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Taking a Vegan Challenge Turned Into a Lifestyle

Camp Pendleton Patch editor Daniel Woofolk took a challenge to eat vegan for 30 days. He found he enjoyed it and felt better.

Early this month, a college friend, Jimmy Schneider, and I sat at the Breakwater Brewery and stared down a basket of warm mozzarella sticks before digging in. The two of us munched on each delicious morsel as if we were about to survive on astronaut food for a journey to Mars.

And our reason was pretty close.

We had both agreed to take part in the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Pledge to be Vegan for 30 Days!" challenge, so the fried cheese basket was our last omnivorous meal.

The agreement has kept us from consuming animal products, which meant no meat, no dairy and, especially, no cheating.

We didn't take the pledge for ethical reasons; we though it would be a fun learning experience for the both of us. For me, it also meant breaking one newly acquired habit — eating out daily. Since I moved here from New York in October, I had been inhaling junk food, making me feel sluggish and gross.

The transition to being animal-product free has been fun and easy. I was raised vegan early in my childhood and I remember how much I loved biting into fresh tomatoes. I also ate garlic raw regularly until I realized my friends were distancing themselves from me in more ways than one. 

Recently, my immediate family switched back to being vegan and urged me to do the same, so in a way, I’ve returned to my roots.

The social aspect hasn’t been too tough, especially since I don’t know many people yet.

I thought eating in restaurants and attending holiday functions would be the biggest challenge, but most people have been very accommodating, including brewery staff.

Schneider and I have been there a few times to order our favorite Friday night vegan meal — beer.

But that’s no fun without food, so the bartenders have been more than happy to treat us with a few vegetarian delights, which we scarfed down.

But we’ve both slipped along the way. I bought meat substitutes that actually contain milk, but I’ve since started making more of my food from scratch. Schneider — a naval officer on base — spent Christmas in Arizona, but his resolve was no match for tradition.

“I think my mom probably fed me about six pounds of cheese in the last week,” he said in a guilty tone, but ensured me that he plans to continue eating a plant-based diet beyond the 30 days.

I’ve avoided some blunders by scouring ingredient lists and, as a result, I have rejected products with too many scientific-sounding. My guilty pleasure, however, has been chorizo’s most famous vegan substitute — Soyrizo.

My roommates have been such big fans of the spicy meal, that when I cook it, they open all the windows and doors and turn the kitchen air extractor on high so that our neighbors can enjoy its aroma. (That’s why they do that, right?)

I plan to continue eating this way — especially since I don’t miss meat, but I do miss brownies and I’ve learned to bake them without milk or eggs.

I also feel great and have more energy. Some persistent allergy symptoms have improved and I’ve dropped a few pounds. I also eat a lot more often, as my roommate noticed.

“It’s dinner time every three hours around here,” he joked.

Aside from the health benefits, I’ve discovered tasty foods and local businesses that I would have overlooked.

Some of my favorite recipes have been kiwi salsatofu scrambleeggplant burger(made into patties) and vegan brownies.

My favorite restaurant meals have been the Cajun Tofu Sandwich and the Vegan Chili at the ; the local beers and the veggie platter at theBreakwater Brewery; and  smoothie.

For fast food, burritos have been key — at least until I get a better feel for what’s out there.  and  both have amazing veggie burritos. At Rubio’s, though, I ask for the veggie burrito and a side of beans with no cheese or sauce. I avoid their HealthMex burrito, because it tastes like, well, health food.

When I need a drive-thru meal, I get the  Bean Burrito or 7-Layer Burrito Fresco Style — which ensures no dairy products get in my food.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for Oceanside’s fantastic Farmers Market. There, I discovered Bitchin’ Sauce — a Carlsbad-based vegan food company. 

There's plenty in North County to keep even the hungriest of herbivores satisfied. 

SPB January 07, 2012 at 08:08 PM
@ LBV. Its true. Its the one recurring theme in all extremist positions: They have no sense of humor. Irony goes out the window, be it marxists who shop at big box retailers, anti immigration advocates who don't mind who mows their lawn, religious zealots who come down on gay marriage while cheating on their spouses, radical feminists who want equality for all except for white males... The list goes on and on. I just say live and let live you know? Everyone has a system that works for them and we should largely respect whatever that may be provided it isn't hurting somebody else. My best friend is an outright carnivore who tells me about every steak he eats. No biggie, I just tell him I'll make sure to provide nothing but healthy vegan offerings at his funeral reception.
Rhonda January 09, 2012 at 04:54 PM
You are made of the same components as an animal. However, we call it cannibolism to eat other homo sapiens. Animals would love nothing more than to enjoy their life on this planet as you do. Taking care of their off spring and enjoying their environment forging for food. Most animals that you eat, eat plant foods. So you eat the middle man to get your soy and corn. Better to eat fresh foods and allow an animal to live its life.
LBV Collins January 10, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I dunno, Rhonda. The last time I had bacon it didn’t taste much like soy or corn. The “middleman” made it taste much better. As for animals “enjoying” their life in the great outdoors (queue “Circle of Life” if you’re in the mood), living in nature pretty much sucks. Have you ever watched nature programs where they show a day in the average animal’s life. It’s not pretty. Everywhere they turn death stalks them. Whether it’s insects sucking their blood, disease ravaging their body, life-or-death fights with fellow herd members, or being hunted by creatures further up the food chain, living in nature ain’t no fun. Sure the circle of life sounds appealing, but that circle is filled with fear and pain, which is only occasionally offset with sex or a decent meal. Good grief, just getting a drink of water at the ol’ waterin’ hole is a life-or-death event. Nope, I just don’t think wild animals have the carefree life suggested by Elton John’s Disney song. (It’s a touching song, though.)
Vince January 11, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Sorry I missed this when it was a HOT Topic...I don't care much for "store bought" meat. I did a remodel down off Bandini in L.A. years back, at a meat processing operation, and well...saw more then I needed, or wanted to regarding "processing" thereabouts.... And ever since I have shied away from commercially processed meat products. ALTHOUGH, I still do hunt and "harvest" my own--Which to many Tree Huggers, and Vegan's is deemed to be "unfair to animals"...I do beg to differ there Sun Shine, Moon Shine, Moon Beam, or whatever hip, and "nature friendly" name ya done adopted for yourself (Peace, Love Dove!)...See, I go hunting barefoot, in naught but a loin cloth (rain or shine!) with no other impliment of critter destruction beyond a self shaped/honed obsidian "knife"...it is pure hell on the ol' feet's bottoms I tell you, what with all that stalking, and running around these here hills, chasing deer, rabbits, an' sech an' all like that there---but it is very rewarding, since not only am I "cullng" the herds of the old, infirmed, weak, and slow---and ya gotta know they's slow, and do need they's old slow, and weak azzes removed from the procreation pool, IF a half nekkid, bare-footey gimpy old geezer can outrun 'em in thier own stomping grounds, AND take 'em out with nothing more then a cheesy azzed home made rock knife, yeah huh? What the heck...it also fills my freezer with environmentally friendly meat products--sans hormones, antibiotics, or other type additives...
TVOR January 22, 2012 at 07:46 PM
That sounds like fun,,,,,,except for the whole loincloth thing. I will keep my clothes on thank you.

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