I Stopped Eating Meat

It's easy being "green" in Phoenix, from xeriscaping and carrying chic reusable grocery bags to giving up meat for good.

After I had tipped the scales at almost 400 pounds and admitted to a massive daily intake of soda, cigarettes, and fast food, the physician wasn't pleased.

"If you don't make serious lifestyle changes immediately and start losing weight, you'll drop dead in less than 10 years."

Oh, I'd heard equally scary predictions in the past but blew them off ("I'm young, I come from sturdy, long-lived stock," I thought). But this time, it stuck. Probably because I lost my fiancée in 2006 to heart disease when she was only 32.

The same age I am now. Fuck.

Within weeks I started making drastic changes. In addition to ditching soda and fast food in June, I decided to go veggie again, as I had during the mid-'90s while attending ASU. For three years, I was meat-free and at my lightest (around 185) and healthiest, not to mention my happiest.

So why'd I go back to meat? Frankly, I got bored.

My tongue tired of a nonstop cycle of Pita Jungle, Tokyo Express, and Byblos. I also lacked time and patience to learn to cook (past a handful of dishes), and Morningstar Farms products and Subway's "Veggie Delight" sammies got old. Plus, I just flat-out missed eating meat.

So when I recently decided to fall off the meatwagon and back into the PETA crowd again, I figured I'd have a better chance at success. How come? Other than the motivation to avoid a tragically young death, a wider variety of vegetarian/vegan dining options have emerged around the Valley over the past 10 years. Besides dedicated eateries like Fresh Mint and the Mandala Tearoom in Scottsdale, many more ethnic joints (like Thai Hut and the Jamaican-oriented Breadfruit), organic places, and all-around veggie-friendly restaurants are out there. I can think of three places within walking distance of my downtown Phoenix apartment serving spectacular, guilt-free meals.

With the help of Web sites like VegGuide (www.vegguide.org) and Happy Cow (www.happycow.net), I assembled a list of different restaurants, with the goal of trying one or two a week. (The sites also provided the lowdown on local markets and stores.)

Unlike my cold-turkey plunge of a decade ago, I transitioned gradually over the summer and fall by substituting meat-laden meals for vegetarian options as often as possible. For instance, I've noshed many times on the chicken-stuffed pastries of the Cornish Pasty Company but recently switched up for more tofu-filled versions.

Vegan über-chef Damon Brasch and his renowned establishments (Green in Scotts-dale and downtown's That's A Wrap) have also been a godsend. I've driven across the Valley to Green more than once just 'cause I craved a seitan steak sandwich or meatball po-boy — although I've abstained recently, so I won't tire of the place. (Plus, I'll never get thin by eating those addictive "tsoynami" deserts).

My fridge is also stocked with stuff like Amy's Kitchen frozen foods or Yves Veggie Cuisine "not dogs," which keeps me from hitting Circle K for snacks. I've even tried cooking again, using recipes from www.vegweb.com, albeit with mixed results. (The "mock tuna salad" made from chickpeas was . . . interesting.)

Little steps have also helped: I've changed my route to the office to avoid stopping at drive-thrus (especially on McDowell Road, which I've dubbed "Fast Food Avenue"). For a while, if I was good, I treated myself to one or two helpings of meat a week — until December 31, when I tasted my last piece of beef.

The experience occasionally has sucked (I've had funky dreams in which I've devoured burgers or ribs), but it's been worth it: I've lost around 35 pounds so far.

That alone has kept me going, as has a quote from punk poet Henry Rollins:

"The only time you define your character is when you go without."

Amen, Hank.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.