Costa Rica

Costa Rica

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Happy Cow

            As a blog meant for new vegans and vegetarians – not just the old-timers – it would probably be helpful to highlight useful tools at our disposal.  The Happy Cow website is one such tool that my wife and I have used countless times in the past.  I seriously don’t know what we’d do without it.
            For those unfamiliar to the site, it’s basically one giant catalogue of restaurants that serve vegan and/or vegetarian food all over the world.  That’s right – all over the world!  How cool is that?  If you’re a newbie to the vegan world and wondering, “Well, where can I go since Red Lobster is no longer an option?” this is the place to visit!  It’s super easy to use, too.
            The site lets you enter in a location on its main page and from there you can narrow the search.  Not only can you specify your search for vegan or vegetarian restaurants, but you can also list veg-friendly restaurants (omni-restaurants that serve a few vegetarian dishes) and what they call “stores n’ more” (grocery stores, B&Bs, etc.).  The fact that you can list vegetarian B&Bs is pretty sweet.  Since my wife and I try to travel as much as possible, this feature would come in handy if we ever needed to use it.  Then you just list the radius you want to travel and more.  Once you’ve completed all the requirements you want to search for, the results show up on the bottom with a map displaying their locations.
            We’ve not only used it for searching out restaurants in our own area but also for numerous places we’ve been to on vacation.  We’ve been to Hawaii, Canada, Germany, England, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica since going vegan and Happy Cow has listed places for nearly every town we’ve been to.  There have been times when I’ve worried about traveling to a country because I didn’t think there would be anything there for us to eat but every time I’ve been surprised at the amount of results I’ve gotten.  And it doesn’t even seem to matter how remote the town may be, there always seems to be one veg-friendly place for us to stop at.  And on those rare occasions that no restaurant pops up, we make due at some generic fast food place like Subway since it seems every country has one of those.
            Now, there are a few times when a restaurant hasn’t either been there or it’s been closed down or it was vegetarian when it was supposed to be vegan (or vice versa).  It happens (most recently for a vegan soul restaurant, Yah’s Cuisine, in Chicago that was closed down when there was no warning on either Happy Cow or even the main site for Yah’s) but it mostly happens when we visit a place out in the middle of nowhere and that usually only happens in foreign countries.  In the States, Canada, and England, we have had good luck using the site.
            Besides the restaurant listings, the site also has other uses.  You can join the site and give reviews and talk in forums with other vegans/vegetarians (a good way to build support).  They also have their own blog and shop.  They also list a bunch of different sub-topics you can search on their site to help old and new vegetarians (like an ingredients list, animal rights information, travel info, and tips on going vegan).  So, if you haven’t been to the site, I highly suggest bookmarking it and downloading the mobile app.
            Yes, I am on Happy Cow.  However, I haven’t been on the site for very long so I haven’t reviewed many places.  If you want to look me up there, too, then find me under ‘Ben Reilly’.  If you’re a comic book nerd like me, then you know that is a character in the Spider-Man comics.
            For those of you who have used the site before, what have your experiences been like?  Has it been a pretty reliable site for you to use?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

            You can follow Happy Cow on Twitter at @happycow
            You can also find them on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and a ton of other places.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Chicago Diner

            If you haven’t been to The Chicago Diner or heard of it, then you are missing out.  There are many times when I regret not having gone vegan sooner.  That is particularly true whenever I think about how The Chicago Diner has been in my backyard nearly my entire life and I never once went there until a few years ago.  They’ve been praised left to right, been featured on television segments, and even have their own cookbook out.  Located on North Halsted, The Chicago Diner is basically THE place vegans and vegetarians seem to go to whenever they’re in town.  Once you go there, you’ll probably see why.  Every time my wife & I go there, we can’t help but stuff ourselves full of food.
            We try to make it a point to stop in whenever we’re in the area.  We usually stop in either before or after seeing a movie at Landmark Theatres, which is just a few minutes away.  That was the case last Thursday.
            My wife has begun working overnights and since I had Thursday off, she suggested we see The Grand Budapest Hotel (an amazing movie that has skyrocketed to my top 10 movies of all time) and get brunch at The Chicago Diner.  I’m often slow and reluctant to wake up before 9 on my days off, so since I’d have to be up anyway to pick her up from work, I decided this would be an acceptable idea.  Truthfully, it wasn’t that hard to convince me.  Even now, my stomach is grumbling just thinking about the food at The Diner.
            Jump to Thursday and we showed up to at The Diner twenty-minutes before they opened.  Yes, we’re just that intense when it comes to our food.  No, we don’t consider ourselves ‘foodies’ (an abhorrent word if ever there was one – it just elicits such snobbery.) but we just love to eat.  Plus, with Chicago’s incredibly crappy traffic no matter what time of day, I figured it’d be a good idea to leave earlier than needed.

            We parked across the street from the three-story building that The Diner is located in and headed inside.  The interior is designed like any diner-styled restaurant with the usual decorations hanging from the walls, booths lining one wall, bar stools at the counter across from the booths, and small, square tables lined up in the middle.  It’s really a fun and cool place to go for a meal.  It’s also fun to people watch, whether that’s the other patrons or the employees.  You’ll find your share everything from hipsters (at a vegan place? NO WAY!) with their beards and black-rimmed glasses to your punk rockers sporting all sorts of piercings, tattoos, and hair colors.

            After getting our much-needed coffee with soy milk, we dug into our appetizers:  cinnamon buns.  Good lord.  That is one thing I never get enough of as a vegan.  I used to eat so many cinnamon buns from Cinnabon that I am highly surprised I never got diabetes a long time ago.  I’ve had a few cinnamon buns as a vegan but a few just seem to be mediocre.  The best ones came from a recipe my wife made but The Chicago Diner’s were nearly as good.  At the very least, they were the best ones I’ve had that weren’t homemade since going vegan.

            We were so hungry and had such a hard time making up our minds that the two of us ordered three meals.  My wife had her own meal – the ‘STK’ & eggs (seitan ‘steak’ and tofu eggs), I ordered the Big Bang Breakfast, and we shared an order of ‘biscuit & sausg gravy’ (made with seitan).  I do not know how I finished everything I ordered.  I could’ve exploded had I had another bite!

            The biscuits & gravy were good but not my favorite veganized version of the meal.  The gravy was good but overall nothing mind-blowing like I’ve come to expect.  Don’t let that give you the impression that I didn’t wolf down my half of the plate, because I did.  I also used the excess gravy on my ‘sausag’ patty and seitan ‘bacun’ that came with my Big Bang Breakfast.

            The Big Bang Breakfast was really delicious!  It came with tofu ‘scrambled eggs’, toast, fruit, potato hash, and – as far as their menu states – either the ‘sausag’ patty or the seitan ‘bacun’.  However, either they messed up or changed things because I received both.  I was not going to complain at all!  Both were really good and tasted good in the gravy.  The potato hash was probably my favorite on the plate.  I could eat platefuls of that stuff.  The tofu eggs were good but I prefer my wife’s because she makes scrambled tofu eggs and throws in a ton of ingredients – really jazzes things up and adds a lot of different flavors to the mix.  As always, I did douse my tofu eggs in ketchup, which helped give it more flavor.  (Damn, I just realized all of that made me sound like the food snobs I loathe.  I’m not, I swear!  I’ll eat anything and enjoy it!  I just have different levels of likes.)
            My wife somehow managed to finish her meal off with a shake.  How she was able to finish a shake after all of that food is beyond me.  I really wanted one of their shakes but I just couldn’t bring myself to have one.  It really bummed me out because they have THE BEST vegan shakes in the world!  We always seem to get a shake whenever we go there – it doesn’t matter how cold or hot it is, either.  If you go there, you MUST order a shake.  I love the mocha and despite wanting to try others, I tend to order that whenever I’m there.  It’s just too good to pass up.
            All in all, brunch was a fantastic idea!  Plus, parking was super easy that early in the day and it wasn’t as crowded as it always is in the afternoons and evenings.
            The Chicago Diner also recently opened up a second location (not in the suburbs, however.  Do you hear me, Chicago Diner?? Hmmm??) in Logan Square, but we have yet to go there.  That may have to be rectified!
            Well, that about wraps things up.  Has anyone else been to The Chicago Diner?  What are your favorite meals or drinks?
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

The Chicago Diner is located at 3411 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, 60657 & now at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60647
You can follow The Chicago Diner on Twitter at @chicagodiner

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, Turn And Face The Strange, Changes!

            My apologies to David Bowie because I am singing that out loud and horribly off-key.  But most importantly, my apologies to you all for the weeklong hiatus.  I’ve been a tad busy but I’m back!  I must admit that I’m impressed with even the modicum of traffic I’ve received so far.  Thanks for stopping by!
            I thought the subject title would fit well with this entry.  You see, many vegans become vegans in hopes that a change in diet would cure them of what ails them.  There are plenty of well-intentioned vegans who see friends or family suffering from one health issue or another and they tell them that becoming vegan is the end-all, be-all cure.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the benefits of dropping animals from your diet are vast and well known (it’s kind of why I went vegetarian in the first place).
Just look at vegans such as KrisCarr who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2003.  She changed her diet and lifestyle and, thankfully, she’s still kicking ass and taking names (I’m sure I’ll talk more about her story in future entries, but please feel free to click on her link now!  She’s awesome and my entry can wait).  However, I know people try to use the miracle drug that is veganism as the sales pitch to ‘convert’ omnivores into becoming herbivores without applying conditions to those promises.  Many people make it seem like everyone’s health ailments will disappear from giant health issues down to the littlest of ailments.
            “If you stop eating meat, your glaucoma will be cured!”
            “If you stop eating meat, those bunions will disappear!”
            “If you stop eating meat, you’ll never sneeze AGAIN!”
            “If you stop eating meat, you will have thicker hair and grow muscles and be the envy of everyone who isn’t you!”
            Um.  Just to clarify, the first two aren’t problems I have to deal with.  Totally hypothetical, people!  I promise.  I have the pictures to prove it!  Anyway…

            Just like everything, however, whatever changes may or may not take place starts with you.  Are you a junk food vegan consuming crackers, chips, cookies, and an insane amount of hummus, guacamole, and frozen vegetables; meanwhile, making sure the only exercise you receive is the walk to the fridge?  Or are you a healthy vegan who eats “all the colors of the rainbow” (as is the popular phrase everyone should be living by) and exercises outside of the home 3-5 times a week?  If you think you’re going to drop a hundred pounds by being the former vegan rather than the latter vegan, you’re sadly mistaken.
            Even before I went vegetarian, as I’ve mentioned in my first entry, I was noticing the changes that my wife was going through by first transitioning to vegetarianism and then veganism.  It was impressive and started to happen in only a few months.  Not only that, she would tell me stories about others whose lives had changed thanks to a vegan diet (like Carr and many other bloggers, authors, and speakers).  She would tell me of health benefits of going vegan from people such as Dr. Michael Greger (a person who also deserves more focus in later entries) and Ginny Kisch Messina (a.k.a., the Vegan R.D.).  Each new medical revelation that veganism presented over conventional medicine made it hard not to think that I wouldn’t become some sort of Superman by going vegan.  This wasn’t the fault of my wife, who was just simply presenting information – I mean, I wasn’t suffering from anything so she had no real cause to persuade me and she had no intention of converting me in the first place.  As any normal human, I let my imagination run away with me and thought, “Man, veganism is amazing!  Why am I not getting in on this?”
            At the very least, I was hoping that my skin would clear up.  I mean, it kind of sucked being an adult with acne.  So, really, there wasn’t much work to be done to get to where I wanted to be.  I was fortunate in that respect.  However, as the months rolled into the years, I must report that I still have acne, but the good news is that it’s not as bad as it was when I was consuming animal products.  Again, am I a junk food vegan or a healthy vegan?  A bit of both it would seem.  I’m sure if I cut out all the crap I eat or drink I would notice a bigger change in my skin but…
            Even though I didn’t notice a huge change in my acne, I did notice a change in less superficial ways.  I felt better whenever I ate food.  I used to have a weak stomach that couldn’t handle anything.  It was terrible.  When I went vegan, and not including the times when I just overstuffed myself on food, I never once had an issue due to my stomach.  The foods that once caused me problems after eating them no longer did so.  Not only that, but it sure is nice to eat a Thanksgiving meal and not feel like death afterwards.  Not eating heavy foods that are just going to rot in your stomach does have its perks.
            I also noticed that I generally slept better and woke up easier in the mornings.  I’m not saying I suddenly became a morning person, but I wouldn’t be as groggy as I had been before going vegan.  My stamina is better, too.  I’m not as lethargic as I once was.  Am I still lazy?  If you ask my wife, she may tell you that I am.  She’s right, too, but at least it’s not as bad as it once was.  My disposition wasn’t as bad, in general, either.  Again, I’m not saying I suddenly became Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky but I wasn’t going to rip somebody’s head off at the slightest thing, either.  I’m not sure if veganism is the reason for that last anecdote but I wouldn’t doubt it.
            Just for lessening my acne and curing me of my irritable stomach, going vegan was totally worth it.  While I make no promises about what cures veganism may or may not hold for you if you still haven’t gone vegan, it’d be hard to imagine nothing changing at all.  At the least, you won’t be contributing to the abuse, torture, and murder of innocent animals, which should make your conscience feel a ton better.  That I can promise.  The rest just depends on what you want to put into the experience and get out of the experience.  Just remember to set reasonable expectations!  It'll avoid disappointment.
            I think I’ve rambled enough.  What about you?  Are you one of those vegans who went vegan for health issues you were suffering from?  Did going vegan help or are you still suffering from whatever it is you are dealing with?  What did you do or eat to help with your health issues when you went vegan/vegetarian?
            Any deeper questions on the changes I went through that I didn’t cover?  If it’s something I forgot, perhaps I’ll discuss it in another entry at some point.  So don’t hesitate to ask!  It might help generate discussion.
            Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can follow Ginny Kisch Messina on Twitter at @TheVeganRD
You can follow Dr. Michael Greger on Twitter at @nutrition_facts
You can follow Kris Carr on Twitter at @Kris_Carr

NOTE:  The meme was found using Google.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Restaurant Review: Urban Vegan

            Happy Pi Day!  I feel like I should do a pie-themed entry today.  Alas, that will not be happening.  However, I do have something else for you that you might find equally enjoyable:  another restaurant review!  I know, I know – two restaurant reviews back-to-back.  I wanted to avoid it but I thought I’d post about it before my poor memory skills erase most of what I wanted to say about the restaurant.  Besides, who doesn’t enjoy pictures of food?
            Monday, my wife and I went to Urban Vegan in Lake View on W. Montrose.  I only mention the exact location because they have another location in Lincoln Park.  Urban Vegan serves Thai food, which I love.  Hell, I love Asian food, period.  You can also order pick-up and delivery so if you’re nearby I highly recommend you get something from here.  I wish I lived closer than almost an hour away.  Bummer.

            The Lake View location was relatively small (only about a ½ dozen tables) but it didn’t feel like you were crammed into a phone booth with others elbowing you in the side as they ate.  The lighting and atmosphere was pleasant enough and the service was really quick.  And as with most days we go out to eat, we were pretty hungry by the time we got to the restaurant.
            Before our appetizers arrived we received two bowls of miso soup (I love that stuff).  It’s one of the things I look forward to the most whenever we go to Asian restaurants.  It’s like the Asian equivalent to breadsticks at Italian restaurants.
            The appetizers were amazing!  The first one they brought out was our order of steam curry dumplings.  I could eat dumplings everyday of the year.  The curry sauce made them a bit spicy but nothing most people couldn’t handle.  I’ve gotten used to my wife making some spicy meals but I still can’t handle anything above mild.  Typical white person problems, eh?  I had a cup of water nearby so I made it through the dumplings just fine.

            Our next appetizer was an order of chicken satay.  I think these were my favorite despite how much I enjoyed the dumplings.  I didn’t eat the peanut sauce that they came with but they tasted really good with just the sauce they had drizzled on them.  The ‘chicken’ they used was that same soft, tear-able feel that I vaguely recall chicken having had.  I don’t know why but outside of Beyond Meat (a company I’ll try to delve into in another post soon), Asian vegan restaurants have the best chicken-meat alternatives around.  If you’re going to Urban Vegan, I recommend checking out this dish!

            The only complaint I have about the appetizers (and the dessert) was that they were a bit smaller than I would have liked.  Oh well.
            For our main meals, my wife ordered Pad Thai and I had the Curry Spinach Noodle.  My wife loves Pad Thai and she has ordered it at every Asian restaurant that serves it.  Ever since she had Wok ’N Fire’s Pad Thai, she has been on a quest to find somewhere that could top it.  Up until Monday she had yet to find a restaurant that could make a better Pad Thai.  That changed once she had Urban Vegan’s Pad Thai.  When I asked her if she was now going to stop ordering Pad Thai everywhere, she laughed and smiled before saying no.  I guess, however, that is pretty big praise because trust me when I say she’s ordered Pad Thai EVERYWHERE.
            My dish was amazing but I didn’t think my meal choices through.  I had already had an appetizer with curry in it and now I was having another dish with curry in it.  Besides being a little spicier than I was expecting (for my tastes.  Again, most people won’t really be bothered.), I really enjoyed it.  I had been worried the portions were going to be small since the appetizers were but I had plenty of food to eat.  The vegan shrimp felt like and even tasted like the animal.  I don’t eat a ton of alternative meat products so I enjoy getting to see what’s out there as far as alternatives go for vegans.  With shrimps and bacon and a whole host of other omnivore foods becoming veganized, it is even easier than ever to go vegan.  It’s great!

            Like I mentioned earlier we also had coconut ice cream for dessert.  The ice cream was served in a coconut shell and had chocolate drizzled around the coconut.  My wife and I shared one coconut but I probably could’ve eaten one all by myself.  It was relatively small for a portion.  Although, looking back on it, I probably would’ve exploded had I had my own full coconut.  I tend to overeat.

            Overall, it was a really fun experience!  The price for two appetizers, two main meals, and a dessert was under $50.  Not too shabby since meals with vegan meats can be a bit more expensive than meals without them.  I’m still amazed at how many vegetarian and vegan options are popping up all over Chicago.  I just wish I could have a few more out in the burbs (you hear that, restaurant entrepreneurs?).
            Ok, next entry will be a real post with real thoughts other than “om nom nom nom”, I promise.  Until next time, keep on vegan on!  (Still trying to work on a catchy ending.  Does that qualify?  Should I keep that one?)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: The Original Soul Vegetarian Restaurant

            For my first restaurant review on my blog, I thought I’d start with the restaurant my wife and I went to today – Original Soul Vegetarian Restaurant.  Soul Vegetarian is an amazing little place located on 75th Street in Chicago’s south side.  This place has been fueling residents with amazing vegetarian southern comfort foods since 1980.  Vegetarian in Chicago for over thirty years?  WHAT??  It’s true.  Eat some of their food and you’ll see why they’ve been open for that long.
            I say it’s vegetarian but it’s basically vegan.  They may use some honey in a few dishes but otherwise it’s vegan.  (A quick side-note to non-vegetarians: some vegans consider honey okay to eat and some do not.  It’s an animal by-product so I try to avoid it whenever I can.  However, if I learn something had it after I consumed it, I’m not going to have a breakdown.)
            The first time we went to Soul Vegetarian was back when my wife was first transitioning over to a vegetarian diet.  I was still an omnivore but she came across the restaurant’s listing on the helpful website Happy Cow (seriously, you cannot be a vegetarian and not use this website).  That first trip was mind-blowing!  The food was delicious, those working there were super friendly, and the pricing was definitely worth it.
            But for whatever reason, we just never got around to returning.  We would always make it a point to eat something from their booth at vegetarian or vegan events but today was the first time we made it back to the restaurant.  We were originally going to try out a different vegan restaurant just down the street but we were surprised to see it had closed down without a word about it on their site.  Soul Vegetarian was definitely an okay second choice, however!
            This time, I came with a palette that was more open to vegan food.  I wasn’t looking at the menu and grossed out by things that had words like “collard greens” or “black-eyed peas” in them necessarily.  The first time I might’ve looked at the menu and thought, “Man… what might be good?” because I was limiting myself to the items that seemed familiar to me.  This time I was looking at the menu and thinking, “Man… what might be good?” because EVERYTHING looked good.  How was I going to prioritize what was good, better, or best??
            The restaurant is relatively small but open and relaxed, just to the side of the main counter where people can just order take-out.  To the opposite side of the main counter is yet another section that serves as a juice bar/deli called Eternity.  We sat ourselves and poured over the menu.  We usually like to starve ourselves before going out to eat so we can order a bunch of plates to eat.  Today was no exception!

            For appetizers, we ordered a basket of onion rings with barbeque sauce and a plate of Buffalo wings with blue cheese.  The barbeque is really good with the onion rings.  Their BBQ sauce isn’t that spicy and not overly sweet.  I don’t usually like to eat a lot of Buffalo wings because I find the sauce the wings are lathered in a bit too much.  However, these were delicious!  I guess it’s because my tastebuds have grown to tolerate blue cheese, too, so I could balance the Buffalo sauce with the blue cheese.  Hizzah for expanding my horizons!

            I ordered a basket for my main meal that came loaded with seitan steak pieces, thick and soft tofu squares, battered and fried mushrooms, and fries.

            I loved all of it but I think the mushrooms are my favorite out of the seitan, tofu, and mushrooms.  The seitan was good because they were tough like steak and went well with the BBQ sauce.  I liked how soft the tofu was even though they were fried.  I guess I’m just a big mushroom fan so they always win me over in the end.

            The main meal also came with a vegetable noodle soup (that seemed to have ‘chicken’ pieces shredded up in it) and cornbread.  I enjoyed the soup since it was pretty cold outside and I’ve grown to love cornbread since going vegan.  Their bread was really warm and soft and would break apart in my hands.  Eat their cornbread over your soup bowl so you can scoop out the remaining parts.  You won’t want to leave anything behind.

            We finished off by walking over to the Eternity side and getting smoothies.  What kind of super geniuses order smoothies when it’s still 30° F outside?  That’d be us!  The berry smoothie I ordered hit the spot after all the tofu and seitan that I ate.  It helped me convince myself that I wasn’t a complete slob.
            So, if you’re hankering for some comfort food, definitely check out Soul Vegetarian!  If you look online, you might see it listed as the Original Soul Vegetarian Restaurant, Soul Vegetarian Restaurant, or Soul Vegetarian East (the last one since it’s on east 75th Street most likely).  Parking is relatively easy (just right out front on the street) but that’s probably because both times we went were during the day.
            Has anyone been there?  Let me know what you thought!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Pre-Vegan Days

            I thought I’d start things out by describing my pre-vegan days before we jump into anything crazy or involved.  I think this might be particularly useful since a lot of people think there’s just one path to going vegan or one reason for going vegan, but that’s not the case, obviously.  When ever somebody says they recently went vegan, if you’re an omnivore and if you’re being honest, probably thought they went vegan because they didn’t want to hurt cute, little, baby animals.  You probably pictured that person cuddling a baby calf.
            And what’s wrong with that?  I mean, have you SEEN baby calves?  I think the real question is, why wouldn’t you want to cuddle a baby calf?

            But in reality there are many reasons why people go vegan.  My original reason was for health.  I wasn’t suffering from anything – I wasn’t at a doctor’s office listening to grim news about how I’d be dead in a year if I didn’t change my ways – but if there was a way to help prevent developing any chronic or debilitating illnesses and all I had to do was eat better, why not make the smart and easy choice?  
            But how was I even exposed to vegetarianism and veganism in the first place?
            I have my wife to thank for getting me initially on the vegetarian bandwagon.  She was the one who was suffering from a few health ailments and she was sick of it.  Sick of even going to the E.R. just once let alone numerous times to be treated.  She went vegetarian first and within just a few short months – on Thanksgiving, no less – she was vegan.  She had turned her lifestyle around 180 degrees in just months.  Her health problems had gone away in that time period and within the first year of going vegan, she was looking a hundred times better, too.  The best argument for a cause is to see the changes that are taking place right in front of your eyes.
            Yet, in those first few months, I was still in my pre-vegan “glory”.  For years prior to going vegetarian I had largely lost the interest in eating cow flesh.  I still ate hamburgers but I was sick to death of eating steaks and the like.  I think that has to do with the fact that I ate a lot of red meat as a kid/teenager.  I did eat a lot of meat and potatoes but there were still a good amount of veggies and fruits (compared to the average person, I suppose).  Granted, a lot of those veggies were of the frozen variety.  I did eat chicken and pig (bacon and pork chops) on a regular basis with sushi thrown in whenever I could.
            But my pre-vegan palette was pretty limited.  I hated avocadoes, beans, cauliflower, artichokes, and a whole host of things I could never see myself eating in a million years.  Sushi was as adventurous as I got.  If it wasn’t for my fast metabolism, my wife keeps telling me that I should really be a hundred pounds heavier than I am since all I ate were fast foods, pizzas, pastas, potatoes, and other ‘heavy’ foods.
            Even when I worked at a grocery store as a teenager and into my early twenties, and even though I saw tofu, Morning Glory products, and other vegan products, I always thought, “Ew, who eats this crap?”  I also had no idea what one would do with things such as kale or dandelion greens or collard greens or ginger root.  I look back on those days with a smile because I had NO idea what was in store and no idea how well acquainted I’d become with all of those products.  If it wasn’t an apple, an orange, a grape, or a banana, I basically didn’t have any interest in the fruit or veggie.
            So fast-forward several years later when my wife went vegetarian.  She plainly stated at the time that I didn’t have to go vegetarian but that she would not be making any meat-based meals.  If I wanted to eat what she made – cool.  I could also eat whatever I wanted outside of the home but I was on my own, otherwise.  Because I have no cooking skills whatsoever beyond making pasta dishes, I was all for trying vegetarian dishes.  To my idiotic surprise, I loved nearly every single dish she made.  The foods were so delicious and varied!  I had never tasted anything so good in my life.  When she went vegan, I kept eating whatever she was putting in front of me.  It seems silly to think that I was surprised with how full of flavor the dishes were since they were generally using more ingredients and more spices than just plain meat and potato dishes.
            Outside of the home was a bit different.  I didn’t eat any red meat any more but I still ate chicken, pig, and fish (sushi).  I also kept drinking cow’s milk and eating pizza with cheese on it.  However, I noticed that I slowly began to lose the interest in eating animals.  As those first few months of being vegan came to a close for my wife, I had nearly phased out chicken and pig from my diet.
Perhaps it was because of all the information my wife was bombarding me with about animals, factory farming, health benefits of going vegan, and anything else she could soak up on her vegan journey.  Let me point out that when I say ‘bombard’, I truly mean that in the nicest way possible. (ha)  She was so excited about everything she was learning and I was seeing the physical changes she was going through since changing her eating habits, that it was hard NOT to take it all in and get just as excited and amazed.
Finally, my heart and brain just couldn’t take it any more.  I had taken in too much knowledge to ignore that veganism was the way to go.  Nobody told me to stop eating animals.  I didn’t do it because my wife ‘made’ me (a ridiculous notion best suited for a 1950s sitcom than the new millennium).  So, almost two months after my wife went vegan I decided to go vegetarian in January of 2011 and I haven’t looked back.  I didn’t go fully vegan until 2013 but even before 2013, I was mostly vegan with the exception of eating cookies or cupcakes that were made with animal products.
I’ll talk about the transition and the changes I noticed in another entry.  For now, I think this is a good start.  Sorry for the length of writing!
What’s YOUR story of going vegetarian or vegan?  Were any of you big meat-eaters before going vegetarian/vegan?  If you’re still an omnivore that’s curious about going vegetarian, what are the things you see as roadblocks (mental or real) to making the transition?  I want to hear from you all!
           With that, I bid you all adieu for now.  (Still thinking of a catchy closing phrase.  Hmmm)

P.S. - The photo (I'm 99% sure) is from Farm Sanctuary, which is an AMAZING charity and should be supported.