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Today's inspirational interview features a couple--and not just any couple, but the Brunks! Long-time, close friends of ours.
For years, Dan and Jane have been my shining example of how vegans and omnivores can peacefully coexist. When Scott and I met the Brunks in 2004, we were not vegan--we weren't even vegetarian, but while many friends were unsupportive of our dietary changes years later, the Brunks were.
In fact, Dan was so supportive of my decision to be a vegetarian in 2005 that when I visited him in Prague that summer (where he was studying abroad) he found a restaurant that served a vegetarian dish and tried it to make sure it was good before I arrived! You see, Dan didn't just want me to be able to eat, he wanted me to have a good meal.
Scott and I have also attended a number of dinner parties hosted by the Brunks (Jane is a fine cook in her own right) and they have always taken care to make meals that went both ways.
For example, Jane once prepared a delightful Italian vegetable pasta dish that was inherently vegan, but she also had a plate of grilled chicken on the table for the other guests who ate meat. Another time, the Brunks hosted a brunch and while there was bacon and cheese aplenty, Jane took care to make the pancakes vegan, serve fruit salad and offer vegan cream cheese for the bagels.
Scott and I have always been incredibly grateful for the special efforts the Brunks have made on our behalf and I've always used our friendship as an example of how you can "make it work" in mixed-diet gatherings.
Of course, while I secretly wish that all of my friends would be vegan; I'd long accepted the Brunks were omnivores... but then, one evening in mid-October, Jane says to me, "Dan has something he wants to tell you." I look to Dan who says "Oh, I went meatless on October 1st." He said it matter-of-factly, like you might say "The sky is blue."
I hesitated, positive I hadn't heard him correctly. I mean, this was Dan. The person who told me he grew up in Indiana where it was not unusual to see deer hydes hanging in a neighbor's garage. Dan, the lover of burgers (the first time we took Dan to a vegan restaurant, he told me, no less than four times, how much he loved eating cow)...and still, the same Dan, who jokingly said when Jane bit into (and loved) her first taste of vegan food, "Stop eating it Jane! They're trying to convert us!"
I blinked. Meanwhile, Scott had already moved in. *Hand shake* "Well that's awesome, man!" *Pat on the back* By then, my brain caught up with me and gushed how excited I was. "Yeah, it's just an experiment I'm doing." Dan explained.
So here were are... almost 2.5 months later and I'm letting Dan --and Jane, talk about their experience, motivations and what it's like to be friends with me.
What I really like about this interview is how raw it is. Dan and Jane are both very frank about their experiences, plus, they're giving us a new perspective. All of my past interviewees had been veg for months, if not years---and so it's easy to forget or lose sight of what it's like in those early weeks. Dan and Jane's interview allows us to relive and see the experience of someone newly transitioning to a vegetarian diet.
HH: Dan, you went meat-free October 1st. What was your biggest motivation for the dietary change?
Dan: I decided to start this "experiment" because of some health issues that developed. I have been fighting my weight for my entire life and thought I would try changing my diet.
HH: You didn't tell anyone -- not even Jane -- at first. Did anyone notice you were eating differently?
Dan: I didn't tell Jane for about two weeks. I didn't want to say something and then fall off the wagon. No one really noticed. When we had a party that month, I ate tofu dogs (although the brats looked really good) and still, no one noticed! So it was a good secret while it lasted. : )
Jane: I noticed after about a week that he didn't seem to be eating much meat at night but it was also not unusual for us to eat differently at dinner. (Dan often had late lunches vs. Jane who came home from the gym with a voracious appetite). It was a little irritating because I assumed he would want meat with dinner, and I was fixing him some, only to have him refuse it. After the second week, he told me he was trying not to eat meat at all.
I was/am fully supportive of his dietary change, and in retrospect, wish he would have told me earlier so I had the chance to play with some strictly vegetarian stuff earlier on in his experiment.
HH: Dan, shortly after starting this experiment, you and Jane went on a two-week vacation. Most people leave dietary changes until after such a big event. How did you fare? Did you regret your decision?
Dan: On our anniversary trip to Hawaii I kept up my conviction and did not regret it at all. I was surprised how challenging it was to forgo meat in Hawaii. They have plenty of tropical fruit, but beef and pork are big staples there. We had to carefully look for options but found some great food. For example, for our special night out we went to Roy's, a famous local place and had an outstanding three course vegan meal that was exceptional. We also found a local sports bar that had really good veggie pizza, so we did pretty well while on vacation.
Jane: I joined Dan and went meat-free on the second day of our vacation. When we flew to Honolulu, I actually ate the meat in Dan's meals. It felt odd eating meat when he wasn't. But, believe it or not, I think it was almost easier doing this while on vacation!
There were some restaurants we had planned to go to, but then didn't once we reviewed their menus online and realized the only vegetarian option on the menu was a dessert. However, we also had some really great experiences. For example, when we went to Duke's on Waikiki, they were kind enough to modify their shrimp scampi into a veggie scampi and the 3-course prix fixe vegan meal at Roy's was outstanding! I was definitely not regretting the decision to go meatless!
HH: Jane, what motivated you to go meatless? Was it to be supportive of Dan?
Jane: I'm not sure actually--I'd already found myself making more vegetarian choices as the result of our friendship; I was already meatless at breakfast and lunch during the week. Though, because Dan and I are overweight, health is always a consideration for us.
Then too, I grew up in a house where my mother cooked meat, but was too disgusted to eat it herself. Personally, I am someone who could eat meat as long as I didn't think about where it came from, but I'm beginning to recognize that you "are what you eat" and hearing some of the horror stories about how animals are treated almost makes me never want to eat meat again.
HH: Has anything surprised either of you about being meat-free? Have you noticed any benefits?
Dan: What has surprised me the most has been that I have not had any meat cravings. I really thought I would miss meat and I haven't. It has been more of a mental thing than physical. The hardest challenge was not to automatically fall back to my regular fare. I mean, I had to really think about other food because it is so easy to grab a burger or pizza, which did not require much thought. As for the benefits, I used to have stomach problems, especially heartburn and indigestion. I have not had any problems since I gave up meat, so that is a big plus.
Jane: It's been harder to be meat-free at home than I would have thought; I never realized how set in my dinner routine I was. I was in the habit of coming home late, grilling meat or fish, and doing something for a veggie side, so leaving meat off the plate really threw me -- meat was my crutch. However, now I'm comfortable with preparing soups on the weekend that get us through weeknight dinners.
That being said, one immediate benefit has been a drop in our grocery bill! I also admit that I was worried I would see a drop in energy, but surprisingly, I haven't had any energy drop at all!
HH: So, be honest! What's it like to be friends with me--a vegan, when you were not?
Dan: Being friends with you is great. I have appreciated your support and encouragement in showing Jane and I new foods without getting preachy if I chose to eat meat. You have led by example and that has been the best because no one wants to have someone lecture them on what they are choosing to eat.
Jane: Honestly, being friends with you kicks ass! One thing that is amazing about you is that although you have strong convictions about your food and approach to life, you are pretty non-judgmental about your meat-eating friends. I think the great thing about having a vegan friend is that it makes you think about your food choice. Even if you eat meat, putting considered thought into your food choices can't ever be a bad thing.
HH: Dan, earlier in the introduction I teased about your prior love affair with meat. If someone told you 10 years ago you'd be eating meatless today...would you have believed them?
Dan: Not at all! My college roommates and I used to tell people that if God didn't want you to eat animals, he would not have made them out of meat! So yes, I would have never thought that I would be able to give up meat.
HH: Anything else either of you would like to add:
Dan: I have been surprised at how I have transitioned so far. It is still a struggle at times to make complete meals but the challenge is worth it. I look forward to getting my physical at the beginning of the year to see the results of my blood tests. Hopefully I will see some positive results.
Jane: I've told my mom, Dan's mom, and a few close friends that we're "eating vegetarian" right now. I'm not sure if we will make this switch permanently, so I don't want to come across incorrectly as a true vegetarian.
On a related note, I would recommend that if you are making a dietary change, even if you are just experimenting for a bit, make sure to let any dinner hosts know so if they choose to make accommodations, they have the right info to work with. Early on, Dan and I went to a a friends house for dinner when Dan was meatless (and I wasn't) and the host cooked a large salmon for all of us, not knowing Dan wasn't eating meat. It creates a situation where everyone feels bad.