Beef-Eating Vegan

Today’s Lesson: Know why you make your choices.

*****

Imagine beef grown by cultivating live cow tissue, lab-grown but not “fake” meat, not “cloned” meat, real beef in every way. Even better, no animals were harmed in the making of this meat, and it is perfect beef–all the right enzymes and proteins, and the perfect amount of fat for taste and health.

If there was an abundant supply of meat to feed the world and you could have the perfect-tasting steak or burger with every bite, would you do it (because we are probably closer than you think)?

Does it matter where the beef came from? Do you know where your beef comes from now? As long as the steak shows up on your plate and tastes delicious, what is the difference?

Would you eat cultured beef? I am not sure but I think I would. That might come as a shock, as I have been vegan nearly two decades. Pardon the pun, but my “beef” with not eating animals is not a problem I have with being an omnivore. Unlike nearly all other animals, humans are able to eat both plants and animals and are able to be absolutely perfectly healthy on a purely plant-based diet.

The problem I have with eating other animals is that we have to harvest them and kill them and we do so with impunity. My problem is with our being bad stewards of the planet and thinking we do not have to live up to the ethics and morals we value among each other when it comes to the rest of the world–indeed, to the rest of all known life.

But a healthy burger without the factory farming, killing, causing pain, or creating environmental havoc? Sure, count me in.

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What Is Food?

Today’s Lesson: What happens to any battery that is constantly overcharged?

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Apple iPhone 3GS li-on battery (Wikipedia)

Peter Diamandis is a BIG thinker with a rare ability to explain complex concepts in plain language. While answering a fan question on the Tim Ferriss show, he said something that struck me:

“Food is just a mechanism for turning sunlight energy into (biomechanical) energy.”

That got me thinking. Although we have many emotional, physical, and chemical reactions to food, at its base food is simply fuel. Our bodies are essentially machines designed to transport and protect our brains the way our cars are machines designed to transport and protect our bodies. That means bad things can happen if we over-fuel, under-fuel, or use the wrong fuel to run our body machines.

Over-fueling provides more energy than can be effectively burned off, causing energy storage units to bloat, stagnate, and corrode (all the problems that come with being overweight). Under-fueling means the machine can not run effectively and may lead to premature engine wear and seldom used parts deteriorating and breaking down when needed most (all the problems with not having enough nutrition). Using the wrong fuel is probably the worst, leading to physical, sometimes irreparable, damage. Drug abuse, for example, is like putting hi-octane fuel into a car that requires regular unleaded. It will burn fast, backfire, and possibly ruin the engine altogether.

As with any machine, years of continued abuse will contribute to faster wear and tear, breakdowns, and eventual self-destruction.

If you think of food as simply the mechanism we have to convert sunlight energy into physical energy, it takes away the emotional attachment. Think about what type of fuel, and how much of it you are putting in your tank (I mean, body) the next time you stop to refuel (I mean, have dinner).

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Why You’re Fat

Today’s Lesson: Mmph. Can’t typef. eating.

*****

As I shoveled another forkful of Five Guys fries covered in vegan chili and Daiya cheese into my mouth and followed it with a drink of Squirt soda, which is basically carbonated sugar, I wondered why my pants felt so tight.

I really try to convince myself I am active and physically fit, but I eat a little too much. It is true, being vegan, I eat, on par, healthier food than most people. At the end of the meal, though, it is still a simple equation: Calories In versus Calories Out.

I walk every day, I ride my bicycle every few weeks, I have a Stand-Up Paddleboard now. I get exercise. I just like to follow it up with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Banana-based ice cream and chili cheese fries with soda.

It is true I sit on my butt about 13 hours a day (of the 16 I am awake) but I feel like I should be a lot thinner…almost as much as I feel like having a donut. 2 donuts.

Anyway, I realize I have 3 options here.

1. Do nothing. Just be fat and pretend like I accept myself just the way I am because I am beautiful and people have all kinds of blah-blah-blah–tell it to the mirror.

2. Do something. Sneak in exercise–like, the legitimate, calorie-burning kind, everywhere I can. Give up a little more sleep and hit the gym. Except I hate the gym, so go for a walk or jog or do push-ups or just jump in place. Anything.

3. Do something else. I know it is simple math. I love sugary foods–lattes, an occasional soda, donuts, ice cream, chips, cereal, etc. All vegan, but still loaded with sugar or cane juice or high-fructose corn syrup, or just plain sugar. I can eat less, or different, foods. Calories In must equal less than Calories Out.

Maybe I will try a little of each (I think that’s a Freudian-diet slip). I do not mind being overweight, by the way. I’m older, I’m healthy, I work a lot, I earned it. I just like the way I look and feel more when I am not so heavy.

If it makes you feel better, I did follow the chili cheese fries and soda with a salad covered in vegan Bac-O’s and Ranch dressing. Hey… I had to start somewhere.

 

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There Is No Goal

Today’s Lesson: You will never reach your health goals, but keep trying.

*****

I have been enjoying my Garmin Vivosmart fitness tracker. Well, mostly enjoying. Okay, maybe “enjoying” is too strong. “Hating”, I think, is the right word. I hate it. It is like having JK Simmons from Whiplash as a fitness coach.

Every time I meet a goal, it sets it higher. There is no end. I walk SO much, now. I walk to the fridge, to my desk, to my car, to the bathroom, to the fridge… sometimes I will just walk randomly, like around the block, without any expectation of food at the end of the walk! I know. Crazy, right? That’s what the stupid Vivosmart does to you. It lets you know you can never walk enough.

I am beginning to get the point, though. Even if I set a weight goal and reached it (which I have not done), I would not be satisfied. I will always want to maintain or walk off that nagging last inch of waistband, or… lift some weights or some other insanity.

I am doomed to walk for the rest of my life.

We all are, because health, unfortunately, does not stop at the fridge. Health is an ongoing cycle, a motor that requires regular maintenance (walking and eating well) to keep running (figuratively and literally). Health is a never-ending quest for self-improvement and self-care. It is clearly one of the primary goals of living well and feeling good.

Stupid health.

I’m going for a walk.

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My Vitamin Regimen

Today’s Lesson: Eat your veggies (but still take a vitamin).

*****

As a long-time vegan (I do not eat or wear anything that comes from another animal), I am often asked how I get my… well, choose your vitamin: protein, Vitamin D, B-vitamins, Iron, etc…

I like to keep my life simple and that includes my vitamin regimen. Here is my strategy and thoughts on why (and, by the way, I recently had a full run of blood-work completed and all my vitamin and mineral levels are perfectly fine).

My strategy, in sum, is: I take a cheap vegan multi-vitamin every morning during the week and I skip taking vitamins on the weekend.

Let’s break that down:

Why take a vitamin at all if being vegan is so healthy (even a cheap one)?

I probably do not need to take vitamins. It is mainly for peace of mind. Vegan or not, I love food and tend to eat a wide variety of colors and types. I love grains, fruits, vegetables, pasta, legumes, you name it… (just don’t name okra or eggplant–so gross!).

I have not found any credible, peer-reviewed evidence showing that taking vitamins (even for non-vegans) offers any benefit for people who generally eat well and spend moderate time outdoors anyway (taking vitamins does, however, make your pee turn funny colors and I guess that’s cool). Also, despite the claims of certain health stores and vitamin chains, there is no scientifically accepted, peer-reviewed double-blind studies showing that any vitamin in any form has better absorption rate in the body than any other. In short, paying $60 for a pack of vitamins or powders will deliver the same effect as paying $4 for a pack of vitamins or powders.

That is why I buy the cheapest vegan multivitamin I can (I am fond of Deva brand because I can usually find the 90-packs of mini-pills at a cheap price on Amazon).

Why take the weekends off?

Again, mostly for peace of mind. Many vitamins, like Vitamin C, are water-soluble. If you get more Vitamin C than you need, your body will usually flush the excess out (which is why vitamins make your pee turn funny colors). That is probably why Vitamin C is pushed so hard as a cold-remedy. There is no credible evidence I am aware of to support its effectiveness at preventing illness, but if you take way too much, marketers know you will likely urinate the rest–all you lost, besides Vitamin C, is money.

(I should mention it is still possible to have too much water-soluble vitamins. It is just difficult to make it happen without overdosing on supplements.)

There are some vitamins, however, that are not water-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K). That means if you take too much of these, your body will not flush the excess and you will likely suffer from vitamin toxicity, which can create all kinds of health issues. Non-water-soluble vitamins are stored in fat and used only as needed. The excess is not usually flushed.

I feel better knowing I let my body flush or pull vitamins from storage for a couple days each week. I do not actually know if this is an effective strategy (I said I do it for peace of mind) but all I can tell you is I have never been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency after close to two decades of being vegan.

Do vegans need special vitamins?

To be clear: there is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that exists in animal form that can not also be found in a plant-based form (where do you think the animals get their vitamins?), with one exception, and it is not protein, which can be found in peanut butter, spinach, beans, and just about everything else.

Only vitamin B12 is elusive for vegans but for an interesting reason: our society is too clean. B12 is normally found in soil and would normally be ingested by eating fresh fruit, for example (traces of soil would be on the skin of the fruit). With our modern highly industrialized and sanitized food system, it is difficult for vegans to get enough B12 naturally. However, it is found in almost every vegan product–most alternative milks are fortified with B12, as well as Orange Juice, tofu, veggie burgers, soy cheese, etc.

A cheap vegan multivitamin is a perfect solution.

What makes a vitamin vegan, anyway?

Not all packaged vitamins are vegan. Gel caps are usually made with gelatin, which comes from animals. The smooth coating on a vitamin (or any pill) is sometimes created from animal-based glycerin or gelatin. Sometimes, even the source of the vitamins themselves can be animal-based. For example, if there are Omega-3 fatty acids in the multivitamin, they are almost certainly fish-based. If it is cheaper for a vitamin manufacturer to source some or all of their product from dead animal meat factory waste, then you better believe that is where it will come from (enjoy those $60 GNC pills made of $3 hot dogs).

In other words, in the case of vitamins, make sure the product is actually labeled “vegan”.

Incidentally, you do not have to be vegan to take vegan multi-vitamins. They are the same vitamins, except the vegan ones do not require any murder of anything that feels pain.

 

That is my vegan vitamin regimen in all its glorious detail. In a nutshell: Take a vegan multivitamin five days per week.

Hope that helps. Here’s to your health (and weekends off)!

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One Easy Way to Get Your Veggies!

Today’s Lesson: Eat your veggies, however that works for you.

*****

Nicole is spearheading a new experiment for us. We have begun ordering vegetables online. Every week we pay about $57 to have fresh, organic fruits and vegetables show up on our doorstep. (We are going through Tampa Bay Organics but there are many services that do this near most populated areas.)

At first, it seemed like a risky waste of money. We have a tendency to let veggies go to waste because we are too busy to cook them. Plus, $57 per week?!?

We spend about $120 per week on groceries (our grocery bill definitely went up when we moved to Tampa, by quite a bit, which seems counter intuitive since much of the fruits and veggies in the U.S. comes from Florida). We were worried breaking out the veggies this way would end up driving the bill higher. We are only on week two but so far it hasn’t.

It turns out, since all of our fruits and veggies are covered for the week, we spend less time browsing at the grocery store and only grab the stuff that isn’t delivered.

Another unexpected benefit is by breaking the bill out, we focus more on ensuring we are eating what we paid for (isn’t that odd?). I took a nectarine for lunch, snacked on an avocado and kiwi fruit, and we have fresh kale for our orzo instead of boxed spinach.

So far, it has been a smart move, and I like the way it works. They send us a list of what they will be dropping off each week and we can plan around it or trade some items (like disgusting okra or eggplant–the antidote for taste buds) for other items (like delicious beets or extra bananas). We can save our preferences, too, so I never even have to worry about seeing gross, hairy, slimy Hulk-colored okra on our list.

I am not sure this approach is for everyone but if you have been on the fence about having fresh food dropped off at your door, I encourage you to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, the worst that happens is you have more food than you need, but at least it is healthy food.

 

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Oh What A Feeling…

Today’s Lesson: It’s okay to pay for the brand that gets you.

*****

The Prius 4 is not a cheap car to our pocketbook, but Nicole and I just bought one each. Of course, we are spitefully cute because we have matching cars now and we are dirty hippies because we don’t kill animals and we drive Priuses. Or Priai. Or Pris. Or whatever the plural of “Prius” is. Maybe it’s still Prius–like “deer”.

Anyway, there are three things that have already made owning a Prius the best car experience I have ever had. I am blown away by what Toyota has done right and stunned that other, particularly American-based, car companies have not followed suit.

1. The car leverages technology. The Prius comes with a suite of applications that pair up with my smartphone and come with full-blown subscriptions to popular services like Slacker and Pandora radio–no ads for as long as I own the Prius. Of course, it has hands-free calling and navigation included in the car, with a crazy floating heads-up display that only the driver can see. The locks and ignition are remote so I never even have to take a key out of my pocket to open, lock, or start the car, and that is just the beginning.

2. The savings on fuel is unbeatable. In its price range, I was unable to find a car to even come close to what a Prius obtains on gas mileage. Before we bought ours, Nicole and I rented a Prius and drove from Grand Rapids, MI to Savannah, GA and back. Our average miles per gallon was 55, well over the reported 48 on the sticker. I have already driven 80 miles and my fuel gauge has barely budged. I was spending about $80 per week on fuel; I expect that to be cut in half or better.

3. The customer service is unreal. This was the knock-out punch for me. Toyota takes care of their Prius owners like no company I have yet experienced. I will not pay a dime on service or maintenance on my car for the next seven years. Toyota will take care of everything, including oil changes, fluid top-offs, tires and tire pressure, dings, dents, roadside assistance, towing, everything. All I have to do is take it to any Toyota dealership anywhere every 6 months or 5,000 miles. Parts and labor is included.

4. (Bonus point, not for everyone) Toyota knows their target audience. In the Prius brochure, they show you how to use the cargo net to hold groceries. Prominently placed in the picture is a yoga mat. I had to smile. They know exactly who they are catering to. When we were looking at options, our sales rep (Brandon, who was great) showed us the “leather” upgrade option. We shrugged and explained we are vegan and he said, “I am so glad you said that. We call it ‘leather’ because it has that look and feel to most people, but it is actually a proprietary material called Softex that uses no animal ingredients. It is a synthetic ‘leather’ that is vegan!”

Toyota’s website not only confirms that but also explains the environmental benefits of this fabric over conventional synthetic leather.

 

Readers of this blog know I am well-versed in both Marketing and Salesmanship. It makes me practically giddy to see both done well. I have never blogged about a car but this one totally won me over. Looking forward to many years of driving. Also, I do not make recommendations lightly and because this blog is a labor of love running on my dime, I think it is important to note when I do it is because I was genuinely moved to do so of my accord. I do not get any perks for saying this, but if you are in the Tampa area and looking for a Prius, I can not recommend highly enough our salesperson Brandon Bailey at Stadium Toyota.

He did a remarkable job respecting our needs, helping us balance our wants and genuinely giving us a few laughs along the way.

You already know this but, you get what you pay for, so it is better to pay for people or brands that get you

 

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Don’t Worry About the Starving Kids In Africa

Today’s Lesson: Throwing food out is not a crime.

*****

Almond milk, it turns out, is not Nicole’s favorite addition to a latte. She tried one today, and drank about half of it.

She debated over throwing it out because it didn’t taste great but it was not a cheap cup of coffee either.

I understood. I often finish meals because I don’t want something to go to waste (especially if it was expensive). If you think about it, though, it is probably better (for most of us) to throw away an unfinished meal than it is to try and stuff ourselves (assuming for some reason we can not take home leftovers), in an attempt to get our money’s worth.

I would rather pay six dollars not to eat an additional 450 calories than to force myself to eat an extra 450 calories I will never burn off. I would rather lose a few bucks instead of trying to lose a few inches.

Nicole tossed the latte and we headed to the beach. Good trade off.

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No Pressure

Today’s Lesson: Stress is relative but my life is not relative to yours.

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Over the last few months Nicole and I have uprooted our lives, leaving everything behind in Grand Rapids, MI and moving to Tampa, FL.

It has been an amazing adventure so far but not without obstacles and remarkable stress. In some ways, we are not even the same people who started the journey. We have a new home with new furniture and new surroundings, new jobs with new work commutes, new cities to navigate, new weather, new sleep patterns, even new clothes. Everything is different and presents new challenges.

The funny thing is, when I feel the pressure mounting I am also reminded we are living with much less stress than many, if not most, other couples. Many of our stresses are temporary and will subside over time (we will grow used to the city, our new work teams, our clothes, etc.). Not to mention we basically live on Vacation (meaning we live where most people go to get away from it all), with sunny weather almost every day, palm trees, and beaches at hand. We don’t have kids, or a mortgage, or even car payments to worry about (yet… we will probably upgrade our cars this year).

The point is, from the outside looking in, I suspect it looks like we moved to Paradise but we still find ways to stress out. There are people with much better social position under much greater stress.

I have learned stress is part of life, every life, and it is relative to the life being led. The trick, I think, is to remember it is all temporary, including the life being led.

Recognizing all things must pass, including both the moments on the beach and the moments wishing for the beach, means recognizing it is all part of the adventure and we should cherish the challenges as much as the beaches.

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5 Fast Food Meals for Vegans

Today’s Lesson: There is always an option.

*****

Sometimes I have to travel for work or I am in an unfamiliar city with friends or just in a hurry and do not have time to make or buy a great, healthy, delicious vegan meal. I never suffer for food, though, even on the go. Here are 5 fast food restaurants that have saved me in a pinch (many times), and exactly what I order from each to find vegan goodness when fast food is the only option.

1. Subway.

Six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese. All the veggies and peppers. Instead of dressing, I ask for Salt, Pepper, and Oregano. I grab a bag of Fritos chips and a drink, too. It’s filling and I promise that sub is as tasty as anything else on the menu but twice as healthy. Remember, not all their breads are vegan. 

2. Chipotle/ Qdoba/ Moe’s Southwest Grille.

I am counting these as one restaurant because they all offer basically the same thing: burritos. Chipotle is a step above, though, because their Sofritas are amazing. Non-vegans would never know they were eating “fake” meat. Moe’s also offers tofu, which makes them legitimately vegan friendly in my book. Qdoba has no meat replacement option but they offer tortilla soup that is vegan, making them one of the only fast food soup providers I can think of.

At Chipotle, I order the Sofritas bowl with brown rice and black beans. I add hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole (it’s extra), and lettuce. I add an additional side of guacamole and chips and I use the chips to turn the bowl into super nachos! Sometimes I change it up and have Sofritas tacos (corn tortillas).

Qdoba has two options for me. I might order a veggie burrito on whole wheat, with white rice (the white rice has cilantro-lime flavoring so this is one meal where I will choose white rice over brown) and black beans (add hot salsa, pico, lettuce, and guacamole). If I am really hungry, I will add a side of tortilla soup with tortilla strips on top. Or, I will go for the Mexican Vegetarian Gumbo with brown rice (it will be smothered in other stuff so the white rice offers no benefit here), hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole, tortilla strips, and lettuce. This is a super filling meal.

At Moe’s, I order a “Joey Bag of Donuts” (which means “build-your-own”) burrito with a flour tortilla (I prefer whole wheat but theirs tears too easily), black beans, tofu, hot salsa, pico, black olives, fresh jalapenos, fresh cilantro, and guacamole. Sometimes I order a side of guacamole as well. Their burrito comes with chips and will fill me up for hours.

3. Panera

I like Panera because they offer Pepsi products, and Coke sucks, so sometimes I will go to Panera only for a good caffeinated sugar drink.

If I do eat, though, this is what I usually order: You Pick Two with Black Bean Soup and a Mediterranean Sandwich, no cheese or pesto on the sandwich, with chips… and a Pepsi.

 

4. Pizza Hut
It is possible to order a vegan pizza at Pizza Hut but it’s too complicated and they do not have vegan cheese anyway, so I just order Spaghetti Marinara and add mushrooms. Just set the garlic bread aside and enjoy your Pepsi (because although Pizza Hut sucks at vegan pizza, they at least have good taste in soda).

5. Taco Bell
In case of emergency, you can make a run for the border (before you make a run for the bathroom) with dinner at the Bell. I order a Bean Burrito “fresco style” (that means minus cheese, plus pico de gallo-they know that), a 7-Layer burrito minus cheese and sour cream, and Cinnamon Sticks.

It is tough to balance being vegan with having a convenient social life. You don’t want to be the pariah of your office or friends, forcing everyone to cater to your needs (or simply to avoid you). Fast food is not necessarily great food but knowing you can always find good (or at least good-ish) vegan food when you need can help.

 

 

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