Friday, May 28, 2010

Please Remember

This being Memorial Day Weekend I am reminded how lucky we are to live in such a great country.

Now, being that this little blog of mine is read in 38 different countries I want to be very clear about this strictly non-political post. Recently, I was at a panel discussion on Afghanistan that included Peter Galbraith the recent United Nations' Deputy Special Representative to that country. He is married to a woman from Denmark and he related a story about her saying how "appalled" she was when she visited the States after 9-11-01 and saw all these American flags, including overt displays of patriotism even in "liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts," she lamented. (Where Harvard is).

I never really understood how many in Europe bristle at the patriotism of Americans given the history of the 20th Century, and certainly in the aftermath of that horrible day 9 years ago. Well, I will choose to ignore Mr. Galbraith's wife and remember a Dutch woman named Bep Baltussen from Maastricht, Holland. I never met her, but after my grandfather was killed at the Battle of the Bulge on December 23, 1944 he was interned at the American Cemetery in Maastricht and this young woman adopted his grave being so thankful that the Americans (and British) liberated her country. With the parents, widow, and infant son (my father) thousands of miles away, Ms. Baltussen would plant flowers and tend to my grandfather's grave. She would correspond with my family after the war and send Christmas and Easter cards in Dutch. We have saved them these past 65 years. The "Greatest Generation" certainly extended around the world.

So, you will have to forgive my public pronouncement of thanks to the American soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that I could live in freedom. This is not jingoism, this is honor and thankfulness.

Today in Times Square the United States Marines were holding a public demonstration of their equipment, and exhibitions in self defense, and music from the USO. ABC Morning Show was filming a segment outside as well, and I just marveled that I really do live in the greatest city in the world. The crossroads of the world is at my work's front door, and though I may bitch and moan about hapless tourists getting in my way as I rush home from work, today it gave me chills to watch these perfectly tailored and fit Marines interact with the public. Even the notoriously cynical NYPD were taking photos of these guys.

I asked one Major about their chow hall, and MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) in the field and he said that if someone wanted to eat strictly vegan in the Marine Corps they would have no problem doing so.

So, this weekend, I want to use my tiny pulpit to just say thank you to those who serve, and solemly remember the American soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their lives in defense of liberty around the world.

New Friends

Yesterday two very generous readers of My Vegan Quest, Sheila and Randy from Tennessee took me to lunch. I suggested we go to Red Bamboo in the Village. I sometimes write in a vacuum thinking nobody reads my words except for an email from time to time from my mother chastising me about a post which talks about my drinking too much. So it was refreshing to meet two strangers who know so much about me, but also derive pleasure from reading about my journey since they have similar successes and set-backs as I do -- and I imagine most people too.


We had the brussel sprouts rolls as an appetizer which are delicious. They look like egg rolls, and of course being fried, no matter how lightly, it would not be high on the list of true nutrient-dense eating.

A fellow next to us marveled at the presentation of our food, and asked if it was healthy. It was actually a very good question because as I have stated numerous times just being vegan does not mean eating healthfully. Now, compare my grilled "chicken" dish to a real grilled chicken meal from, say, and Applebee's and of course mine is much healthier. But, there is still probably too much oil, and salt used in these fine meals at Red Bamboo to be considered the pinnacle of healthy eating. However, if you want to eat a great meal void of all meat and dairy you can do no wrong with Red Bamboo!

I'll be down on the Shore this Memorial Day Weekend. Should be interesting!  I am bringing some vegan sausages to grill but will not be telling anyone.

Being the Hipster

Wednesday Night I went to a terrific event at the gorgeous space, Capitale on the Bowery. It was called The Kitchen Spring Gala. The Kitchen is an experimental art house, for lack of a better description. It is outside of my personal artistic predilections for Renoir, Pissarro, Wyeth, and Lyendecker, but it was an interesting and funky crowd. Being that it was in honor of the Talking Heads' David Byrne it was a roomful of cool and hip people, and I was merely on the outside looking in, but looking in with fascination.

I fell in love with this young singer Annie Clark (St. Vincent) who has a gorgeous voice, and was so charming to entertain my ham-fisted chat-up. By the end of our discussion I was promising to write her next song. Not once did she roll her eyes though the desire I am sure was there.

The food was typical for these Galas - salmon and vegetable that were overdone and oily. I did have a great conversation with my clients about my vegan journey and with another new audience I never tire of talking about my favorite subject. Not sure if I mean veganism, or just me?

When entertaining clients as you are literally rubbing elbows with David Byrne on one side, and actor Josh Hartman on the other it is very very very very hard to stick to just seltzer. By the end of the night I was chatting with an adorable woman, and excellent artist! http://www.erikascully.com/

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

And the Cough Stopped


I just realized something. For years I would often cough during or after I would eat - mostly during lunch. I became aware of it back in '94. It was not often after dinner, but always after lunch.


I went to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor and there was nothing he could do - though I did get new X-Rays of my esophagus that was repaired when I was an infant. It looks like a heavily scarred thin hour glass. How did I get so big with such frighteningly fragile looking, reconstructed trachea and esophagus? How did I even play athletics? At birth I had Trachea Esophageal Fistula, so the better part of my first year on the planet was spent at Mather Air Force Base Hospital. Maybe I'll post a photo of me back during my incarceration -- think E.T. in diapers. Choking on food throughout my childhood was an all too common experience.

Well, the coughing problem in adulthood never went away - an annoyance really - and I just chalked it up to my esophagus knowing that to get food down through the eye of a needle it had to get my mucus membranes to work overtime.

Again, I never thought about until the last few days when I realized that for at least 16 years I would cough a few times after I ate my lunch, but all during the vegan quest I never would! And this has nothing to do with meat vs. salad since it would happen even after I had soup, or yes, even salad during my non-vegan days. It is highly curious that my body would produce more of that viscous liquid that would tickle my throat to cough a few times almost daily until I stopped all animal products. Very interesting - no nutritional info here, just I find it interesting.

Last night I got home late and decided to watch some baseball and drink some water at the Pig 'n' Whistle. They had a special salad that that was mixed greens, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and slices of grapefruit with a citrus dressing (very light on oil, but too much for me). Also included were calamari shells, or tubes, stuffed with crabmeat. I was nervous this would be fried, or the crabmeat would be loaded with mayo, but I was shocked at how fresh and pure both the squid and the crabmeat were!

I think if I have some sort of fish or chicken dish, I would prefer that most of the meal be an interesting salad. I would rather fill up on salad and not fish. I just feel better afterwards.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Making a U-Turn

Last night I was determined to continue my renewed intensity in working out, and to reverse my recent slide towards the old way of life.

After my abdominal work-out I went to the elliptical for only about 10 minutes as a warm up. Then I went to a newer treadmill that I am unfamiliar with, and before you know it the treadmill was moving so fast I started to jog, and the jog turned into a run at a pretty good clip.

Now, why have I not been running these past 7 months? You ever wonder why in Third World countries that have no skyscrapers that when an earthquake hits there is total devastation? Well, the same engineers who build these Third World buildings also constructed my knees.
I have had 4 surgeries on my left knee, and the right one has avoided the knife only because it was just a grade or two less excruciating than its brother -- and the only thing that made them less painful to merely walk on was not the surgery, rather, it was not until I started to lose the weight. Essentially, I have severe arthritis and both knees are bone-on-bone. Consequently, I do low-impact aerobic exercise such as bike riding, the elliptical machine, and walking on a steep incline on the treadmill.

But last night, hitting the gym when I least feel like it - in the evening of a beautiful summer night - I was just filled with energy. Energy and some very controlled anger at myself for living my weekend like a college Sophomore just finished with finals. I had A LOT of energy and A LOT of anger to expunge.


So, this new machine started whirling about and in my head I just said, "Screw it, I'm running today." And like Forrest Gump I just started running. I felt no pain in my knees, no aches anywhere, I just looked at my silhouette in the darkened window and imagined me at 12 years old running wind sprints on a hot August afternoon during football practice at Mason Park. My mind kept skipping, like my iPod which I never use in the gym (By the way, anyway to prevent my iPod from skipping songs repeatedly as is juggles about in my gym shorts pocket?). It skipped to some High School football games under the lights where I made big plays, and it skipped ahead to college where deep in the season I was filled with stamina and could play an 80 minute rugby game and still have some gas left in the tank. And in my mind as I ran down the field images of certain plays flashed inside my brain - the brawl with USC, the long run against UCLA, the tackle against Cal Berkeley, and the assist against Long Beach State. Over and over images of my youth where my body was just automatically in tip-top shape, and my only disappointment was that I was too thin. My pace quickened and I became aware of my breathing - heavy, and almost growling. Why was I running so fast? I could not stop. I wanted to run over that part of me that for 6 months triumphantly said "no," but recently could not help but say "yes" to every unhealthy eating and drinking habit a man of 42 can engage in. The minutes flew by, 5, 10, 15, 20, I was still sprinting. I was pissed, but I was getting that terrific charge of endorphins firing in my body. It felt great to feel like I was young again! I was running on pure adrenaline.

The famous Housman poem started playing in my head:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Then I remembered the name of the poem was, To An Athlete Dying Young. Bad image, bad. Get it out of your head! Next up in my skitzofrenic imagination was the marathon. I started imaging myself running the New York City marathon, then I fantasized about what I would write on my T-Shirt, I know, "On Marathon Sunday, 2009 I weighed 302 lbs!" No need to advertise my current weight as it would be obvious as I sprinted up First Avenue.

My imagination carried me on, I was drenched in sweat, my lungs felt like the pit of a steam engine locomotive, and then I felt a little tug, and then mild discomfort, and then some pain. The wheels were coming off. I was becoming aware of my self sprinting along, and aware of those Third World structures desperately trying to keep my femur from crashing through my tibia like the Titanic through an iceberg. The calendar had reversed my merry, exhaustive, romp through my youth and quickly the pages of the months flew forward reaching the present day, and all 42 years, 1 month, and 13 days of me, still 25 lbs over weight, announced their existence and my fantasy run was over. I limped off the treadmill and to the locker room - it was like the lights went on in the movie theatre and my suspended reality was over. My knees felt like they were in a magic show, which included sharp knives through a box, that went horribly wrong.

My knees are not meant to run, at least not yet. Oddly enough when I sat down gingerly on the bench Tennyson raced through my head, "When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!"

So, last night was a wild charge, it was my punishment for slipping a bit and I felt great afterwards. I'm limping today, definitely strained something in my bag of rocks normal people call knees. But no matter, I should be able to ride the bike, etc. And if that is too sore (I'll push sore muscles to the limit all day long, but you can't push sore joints for fear of further injury), my trainer taught me some great hard-core cardio exercise that don't even involve the bending of the knee.

Did I eye that Corona in the fridge when I limped home with urges to reward myself? You betcha! Did I leave it where it was? Abso-freaking-lutely!

Because I did not get home till after 9 PM none of my salad places were open, so I ordered in sushi - edamame, and lots of tuna, and salmon, no rice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pop Quiz Monday

Would love for you all to weigh in with your thoughts. Below my quiz is an email sent out by the Gov.  of NY

QUIZ

1. Do you agree or disagree with the Governor of New York? Why, Why Not?

2. If president, how would you personally combat childhood obesity in America? (readers in 38 other countries on this blog, I want to hear from you too!)







My Fellow New Yorkers:



Obesity is a public health crisis. When over half the adults in this State, and one out of every four New Yorkers under the age of 18, are overweight or obese, we must recognize that there is a tremendous problem. Obesity is associated with life threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, and the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages is a major contributor to obesity. These health problems and costs will only increase in the future, unless we take steps to help all New Yorkers adopt healthier lifestyles.


By implementing my modified sugar-sweetened beverage tax, we will gain an effective tool to combat obesity. This plan will increase the price differential between the high sugar-high calorie and low sugar-low calorie beverages and encourage consumers to make healthier choices. A one cent per ounce excise tax would be added to sugary soft-drinks, bottled coffee and tea drinks with added sugar, powders and other sugary beverages, but my revised and improved plan will also eliminate the sales tax for bottled water and low-calorie drinks that have 10 or fewer calories per 8 oz.

New Yorkers spend an estimated $7.6 billion annually to treat obesity related health care costs. This initiative will help lower those costs over time, and improve the health and quality of life for all New Yorkers. Now is the time for us to take bold actions, and I again urge the Legislature to help me encourage healthy eating by approving this new tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

For more information about the modified sugar sweetened beverage tax package, please click here. Also, please share your views on this issue on Straight Talk from the Taxpayer.

Best,



David A. Paterson


Governor of New York State

Fitness and Obesity in America

Interesting article today from Forbes on the healthiest and least healthy cities in America:

http://www.forbes.com/2010/05/21/fittest-cities-washington-lifestyle-health-exercise-obesity.html

America's fittest cities:

1. Washington, DC
2. Boston, Mass.
3. Minneapolis, Minn.
4. Seattle, Wash.
5. Portland, Ore.
6. Denver, CO
7. Sacramento, CA
8. San Francisco, CA
9. Hartford, Conn.
10. Austin, TX

America's most sluggish cities (I guess they were afraid to use the word fat):

1. Oklahoma City, OK
2. Birmingham, Ala.
3. Memphis, Tenn.
4. Detroit, MI
5. Louisville, KY
6. Las Vegas, Nev.
7. Indianapolis, Ind.
8. San Antonio, TX
9. Houston, TX
10. New Orleans, LA

It is interesting to note whereas there are some surprises with the fittest cities, Hartford? Sacramento?, the fittest cities are generally dispersed rather evenly across the country, whereas a majority of the more sluggish cities are concentrated in the South. My only assumption, based on my summer in Atlanta, and visits to Texas, Florida, and Louisiana is that the cultural dishes and popular foods are heavy on fried meals, and lots of high-fat meat.

My 200th Posting

Well, my social life really is all or nothing. Taking into account this weekend: Drinks after work with a colleague on Friday followed by drinks with another friend before going to a concert. (Side story, one of the friends having drinks with us was in a national commercial with Tiger Woods, and I have not seen him since the scandal, so I asked him about the fallout since he gets paid every time the commercial runs -- since the commercial was pulled after the scandal, and a future commercial was shelved, he figures that he will have lost $500,000 in planned income becasue of Mr. Woods indiscretions. I just thought that was quite interesting! Not to mention that maybe I should do commercials instead of selling advertising - a far easier way to make a buck!)

So, late Friday night there was the concert, the Bogman, great show! Then Saturday at noon was the Heineken Cup rugby final with a good friend and Irishman - try having just one there. Then Saturday night with a group of friends and heard plenty of, "Hey, you look great! And you are drinking again, let me buy you a drink!" And then Sunday at brunch with a very dear old girlfriend at the great restaurant Landmarc -- I opted for the oatmeal and fruit, but I did order a Bloody Mary. She is the only one who could look at my life before, take my vegan quest into account, and pinpoint where I was currently falling Short, while the world around me congratulated me... and she'd be right.

The bold statements I said I would be making this weekend where bold indeed - negatively! Simply put with the group of friends that I have in a city where social drinking is more of a tradition than most every other city, and yes that means you Chicago, and Sydney, and London, it is either abstinence or indulgence -- the middle ground for a guy is nearly impossible to find. I said "nearly." Although it has been 24 days since the end of the 100% vegan lifestyle and I have yet to have a hamburger or a steak (I expected them to go #1, #2 in my normal eating draft come May 1), my socializing has been on par with all my other friends, and that means full steam ahead.

Sunday was a great day of reflection for me - starting with an incredible conversation with an old girlfriend, then I read a great blog aabout a woman who has reinvented herself ( http://girlreinvented.com/), then mass, and then seeing a buddy of mine who has gone through an even more extreme transformation. This friend was once a short, fat, sweaty, cocaine addict, bartender with a life that was out of control. His friends pulled an intervention over a year ago and now he is incredibly slim, very fit, but still short. I chose not to drink Sunday night even though it was the Yankees vs. the Mets, but I popped in to say hello to my pal. In fact, it was in his bar that I watched the NYC Marathon way back on November 1, 2009 sipping my water and munching an apple. He looks like a completely different person, and he in turn heaped tons of praise on me. With this I felt guilty since my weekend choices were not impressive!

Finally, as I settled in for the evening and read the Sunday Times I read an article in the Travel Section by Matt Gross (http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/travel/23frugalwalk.html?ref=travel). He was recreating a small portion of a 1933 trek across Europe made by the famous British travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Mr. Gross said he would travel from Vienna to Budapest on foot. Being that I wrote about my train experience from Vienna to Budapest a number of years ago (mine focusing more on the experience of going to a former Eastern Bloc country for the first time) I was eager to read about this guy's sojourn. First of all, reading his account gave me additional motivation to realize that I could certainly write for the New York Times. Second, and more importantly, after becoming invested in his story, he gave up. Sure he walked over 100 miles, but because of sore ankles, and with 25 miles to go to Budapest he quit, and took a bus. He justified it, but as a reader, I felt cheated.

When I started My Vegan Quest I always said that I would stay off the drink initially at first, but reintroduce it once I get going. Both my friend the athletic junk food junkie, and the Skeptical Doctor challenged me to stave off the drink for the entire 6 months, so too did the chorus from the Ladies of London. People were invested in my vegan quest, and if I were to alter that they would feel cheated as I did with that travel story in the Times.

With so few pounds to go to reach my goal I think I better realize that my social life must be restricted. I am so close, and even though I know I'll reach my goal, to do so over a period of many months is akin, in my mind, to quitting.

I am going to put further restrictions on my social life since I am not going to find new friends, nor will I move out of New York. Why? Because I have mastery over my food diet, but not my drink diet. Until I master both, and get to my 225 lbs, I am going to have to put Draconian restrictions on myself.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Slippery Slope

A recent comment on My Vegan Quest talked about the slippery slope of reintroducing meat into your diet.

It certainly is! It is sooo much easier to cut it all out!

Well, I need to put pride aside for honesty, and as painful as it is, it makes the story more intriguing and more realistic -- I just wish it was not my story!

I have been generally strong most of my days back into civilian life, but...
Yesterday, my gym work-out was quite intense, and I had more energy than I usually have. I did intense cardio for 40 minutes. Also, when I weighed myself I was just a couple of lbs heavier than May 1st. Those 7 lbs gained was significantly decreased - I lost 5 lbs this week. But!

Here is where my personality, un-tethered by strict abstinence, starts to creep in to my day-to-day life. So, I knock off 5 lbs this week (perhaps some water weight), and feeling really good about my work-outs in the gym. I decided to go to the brand new Pig 'n' Whistle on 36th Street for lunch and invited a client to join me. This is what I do best, hang out with clients and, yes, "entertain." The owner, Des, comes over to ask my thoughts on the new bar/restaurant (it's gorgeous), and we chat about my trip to Ireland. Being a former rugby player himself, we chat about Munster, and Foley, and Woodie. A wave of his hand to the bartender and a beer is front and center of me. "Thanks." It's the culture. Unless you are off the sauce completely, friendships are measured in free pints, not firm handshakes.

OK, good work out, losing the weight I gained on holiday, one beer is not going to kill me. But, that governor in my head that whisks me by the eggs in the morning, and the steak house at night, needs to show himself a little more. As I have mentioned numerous times, my job is often about socializing, and sitting in a pub, telling stories and getting back slaps from friends, acquaintances, and clients is a little like oxygen for me. And the big question is do I have to drink seltzer only, or can I live by 1 or 2 only? So far it has been only 1 or 2, but I am aware of the signs of slipping back into over-indulgence, and the signs are a tiny bit concerning for me. Now, a couple of beers with clients in the afternoon, say, once a month does no harm, but, but, I need to make sure it stays rather infrequent. And, an FYI, in sales it is commonly accepted and sanctioned at the highest levels in the organization that drinks over lunch sometimes with a client is normal. We've come a long way since Mad Men and the three martini lunch, but it is still a rather common practice less any of you accountants, or doctors, or teachers seem shocked by this.

Then, on top of all of this I had a date last night. Lovely girl, but she must have had an
 8 course meal before we met because she had no interest in eating dinner, unless by dinner you mean vodka 7's! Now, even though I am out of practice, I can still go toe to toe with anyone, but subtract dinner, and, well, it was a typical New York City date night -- start out at a nice sophisticated wine bar, and continue festivities at different gin joints until you end up at Doc Watson's, well past midnight, dancing the jig. The body is not built to live like that, and if you do it enough over years and years and you'll end up looking like Chris Farley. And the final blow? After a night like that I was starving, and what is open at 1 AM? Well, both PJ Clarke's and the Pig n Whistle serve food until 3 AM. There is a 24 hour diner around the corner. And finally, there is the Ray Bary's pizza parlor at the foot of my front door.

For years and years the site of a pizza box on my coffee table when I stumble to the shower in the morning would elicit just a head shake, and maybe a chuckle. This morning the sight of it elicited a loud curse word like I stepped on a safety pin or something.

Now, I am standing back and looking at my new life 3 weeks in. All in all, not bad. I am very happy that my food desires are in a pattern that are very healthy, and I can happily live with. And including my holiday in Ireland, the nights I hit it hard I can count on one hand. 5 nights out of 21 is not terrible, not great, but no where near the old me. But, and here is the big but, I have been flirting with the old lifestyle - propping it up with good eating most days, and rigorous work-outs, but I am not so sure that this is a safe speed I should be driving.

Tonight I am going to see a band, The Bogmen, with a buddy who has been waiting to drink with me since November 1, 2009. A test indeed! Tomorrow? I am going to watch the European Cup rugby final at an McCormack's Irish pub, with an Irish friend in the middle of the day. Another test!

Stay tuned, I expect to make some bold stances this weekend! God willing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hump Day, Chump Day

Yesterday I had my oatmeal with peanut butter and raisins for breakfast, and then my typical salad for lunch. For dinner I went to one of the best noodle shops in NYC, Menkui-Tei, although the awning outside of this miniscule, décor-less place on 56th and 6th says, Larmen New York.

I have had their vegetable ramen soup and it is spectacular. The first time was this winter with a buddy who had the ramen with pork and I was quite jealous. So last night I ordered the vegetable ramen with a side of pork thrown on top since my buddy's dish all those months ago looked so good. It added nothing. The vegetables are fresh, the broth is delectable, and the noodles are perfect. The pieces of pork neither added nor subtracted from the meal. So why did I do it? Maybe I still can't believe that if I want to, I can live a happy life of eating without meat?
I did not make it to the gym last night - unless I go first thing in the morning (always rough), or at lunch, I find it so hard to drag myself to the gym after work when the sun is still out and there is a buzz in the air.

Last night, in another attempt to enhance my experience because I am convinced it enhanced my experience many times before over the decades, I popped two cans of Coors as I watched my one of the funniest shows on TV, ABC's Modern Family. Nope, didn't enhance my experience at all, and I felt guilty afterwards.

Yesterday is what I would consider a far less than perfect, AND lazy day. Maybe I was resting on my laurels? Maybe I was being defiant? Maybe I was trying to recapture some imaginary "enhancement to my life" (pork with the ramen, beer with the TV)? It doesn't matter. It was not a very good day. Not awful, but not good.

As I write this I am heading to the gym for lunch. Maybe I'll see that fat, whiny bastard who moved my towel in the steam room on Monday (the steam room is much better now) and denied it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Habits

Do you remember the first time you at breakfast at a friends house as a kid, and they used different milk in the cereal than you? We were a "Low fat" milk family, and our friends down the street were a "Fat free" milk family. Now, even though the nutritional value, and actual fat content differential is rather tiny, the taste is markedly different. Their milk tasted like chalky water! Another friend's whole milk tasted like cream. It is all in how you were raised and what you are used to.

For 6 months I did not eat meat, nor fish, nor cheese, nor drank milk, or alcohol, or anything really other than water. For 10-15 years prior to that I ate and drank nothing but! But after a period of time without, I am now used to a plant-based only diet (though I am reintroducing meat & fish now). You can change your behavior, your habits.

It has been 19 days since I have ended my vegan quest, and I still have not gone to a steak house! I really expected that to be my first port of call! Now, I have had red meat, both times in Ireland - Guinness stew, and a home cooked meal of roast beef. Oh, and there was ground beef in my lasagna last Sunday. But, I have not made the religious trek to a New York City steak house! Wait a minute, it just dawned on me, I have not even had a hamburger either?! As I write this I am shocked that almost 3 weeks after the biggest challenge in my life I did not run to the nearest Smith & Wollensky's for a giant porterhouse steak, nor run up to JG Melons for a hamburger! What is wrong with me?

Well, I don't find meat repulsive (sorry vegans, I know you were hoping I'd come to your side - but call me a compassionate carnivore), the meat I have had still tastes good, but I am not itching for a steak or burger! The urge ain't there!

Bottom line, I now have an internal governor inside my brain that either dampens my urges, or dissuades my urges.

A great example is eggs. I wrote this back in my first week, in November:

You knew I started each day with you! All of ya! Hard boiled, soft boiled, scrambled, poached, Florentine, Benedict, and over easy. But, it wasn't easy! I needed you! But now, now you are dead to me. I had to stare you down. I had to overcome my desire. You lost eggs! You lost! I walked right down Main Street passed you! No eggs today, pal, no eggs until the Spring of 2010. How does that make you feel? Huh? You are powerless over me! Well, at least for today. We will meet again, and when we do, I bet I go for the apple and banana again!

Yes, it was a silly, stupid post, but I really had no idea how difficult it would be in the beginning. That was all talk back then, but I really did lick the habit! I loved, loved eggs. But here is the thing! Eggs still taste good to me, but as I walked through our café this morning and saw those shiny white hardboiled eggs, and fluffy scrambled, yellow eggs I had none of that impulsive desire. Well, I did have a desire, for my oatmeal with peanut butter and raisins!

Addicted to diet coke? Drink 5 a day? Go without, that urge will go away. Anyone can change their habits after giving up your weakness for a bit. A whole milk drinker can become a fat free milk drinker. A soda addict can become a fan of water. And a carnivore can become a vegan for 6 months, and then bounce back to be a quasi-vegan.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SALT

I certainly have a bit of a false sense of security because my cholesterol is so good. Below is from the newsletter from Dr. Joel Fuhrman:

Dr. Fuhrman

Strokes are the leading cause of disability in the U.S., and the third leading cause of death. Almost 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year. Although strokes are usually perceived as a condition that afflicts older Americans, they occur in people of all ages. About 25% of strokes occur in people under the age of 65, and 10-15% occur in those under age 45.1


Last week, at the age of 41, Beau Biden, Delaware Attorney General and son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, suffered what is being called a mild stroke. Joe Biden himself suffered from a hemorrhagic stroke due to a ruptured brain aneurysm in 1985 at the age of 45.2

Bret Michaels, of the band Poison and a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice, recently suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage (a type of hemorrhagic stroke) at age 47. He was released last week to a rehabilitation facility.3

Simply eating a vegetarian or vegan diet does not preclude you from heading down a path to suffering a stroke yourself. Many vegans falsely believe that their low cholesterol levels and decreased atherosclerosis risk make them exempt from all types of cardiovascular disease. This is not always the case – they may even be at higher risk!

Everyone needs to know how to protect themselves. It is important to first understand what a stroke is and why it occurs.


What is a hemorrhagic stroke?


There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked either by a clot or atherosclerotic plaque, are most common. Hemorrhagic strokes, caused by bleeding in the brain due to the rupture of a blood vessel are less common but can be devastating. The rapid bleeding into the brain compresses the neural tissue, most often resulting in permanent damage or death.4


What makes the small blood vessels of the brain susceptible to rupture?


Hemorrhagic stroke, on average, affects younger people than ischemic stroke does, and the most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure.5 Elevated blood pressure places stress on the walls of the small delicate vessels in the brain, and is the foremost risk factor for both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.


Protect yourself from hemorrhagic stroke: Avoid salt!


High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke, and Americans have a 90% lifetime probability of having high blood pressure. The most effective way to keep blood pressure in a favorable range is to avoid excess salt.


High-salt consumption may be potentially more dangerous for vegans, vegetarians, and others who have earned low cholesterol levels by eating otherwise healthful diets. Unlike heart disease, cholesterol is not an important risk factor for hemorrhagic stroke.6 In fact, low cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. A number of studies both in Japan and in the West have illustrated that fewer animal products and a low serum cholesterol were associated with increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke.7

In fact, the plaque-building process that results in atherosclerosis and premature death may in some way actually protect the fragile blood vessels in the brain from rupture due to high blood pressure. Although vegans may be able to live longer than the general population and not die from a heart attack first, a high-salt diet may dramatically increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Of course, excess sodium increases both heart attack and stroke death in all diet styles, but in vegans, a high-salt diet can be even more dangerous.

To protect against heart attacks, ischemic strokes, and hemorrhagic strokes, you must dramatically curtail salt consumption.

Excess salt is more dangerous than most people realize. In addition to high blood pressure and stroke, salt contributes to kidney disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, ulcers, and stomach cancer.  Avoiding salt is an essential component of a health-promoting, disease-preventing diet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday, Monday

What I have found since reintroducing meat and fish into my diet is that it still tastes good, and sometimes great, but it is not the adult pacifier that it once was for me.

People would ask me often, "What do you miss most?" And I would respond, "Sushi." Well, I have had Sushi a few times, the Grammercy Roll at Haru is amazing, but it is just that, food that tastes great. I have had
other great tasting food too, and it was 100% vegan. So, the matter comes down to preference and urges. And as long as my urges are still mostly plant based that I am fine. If my preference is still mostly plant based food, which it is, but my urges waver, then I will just employ a little extra self-descipline as I have these past 6 months.
In one of my very first posts for this blog, on Day 1 of the vegan quest I said this:

From now on my meals would not be solely motivated by urges. No more
will I ask the question, "What am I in the mood for?" As I become more
adept at all the restaurants, and vegan foods I should be able to ask
the question of urges, but gear it all towards a vegan diet. But I know
full well that vegetables and fruits will be the cornerstone. That is my
biggest fear -- will I get used to that?

Well, I most certainly got used to that! And today I was happier with my oatmeal and fruit in the morning, salad for lunch, and salad for dinner with some humus and crackers. By the way, the kidney beans were fresh but I will forever be tainted by them as that very bean-like taste is less appealing after my experience.

Here is my point. I spent the last two weeks eating a hybrid between my former self and my vegan self. And it was on Sunday that I truly figured it out. I was interested to try some lasagna. Not my healthy lasagna but a real meat and cheese one. I was at P.J. Clarke's reading the Sunday Times and ordered the lasagna (which I have never had there). Here is the deal - it was delicious, really excellent, but about 3/4 of the way in I just said to myself, "enough." It just seemed too rich for my new tastes. Then it dawned on me - I still like the old foods, but if I am going to eat to complete fullness I would rather stretch my belly with fruits and vegetables, and not cheese, meat and sauce. It was good, but I felt almost decadent eating such a fat inducing meal.

Bottom line: I have not missed anything for the past 6 months. And introducing my old food back into my system was just too much (eating 50% of my meals "regular" and 50% plant-based) and I think an 80/20 rule, 80% plant based, will work for me.

Oh, and the bad news - I have not been to the gym all last week until today. I gained 7 lbs. But no worries, the goal of 225 lbs are in my sights, and I am generally happier with the more plant-based diet than I ever thought I would be when I finished the vegan quest. Truth be told, in my mind I just assumed I would finish the 6 months, have a big steak, go back to eating like the old days but work out hard to maintain my new weight. Well, not really crazy about that plan!

The Irish

Our last night in Ireland was spent at my friend Kevin’s cousin’s home for a home cooked meal and a right good kaleigh, a great session. Food, drink, laughs, songs, music, food, drinks, laughs, songs, music…

Being a fourth generation American I am as Americanized as they come, but there was something comforting, and familiar with the people, the land, and the food. Not to mention my friend’s cousin often referring to us returning to Ireland as, “when ye come back home.” I’ve never been to Denmark or Norway, but I’d like to suspect I’d have the same sensation because of my Mother’s blood lines. But there is so much Irish culture infused in American life, particularly New York City, that even my other friend, Chris, whose parents are Jamaican felt a similar bond to the culture of Ireland.

In true fashion of the Irish, all the cousins now in their 20’s, and with their own lives, were instructed to report to their parents home to say hello to their American cousin and his less-than-shy friends.

Taking full advantage of Irish hospitality and generosity I persuaded a woman I just met the night before to drive us to this home outside of Dublin. Herself looking like a distant cousin of either Joe or Rose Kennedy, this pretty lass, and lawyer, happily drove us out for our Sunday night dinner…festivities were to start at 1 PM. The meeting place? The local pub for pints before the ladies picked us up for dinner.

The Drink. Now, I have written often about how much drinking played a part in both my poor eating decisions, and itself contributing to my enormous weight gain. Also, it is a dicey situation to speak so freely about my drinking. In today’s America excessive drinking has become more taboo. Today any story about a drunken Johnny Depp, Derek Jeter, or Bono is the stuff of scandal, whereas the drink-infused stories around Humphrey Bogart, Mickey Mantle, or Frank Sinatra are the stuff of legend. Times have changed. Therefore some people are a little alarmed about my candid discussions on this blog.

In Ireland, even with the recent stiff drinking and driving regulations, “the drink” is still the cultural thread of everyday life. I saw scores of women, thin women in cocktail dresses, who could out-drink the average obnoxious Wall Streeter knocking back Jack and Cokes on Stone Street. Also, in Ireland, mixers for your drink are rare…so is ice. As the great Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald said in The Quiet Man, “When I drink whisky, I drink whisky, when I drink water, I drink water.”

Kevin’s cousins were Fergus and Beatrice, and like her sister Margaret, and husband Niall who opened their home to us in Galway, this family’s hospitality had no bounds.

As the women prepared the meal, Kevin brought his cousins up on all the goings on in America, Chris played soccer in the yard with the pesky but adorable neighborhood kid, and Fergus played his drums on the patio. His beautiful, young daughter works in a nutritionist’s office so we sat with My Vegan Quest opened on her laptop and I told her my story. Even though we sat side by side on a wicker bench next to the drums I always knew when I was inching, involuntarily, too close to her because Fergus’ drum playing would suddenly pitch from soft jazz taps to loud, tribal, banging thumps so as to scare me away. It worked.

And none of us where ever with an empty glass. Someone could be making mashed potatoes, spy one of our glasses of whisky running low, then sprint over for a refill. It was a house I did not dare nor desire to say “no.” Kevin’s cousins both on the west and east coast of Ireland where all too happy to exhibit such generosity, hospitality and showing the Americans a fabulous time. The three of us were legless by the end of the night, and the cousins beamed with pride. On this trip to Ireland moderation came in unique forms, but not on this night.

The meal started with halved avocado and a creamy sauce with shrimp. It was very good, and I realized that I would have loved just the avocado. Little feelings like these confirmed for me that this vegan quest changed what I want out of a meal – the best tasting, but healthiest option. The next course was salmon and salad. Equally tasty. The main course was roast beef, mashed potatoes, mushed peas, and gravy. What can I say? It tasted good. But, I would not want to eat this way every day. Being on holiday, and the guest in someone’s home it was easy not to think about or fret over the healthiness of one meal. After all, it was just one meal. But, this was the first time having a proper piece of red meat, and it made me think. I’ve had better meals that were entirely vegan. I enjoyed this dinner, it tasted good, but I knew I was not eating something that I had been “missing out on” this past 6 months. I was eating a tasty dinner of red meat and mashed potatoes with gobs of butter – but this was something that I will eat in someone’s home, happily I might add, and it will not be a weekly or monthly dish for me.

The evening ended with a friend of theirs bringing his guitar over for a rousing night of traditional Irish songs. I could not have been happier! The playing of the wooden spoons, the two ladies dancing around the furniture, the three Americans topped off with generous portions of hospitality, and the entire living room bouncing about with rousing renditions of all the classics:

As I was goin' over the far famed Kerry mountains,
I met with Captain Farrell, and his money he was countin'.
I first produced me pistol and I then produced me rapier,
Saying: "Stand and deliver, for you are a bold deceiver!".
Musha rig um du ruma da, Whack for the daddy-o,
Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar.

Yes, the next day I was hungover, and I craved my oatmeal, and salads, and fruit, and no booze. And that is the way I like it. Embracing moderation as a weekly, monthly, and lifetime event, which allows for these rare occasions of over-indulgence.
This is significant because for 10-20 years I would take this great night of less than healthy living and try to replicate it every chance I got. And like a dog chasing its tail, it was a futile effort to please myself through food and drink.

After this trip to Ireland I was able to step back, flirt with my old lifestyle, and walk away knowing I chose a better life for myself.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stronger than the Five Elements of Taste

I remember the first time I remember having ice cream. I was about 4 years old. Now, I say "remember the first time I remember" because I have to believe my parents were not so abusive as to not allow me to have ice cream before I was 4. Anyway, I was given a bowl by my older brother, bit into it, and hated it. Why? I bit into it. Yet, I quickly got over my aversion and lived a happy childhood of eating ice cream.

About 15 years ago I got food poisoning from meatloaf. I have yet to go near it again my Pavlovian aversion is so strong. But, hey, no big loss there, I mean, no more meatloaf? Who cares!? When I was in military school we were fed cold pancakes almost every day. The result? I did not touch a pancake for 20 years.

My point is that food elicits a more personal and powerful reaction than just what your taste buds can deliver. Have a bad reaction to something? You may swear off it for life. Have a great reaction, and you think that piece of toast with Fortnum & Mason strawberry jam is the greatest tasting food on the planet...never mind that you had that toast and strawberry jam one morning in the suite of the Ritz Carlton in Paris with Scarlett Johansson laying next to you. The total emotion around it all will happily lead you to order toast and jam for the rest of your life. Sometimes to excess. If this food arousal is for toast and jam that is one thing, but if it is for chips, or beer, or chocolate, then that is another.

I say this because of a few of the same comments I heard during my vegan quest from people, "Salads without gobs of dressing taste like dirt." No one has wonderful memories of salads from their childhood - just ask my little brother about the famed cherry tomato incident. You don't like salad? Tough luck, you are forced to eat it as a kid. But in adulthood, any bad reaction to healthy, nutrient dense food, like spinach, leads to a convenient excuse to avoid it. If something tastes bad one day, you are not going to give it much of a chance again. If something tastes good, and the experience is enhanced -- those chicken wings and beer at the Pig 'n' Whistle when the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the Playoffs -- it creates an aura around the food that, in my opinion, transcends even taste. Both very positive or very negative reactions to food are extremely personal and long lasting (How many of you give a horrible restaurant a second chance?). But, if you have a crumby time at Disneyland one Summer, you are not going to swear off the theme park forever.

So yesterday I was put in a position to really fight the urge to not swear off one of the best foods for a nutrient dense diet, kidney beans. A powerful punch of vitamin B9, and fiber, these legumes also make you feel fuller after your meal. And they taste great on a salad. Walking down the salad bar at work I filled my plastic container to the rafters with three types of lettuce, black beans, chickpeas, carrot shreds, cucumber, peanuts, and sunflower seeds...and kidney beans. I took a scoop and there appeared a whitish sort of film on some of the beans, but I shrugged and added it to my large, daily, nutrient dense lunch. At my desk after the first mouthful I almost vomited. The kidney beans had gone bad. I was furious. I felt sick, and for the first time in 6 months I had an image flash with neon light intensity and said to myself, "Salads taste like dirt, much worse than dirt!"

Feeling I was stuck in the pages of Upton Sinclair's 1906 book, The Jungle, about the putrid and deadly state of affairs of Chicago's meat packing industry, I stormed down to the giant cafeteria. It didn't help that I was told in my first week of employment that our cafeteria was cited as one of the worst in the industry by an advertising trade publication. For the past 4 months I thought it was quite nice.

I saw a women in line scooping the kidney beans onto her salad and warned her. The manager came over, picked up the tray, smelled it and snapped his head back in revulsion. He apologized profusely, and gave me a $10 credit...Uh, I'd add another couple of zeros after that reaction.

I chose not to eat a salad that day, and not being a lover of kidney beans before I started this vegan quest, I really fought my urge to be totally repulsed by them now. I know I like them, and I know how good they are for me, so I will make sure I eat them again soon to forget my awful experience.

I went to my sushi restaurant for lunch.
 
The moral of the story? If your salad tastes like dirt, then make it not so, and then eat lots of it!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thrilled to Mention the Global Interest in Healthy Eating

I just want to say a huge thank you for all that read this blog! According to Google Analytics this blog is read in 37 countries! In order of the most visits this week:
United States
United Kingdom
Australia
Canada
Denmark
Ireland
Brazil
Switzerland
France
South Africa
Japan
Germany
Sweden
Saudi Arabia
New Zealand
Spain
Netherlands
Malaysia
Italy
Belgium
Singapore
India
Czech Republic
Greece
Bulgaria
Argentina
Luxembourg
Slovakia
Belarus
Poland
Estonia
Jersey
Guatemala
Hungary
Croatia
Norway
Indonesia

Glad to Be Back...in more ways than one

I'll get to more of my Ireland holiday soon -- but here are a few photos...

Let me jump ahead to the last couple of days were I felt so much better after eating healthfully again!
The end result after this vegan quest, and a holiday eating closer to what I had done for 10 years prior was exactly how I was expecting it to go. I was not dying for meat, and when I had it it was good, but was not so good that I would ever consider going back to my old way of life -- same with the fish, and same with the drinking.


If I ate unhealthfully I felt "off" and craved fruits and vegetables. If I drank too much I felt bad in the morning and was quite angry with myself.  I felt 10 times better after a round of golf lugging my clubs up and down hills for 4 hours than if I sat in a pub for 4 hours drinking Smithwicks and munching on a sandwich.

I ate eggs and they tasted good, not as good as when I ate 3 per day almost every day, but not terrible at all. However, when I got back to the States I craved my oatmeal with peanut butter and bananas. I walked past big tray of eggs and bacon today and thought, well, I thought nothing -- went and got fruit and oatmeal not like I was honoring my quest, but because I wanted to!

And that is what it was all about for me. To totally dedicate myself to a vegan lifestyle, then test the waters to see if it "took." Well, I am thrilled it did -- I want to eat healthfully! If I have a decadent meal, I realize it was a rare occassion and go back to my diet of the last 6 months - not becasue of a "quest" now, but because I want to for my health, and I feel so much better!

I want to eat a healthy diet of mostly plants. I want to eat some chicken without any sauces, etc, and I want to eat fish. I am not craving, nor do I have any real curiosity about having a hamburger, or a steak, or a cheese pizza. But the thought of it does not make me cringe either.

My goal now that the quest is over, and the big vacation is over is to do two things - lose the remaining weight and keep it there. And live a healthy lifestyle!

You know, I don't feel totally different as a person, but I feel much much better about how I fuel my body. I'm still the same person for good or ill, and I am happy to live a life void of excess. I really did not have that much cheese, or beef, or milk in Ireland so I cannot say how specifically things tasted differently. And the fish I had was either a bit oily, or fried, or in a chowder.

When I started this vegan quest was to have a big steak dinner to 'reward' myself -- not anymore. I am just glad I have total control over my urges, and my education about nutritian.

I am overall very happy with what I want and don't want, and look forward to prepare to live the rest of my life!

Don't worry, I will keep writing about my trip, and the current foods I am eating.