The Vegan Experiment
David Carver, of Reston, Va. was just three days into his 30-day vegan challenge when he posted a comment in the April installment of What's Cooking Vegetarian, my monthly vegetarian Web chat.
"Being a huge lover of red meat, white meat, the other white meat and fish, this has been the single most difficult thing I have done," wrote Carver. "I feel like I am going through some detox phase only after 3 days."
It was an intriguing concept, one that I wanted to hear more about. In addition to Carver, I heard from Kevin Goldberg, of Washington, who had embarked on a similar vegan journey, albeit with a drastically different outcome. Here are their stories.
Yesterday, I caught up with Carver by phone, to see how the experiment was shaping up, and to see how he was faring. He was now in the fourth and final week of his vegan blitz, counting the days until Sunday, when it would all be over.
"This is one of the worst things I've ever done in my life," he exclaimed. "I'm craving meat every second of the day." In spite of the emotional withdrawal, Carver has noticed significant physical changes since giving up meat, eggs and dairy.
"I've felt better than I ever have in my life," he said. "In three weeks, I've had not a single allergy. My sinuses, even at this time of the year, are completely cleared up."
The 43-year-old husband and father of two accepted the challenge from a vegan colleague at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where he works as a chemical engineer.
Because he is the designated chef of the family, Carver faced an additional challenge as he continued to cook meat for his beloved omnivores. "I love cooking and it's my passion," Carver said. "One of the hardest things has been to let my family taste my food for seasoning. It's been torture."
In addition to an allergy-free existence, Carver has noticed other areas of his life blossoming.
"It's been wonderful from a culinary standpoint," he says. "I've used new ingredients and tried new dishes -- hummus, bean dishes, vegetable purees. I worked out a portobello [mushroom] curry with rice, which worked out really nice. This has been a great opportunity to show vegetables in all their beauty."
Giving up meat has also transformed his social life, Carver says. "People in my office who are vegan and vegetarian all of sudden want to have lunch. They appreciate the sensitivity."
Last year when he organized the office holiday party, Carver acknowledges he "had no clue" on how to accommodate his meat-free colleagues, but now, is "very comfortable for parties in the future."
With just a few days remaining, Carver is eager to return to his omnivorous ways, but says he will go gradually and replace some of that meat with fish, and now that he knows how to prepare them, incorporate more veggies into his diet.
Alas, he is already thinking of his first meal as a returning omnivore. "Poached salmon," he says, matter of factly. "Maybe with a light hollandaise." And spinach, with butter." You can practically see him licking his chops through the phone.
Like David Carver, Kevin Goldberg had been a lifelong carnivore.
"I was a pretty rabid meat eater," Goldberg tells me earlier this month. "I'm also really active. I play soccer and I work out four, five times a week. Yet, I never felt quite healthy enough."
Over the past year, Goldberg noticed significant gastrointestinal distress. "I had lots of stomach problems, particularly acid reflux, and I felt sluggish," he said.
But when he learned of his high blood cholesterol levels, the 35-year-old lawyer started to make the diet-body connection. So last August, Goldberg decided to go vegan for a trial period of two months. The results were eye opening, he says.
"I really liked the way I felt," Goldberg said. "I had no stomach issues, I was no longer bloated and I had more energy. Plus I learned to cook."
As a result, Goldberg rocked on with his bad vegan self until New Year's Day, for a total of four months.
Since then, Goldberg has reintroduced dairy and eggs into his diet, but has remained vegetarian through and through. "I did not miss meat as much as I thought I would," he said. "I missed cheese and dairy a lot more."
In addition to a calmer G-I existence, Goldberg says he now owns five cookbooks and is more aware of what he puts into his body. "When I go shopping, I now look at ingredients. It's opened me up to new restaurants. Never before had I made food choices based on health."
Is a burger in his future? Goldberg, whose "last two meals before going vegan were hamburgers" is now unsure. For now, he enjoys a bowl of pasta "Bolognese" with lentils instead of ground meat, which he says has great texture and flavor.
Ever think about radically overhauling your diet? Share your stories in the comments area below. And talk to me, today at noon, for What's Cooking.
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