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My Vegan Summer – Part One

October 12, 2011 | by  |  Features

Luke Brocki, a journalist with a penchant for meat that only growing up Polish could provide, gave up eating animal products for what was supposed to be a quick, 30-day experiment chronicled on Twitter as #myveganjune. Unfortunately, the study is running long and Mr. Brocki has since adopted the annoying habit of questioning eaters about their food choices. You can still find him eating meat, but it’s an uncomfortable pursuit punctuated by tales of hypocrisy and self-indulgence. The Dependent presents the first in a series of pieces on eating animals from the city’s most irritating dinner guest:

When it comes to eating, I’m with comedian Louis C.K. Before this study began, every meal was a meaty battle of attrition, followed by an uncomfortable ceasefire and finally a toilet visit to sign a treaty I knew I would only respect until the next barbecue. But that gluttonous status quo was forever left behind when I quit eating animals, in part because vegetables are boring in isolation and in part because every act of eating, previously automatic, was suddenly complicated by thoughts and feelings.

At first glance, there was nothing to eat anywhere. That awful shock took me right on June 1st, mere hours after I had gifted all my leftover meat, fish and dairy to a friend. I leaned into the near empty fridge and stared across a wasteland of condiments and limp vegetables in various stages of decomposition. Outside, the garden offered little help: a bit of salad greens, a few peas and an endless supply of sage. Lettuce sandwich? That wasn’t going to do for a man raised in a house where lard was king and every salad’s foundation was a wet mix of potatoes, eggs and mayonnaise.

Thus, driven by a strange, uncomfortable pulling and twisting at the base of my gut (I later Googled and self-diagnosed it as hunger) and running from taunts of friends and colleagues convinced I had taken leave of my senses, I went foraging through the neighbourhood. I spent the next week scouring store shelves for meat alternatives, determined to replicate with plants alone the familiar geography of dinner plates piled high with pieces of things that once had beating hearts.

Image Credit: Liam Hanham

I was surprised at what I found, usually in a forgotten back corner of the grocery store, in that strange disputed zone that’s no longer the produce aisle (but not yet the frozen food section). Curious, I filled my basket with soy-based sausages, wheat gluten burgers, legume- and nut-based pâtés, bags of dried textured vegetable protein (TVP), tofu of all shapes and sizes, and strange ethnic fermented soy creations.

Trouble was, the magic quickly faded in the kitchen. Faux bacon burned and shrunk instead of crackling and sizzling. Tofurky sausages left the grill limp and grey, unrecognizable to someone expecting the juicy crunch of a kielbasa. Most of these meat wannabes were either too bland or too salty and all of them processed, packaged and stamped with ingredient labels that read like the glossary of an organic chemistry textbook. This was not the way to go.

It took another few days to realize veteran vegans probably didn’t eat daily doses of Oreo cookies and Lay’s potato chips, but after about a week of stumbling around and getting fat, I found a comfortable routine. I mashed avocados and horseradish into excellent butter substitutes and ground hemp hearts and water into passable coffee creamers. I soaked massive bowls of seeds and nuts and blended them into “cheese”. Of course I missed meat. It’s naïve to think 30 days of veganism would erase 30 years of carnivory, but I found ways to battle hunger with all the bounty ancestral humans celebrated as edible, before modern eaters pushed it aside to make room for mounds of meat: green leafy things, fruit, grains, nuts, legumes. Oh and vegetables. Mountains and rainbows of vegetables.

All in all, I lost about 10 pounds through the month of June, despite taking pains to overeat and avoid exercise as much as I would in months prior. Maybe it’s because plants are less fatty and less caloric than animals. Or maybe it’s because–aside from a select few restaurants and snack purveyors–Vancouver is a vegan food desert. Or maybe because the vegan potlucks I attended were melancholy affairs where time-honoured traditions of using your teeth to rip grilled meat off bones were replaced with talk of factory farming and peak oil, cruelty and compassion, activism and patchouli… Still, the occasional sad dinner aside, I felt great, lost weight, saved a pile of money and had fun experimenting with random ingredients I never would have considered cooking before this little challenge.

Image Credit: Liam Hanham

But the health triumphs are only half the story; the good times were not to last. I’m not sure if all the carnivores got together and decided to pepper my meat-free days with snide remarks, passive-aggressive attitudes and a sudden lack of generosity in the area of dinner invitations, but whatever happened, I was suddenly on the outside of all the jokes and pleasantries. My vegan merriment even seemed to offend people. Some were sad. Others, disappointed. Others yet, just plain angry.

“Did you hear? Luke went vegan! He must have forgotten we’re on the top of the food chain! Look at me wiggling these opposable thumbs! Let’s see a pig do that!”

“I don’t know how he does it! Doesn’t he miss the taste?”

“Let’s go eat meat in front of him and call him a pussy!”

At first, I tried using popular health arguments to stave off my attackers: I told them of vegan triathletes and ultimate fighters, even mentioned former U.S. president, barbecue aficionado and quadruple bypass survivor Bill Clinton, who recently took up veganism so he could stay alive in light of a bum ticker, but it was no use. I had to adapt my social strategy. So, in the same way I would sometimes fake cigarette breaks to get five minutes of fresh air, I started lying about the meals I took in public and I must say I recommend it:

“Oh, you’re vegan?” asked a mouth beneath a set of furrowed eyebrows.

“Fuck that! Are you kidding? I love meat… Unfortunately I’m allergic.”

Bam. Back in the circle. The sneers directed at me while I dined on vegetables would always soften after that. I guess people still respect a good allergy. Plus not being able to eat animals somehow proved less threatening than choosing not to eat them. At least some of them. Because as the month wore on, I grew increasingly confused about this top-of-the-food-chain stuff.

For example, earlier this year, when a Whistler sled dog tour operator killed some 100 dogs during a post-Olympic tourism slump, activists went bananas, reporters led stories with “bloody” this and “massacre” that and the BC SPCA later recommended the man accused of the killings be criminally charged with causing unnecessary pain and suffering to these cute and smart and affectionate and innocent animals. Worst of all, nobody laughed when I joked that burying the dogs was a terrible waste of (fresh, local, wildish) meat at a time when unrelenting food inflation made every other trip to the grocery store a scandal fit for British tabloids. (Three-dollar avocados? Fuck you, Safeway.)

Then, one day in September, a slow news day perked up so fast there wasn’t even time to fake a smoke break. News was breaking! A baby beluga had died at the Vancouver Aquarium.

“Oh no! How horrible!” was the stock response, even from mouths eating meaty McDonalds’ breakfasts in the newsroom.

“Poor Tiqa!” said the chewing mouths.

Soon enough aquarium staff had released a statement about how its animal team and volunteers were deeply saddened by the loss of the three-year-old calf. But all I could think of was: how much did it weigh and what happened to the body? After a dozen emails back and forth with two lovely (if confused) PR officials, I finally learned Tiqa weighed about 1,100 pounds and that her body was incinerated after the Ministry of Environment folks performed the necropsy and sliced off what they needed for further study. Once again, the thought of eating Tiqa, despite my most creative recipe and wine pairing ideas, delighted no one.

But this was the same year I wrote about butchers and chefs seeking ever more adventurous cuts of meat to feed bored gourmands. In Ontario, Canada’s largest rib festival drew massive crowds, served hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat and gave out awards for best sauces and pig rigs. Not to be outgunned, Calgary then hosted Baconfest Canada. “Bacon is our national meat and its salty sweet goodness is reason enough to dedicate an entire day to it,” argued organizers on the event’s website.

And if I learned anything from the increasingly shocking activist protests (aside from the fact that fake blood and cellophane don’t turn me off as much as society wants them to), it’s that pigs might be as smart, affectionate and capable of feeling pain as dogs and whales. So why the inconsistent treatment? How do we decide which species we bond and form memories with and which we kill and chop into bite-sized morsels?

Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University specializing in human-animal relations, recently penned a timely book titled Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. In it, he argued that the only constant in the way humans think about animals is inconsistency, with some decisions led by logic and reasoning and others fueled by arbitrary emotional attachment.

“How can 60 percent of Americans believe simultaneously that animals have the right to live and that people have the right to eat them?” asks Herzog.

I don’t know how Canadian numbers compare, but #myveganjune taught me my own arbitrary ethical and environmental positions definitely warrant further examination.

Stay tuned and bon appétit.



  1. this article is awesome. would like some more in depth recipes on what you ate, time you spent in the kitchen etc. did you feel better on the diet? thanks for the article and experiementation.

  2. It was nice to have shared one of your vegan meals in Toronto with you and that girlfriend of yours. Yes, eating Tiqa wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. I also like to bring up eating babies at dinner parties. We’re higher on the food chain then them, aren’t we?

  3. A month? I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day. Great article. You’ve open my eyes on how much animal products I consume needlessly.

  4. Great piece, but you unfortunately left out a few of the more cutting comments overheard in the newsroom.

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