Patrick McLean said he did not set out to proselytize. But he and some colleagues from work were at a local establishment, celebrating the completion of a difficult task. Mr. McLean had recently moved from being a vegetarian to becoming a vegan. And he challenged his colleagues to become vegans too, at least for 21 days.
Mr. McLean is the director of finance for the City of Toledo. His colleagues were celebrating the passage of the city budget. And the ones who agreed to take the challenge were Director of Public Utilities David Welch, Director of Public Service Ed Moore, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Personnel Shirley Green, and Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei.
Veganism is like the X-Games version of vegetarianism: It takes vegetarianism to the extreme. Not only do vegans eat no animals, they eat no animal products. That means no butter, no eggs, no cheese, no milk, no honey.
For the four confirmed carnivores in the challenge, the vegan pathway is going to be tough. More than once on the night two weeks ago the challenge was first made -- and more than once since -- the participants compared it to a popular episode of Seinfeld in which the characters make a bet they find hard to keep.
Mr. McLean, 48, has been a vegetarian since 2003, when he read the book Fast Food Nation.
"I closed the book and decided I could come up with no more good reasons to eat meat. It was a combination of health reasons, ethical, and religious reasons," he said.
Mr. McLean is a Buddhist, and that religion has a doctrine of not harming other beings, including animals. But the recent decision to become a vegan was made because of his health. Fighting high cholesterol and blood pressure problems, he opted to try the possibly healthy diet of a vegan before submitting to a regimen of pills.
"The reality is, it's tough to give up cheese. That's a hard thing," he said.
Heather Andre takes her veganism a step further. She also declines to wear anything that comes from an animal, such as wool, silk, fur, or leather.
"My reasoning behind it is I am an animal rights advocate. A lot of people will do it for health reasons, but then it's just a diet, it's not truly a lifestyle. It's about humane treatment of animals," she said.
Gathering wool and silk does not actually hurt the animals, she acknowledged, but she objects to the massive, overcrowded, and confined farms that produce many of these items.
"If you do raise your own sheep and shear your own sheep, I don't have any problem with that. If you raise your own chickens, and they're free-range, and you collect your own eggs, I don't have any problem with that. It's the factory farming and the inhumane way animals are treated that most vegans have a problem with. It's what goes on behind the scenes," she said.
Ms. Andre is co-owner of Squeaker's Cafe & Health Food Store in Bowling Green, the area's only vegan restaurant. Along with selling vegan-friendly foods (which are also available at other health-food stores), the cafe is known for its veggie chili, its spinach-artichoke dip, its avocado Reuben, its California burger -- a veggie burger with Thousand Island dressing, greens, tomato, onion, sprouts, and soy-based mozzarella cheese -- and its smoothies.
Without meat and dairy products in their diets, vegans have to make certain they eat enough protein, but Ms. Andre said that is easy to do. Vegans get protein from beans, nuts, and nut butters, such as peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter, she said. Tofu, which is made from soy beans, is an important source of protein for vegans, and so is tempeh, which is a fermented tofu. Meat alternatives are also popular, such as seitan, which is a wheat gluten that can mimic such meats as duck.
But with so much of a vegan's protein coming from beans, including tofu and tempeh, doesn't that lead to…um…er…you know?
"The gaseous problem?" said Ms. Andre. "Normally, your body adjusts to it. There are products on the market, digestive enzymes, that you can take to help control that embarrassing problem. You can take those and they work very well."
The vegan diet is not necessarily healthy, she said, although she did drop 10 pounds in one week when she first went from vegetarian to vegan. One problem is that vegans tend to eat a lot of carbohydrates for bulk, which can make you gain weight.
Jen Sorgenfrei, the public information officer who is taking part in Mr. McLean's challenge, said she plans to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock she usually uses to cook with. She has already had hummus -- she expects to eat a lot of hummus -- and gotten a little fancier with a sun-dried tomato and artichoke risotto.
Pasta with marinara sauce is in her future plans, but she anticipates having a hard time staying away from dairy products. She can replace half and half with Vanilla Silk soy milk, but she is going to miss her yogurt and her cheese and crackers, she said.
Fortunately, she said, "Patrick [McLean] is very supportive. He wants us to try some of his recipes."
But not everyone in the city administration is quite so understanding.
According to Mr. McLean, "Our deputy mayor [Steve Herwat] believes the only thing vegans can eat is tree bark, so he brought us all in some tree bark the other day. I'm trying to convince him to eat at least one vegan meal with us."
Contact Daniel Neman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.
Fire-Roasted Tomato Black Bean Chili
½ yellow onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, with liquid
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons chipotle powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
In a large saucepan on high heat, sauté the onion in ¼ cup water until it starts to turn brown.
Add ¼ cup water, and stir. Add garlic and cook for 3 minutes; do not allow the garlic to burn.
Add the tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, beans and their liquid, cumin, chili powder, chipotle powder, oregano, and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings
Source: The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook by Neal Barnard, via Patrick McLean
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of white pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
3 tablespoons fresh mint, leaves only, minced
3 tablespoons currants OR raisins
Whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic, pepper, and oil. Add the carrots, and toss.
Add the chives, mint, and currants. Serve over tender lettuce, such as Bibb or butter lettuce. Try to highlight the bright orange of the carrots and the green and black of the herbs and currants by arranging the salad over a bed of light-colored baby Bibb lettuce on a white plate.
Yield: 4 servings
Source: The Angelica Home Kitchen by Leslie McEachern, via Patrick McLean
Curried Chickpea Spread
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed, and drained
¼ cup olive oil, or more to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup freshly chopped cilantro
In a food processor, place the chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, curry powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt, and process until smooth. Add the cilantro and pulse a few times to combine. Transfer the curried chickpea spread to a bowl. Serve as a dip or spread for vegetables, crackers, pita crisps, or bread, or as a sandwich filling.
Yield: 4 Cups
Source: The Vegan Chef blog
Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup
1 cup dried lentils
½ tablespoon olive oil (for stovetop only)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup carrots, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2½ cups butternut squash, in ¾-inch cubes
1 teaspoon garam masala
4 cups vegetable broth
For slow cooker: Rinse and drain lentils. In a 3½ to 4-quart slow cooker place lentils, onion, carrots, celery, and squash. Sprinkle garlic and garam masala over vegetables. Pour broth over all.
Cover and cook on low heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high heat setting for 4 to 4½ hours. Adjust seasoning.
For stovetop: Rinse and drain lentils. In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in oil until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add lentils, squash, garam masala, and broth. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer gently until lentils and squash are soft, about 30 minutes.
Yield: 5 servings
Source: Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes
Indonesian Coconut Rice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 scallions, minced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon ground cloves OR allspice
2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
4 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup shredded coconut
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic, and cook until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mustard, red pepper flakes, cloves, and sugar, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir to mix evenly. Gently stir in the coconut. Season to taste with salt and pepper and heat until hot. Cover, and set aside for 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: About 5 cups
Source: Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson