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.
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.
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.