Nearly two years of eating a vegan diet: a futurist’s update and a giant menu

The past week has been a blur. Meetings, international presentations, two seminars with great students, a fine Future Trends Forum session, more family health problems, more planning the next book release, a stack of projects in various stages of realization, and meanwhile COP-26 staggers around with the human race’s future in its badly compromised hands.

I’d like to take a break from all of that in this post.  Instead, I’ll write about food and health as I prepare a batch of socca bread.  This isn’t a food blog, but perhaps the blog could use more cuisine and cooking posts.

Nearly two years ago I started eating vegan. It began as a part time thing, then grew into my entire diet.  Now it’s no longer an experiment but just how I eat.  Plant-based food is no longer a pilot project, but an enterprise system, if you will.

The results remain mostly positive. My weight loss has stabilized, down to around 217. Increased weight lifting* probably keeps total body weight from dropping any further.   The body feels better than it did two years ago. All evidence suggests the aging, sleep-deprived carcass is healthier.

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mushrooms cut upFolks sometimes ask me how I feel, if I feel differently now. I’m never sure how to answer that, because I didn’t usually find myself affected by various types of food in the past. Well, other than feeling too full, or not full enough, or ill.  Some people report feeling energized by certain foods; I’ve never felt that by any kind of diet.  So I feel the same.

Nutritional supplements don’t play a role in the diet yet, besides nutritional yeast, which I sprinkle on different meals about one every two days. I haven’t felt weak or tired, except when there’s a solid and unrelated reason, like not getting enough sleep. The family doctor thinks I’m fine and hasn’t recommended any vitamins, etc.

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I’m still learning how to vegan, which is exciting.  I know much more about some parts of the food system than I once did.  The differences between lentils are crucial, now: red for softness, French for their persistent shape and texture, yellow to produce a thick texture.  Onions, too: yellow versus white versus red, not to mention green and shallots, each with their tastes, preparations, uses.  I make more use of garbanzo beans that I thought possible, from hummus and falafel to cooking them in bowls or roasting ’em from scratch, with a big bowl soaking overnight once or twice a week.  I cook mushrooms every day, and while I can’t identify them in the wild, I now am cognizant of portobello vs shiitake vs hen-of-the-woords etc.

Usually I don’t miss my previous diet.

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  Usually.  I don’t reject those former foods with horror. Some items appear in mind as fond yet distant dishes, safely blocked off from temptation, like omelettes. The big one I actually miss is fried chicken (and I’m working on a fried oyster mushroom recipe to address that need) in all of its crunchy and juicy glory.  Well, I also miss cheeses.  Vegan cheese equivalents don’t do much for me.

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Vegan “meats” actually work well for me.  Mock-chicken varieties do a good job of being chewy and carrying spices.  Plant “burgers” serve decently.

Two gaps remain in my vegan repertoire.  I’m low on leafy greens, still not finding the right way of spicing them.  I’ve been trying to add some kale to other dishes. Otherwise, greens feel like non-foods, or something medicinal.  And my meals are still too brown and yellow!  And smoothies still horrify me. I’m more worried about the leafy greens.


Garlic in nearly everything. Of course.

My biggest weakness is chips. Any kinds, made from potatoes or any other produce. The texture is irresistible.

I undertook this change focusing on learning and health, not from a moral or political drive to preserve animals. I haven’t acquired the latter yet.  No evangelical zeal has appeared, either. I don’t criticize people for eating meat or dairy, and I don’t have any interest in buttonholing folks to praise lentils.

I don’t eat out much, partly due to the pandemic. There aren’t too many options, surprisingly, especially given some of my non-vegan dietary restrictions: no tomatoes, no hot spices, nothing acidic.  Our region has a lot of animal-raising farms. Indian and Chinese restaurants offer the best options near where we live.  A lovely Ethiopian restaurant in town cooks a mean beyaynetu. A local popup cookery offers a nice range of meals using plant-based meats. When I’m elsewhere, options really vary.  Georgetown has some good choices, but Houston, Texas did not.  Then again, I don’t travel much, thanks to COVID-19.

Instead, I cook.  Currently I make 2-3 meals each day, depending on if I’m at home the entire day, and if anyone else home is making or ordering food I can eat.  As a learning process I research recipes every day, scanning books, YouTube, blogs, then documenting the results with photos and Google Docs.

That might sound solitary, and it usually is.  This is a personal project. My family is supportive, and various members will try some dishes with politeness and tact.  Beyond the house, I don’t know what a vegan network or community is.  If I post about vegan stuff on Facebook, sometimes some people will comment with cheer or recommendations.  That’s about all.  Maybe I need to look harder.

As a futurist, I find this fascinating, albeit on a micro-scale. I’ve successfully switched my role between two different, if overlapping food systems.  I can see the many changes in sourcing, prepping, and cooking.  I haven’t experienced psychological or cultural dislocations, which sounds like a limitation of a small sample size.

Now, from all of that research and cooking, here’s what’s on Bryan’s vegan menu now. I’m happy to share recipes; perhaps on another blog?

Breakfast burrito
Breakfast patties
Crispy fried tofu
Dal: red or yellow lentil
Hash browns
Mushrooms on corn tortillas

corn tortilla makings

I make the tortillas fresh every time.

Quinoa with garlic
Sweet potato hash
Sweet potato and kale fritters
Tofu scramble

Baked chickpeas
Baked potato chips
Ethiopian lentils
Fried chickpeas
Fried mushrooms
Fried shallots
Green beans, skillet
Peanut brittle
Potato and sweet potato fries
Refried beans
Roasted chickpeas
Tofu fingers
Tortilla chips
Veggie chips

Basic flatbread
Gluten free drop biscuits
Herbed biscuits

lemon scones
Lemon scones
Socca flatbread

Black beans and rice (moros y Cristianos)
Channa masala
Chickpea bowl
Chickpea curry
Curried cauliflower soup
Curried potatoes
Ethiopian stew
Fried rice
Garlic quinoa
General Tso’s tofu
Ginger sweet potato stew
Lentil meatloaf

mujadara in pot

A staple, especially since one big match can yield a bunch of meals and sides.

Mushroom stir fry
Mushu veg
Mushu tofu
Orange cranberry crisp
Red beans and rice
Red lentil “kebabs”
Rice with chickpeas
Rice with lentils
Roasted veggies: brussel sprouts, potatoes, carrots, peppers, onion, squash, shallots (master menu)
Spicy lentil soup
Tofu in lettuce wraps
Tofu with cashews and snap peas
Vegan general Tso
Veggie noodles
Yellow rice

That’s all for now.  Happy to say more.

*All of my weight lifting takes place at home, since I hesitate to hit gyms during the pandemic. I’ve got a range of weights plus a pull-up bar.

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17 Responses to Nearly two years of eating a vegan diet: a futurist’s update and a giant menu

  1. Mo Pelzel says:

    Kudos, Bryan … well done, thanks for the informative and detailed writeup. I found your post interesting in part because I’m also on a somewhat new dietary program of a quite different sort … I’ve been eating a ketogenic (very low carb) diet for about two months now. Had a physical exam with lots of bloodwork two months ago … my lipids had moved higher (triglycerides near 400) and some kidney functions were out of range. I’ve known about some of the issues for years, but convinced myself that, as a runner and athlete, I could mostly eat whatever I wanted and get away with it. But I knew now that the time had come for a stark about-face. I’ll be 62 in a couple of weeks, and needed to arrest and reverse my careering toward metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and elevated cardiovascular risks.

    Thing is, I’ve had some familiarity for at least a decade with a fair amount of the research and debate around metabolism, diet, and health … the low carb/low fat debate, the insidious problems with sugar, highly refined carbs, and processed foods in general, etc. I ate healthy foods, I thought, but also didn’t particularly curb myself around things like ice cream and cookies. I knew about the paleo movement and other trends, but wasn’t moved to make major changes. When I was at Austin College, I worked with a couple of profs who wrote a book called The Hunter-Gatherer Within: Health and the Natural Human Diet (2013). I found the argument persuasive, but again didn’t stick with any significant changes in my own diet.

    Finally, though, I feel that I’m now taking the steps toward a much healthier diet and lifestyle. I hit my high weight of about 218 or so (about where you now are!) this past summer, and now after two months of keto I’m at 193. My goal is 175. I haven’t had new labs done yet, but I’ve been doing a ton of reading and research on this, and I’m optimistic that the weight loss is going to bring my numbers back in line. In addition to re-regulating my metabolism, I’m also much more conscious now of keeping my circadian rhythms in sync. That means, among other things, no eating after 7:00 pm, filtered light in the evening, full sleep, etc.

    So what do I eat? Well, breakfast is three eggs, usually a bit of some kind of meat (bacon, canadian bacon, sausage), an avocado, and about 6-8 oz. of smoothie (yogurt, mostly berries, with 2 tbsp of chia seeds). The smoothie gives me the majority of my carbs for the day (I aim to stay under 50g total per day). Lunch and dinner consist of non-starchy veggies (lots of broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, peppers), nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds), usually a modest amount of animal protein (salmon, tuna steaks, lean pork or beef, chicken), dips like babaganous, etc. Most evenings I have a green salad with tomatoes, feta cheese, sunflower seeds, a bit of shredded turkey or chicken, etc.

    So far, in addition to the weight loss, I’m feeling more alert and energetic and my depression has significantly improved, and seems largely to have lifted on most days. My satiety is higher and I don’t get really hungry or have cravings for sweets or other foods I used to eat. I’m committed to sticking with it and continuing to make improvements and develop more variety around what I eat. We use mostly coconut oil to cook with. We try as much as possible to locally source pastured meats, free-range eggs, etc. If only we could grow avocados!

    I am trying to think through the ethical and environmental consequences of my diet. It’s not easy. It’s one thing for a few people to eat this way, but what if all seven billion of us did? I think there can be responsible production of meat and animal products, but how far that can scale is another question. Our political and economic conditions certainly do not conduce in that direction. We see the evidence of that in Iowa, where confined animal feedlot operations and the corn/soybean monoculture have wreaked environmental damage and contributed to adverse health outcomes. I’m fortunate to be able to afford to spend a little more on food than some may be able to, though in my calculation, even on a purely economic basis, it’s a lot less expensive than developing the typical diseases of the standard American diet. I’m convinced that that diet, and the diseases it drives, are a major factor in our spiraling health care costs.

    I continue to find study and research on these topics fascinating (one marker of that is a new column in Tweetdeck devoted to following metabolic health issues). I think that though our diets differ considerably, we have both made deliberate, intentional, and informed choices that, so far at least, seem to be working for us. Congrats again on your two-year anniversary!

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Mo, what a huge transformation you’ve undertaken. I’m impressed by its radical nature, as well as the research you’ve done.
      Are you recording this elsewhere, online or an offline journal?

      Sustainability: I can see the vegan diet being easier to support at scale, but I wonder about handling any vitamin etc. issues.

  2. Bob Ubell says:

    Olive oil. Lightly sautéed garlic. Toss in washed and dried greens. Sprinkle finely chopped half of a dried hot pepper. Sautée until the greens are moist and the liquid is nearly gone. Add more oil if needed.

  3. I like greens and salads, and I’m not a big fan of kale. I like spinach; it’s easy to throw a handful in with a soup. I actually do like baby spinach in smoothies too, with a lot of banana, pineapple, and ginger. I can’t do spinach in smoothies without some fruit juice to sweeten it though. But, if you don’t like smoothies, there’s no reason to force it.

    If you’re struggling to figure out greens, maybe start with some of the Asian greens instead of something like kale. Baby bok choy can be yummy with a stir fry, and is very mild tasting. Napa cabbage might be more approachable too. You’re already doing several stir fries, so that might be an easy direction to add some greens.

  4. Jeremy Stanton says:

    Great post, and congratulations Bryan on sticking with it. I was vegan for 4 years in my twenties, then fell off the wagon during design school (lured away by a ridiculous bacon cheeseburger). My wife was raised vegetarian so our family life slowly brought me back to it, and I finally went fully vegetarian again in 2019. Veganism and vegetarianism are nice off-ramps from the food-industrial complex, and once outside of that it’s a whole new relationship with food. Discovering the connections between food and physical health, mental health/wellbeing, medicine, exercise, as well as environmental and climate impacts, is fascinating and rewarding.

    The Revive Cafe in New Zealand has put out an almost endless collection of cookbooks with deliciously inventive vegan recipes that are well worth exploring. We’ve always prepared the heavier greens (kale, collards, chard) simply, along the lines of Bob’s suggestion above — sautée in olive oil with a little onion and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper (the sautéed onion tends to sweeten it up a little and round-out the other flavors). Spinach in lentil dahl is a winner. Home-grown greens take it to the next level of flavor… nothing beats the taste of brassicas right out of the garden (and gardening adds a nice built-in workout to the exercise regime). We put fistfuls of parsley in everything, and keeping a simple homemade vinaigrette on hand makes for quick and tasty garden salads from early spring mustards to summer lettuces. It didn’t take long for us to love our greens and realize that those leaves coming out of the ground are good medicine that love us back. Enjoy the journey!

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Thank you for these thoughts, Jeremy.

      I really like the idea of adding greens to dahl.

      Revive Cafe: another reason for me to return to New Zealand!

  5. Benjamin James says:

    Thank you

  6. Tim says:

    This isn’t a vegan cookbook, but the recipes for greens in it are. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks:

  7. Laurie says:

    I understand the hesitation about kale. Here is a vegan version that we love:
    Wash and remove the ribs of several leaves.
    Roll up and chiffonade enough for a large pile of green.
    Heat a wok with olive oil on high.
    Throw in the kale and toss to coat with oil and cook until (almost burnt but not) brown and crunchiness appears on the strips — experience will teach you how far to go.
    Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy.

    I hope you are pleasantly surprised!

  8. Yuly says:

    Yes, here we’re talking about food and how it makes us healthier or what recipe we can use for preparing but I also would love to tell you that you can listen to wonderful music that is likely going to help you to feel better. Your soul is a big origin of satisfaction and calmness as good music heals it, cures it. I guess thanks to COVID-19 instead of traveling we can make some experiments with things that simply surround us 😀

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