Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The vegan with the bacon tattoo: confessions of a temporary vegan

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 1:30 PM

No, this isn't Paytons tattoo, but it's from the same source material
  • Chef Matt Rock
  • No, this isn't Payton's tattoo, but it's from the same source material.

Note: Recently, Pitch employee Payton Hatfield — an unabashed meat lover with a bacon tattoo — completed a culinary experiment: He became a vegan. For a month. This is his story, in his own words.

My routine had been simple: Stay out late drinking whiskey and water, smoke too many cigarettes, eat deep-fried meats daily. When I decided that maybe I could live a little healthier, someone recommended that I watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. So I put it on one night, a plate of fried eggs and bacon in front of me. In one hand, I held a beer. I figured the movie would offer me a few tips I could take or leave.

What it did was fuck up my life.

I love eating. And whether it’s dim sum at ABC Café — where you can, and I do, get pig feet and chicken feet in the same meal — or chicken and waffles at Beer Kitchen (probably my favorite meal in Kansas City), I can't get enough. Breakfast, especially, has always been a staple. I grew up in the Not-Too-Deep South, where breakfast meant homemade biscuits and gravy, pancakes, sausage — and bacon. Perfect, perfect bacon.

Over the past few years, bacon has achieved a kind of cult status. It's now easy to pork out on bacon cupcakes, bacon pancakes, bacon shakes, chicken-fried bacon on burgers, barbecued bacon ... you get the idea. Bacon is king. So I've paid my homage the best way I know how: by having bacon permanently tattooed on my body. And not just anywhere. I got a bacon tramp stamp: four strips of bacon in a row, a la the Black Flag logo, with the text “Back Fat."

Hail to the king, baby.

Since I got the tattoo, I’ve heard the whispers: “Oh, that’s the guy … he’s got that bacon tramp stamp.”

One night at Buzzard Beach, I ended up showing it to groups of people eight or nine times. And when I play with my band, I never play with a shirt on. (You’re welcome, Kansas City.)

But back to Forks Over Knives. I had long since polished off my eggs and bacon and was a few beers deep by the end of the movie. When it was over, I sat there, mouth agape, wondering what to do with my life. I had been inundated with studies and proof that animal protein of any kind is really, really terrible for us. It’s hard for me, as a reasonably intelligent person, to look at what I consider to be relatively credible data and turn a blind eye to it.

So I decided that I’d stick to a strict vegan diet for 30 days — as well as cut out all soft drinks and refined sugars.

The next morning, I needed to do some research. I discovered, with some relief, that Jim Beam is vegan-friendly. In fact, tons of alcohol is vegan, including all Boulevard beers. (Sugar, though ... well, nothing's perfect. Except bacon.)

“Hey, how do you know if someone’s a vegan?” asked my friend Erin. “How?” I answered. She said, "Don’t worry … they’ll tell you.” So, so true. Vegans, you see, are annoying by nature. I swear there are hip vegans in faux-leather jackets and hemp shoes standing across the corner from the Jesus people on Pennsylvania and Westport on Friday nights. They're handing out brochures about how Lilith will send you to your next life if you don’t stop eating cutesy, furry, cuddly animals.

But they have an excuse: Veganism really invades your life. My co-workers would put funny, hyper-vegan posters up in my cubicle. On First Friday, I was at Cellar Rat for an art opening, and a nice old man came by offering biscotti. When he came up to me, I hung my head, sighed and asked, “Are they vegan?” The shame was evident in my voice. He laughed. No one pictures a 6-foot-5-inch guy who looks like a Chiefs offensive lineman wondering about animal byproducts in the ingredients of biscotti.

Going to Swagger, the saloon in Waldo, for my first lunch out as a vegan, was a mistake. Why would I visit the home of the Dead Texan — a burger lovingly nestled between two grilled-cheese sandwiches, with bacon and an egg on top? I had a portobello sandwich, no cheese, no aioli, side of fries. It wasn't a Dead Texan, but it was really, really tasty.

The good news was that I already loved a lot of cuisine with built-in vegan options, particularly Indian and Mediterranean. The second day of my vegan life, I went to Korma Sutra for lunch and ate plates and plates from the buffet. The following day, I hit up the Jerusalem Bakery for its $9 (drink and tax included) buffet. Both were rich in vegan options.

I didn't make a beeline for the vegetarian- and vegan-only restaurants, but I was able to eat — and eat well — at many local spots, including the Bulldog, Swagat, Aladdin Café, Global Café in Lawrence, and Happy Gillis. I started frequenting the vegan sweet shop on 39th Street, Mud Pie Coffee and Bakery. And I even found vegan pepperoni at Waldo Pizza.

And pretty much everywhere I went, I found people willing to help me stay on track. Competent servers will steer you away from non-vegan options, and the best make great and unexpected suggestions.

At first, there were sleepless nights spent trying to figure out the possible connection between murder and the hamburger cravings running through my head. But that phase soon passed. Still, I felt like I was going to have to lock myself in a room with canned veggies and a piss bucket until the meat demons left me, like a vegan Rent-boy in Trainspotting.

But then something happened: I started to feel better. I had way more energy, and my mood improved (as much as it was going to, anyway). Even if I had way, way too much Old Crow on a Tuesday evening that turned into a Wednesday morning (don’t judge), I would wake up feeling great. On top of that, the pounds had begun falling off. Now, I’ve always been fat and I’ve never really cared. But my vegan experiment was making my clothes too big. I even had to make two new holes on my belt.

Ten days into the experiment, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a few years, and he freaked out about how good I looked. (This was in the darkness of Davey’s Uptown, and "good" is relative, but I’ll take it.) And that trend continued. People kept telling me that I looked better and seemed happier. And it was true.

At the end of the second week, I paid a visit to my parents in Arkansas. My mom greeted me with her normal salutation: “Are you hungry?” Then she asked if I wanted something vegan. That was different. I told her that I just wanted a salad.

That night, I had a dream. A dream of eating meat … sweet, delicious meat. I woke up in a cold sweat, feeling like a werewolf lying naked in a field after a full moon, covered in blood, terrified that I had done something evil — like raiding Mom's fridge. The good news: No one died that night.

Once I got into the home stretch — the final five days of my 30-day goal — it got easier. I cooked more at home, for one thing: a tofu-and-soy "chorizo" scramble, with whole-wheat tortillas, became a go-to, and quinoa was my new best friend. I had learned how to make things that are good for you taste great. And I'd figured out that not every meal, meaty or vegetarian, needs to resemble the one right before they walk you down the hallway for lethal injection. There's a time and place for chicken-fried bacon and cheese curds on a stick, and that time and place is breakfast. Just not every breakfast.

So, yeah — moderation. It really is possible to eat what you want and feel great. I set out to adjust myself to a diet that was mostly vegetables, and I’ve done it, and it’s been worth every second. Believe me: If I can do it, anyone can.

Payton Hatfield lost a total of 30 pounds on his monthlong vegan diet. He's now eating whatever he wants ... in moderation.

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