As I expressed in my Exercise & Eating article, on December 6, 1998, my wife and I decided to take up a Veganistic lifestyle. This debut essay in my new The Virgin Vegan series will address the ideas and reasons for making the switch from a modified SAD (Standard American Diet) to one centered on Vegan ethics. Every month or so I’ll update you on the successes and failures of our Vegan choice.

Background
A year ago my wife and I decided to try to cut down our intake of meat, dairy and eggs by 80%. While we were generally successful, saturated fat crept into our diet and that helped to keep my cholesterol from lowering. Pesto sauce is packed with saturated fat! We also ate cookies and doughnuts and other “bad foods” thinking that, since were were cutting down on butter and red meat and chicken, we’d feel better. We didn’t. All was not lost on this 80% reduction plan, however. My wife lost 30 pounds and I lost 40.

November 16
I decided to give up caffeine on November 16! That meant no more coffee, pop, tea or chocolate. I also gave up all alcohol simply because it was easy to add to my “no more” list since I never drank it much anyway. I did all this in order to lower my blood pressure and pulse rate. Three days after forsaking these temptations, my pulse dropped from 88 beats per minute to 72! Nagging right side pain also vanished. An infrequent, gassy, stomach also faded away. Nightly heartburn? Gone! I also no longer peed like a racehorse all day.

Ten years ago I used to drink a 10 cup pot of coffee a day. Fifteen years ago I drank two 10 cup pots of coffee on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays while I worked as an overnight on-air radio personality. If I didn’t drink coffee, I would’ve fallen asleep at the board.

Over the last year or so I dropped my coffee drinking to two cups in the morning with breakfast and two cups in the evening with dinner. Even that cut down to four cups per day didn’t make much of a difference in helping feeling less tense and paranoid in addition to the other distresses I mentioned earlier.

Only removing caffeine completely in every form from my diet calmed me and set me free! One month later, I feel centered. The change in personality was so dramatic that my wife joined me two days ago in giving up caffeine as well. While my wife was never a coffee or tea drinker, she did love Pepsi. Now when she drinks an infrequent Pepsi, she drinks the caffeine-free kind.

Our caffeine withdrawal headaches weren’t too terrible. My head throbbed for three days and taking a short nap or doing 100 jumping jacks assuaged the beating in my head. My wife’s withdrawal is continued, but every day her head hurts a bit less as she realizes how addicted she was to her caffeine highs.

I now only drink water. Iced water or hot water. That’s it. No, I’m not “goin’ Mormon” as one of my associates suggested. I don’t feel punished or deprived. I feel wonderful!

December 5
Go Inside Magazine movie mastermind Tom O’Connell has been a lacto-Vegetarian (he doesn’t eat meat or eggs but will eat butter and milk) for many years and infrequently we would discuss, in email, the benefits of becoming a Vegetarian. Tom recommended I purchase John Robbins’ book, Diet For A New America (ISBN: 0-915811-81-2), to get some hardcore facts about the benefits of a Vegetarian diet. Tom warned me, however, that if I purchased Diet For A New America, I would never eat meat again. How right he was…

December 6
After reading only the introduction to Diet For A New America my wife and I vowed never to eat meat, dairy or eggs again! This sort of life epiphany is visceral, rare and real. We knew we had to give up our old diet not only for our own health, but for the betterment of the planet. Sure that may sound flaky, but the reality of Diet For A New America cannot be ignored or denied if you care at all about your place in the world and the traces your life leaves behind.

We cleaned out our refrigerator of all meat, dairy and eggs. We cleared our cupboard of any product that contained traces of the same animal products. We felt vindicated. We were free!

Vegan v. Vegetarian
As we continued to read Diet For A New America, we realized that just stopping the eating of meat, dairy and eggs was not enough. In order to move up from total diet Vegetarianism and into the world ethical Veganism, my wife and I knew we must not eat, drink, use or wear anything that once had a mom.

As Vegans, we do not wear or use leather.

We also do not wear or use the fur, feathers, skins, pelts, secretions or shells of any creatures.

As Vegans we do not eat honey or refined sugar.

We do not use shellac, or use anything with red coloring from insects.

As Vegans we are against vivisection and genetic engineering.

We do not wear wool, mohair, down, shearling, pearls, silk, cashmere or any other end product of cruelty, suffering, pain or death.

Veganism gets its strength not only from the lack of cruelty to animals, but also from avoiding hormones injected into animals that become a part of you in the food chain when you eat flesh and its byproducts.

Cruelty Free By 2000
I confess it is difficult going cruelty free instantly. If you have a lot of money you can do it — toss away your shampoo, body lotion, detergent, cologne, perfume, leather furniture, leather shoes, leather bags, leather wallets, leather briefcases, leather belts, leather coats, silk dresses, wool sweaters and wool jackets. But if you’re like most of us stuck in Middle America, you’d be left poor with virtually nothing left in your house to wear our use!

So my wife and I have made our New Year’s Resolution early: “Cruelty Free By 2000!” Our goal is to never purchase anything that isn’t Vegan while we give ourselves a restricted amount of time to replace our shoes and coats and everything else I mentioned earlier. By splitting the baby in this manner we won’t be casting off the lives of the animals who already gave their lives or suffered in our purchases. We will endeavor from this moment on to replace those cruel items by purchasing cruelty free equivalents.

In later essays, I’ll discuss animal friendly products like “Vegetarian Shoes” and “Real Fake Leather.” I’ll detail other cruelty free product lines from many companies.

Ethical Eating & Proud Purchasing
Oh, I should mention that animal byproducts are presently inescapable in our present day lives no matter how hard you try. You can currently find bits of animals in car tires, rubber soles and computer monitors (just to name three). So Veganism isn’t entirely possible in total unless you give up your life and live in a fruit and vegetable garden in the middle of Nebraska. We can, however, bring ethics to eating and pride to purchasing wherever we live and it is that Vegan philosophy that we now allow to control the choices within our means.

Some Vegans off-shoot into even more radical ideals like eating only raw vegetables and fruits. We don’t subscribe to that branch. Another strain of Veganism includes refusing to eat any fruit or vegetable that kills or wounds the plant or tree from which it came: Apples are okay because the tree lives while carrots are banned because pulling the carrot out of the ground kills the plant. We don’t subscribe to that strain, either.

December 9
I had my yearly physical on December 9 and my new doctor was shocked that I’d weaned myself from caffeine. He was impressed that I’d also “gone Vegan” three days earlier. When I asked my doctor what I might need to be wary of missing in my new Vegan diet, he was stopped. He looked at me and said, “I think there are books on that.”

I later discovered he’s a “take a pill, solve the end result now” sort of doctor instead of a “let’s go back to your behavior and see how we can modify your method of thinking so you won’t have to take a pill later.”

On my next visit with my doctor I’ll tell him I discovered the answer to my question was “Vitamin B-12.” B-12 is not naturally found in any plants, so you have to curry it in your diet via a multi-vitamin or by eating a cup of Grape Nuts a day or by adding nutritional yeast to your meals. I use all three methods.

All Good Things…
After only three days on my Vegan diet I noticed a wholesale change in my body! My stomach was no longer bloated and my posture was better since my big belly wasn’t pulling me down. I wasn’t constipated. My skin was no longer oily in some places and dry in others. When I evacuated, I was completely amazed to see a long, unbroken, two foot end product in the bowl instead of the dark, hard, rocklets I used to leave behind. I’ve tossed away my container of Tucks.

December 11
I discovered a set of alarming facts that confirmed my choice of Veganism was the right. 50% of of folks who eat milk, eggs and dairy will die of heart disease. That mortality number drops to 30% if you cut 80% of milk, eggs and dairy from your diet. If you cut 100% of meat, dairy and eggs from your diet your chances of dying from heart disease drop to only 4%. The science doesn’t lie and with my high cholesterol and blood pressure problem, I know now that Veganism is an escape into living a longer, more productive and healthy, ethical, life.

My delight was shattered as I returned to my doctor for the results of my blood cholesterol tests. My cholesterol was 220 with a ratio of 5.6! Not good! My doctor wanted to put me on Lipitor immediately. I begged for six months to get my Vegan diet in swing since I’d only been at it for three days. He gave me six weeks. I told him that in a year I’d dropped my cholesterol from 250 to 220 via diet and exercise alone. He said that was great, but it wasn’t enough to get me out of the danger zone.

I’ll report back here the results of my new cholesterol test in a couple of months. I believe I can lower my cholesterol into the safe range via Veganism and a vigilant effort to keep as much saturated fat as possible out of my body. The body doesn’t natively make cholesterol — the body makes cholesterol based upon the food in which you feed it. My research reveals that high cholesterol is a behavioral problem and not necessarily a genetic one. If I feed my body better and more purely, my cholesterol should drop dramatically. If, however, I’m special in some horrible way and my cholesterol does not drop to safe levels via Veganism (and continued exercise) and I have to take Lipitor, I’ll still stay with the lifestyle forever because the benefits of Veganism pull far beyond my body alone.

December 15
After nine days of Veganism, my wife has dropped three pounds and I have lost four pounds! We both feel great in every aspect of our lives now that our insides have been set straight and right as they should’ve been set for over thirty years. We don’t miss McDonald’s or Pizza Hut or Kentucky Friend Chicken or even our all time favorite: Taco Bell. Taco Bell nutritionists are working to make sure their refried beans will no longer cooked in lard and they also plan to cook their rice in water instead of chicken broth. Those two actions will help make Taco Bell a Vegan-friendly fast food stop.

We don’t eat out much anymore at mainstream restaurants since we can’t reliably verify if any animal products are used in the cooking or preparation of our meals.

My wife and I now eat tofu, soy milk, cereals, rice, GardenVegan burgers and lots of other really great pastas and fruits and vegetables at home. When we do go out to eat, we frequent Angelica Kitchen, Lucky’s Juice Joint, Healthy Pleasures, The Vegan Kitchen & Bakery, Zen Pallet, Prana and Whole Foods since they’re all within a 10 minute walk. We’re fortunate we live around the East Village in New York City — finding funky, healthy, Vegan food is easy and a way of life here. We get plenty of calcium and protein in our diet from simple greens and beans. Veganism has made us even closer as a couple since we now share yet another deep and convincing conviction together.

Some Vegans say they miss cheese the most. We aren’t having any of those cravings. I think our Vegan multi-vitamin helps cover those missing vitamins and minerals and we also feel reassured taking a multi-vitamin since we are, after all, Virgin Vegans, and the lifestyle and diet is new. We don’t want to overlook something important that might affect our health if we don’t happen eat it one day. I certainly don’t think that can happen easily, but at the very least, our daily vitamin gives us a good base upon which to build the rest of the day’s diet.

Family Support
I am from Nebraska. My wife is from Iowa. Those two states are hotbeds of beef! If you don’t eat steak you’re not a real man or you’re a silly, sickly woman! We grew up eating pounds of Prime Rib, steak, ribs, chicken and other regional fare. Telling our families we were now not just total Vegetarians, but ethical Vegans as well was a concern. Our uneasiness was immediately put to rest as we discovered our families not only supported our choice of Veganism, but they commended us for taking up a healthier and more ethical lifestyle!

Conclusion
As I walk the streets of New York, I am haunted by the places I used to patronize. I feel as if I know a secret only 0.001% of other Americans know. I’ll never go into a McDonald’s again. The candy store, and its refined sugar wonderments, are now only a memory. The fresh seafood market has gone grey and dead. I float on the outside looking in at what I used to be and believe. I am bothered by the spoon-fed, uneducated, eating habits I accepted as fact mere weeks ago while they were, in the stark beacon of reality, only advertising ploys from the dairy, egg and meat cabals.

I am a ghost in the midst of the walking dead. As I continue to roll among the ruins of my former frequencies, I realize for the first time that immortality can be real and ethereal if you only stop and think.