My Part-Time Plant-Based Journey
If it's good enough for Beyoncé, it's good enough for me
When you want to convince me to try something new, invoking Beyoncé is usually a good place to start.
At the very start of summer, when I freshly moved back to Los Angeles, I joined my best friend at Gracias Madre, a plant-based Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood that he told me he loved, and more important, has been frequented by my lord and gyrator through the years.
After that revelation, it was an easy sell. I’m not immediately trusting of trendy restaurants popularized by celebrities, but if it’s good enough for a fellow Texan who also loves the restaurant Pappadeaux as much as I do, I figured I could find something good to eat. (And if all else fails, tequila with a side of chips and guacamole could tide me over until I found a protein that used to live afterwards.)
Now, I should stress that I’m actually more adventurous with my eating than I may sound. At some point in my 20s, I decided not to be the adult that can only eat chicken tenders and french fries (delicious, but still), so more often than not, I’ll try just about anything.
For example, I’ve had grasshopper tacos by my own volition. Did I enjoy that experience? Not really. They tasted like crunchy bugs on a taco shell. But, it was a work lunch so I didn’t pay for it and I even earned a little respect for being so daring with my taste buds in the middle of the day. Also: I allowed myself to have an experience: a nasty ass experience but one I will never forget all the same.
Of course, Mexican food without meat is not the same thing as literally eating bugs, but when you grow up on Tex-Mex the way I did, anything not presented in the way I’m used to in Texas will always feel a little foreign.
But when I got the Uno Bowl at Gracias Madre, which consisted of soy chorizo, cashew nacho cheese, romaine, rice, beans, and avocado, I decided that obviously this made me more spiritually connected to Beyoncé than ever — because I enjoyed it. Granted, I’d probably still prefer to enjoy a fried alligator meal with her, but if we ended up here, that’s cool, too.
To the credit of my friend, he’s also the same person that convinced me to return to pork after 12 years of avoiding it (along with beef). We were at The Grange some years before, a restaurant in Harlem where we used to live, and he told me to stop ignoring bacon served on top of my usual order: a chicken biscuit topped with sausage gravy.
He didn’t steer me wrong then — and his winning record carried over to the next coast. But he has told me he’s beginning to eat more plant-based meals generally now to look and feel better.
It explained the second place we met upon my return to LA: Bulan Thai in Silver Lake. Its Thai empanadas and inferno (soy) “chicken” reminded me of all of the good vegetarian Thai and Chinese restaurants that I used to enjoy as a broke college intern and straddling pescetarian in New York. I forgot you can actually eat well with a plant-based diet if you know what you are doing.
When I tried not eating meat back then, much of it had to do with body image issues that I thought I could correct by simply leaving meat out of my diet. I didn’t understand the extent to which nutrition or budgeting worked at the time, so what ended up happening is that I found myself eating a bunch of bland Boca burgers and overly breaded “boneless Buffalo wings” with little difference to show for it physically.
Several months into a so-so meatless experience, it didn’t shrink my stomach; it just made me snappy enough to fall back into turkey burgers for survival.
Now, I’m at the point of my life where I am more aware of how to eat and when. I will never forget the horror I felt biting into a tofu chicken nugget; it did not mirror the miracle that was my first time eating an Impossible burger at Mama Shelter’s restaurant in Hollywood. But I know there are better options available these days. I’m hoping I can figure it out.
Still, I must admit, as a lover of hot links, there’s only so much you can do with a sausage link made with pea protein. Or maybe there’s more and I need to find some kind of hotline.
As I shared with my friend over some curried potatoes in an empanada: While I'm not paranoid, I know it is so often harder than it seems to become an old Black man in America. Part of that survival is making sure the food you consume fuels you rather than further weighs you down along with your stressors. In the interest of not being too heavy but being very serious, I’m also motivated to eat less meat because the people who eat less meat tend to age quite wonderfully. I’m shallow enough to let that motivate me.
For the record, I’m not trying to become completely plant-based. Life is short so I am not giving up chicken wings, bacon, brisket, or even salmon. Yet, I can’t help but admit that in this new era of eating, I feel a lot lighter and look healthier than ever and appreciate the role more plant-based meals have played in it so I want to see where this new habit takes me.