The Unlikely Vegan by Phil Shainmark

My name is Phil. I’m 37. A husband and a father of 2 kids. My son is 7 and my daughter is 4. We live in Las Vegas. I’m told I’m a big guy at 6’1”/265 lbs. I ride a Harley (though I prefer Honda or Yamaha) and help my father-in-law with his motorcycle business. I have tattoos from my finger tips to the side and back of my head. I’m a gun owning Pagan anarchist who loves meat and cheese. But, after a whole bunch of soul searching and an AWESOME conversation with my cousin Gary, (who is one of the most honest, caring, cool guys I’ve ever met) and his awesome girlfriend, I just couldn’t allow that hypocrisy in my life anymore.

I’m an animal lover. I’ve had as many as 6 dogs, 4 of which were rescues. I don’t hunt (though I can). Gary confronted me with a statement whose logic I couldn’t refute, and which threw my hypocrisy in my face. He did it with a smile and hug. He said “I know you. If someone did that (How they treat animals in an industrialized slaughterhouse) in front of you, you’d go to jail trying to stop them! So how can you remove it one step from you and PAY for that to happen?” Hit me like a fist. That was a 100% true statement, and there was not one thing I could do or say to refute it. And the final nail was when he said, “Dude, I LOVE meat. I just can’t eat it anymore.”

That was the first time I’d ever heard a “Vegan” say that. I just assumed they were people who never cared much for meat anyway. (My wife is like that. She’ll eat meat but she can go without.) I went home and talked to my wife about it, and she was game to do it. She had been vegetarian big chunks of her life and vegan for some years too. I knew she knew what she was doing. Final piece, that has next to nothing to do with my stopping eating meat, but I have stage 4 renal cell carcinoma. I’ve had one kidney removed, 3 separate lung surgeries and am currently on chemo. I only mention it because in my notes you’ll see me mention my “energy level.” This is due to the fatigue brought on by chemo.

I want to be clear. I don’t like the term “Vegan.” By and large they’re sanctimonious asshats. I generally say, “I’m a person who doesn’t eat animal products.” I didn’t make my kids switch their diets. I didn’t get rid of my leather goods because they’re already bought and still serviceable. I will, when they wear out attempt to replace them with non-animal made products. And most importantly, I don’t want to tell anyone how to live their life, or demonize someone who doesn’t believe as I do. If someone asks, I’d be glad to explain to them all the horrible things that go on in slaughter houses. But I’m not going to berate anyone or get worked up. This was my decision based on my beliefs. Long story short, I used to be a meat eater, but I ran out of excuses.

It’s now 5/30/18: Having been mostly vegan leading up to this (minus a steak dinner with a friend, and an dinner/movie date with my wife), I’ve run out of “last meals” and excuses. Tonight I got home later than normal, so my wife had put the rice and beans in a Tupperware in the fridge. On top of that was a container of hummus, she thought I should try it. I reheated the rice and beans, added some garlic and onion powder and some Cholula sauce. Threw some olives and pickles on the plate and grabbed a handful of pretzels. Apparently I like hummus now. Add to this, I had lunch with my father-in-law today, and we went to Del Taco (one of his favorites). I was worried that I wouldn’t find anything to eat. But I had a ½ pound bean and cheese burrito (no cheese of course) with “red” sauce, added onions. And a helpful vegan site told me to put French fries in it, if I really wanted something good. So I did. And it WAS really good.

5/31/18: Woke up feeling pretty decent. Had an apple, something I’ve done for a while. Learned to really like apples for breakfast after multiple surgeries. Today I am very hungry. Had some black coffee. Had a flour tortilla with nothing on it (didn’t realize till later today that the garlic, red bell pepper hummus that I like can go on anything). This is one of my days off, so I try to keep my water intake up and just relax. Had some carrots with the hummus on it. Came to the realization that this hummus is now going to be my “go to” spread. There are bagels that don’t use animal products, but of course you can’t put cream cheese or butter on them. So I have a feeling me and the garlic-bell pepper hummus are gonna be GREAT friends!! Had “Morning Star Farms” brand veggie burgers on a tortilla and potatoes and mixed veggies for dinner. Little bit of Cholula and this was AWESOME. So far, I haven’t had a BAD meal.

6/1/18: Woke up feeling pretty good. Come to find out that the veggie burgers we had last night were NOT vegan. So that kinda sucks, but that’s how you learn. Was at my In-Laws house again, and had a bagel with red pepper hummus with onion. And some grapes and pickles and carrots. That was a kick ass lunch. Also Jolly Ranchers are vegan, so I had a couple while I was helping in the shop. My wife made a KICK ASS pasta salad with mushrooms, and peppers and all sorts of goodies. Was just as good as the meat and cheese kind.

6/2/18: My energy levels are generally pretty high. Feeling good. Had leftover pasta salad for lunch. Then at dinner had the pasta salad, and a bagel with red pepper hummus and onions (this will probably be my go to type meal) and various fresh veggies. I’m loving all the food, but I’m not nuts about getting hungry again so soon after. We’ve found a few breakfast cereals that are vegan (generic cap’n crunch, and generic fruit loops) so it’s nice to be able to have something sweet. Jolly ranchers are also vegan, so I’ll have some of those sometimes too.

6/3/18: Woke up tired (stayed up WAY too late playing video games). But, unlike the last few weeks, I’m not dragging ass when I do get up. My wife has been drinking fruit smoothies in the morning, blended with protein powder. I don’t mind the protein powder, but I don’t really like the fruit smoothies. This morning she mixed my coffee with the protein powder and gave it to me to try. It wasn’t bad but I wasn’t real nuts about it. I think I’ll just drink the protein shake and have my coffee. Killed the last of the pasta salad for lunch. Then had an everything bagel with hummus, veggies, olives and pickles. I’m trying different things with the bagel and hummus, because I’m consistently shocked at how good it is. My favorite add-ons so far are purple onion and olives. Most of the diets I’ve ever been on have been low/no carb, so I’m loving this. I’m thinking of a making some sort sautéed mushroom and onion pasta this week. So I’ll see when we have a night where nothing else is planned.

6/4/18: Waking up is still tough, but I have way more energy when I am awake than before. Apple and water for breakfast, before I have my coffee. Back to the In-laws to help my father-in-law in the shop. Bagel and hummus for lunch. The red pepper hummus is good, but not as good as the garlic and red pepper hummus. Had it again for dinner. It’s been over 100 degrees here, so no one wants to cook, but I’m gonna need some hot food soon. Gonna try out a pasta dish tomorrow.

6/5/18: Another round of “getting up is tough, but I feel GREAT once I do.” Didn’t have anywhere to be today, so I had my apple, water, and coffee at a more leisurely pace. After checking my emails, I spent the rest of the day playing video games. I had a bowl full of pretzels and some pickles for lunch (don’t judge me), but that was pretty awesome. I was planning on making dinner, since starting this whole no animal product thing has rekindled my interest in cooking. I used to cook all the time, but that went by the wayside when I got married. I got lazy, and since my wife is such an excellent cook I didn’t ever feel like I had to. Right around the time I was going to start making dinner, our sink drain ceased functioning. So I went to deal with that. Having done all I could do (and only band-aiding the problem) I settled in to make dinner. Sauteed mushrooms, onions and garlic, and served with pasta. It was pretty good, but the recipe needs some tweaking. Maybe some wine to make more of a sauce. I don’t know. It was good, and filled me up. And most importantly, another meal where I didn’t miss meat.

6/6/18: Went to see my oncologist. Not only have I lost more weight than normal, my blood work came back great. He was happy about my increased energy levels (fatigue is the number one side effect of one of the chemos I’m on). I still have to keep an eye on my B12 and D but everything looks good. Was down at my In-laws again. Me and my father-in-law have a long standing tradition of getting pizza on Wednesday. It’s half priced pizza day at out favorite place (Johnny Macs in Henderson, NV). I was a little nervous, because I didn’t want to find out they use milk or eggs in their crust. THEY DON’T and they don’t use ANY meat in their sauce. I ordered a pizza with mushrooms, onions, and green and black olives. And no cheese (obviously). It was delicious. We know a lot of the staff there, and when they saw my father-in-law’s usual order, then this weird pizza, they all came out to investigate. Once they saw it was me, they all asked what was up. I explained that I stopped eating animal and animal products. They were super cool and supportive. I explained to them that they should advertise that the don’t use any animal products because a lot of people don’t think about pizza as “Vegan Friendly.” Later, my wife made peppers and onions with mushrooms, and corn on the cob for dinner.

This marks 7 full days of not eating animals or animal products. I’m excited to continue. If you think about it, how often is food “exciting?” We eat the same things over and over again. We get into ruts. I’m loving the feeling of trying new foods, and new recipes.

6/13/18: Today marks another week down. Even easier than the first. Might be because I haven’t actually had to deviate from a lot of my eating habits. We still go to Del Taco for lunch a lot (too much, most likely). I can still get my pizza on Wednesdays (no cheese of course). I can still have pasta (my favorite “make at home food”). I made tri-colored rotini the other day,  with tomato sauce. Added olives and garlic and I didn’t even miss the meat that I would have added before.

At my last doctor’s appointment, I was told I “look great,” – first time in a while anyone has said that. And my previously climbing liver enzymes (this is how chemo toxicity is measured for me) were still high, but had actually dropped since my last visit. My blood work has all come back great. All that together has convinced my doctor that adopting a plant-based diet (even temporarily while on the chemo) would be something he recommended to patients on this chemo. I don’t mention my cancer or my chemo in open forums, (or in open Facebook conversations) but, in this instance, it’s worth mentioning for those who may also be on chemo.

As far as the food goes, we haven’t specifically done anything new or exciting. We’re stir frying with tempe tonight for dinner. I’ve never had it, but my wife really likes it, so I’ll give it a try. Can’t go too wrong with vegetable stir fry. Still feeling pretty good, energy levels are still decent. All in all, this may have been one of the better decisions I’ve made in a while.