by Ramona Pilar Gonzales
The following conversation with my Formerly College-now-Lawyer-Friend occurred via text.
Me: Hey! I went vegan and gave up booze for Lent!
FCnLF: OMG ur Straight Edge. How Retro.
But, oh, yes, the Straight Edge. Straight Edge was an offset of punk music that had a big heyday in the 80’s and 90’s. The guidelines included abstaining from alcohol and drugs, and (I’m generalizing here), a uniform of shaved head, jeans, plain, white, working class t-shirt, and a pair of stompin’ boots. Having first heard of the scene in high school, I remember the big purveyors of the scene being predominately young, white males.
So, naturally, I internally guffawed when I read her response, as I do not fit the profile.
I was the opposite of Straight Edge when we knew each other. She lives in the Bay Area – I live in LA – so, I’m sure this is hilarious to her for a plethora of reasons I am too self-absorbed to notice. ;).
I’ve been observing Lent – some years more stringently than others – since I was a kid. Not for religious reasons – my parents were/are adamantly not religious. But, for reasons I am not privy to, my mother has religiously celebrated Fat Tuesday for as long as I can remember. Just Fat Tuesday.
As I got older I learned that Fat Tuesday was a precursor to Lent. I thought I might as well do the whole “giving stuff up” thing if I was going to party down so hard the night before – And when I was a kid, “partying down” meant dinner at Marie Calendars, WITH boysenberry pie. A la mode. Yes.
Historically I have committed to abstaining from some variation of food for the 40-day period (which is actually 46 days, but the church doesn’t count weekends, I’ve recently discovered). In the past it’s been: chocolate, sweets, bread, meat or alcohol. There was one year while I was in college that I did try to adopt a vegan diet, but after two days, I had to give that up. I didn’t really cook at the time and the idea of subsisting wholly on salads, tofu, instant hummus and falafel wasn’t super dazzling to me at the time.
This year I decided to give up alcohol and adopt a vegan diet for Lent. I had no idea if there would be a huge difference in the way I felt physically or mentally, but I thought there might be some sort of shift. I did it with the intention of taking care of my body and letting go of things I thought were important to me. Alcohol, while being a lot of fun, and tasty on occasion, is known to be a depressant.
Consumption of animal products has been known to increase the cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease, and exacerbate inflammation (one of the body’s natural responses to potential disease), which can aggravate autoimmune diseases like loopus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Given that a) I’m less young than I used to be, and b) there is a history of alcoholism on both sides of my family, combined with c) my grandmother had and my mother currently lives with Rheumatoid Arthritis, which is a genetic disease, I thought, “Hey, what’s the harm in going über healthy for 40 days if it might stave off a crippling and horribly painful disease for a bit longer?”
When I committed, I was in it to win it. Not with the hardcore adherence of a WIN/FAIL attitude (which I find arcane and prfoundly limiting) but with the understanding that old habits die hard, and new habits take time to establish themselves.
In the past 4-5 weeks, I have not consciously lapsed with regard to the vegan diet. I once accidentally put half and half in my coffee while eating at a restaurant, had some ice cream I thought was diary free, then found out it wasn’t – that sort of thing. In general, it hasn’t been particularly difficult to maintain. I like cooking now. I love tofu. And hummus and falafel, neither of which I’ve eaten very much of, if at all. I’ve learned how to cook greens, onions, garlic and other vegetables so as not to burn them or overcook them. I do spend a lot more time cooking and washing dishes than I used to, but I also, finally, like my own cooking, which is an unexpected benefit of this experience.
The “no-booze” portion of the Lenten fast has been less consistently successful. Once I learned about the “weekends off” policy built in to Lent (which I had not known about when I was younger), I may have given myself a bit of leeway.
I’ve taken a break from the fast a handful of times, although, the first time was a painful experience. I’d not eaten since lunch on the day in question and thought I had paced myself properly. The next morning/day, I had a terribly painful headache – probably the worst I’ve ever felt – and was retching so violently I could not even keep water down. The subsequent times were considerably less dramatic. What I have noticed, however, is that the next day, I feel much lower and slower and less optimistic than the days when I did not drink. Duh? Perhaps. But it was a surprise to me that the amount only affected the degree to which I felt those things the next morning, not whether or not they did.
What physical changes have I noticed? I’m much more aware of my digestive system, I tell you what. I have lost some weight, but not as much as I would have liked. It makes sense, though, since I haven’t really included an exercise regimen per se (I’m using public transportation exclusively, so running to and from train and bus stops is how I get my heart rate up these days).
I haven’t yet decided whether or not to continue these new habits after Easter is over. I’m curious to see what I’ll feel and look like in three months or six months, and if I’ll mysteriously decide to shave my head, purchase my own pair of stompin’ boots. That would be hilariously retro.