ROBERT ST. JOHN: Vegan Journal V – The final vegan column

Last September I lived for 30 days as a vegetarian. During that time, Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, challenged me to take it one step further and go vegan. This year I did.
A quick recap: Vegetarians don’t eat anything that – at one time – had a face or a tail. Vegans are vegetarians who don’t even eat anything that came from an animal. Vegans don’t eat eggs or dairy.

Notes from my life
as a vegan – Week Five:
It’s over. I did it.
Living as a vegan was hard, but it wasn’t quite as hard as I thought it would be.
I learned that there are some readers of this column who don’t trust me and thought I would cheat. Several times while dining in restaurants, I had people stop by the table to quiz me on what I was eating, “Is that vegan?” they’d say, except sometimes they would pronounced it “VA-gun.”
At one restaurant, the customers at a table on the other side of the room quizzed their server constantly about what I was eating. I’m actually a little offended by that. It’s like they thought I was writing about tofu during the day, and locking myself in the pantry after midnight eating chicken wings and drinking milk.
Honestly, I had been dreaming of pancakes for three weeks. In my normal, everyday life, I don’t eat a lot of pancakes, but during my vegan month, I involuntarily obsessed about a few things I couldn’t eat. Pancakes were the main offender.
On the first morning after my 30 days, my son and I were at Cracker Barrel the minute they opened the doors. I didn’t want to load up on too much meat because my stomach had not been manufacturing the proper enzymes needed to break down animal-based proteins. So I ordered two pancakes, two scrambled eggs, two biscuits, and only one piece of bacon, along with the first glass of milk I had seen in over 30 days.
Everything seemed OK. I dropped my son off at the house so my wife could take him to school and I went to my Friday morning men’s group meeting at 7 a.m. Around 7:30, while I was speaking to the group, I heard a loud rumble from deep inside my stomach. It was loud enough for people sitting across the room to hear. “Did y’all hear that?” I asked. They had. I’ll spare the details.
The hardest part of the vegan journey was working at the restaurants. Our features program this month has been spectacular. Purple Parrot Café, Chef De Cuisine, Jeremy Noffke, has been serving a short rib that is cooked sous vide for 48 hours. He’s been preparing this dish for the entire month of September. I have been dreaming about it, too. Today at lunch I plan to eat one. A short rib that you can cut with a fork – are you kidding me? Vegans don’t know what’s missing.
Even more challenging than having the 48-hour short rib dangled in front of my face for a month, is the weekly manager meeting. Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. our management team gathers in the kitchen for the weekly food meeting. We cover the features that were offered the previous week, discuss the items that will be offered for the next three weeks, and then we taste all of the new dishes we are developing. Basically, it’s 45 minutes of talking extensively about food and eating food. If one is a vegan, it is three-quarters of an hour of pure torture.
I spent a month watching several versions of banana cream pie get tasted and analyzed endlessly. That’s hard – really, really hard. We worked on flounder stuffed with crabmeat for several weeks and that was even harder. The Food Gods shined their countenance upon me when they decided that speckled trout season would start on Oct. 1.
Ultimately, though, like last year’s vegetarian experiment, I planned on doing this vegan thing expecting the worst. What I gained was a respect for people who make this lifestyle choice. It’s not for me, but I have all the respect in the world for those who choose to live that way.
That being said, I am a hunter-gatherer. I come from a long line of staunch carnivores, and I intend to keep the family tradition alive. Sayonara soy milk, adios nutritional yeast. Hola 48-hour short rib.

Robert St .John is a restaurateur, chef and author of the newly released “Dispatches From My South.”

ROBERT ST. JOHN