From Lamb Ragout to Spring Veggie Whole-Wheat Pasta

When I tried going vegetarian a year ago, it lasted about a week. I had been reading a lot of Douglas Hofstadter and Richard Dawkins in the weeks leading up to the attempt, and for the first time it occurred to me that the food on my plate each night had once had a soul; that it had once walked, swum, or flown around calling itself “I.” Seeing cow skins on a conveyor belt in Fast Food Nation pretty much sealed the deal for me, or so I thought at the time. So for one week I did not eat meat.  Not even fish, and certainly not chicken.

There were two big factors that contributed to the quick demise of my noble effort. The first was that I love cooking. Lamb ragout with mint and gnocchi just isn’t a meal when you take out the lamb. Maybe for some, but not for someone training for a marathon. And that was the second reason I failed; it was just too easy to say “I have to get protein if I’m running 40 miles a week, no matter how cute baby lambs are.”

So the no-meat diet gradually gave way to a no-mammals diet, which gradually gave way to “there are plenty of strips of bacon in a single pig; a little for flavor here won’t hurt.” But I never did fully go back to my red-meat ways, which I’m happy to report for both ethical and health reasons.

And then two weeks ago my mom and I went to a four-day Tony Robbins seminar. Yes, the big-teeth guy from the infomercials. And from Shallow Hal. I’m not going to try to defend my fascination with Tony’s work; just know that I loved the seminar as I knew I would. But I didn’t expect to love the last day, titled “The Power of Pure Energy.” For starters, Tony wouldn’t even be there that day. In fact I almost blew off the last day entirely, figuring that as a runner and already-healthy eater I had nothing to learn from watching video of Tony talking about diet and exercise.

But sure enough, video-Tony hooked me.  And then he hammered his point home with a series of other videos showing, among other niceties, dead chickens being mechanically separated and later floating in what is called “fecal soup.”  By the end of the day I couldn’t wait to get started on Tony’s “10-Day Challenge” for aiding digestion and maximizing energy.  Following his strict orders, when I got home I informed my wife Erin that for ten days I would be eating no meat except a little fish, no dairy products, mostly water-rich foods, no alcohol, no coffee, fruit but only by itself, protein but never with carbs, carbs but never with protein, and lots of water but never during meals.  And oh yeah, a two-week total body cleansing pill program, which Erin and I now affectionately call Super Colon-Blow.

I completely acknowledge that this diet sounds extreme, and I’m pretty sure it’s not something that I can keep up for much more than ten days.  In fact I’ve already cheated on some of the details, the most egregious offense being the two Guinnesses I had during Day 2 of the NCAA tournament.  But I have noticed an increase in energy, psychological or not, and I feel great going to bed and waking up every day (after the colon blow, of course).  And I’ve felt fine after lifting weights, swimming, and doing short runs (more on why they are short in a later post). It’s hard to say if my long-term exercise results will be affected, but there are plenty of endurance athletes who successfully train with even vegan diets. So while I’ll probably eventually allow myself to drink milk again, mix protein and carbs, and have an occasional beer or six, the experience of these past ten days has shown me that a pesceterian (vegetarian plus fish) diet is one that absolutely fits with the way I want to live, endurance training and all.

So that’s why I’m writing this blog. I haven’t really addressed the problem of what my inner Bobby Flay will miss with this diet, but I think with a little creativity I can get past that. Erin is on board with the diet, and together we’re going to make sure that we make meals each night which meet four criteria: vegetarian or pescetarian, substantial and nutritious enough for endurance training, relatively quick to make, and really good-tasting. Not the salad and plain tofu I have associated with the word “vegetarian” in the past. And I’m going to post them here. All of them, for as long as people are reading this blog and I’m having fun writing it. I’m also going to write about my training, Erin’s training, and anything else that I think readers might care about.

What I hope to get out of this blog is manifold (only a mathematician, right?). I want to demonstrate to other endurance athletes that eating less meat doesn’t have to mean eating crappy food or risking malnourishment. And on the flip side, to encourage vegetarians who don’t exercise to try running or some other sport.  It is also my hope that some of you will actually make these meals.  How could healthy meal-planning be any easier?  Nothing would make me happier than to know that I helped someone I love to change their unhealthy eating habits, even if they don’t give up meat entirely.  Finally, by writing this and sharing it with friends, family, and hopefully even people I’ve never met, I’m making a commitment to stick with this diet for a really long time. Tony Robbins would call it “getting leverage.”  And I won’t mention Tony Robbins again for a while, I promise.

Please, if you are at all interested in this blog, leave a comment!  Ask a question, suggest a recipe, give me a blogging tip!  I would much prefer this to be a multilateral conversation than a boring monologue.  I’ll try to keep it as fun as possible, but I could really use your help!

-Matt

32 Comments