lost weight in Ecuador and felt healthy. On top of that, in a study abroad semester of his own, my oldest host brother had his cholesterol tested at a U.S. university, and was told that it was the lowest they'd ever seen. That may have been my host mom's embellishment, but regardless, rice and beans seem to work. And they are delicious.

On another note, its quite funny that on the first day, the first meal, Alex faltered and got some sausage. Just goes to show you how normal and routine it is for us to eat meat. I know I missed it today (even though I have gone without meat for a day plenty of times). But if after two days I am missing it. Who knows how bad it will be come November 23rd. I am actually hoping I wont miss it. Hoping I'll learn to love food without it. It's time to take of the shackles of the meat industry and overthrow a society of savage carnivores that impose their meat-loving agenda on the uninformed masses below!

That may be a bit extreme. For now I'll just focus on what to eat.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day One

No, I do not have a clever title with a pun for this entry. Frankly, Devin has a gift for busting out the puns and I tend to clam up in the shadow of his greatness. But I do have some thoughts about this undertaking of ours.

First of all, I have to come clean - I did eat some meat this morning. It was an honest mistake, I promise, and I didn't even enjoy it. It was just out of habit. I was in line at the dining hall for breakfast and I said, like I would on any other Saturday, "Can I get some eggs, sausage and potatoes?" They were all very, very greasy and I only had two bits of sausage before I made up my mind to waste the whole plate of food. It was not until an hour or two later that I realized I had eaten meat in error. I really should have remembered, for it was not but twelve hours previous that I had ceremoniously raised my last piece of meat high on a fork in a small, smoky booth in Chili’s to proclaim the beginning of my vegetarian life. The fact that I woke up the next morning and immediately ate meat is probably a good indicator of how much self-control this is going to take. I am still optimistic though. I have confidence I will not wander again. But in fairness to Devin, I will eat my meat last at Thanksgiving to make up for my early error.

After less than one day without meat (something everybody does everyday) I have an outlook as to what the biggest challenge will be in the coming weeks. I think the hardest thing will be explaining to people why I am not eating meat. People notice it more quickly than I thought they would, and I tend to bring it up unprovoked besides, which doesn’t help I suppose. Now don’t get me wrong, I am one of the first people to form harsh judgments about people who don’t eat delicious, juicy meat, but now that I am on the other side of things I am finding most people are not far behind me with their judgments. I try to explain it is not because I am a pansy, a hippy, part of a new-age cult or trying to lose weight, but people still shake their heads and curl up their noses like I am offending them personally. I have thoughts on this, but I will save them for later.

I am looking forward to the first time this really becomes challenging. I will be turning to Devin for support, as well as my handy and elegantly vague pamphlet on how to eat healthy as a vegetarian and my friend Grace, who has shown surprising enthusiasm for joining me in this experiment. She is better at this than me, so I will just try to copy her when I don’t know the answer.

Even if the whole vegetarian thing turns out to be dull, I have plenty of humorous and insulting things to say in this blog, so keep checking back, I may even mention YOU!

Stopping Cold Turkey

Today, October 27th, I am a vegetarian. Yesterday for lunch I had a cheeseburger with onions at a new 50's style burger joint in my school's student union. For dinner, I had gourmet Chinese at P.F. Chang's, which included both orange and sweet and sour chicken. Both meals were delicious. More importantly, both were normal for me. On average I'd say I eat meat at least once a day. When I am back home in Minnesota, it may even be more frequent. Meat is big in the Midwest, and I was raised to believe that it is the center of a balanced meal. If a dinner didn't have meat, well then it just wasn't a proper meal.

So what have I gotten myself into? Or more important - what is my motivation? Why am I willfully giving up something that I love to eat?

To put it plain and simple - meat is bad for the environment. In terms of water use alone, meat is incredibly wasteful. To produce one pound of beef it takes over 2,500 gallons of water (to grow the food to feed the cow, for the cow to drink, etc). To put this in perspective, an average 10 minute shower uses about 20 gallons of water. That means you would save more water if you chose to skip ordering the burger or steak once or twice than if you stopped showering for 4 months! For the sake of your friends and family, cutting the meat may prove easier.

Yesterday I was the "meat-lovers pizza" kinda guy I've been for years. Today, I stop cold turkey (horrible pun intended). I am going into this lacking research or tools at my disposal, other than a few vegetarian friends, and my counterpart to this experiment a thousand miles away in Michigan. For now, I feel good. I had mac & cheese for lunch, no big deal. For dinner, I'll cook some rice and veggies. But for a month... It's going to be a struggle.

How soon 'til Thanksgiving?