February: Meat

vegetarian cartFuck you poetic justice.

Before noon on the second day of my meatless month, I had already made three trips to the bathroom. Head in my hands, boxers around my ankles, I turned to look at my latest bodily creation. I’ll spare you the creative imagery, but let’s just say that the end result looked like… well, diarrhea. Just with more lettuce.

I had spent the last several years figuratively shitting on vegetarianism and now it was shitting on me. Literally.

Ever since I was a little squirt, I’ve loved meat. Chicken, pork, steak, turkey, seafood, veal, alligator, bison—the origin didn’t matter. When that savory, succulent, slab of chewiness hit my tongue, my taste buds fired like Steven Hawking’s neurons on Adderall. The way I saw it, if food was an orchestra, grains, vegetables, and fruit were the woodwind instruments. Yes they were necessary, but when’s the last time anyone clamored for an oboe solo?

So when January 31st arrived, reality smacked me in the face. Knowing that I had to drastically change my grocery shopping habits, I strolled down the aisles at Trader Joe’s with fresh eyes. In lieu of making a beeline to the back of the store which housed my favorite items—namely, sliced turkey, chicken breasts, and steak—I moseyed to a small 5 foot by 7 foot section nestled between the dairy and the vegetables.

Soy products. And lots of ‘em.

There was baked tofu. And plain tofu. And chickenless chick’n. And meatless meat. Soy sausages. Vegan burgers. Vegetarian pulled pork. If I was prone to asthma attacks, this would have been the moment when I whipped out my inhaler to stymie the growing hyperventilation. Never had I seen such an array of unappealing options. But not wanting to admit defeat to the gelatinous blob of doom, I used overconfidence to compensate for ignorance and just picked one of everything.

As I walked through the aisles, I had to continually swallow my pride. “Damn that ahi tuna would go well with this quinoa.” “Fuck, that steak looks good.” When the damage was done, I had filled up my cart with a rainbow colored assortment of fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, soy, and a cow’s lifetime supply of dairy.

My fridge looked like it belonged to a Berkeley commune. But I was ready. I was fucking ready.

Too bad my large intestine wasn’t.

There’s no other way to state it: the first few days were rough. It was bad enough that my body was rejecting my new diet, but my brain wasn’t necessarily helping matters. As a 6’4 male who considers his beard-growing abilities to be a strong personality trait, there was something inherently emasculating about visiting a restaurant called “The Loving Hut” and ordering a spinach and quinoa salad.

But like with anything, I adapted. I embraced the picky vegetarian gods, or at the very least, appeased them. Breakfasts consisted of fried eggs with a surprisingly delicious side of soy sausages. Lunches were comprised of a spinach, edamame, lentil, and feta cheese salad.  Protein shakes, nuts, and fruit made appetizing mid-day snacks. And dinners were composed of the Morningstar product du jour, with a side of grains and a tall glass of milk. Would I have maintained this diet voluntarily under other circumstances? No, probably not, but it was certainly manageable. Somewhat enjoyable even.

But that all changed with the carnivore’s national holiday: The Superbowl.

Since I knew I would be surrounded by an extreme quantity of red-blooded meat, I volunteered to cook a few vegetarian dishes. As is my cooking modus operandi, I partook in a little, ahem, enhancement, to fully realize my inner Gusteau. I began blissfully cooking up a vegetarian storm that would have made Rachel Ray swoon. The spinach artichoke dip permeated the room with a creamy, earthy aroma. The seven layer dip was a visual spectacle, as if the chunky guacamole was a cloud meant to float on top of sour cream and salsa. Even the Smart Dogs glistened with a familiar caramelized glaze. Wanting to sample my roommate’s cooking, I reached over to his frying pan and popped a piece of chicken in my mouth.

I saw his head cock and his eyes widen before I realized what had happened.

“DUDE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

Fuck. FUCK!

I leapt to the sink, spat out the still whole piece of chicken and jerked at the tap handle, desperately washing out my mouth like a four year old at a “World’s Hottest Chili Competition.” Only after letting a waterfall flow through my tongue did I allow myself to look up.

Faces in the kitchen stared at me, eyebrows raised and mouths agape.

Somewhere next to my feet, my second resolution lay writhing on the floor: quivering, broken, and shattered.

Initially, I contested that my vegetarian resolution was still intact since I didn’t actually chew the meat or swallow. But like a Catholic schoolgirl who maintains her virginity since “well, I only let him put it in my butt,” I was falling victim to flawed logic. I had tasted the forbidden fruit. The deed was done.

I was heartbroken. I had expended so much energy gulping down soy that I was doggedly determined to finish. And it was all thrown away in a moment of marijuana-induced munchies.

I’ll pause the vegetarian narrative to continue a thread from last month. After making it through January (mostly) weed-free, I was curious to see what would happen once the shackles had been lifted. Would I smoke more? Less? The same? Theoretical arguments could be made for all three. But a couple weeks in, the answer was quite clear:

Relapse.

I knew what “relapse” meant in principle. I had actually witnessed it first-hand with my freshman year roommate, who, after quitting World of Warcraft to improve his lackluster grades, ended up returning to the game with a vengeance which culminated in a one-way ticket out of school.

In my case, I celebrated a good chunk of February by getting rip-roaringly-baked. My post-work routine looked like this: drop backpack, smoke, cook, eat, smoke, watch comedy movie I’d already seen 5 times, bed. Predictably, I grew increasingly lethargic and foggy-headed, which climaxed in my Superbowl slip. Although I managed to tame the ghastly reefer beast by March, the implications were chilling. What if instead of weed—which has very mild physically addictive properties—I had tried to quit smoking cigarettes? Or kick heroin? I wouldn’t necessarily call it respect, but I gained a newfound sense of empathy for addicts.

But my battle wasn’t with marijuana this month, it was with meat. And although I had just been dealt a severe blow, the show had to go on.

Around two-thirds of the way in, a funny thing happened: I was convinced that fake meat was indiscernible in taste from real meat. I pestered my friends to try my meatless meat spaghetti sauce. Bugged them to sample the improbably sumptuous soy sausage patties. Despite the fact that my roommates consistently greeted my return from work with freshly cooked steak wafting in the kitchen and an exclamation of “mmmmmm…. meat… sooooo goooood,” I was genuinely enjoying this vegetarian adventure. What’s more, I was even becoming a soy-thumping vegetarian evangelist that is enlightening for just about no one except themselves.

Even my subconscious was firing on all cylinders. After having a dream about eating Chicken Tikka Masala—one of my favorite meals—I immediately forced myself to throw up. In the dream. Now that’s dedication.

The flipside is that my primary hypothesis, that vegetarianism is healthy, was debunked swiftly and thoroughly. Although I had started the month with an immediate loss of 5 pounds, I eventually gained all that back and then some. By the end of February, my body was starting to resemble a freshly-kneaded roll of sourdough bread.

Let me let you in on a little secret about soy: yes, it’s a good source of protein in moderation. But when it’s in literally every fake meat product, protein bar, tofu, you name it, eating 80 grams a day of the stuff is NOT natural and certainly not healthy. Not helping matters was that I felt compelled to enjoy all the delicious vegetarian options the world offered, even if that meant going to a Golden State Warriors game and consuming a quart of faderade, two pieces of cheese pizza, mac and cheese, two beers, a churro, and Dip ‘n Dots.

I’ll let you in on another vegetarian secret: soy elevates estrogen levels. Substantially. Although it’s not like I grew B-cups overnight, there was a far more subtle consequence. I vacillated on whether to include this detail, but fuck it: four weeks in, my dick was limper than a waterlogged hotdog. So all the ladies looking for some vegetarian loving, please form an orderly line to the right.

Before I knew it, the end of the month had arrived. Even though I considered it a worthwhile experience on the whole, I was damn ready to embrace the carnivorous side of my omnivorous nature. So on February 29th, I drifted off to sleep while visions of next morning’s breakfast of steak and bacon danced in my head. But not before seeing the omnipresent blue and white header for the last time.

For there would be no Facebook in March.

January: Marijuana

10 guy

Thirty minutes into my month’s resolution of giving up weed, I got high as balls.

To be fair, I had already surrendered the battle before the first shot was fired. See, January 1st is New Years’ Day. Like most 23 year olds, I celebrated the previous night by getting blasted. And despite what About.com might tell you, the best cure for a wicked hangover is—to put it bluntly (see what I did there?)—weed. So logically, I celebrated New Years’ Day by moving my mattress into the living room, watching the first two installments of Rush Hour, and getting higher than Felix Baumgartner.

My relationship with marijuana has been a dynamic one. I didn’t smoke for the first time until I was out of high school and didn’t smoke regularly until a couple years after that. But at my peak in college, I was objectively a stoner. The facts clearly supported it. I consistently smoked before/during/after any activity involving cooking, movie watching, cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills, golfing, proving abstract mathematical theorems, and conquering 550 piece cat puzzles. If we’re talking specifics, I once paid $9 for an ice cream sandwich. Yep: that high.

When I entered the working world, I came to the startling realization that taking bong hits at 2pm was no longer feasible, and reduced my smoking intake from a few times a day to a few times a week. However, with a little persuasion, I could still be easily convinced to indulge my favorite vice. Which might explain why I made it a grand total of 30 minutes into January before breaking my New Years’ Resolution.

However, I recognized January 1st for what it was: a hiccup. Thirty-one days in a row is the same regardless of which date it starts on right? So I embarked on the journey.

The first few days breezed by. I went to work, came home, read a book or watched a movie, and went to bed. Nothing fancy there.

But three days in, I had a particularly hell-ish day. On top of dealing with a pissed off client, I couldn’t seem to get anything done at work and slid into a foot-dragging-droopy-headed-Charlie-Brown sort of mood. In such cases, my pot of gold (2-for-2 on weed puns!) at the end of the rainbow is usually a fresh bowl of weed. As I walked in the door and dropped my backpack, I felt a pull in my stomach. Instinctively, I started going through the motions—even so far as groping in my closet to the usual paraphernalia hiding spot—before I had to stop myself.

It was a telling moment. Either I turned left and did what felt natural or turned right and continued with the resolution. I turned right. It took some willpower, but the minor victories were starting to pile up. Maybe this month was doable.

Since my roommates never smoke and since my usual smoking buddies were also on hiatus, I could feel the wind at my back. With a particularly forgiving environment, it was smooth sailing two weeks into January. But that soft breeze turned turbulent when it meant an unknown force: Santa Cruz.

Honestly, the writing on the wall should have been clear. Camping trip. In Santa Cruz. With a preemptive Costco snack run. You don’t exactly need a magnifying glass to see “WEED” scrawled on the wall as well.

So when I found myself sitting in a tent in one of the marijuana capitals of the world, all it took was the flick of a lighter and the site of a blunt before I crumbled.

I got baked. And it was good.

In retrospect, I wish I would have put up more of a fight. It was my first true test and I failed harder than Biz Markie at a swim meet. But at this point, my persistence reserve was running dry. The way I saw it, sitting in a tent with a bunch of giggling stoners took priority over a New Year’s Resolution. Those are made to be broken, right?

After returning from the middle of nowhere (cough, Santa Cruz), I resolved to get back on the horse. Despite the fact that my roommate constantly goaded me to throw in the towel and smoke since I had “already lost,” I kept it up. Food was eaten without enhancement. Cleaning was done sans pleasant haze. Movies were watched sober, which was fine excepting a few slow ones (War Horse, I’m looking at you). The month came to a close, and to make up for the Santa Cruz blunt extravaganza, I extended the resolution a few extra days before celebrating.

And that should have been the end of it.

As I alluded to originally, this month was intended as a one-off experiment. A mini New Year’s Resolution. Did I have the willpower to replace a bad habit?

But halfway into my marijuana-less month, it developed into something more.

Every day at around 3pm, I drop what I’m doing and go for a walk. This has a number of benefits. It helps me recharge, it’s a nice break at the height of the day’s doldrums, and in paradoxically stepping away from work, I often solve a few key business problems. On January 13th, I closed my laptop and went for my usual pilgrimage down San Francisco’s Market Street. But my mind wandered and—for reasons I’m still unsure of—I thought, what if I keep this going? What if I give something up every month?

The ideas flooded in. What if I abstained from alcohol? What if I gave up spending? What if I didn’t listen to music? How would my life be different? Would it even be possible? A 15 minute walk turned into 30 minutes. My head was bursting with questions and my steps quickened.

A few minutes later, I leapt up the stairs to my workspace, opened my laptop, and immediately created a Google Doc titled “12 things to give up.” Within minutes, I had written 12 items accompanied with months in which I would attempt to give each item up. With the exception of a bit of shuffling and a substitution (because, let’s face it, giving up the internet when you run a business on the internet is a bit ridiculous), everything stayed exactly the same.

So there it was. Staring me in the face. “The Twelve.”

The experiment looked thrilling. And challenging. And intimidating. But I knew I had to do it.

So on January 31st, with my first month coming to an end, I decided to close one chapter and open another. I liv­­e in San Francisco, a city with more farmers’ markets than fast food restaurants. It was time to attempt something that I had ridiculed others for. Something that I had publicly acknowledged I didn’t have the guts to attempt, even for a day.

February would be meatless.

A New Year

sf fireworks

“So how did you come up with the idea for this?”

Over the last year, I’ve heard that question asked in a dozen different forms. Most times, I respond by shrugging my shoulders and sheepishly replying “New Year’s resolution.” And usually, no one asks further. But there’s a longer story…

A few days after turning 23, I had the rug pulled out from under me.

After graduating from college in June 2011, I moved to San Francisco for a job and a girl. Two months later, in the span of a week, I lost both. To save you the melodramatic hyperboles, I’ll just say this: it sucked.

The good news is that—besides a couple instances of literally crying home to mommy—I pulled my shit together and followed through on my dream of starting a company.

A couple weeks into my newfound self-employment, I was enjoying all the benefits. The freedom to wake up whenever I wanted. Freedom to work on cool projects with amazing people. Freedom to watch Bizkit the Sleep Walking Dog seven times in a row. It was amazing.

But that freedom brought downsides.

I started to notice a few bad habits forming. The most prominent was constantly checking my ex-girlfriend’s Facebook when I should have been working. Scrolling through pictures of us together, subconsciously comparing myself to new guys she had friended (pshh, this douche bag went to Sonoma State), and dwelling on the fact that I missed her.

One day, while browsing her Facebook for the 3rd time instead of working, thinking “well maybe there’s a chance we’ll get back together…” I woke up. Alright dude, enough is enough. Time to snap out of this.

So I made a simple resolve: unsubscribe from her Newsfeed. Don’t check her Facebook for a month.

And I did. And to the surprise of my oh-so-broken-heart, it wasn’t actually that hard. Looking back on it now, it was a huge step that helped me get over my first heartbreak.

If I’m being honest, I still look at my ex-girlfriend’s Facebook. However, this random experiment crystallized a truth I had known theoretically but had never witnessed so clearly:

I can change my habits.

And that little thought planted a seed which grew into a Sequoia-sized Venus flytrap. It would become the most ambitious undertaking in my life to date. It’s why I found myself with 10 of my closest friends at Benihana’s skipping over the hibachi steak and ordering fried tofu. It’s why I found myself renting a sailboat to sail underneath the Bay Bridge en route to a Berkeley football game. It’s why I found myself, at 9am on a Sunday, hungover and anointing my forehead with holy water at the entrance of a Catholic church.

But that seed first needed a little nourishment to germinate. Near the end of December, I thought: you know what? I could stand to change a few bad habits. In particular, one that’s bothered me with increasing annoyance throughout the years. But I don’t think I can give it up for a whole year, so why not just start with a month?

And thus, the monster that would dominate the next 12 months of my life was unleashed.

I would open January by giving up my worst lingering habit from college, but just for a month. A mini-New Years Resolution if you will.

I would start the year off without smokin’ the reefer.