After 10 years, going vegan continues to be a fun adventure – OregonLive

It all started out as a journalistic stunt.

Ten years ago, I received a dare from a co-worker: Could I go vegan for a month? I accepted the challenge, ditching meat, cheese and dairy on Feb. 1, 2010. It was supposed to last a brisk 28 days or so I thought.

Cynically, I chose the shortest month of the year, because I wasnt sure that eating vegan would agree with me. I grew up in Kansas City, where steakhouses and barbecue joints are as common as coffee shops and Thai restaurants are in Portland. Burgers and smoky ribs felt like part of my DNA.

Around this time, I had been thinking seriously about ways to reduce my carbon footprint, and I got a chance to interview James McWilliams, the author of the controversial book "Just Food."

McWilliams had some ideas that were sure to rub the farmers market crowd the wrong way, such as his contention that a tomato grown by a local farmer doesn't necessarily have a lower carbon footprint than one grown in Southern California that's trucked to your neighborhood grocery store.

One of his ideas really resonated with me. In our quest to eat more sustainably, McWilliams believed our efforts were irrelevant if we didnt drastically reduce the amount of meat we eat, given the amount of natural resources the livestock industry consumes, and how it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

McWilliams challenged me that if I was serious in my concern about the environment, I needed to look seriously at the amount of meat I was eating. That forced me to confront the way I shopped and ate. I was one of those zealots about using reusable grocery bags years before Oregon forced everyone to get in on the act. Yet I wasn't paying any attention to what was going into those green bags. All the beef and chicken I was buying had a huge carbon footprint.

After 10 years, food writer Grant Butler is continuing his exploration of plant-based cooking and eating. (Beth Nakamura | The Oregonian/OregonLive)LC-

Then came the dare. I went to my editor with the idea of eating vegan for a month and writing about the experience. Unlike other food writers who had dabbled with short-term veganism, I didnt want to focus on what I couldnt eat. I wanted it to be a month of adventurous eating, a chance to try new foods, and to learn the upsides of vegan eating.

To my surprise, my editor said yes.

And that first month was crazy fun. I'd known about foods like quinoa, tofu and tempeh, but I'd never really given them a fair shake as a home cook. I wasnt just eating good food at home. I was blown away by Portlands vegan dining scene, which I had never explored.

When my month of vegan eating ended, I felt like Id had a physical and mental cleanse. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels had dropped significantly, and I felt more rested because I was sleeping better. So I decided to keep it going. To celebrate, I threw a dinner party for friends who had been rooting for me.

Vegan Dark Chocolate Cupcakes With Creamy Chocolate Frosting, a recipe from Everything Chocolate by the editors of Americas Test Kitchen, 2020.Keller + Keller

Recipes included with this story: Vegan Dark Chocolate Cupcakes; Creamy Vegan Chocolate Frosting.

Ten years later, its easier to eat a plant-based diet than ever before. A decade ago, you had to go to food co-ops and specialty markets to find many vegan products and ingredients. Now theyre in every grocery store. At mainstream restaurants, vegan options used to be bowls of blah pasta primavera. Now, serious chefs show vegetables plenty of respect, and you can score vegan options at Burger King.

Burger Kings menu changes are keeping up with public demand. During the last 10 years, more people have embraced the idea of eating less meat, even if they arent ditching it altogether. Every meatless meal presents an opportunity to take a step toward a better environment, better health, and compassion for all living beings. Even if you switch to vegan meals only a few days a week, you're making a powerful choice and helping change the world.

For me, going completely vegan has been a gift beyond imagination. Now its time to celebrate with chocolate cupcakes.

-- Grant Butler

gbutler@oregonian.com

503-221-8566; @grantbutler

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