When I first texted my now-boyfriend Brad that I liked him as more than just a friend, I had just drunkenly ordered a bacon cheeseburger at Shake Shack. We didn’t get together for another two months and I was convinced part of the reason was that I wasn’t a vegan. While he enjoys cutting out meat and dairy, I routinely hover over cheese plates like an alpha vulture. It turned out to be a non-issue, partially because he doesn’t care what I eat, and because finding vegan-friendly options in NYC isn’t that difficult, especially if you both like falafel and Thai food.
Still, I wanted to try and consistently eat what he eats for a full week because it seemed like it would definitely bring me closer to him. Plus, it’d be a true test of the relationship’s strength: Could I be deprived of mozzarella sticks and still be nice to my boyfriend?
- We’d prep a bunch of meals together, to be eaten throughout the week.
- At restaurants, we could order what we each wanted as long as it was vegan.
- I could add hot sauce to anything.
After a breakfast of whole wheat bagels with tofu cream cheese, we had the ambitious plan of cooking both lunch and dinner, which took longer to plan than we realized. En route to Trader Joe’s, we caved and just ate out for lunch so we wouldn't break up from pure hangriness.
Our choice was LuAnne's Wild Ginger, an all-vegan Asian restaurant. I’m not sure how much my hunger played a role in my enjoyment of the meal, but the "BBQ beef" skewers were literally glowing when they arrived. Vegan meat is consistently spongey throughout, pretty much like the inside of a McDonald’s chicken nugget. So, I’m into it.
For my entree, I decided to try vegan seafood for the first time. The “shrimp” looked almost identical to the real deal, something that I don’t think anyone really needs, but I have to say, I admire the effort. I felt like this week would be a breeze, all thanks to realistic soy meat chunks and faux fish filets.
When we got to Trader Joe’s, the line was wrapped around the corner.
We split up our lists and hurried through the store, which was so crowded that we actually bumped into two of our friends. But there was no time to talk. This is a battlefield, as Trader Joe’s Sunday shopping can make or break you as a couple. But seeing Brad expertly dart through the aisles and make it out of there in under 30 minutes definitely boosted my attraction to him.
We did a huge meal prep and decided to cook sweet potato boats and a massive pot of vegan chili, intended to last us for most of the week. Brad cooks a lot more often than I do, and while I messed up the measurements for the spices multiple times because I misread "tbsp" for "tsp," he’d diced every vegetable perfectly. Show-off.
I got my Starbucks latte with almond milk and opened up my overnight oats I prepared the night before.
His were mixed with cinnamon (which makes me gag). Mine usually have little milk chocolate chunks in them, but, due to a shopping miscommunication where I wrote down “chips” and Brad bought literal chips instead of vegan chocolate chips, mine were tragically plain. It was a huge blow to this relationship.
By lunch, I was starving. Brad had suggested we buy snacks for the next day, but I opted out, for some clearly insane reason. My lunch was the other half of the seafood dish, which was delicious but just not enough. Brad suggested cooking a lentil salad for meal prep tonight:
In my famished, angered state, I contemplated breaking up.
By the time I got home, I was so food-crazed that I dumped multiple leftovers on a plate and scarfed it down, barely saying a word to my roommates. Brad texted me his version, which he neatly heated in a pot like a person who’s actually got his life figured out. In my hunger-fueled fury, I interpreted his text as subtle shade at my own disheveled plate.
I went to my room and cradled my bloated, sad stomach, wondering what in my life led me to make the choices that I have thus far.
Despite feeling like true garbage the night before, I was very awake at my aspirational 6:30 a.m. gym alarm. I decorated my peanut butter cold oats with blueberries and one almond to reflect my feelings toward a restrictive diet for the rest of the week.
To satiate my snarling stomach, I snacked on almonds and some Golden Oreos, which thank god are vegan.
Now that I’d committed to snacking, Brad started to feel more connected in our eating habits.
Maybe this experiment would bring us closer after all?
I coordinated with Brad over text to make a salad for today, which was just spinach, avocado, tomatoes, black beans, and carrots, tossed with a lemon juice-olive oil dressing and veggie cheese. This is the salad he eats for lunch most days and might be the healthiest one I’ve ever intended to consume (my favorites usually have a full layer of goat cheese obscuring any greens.) I highly doubted that I would enjoy this.
The Tupperware with the salad + leftover sweet potatoes was too big to fit in the office fridge, so it went unrefrigerated.
When I took a bite, the lemon flavor tasted particularly ... detergent-y and bitter. The avocado bits had become an ominous shade of gray. Commence the panic:
Any newfound enthusiasm for vegan food was now overshadowed by my paranoia of potential food poisoning.
Dinner was leftover chili, which I’m glad I enjoyed as much as I did, because we made so much. Miles away in his own apartment, Brad was also eating chili. Even though we weren't spending the night together, I felt close to him, especially because I knew we were both probably pouring Cholula over everything.
I ate the same oats and leftover chili, feeling liberal with the respective blueberries/soy cheese toppings. This whole vegan thing was starting to feel second-nature to me.
After work, we decided to cook lemon asparagus pasta. I got to Trader Joe’s late, so Brad had already picked up almost everything. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the whole project was shopping for and cooking meals with more than three ingredients.
Brad buys tempeh for an added source of protein. I cut it into little cubes and tried a piece, which had a nutty, slightly sour flavor. We both kept munching on it throughout cooking and probably ate half the pack together.
Despite this being on a weekday, this experience was comparatively more relaxed than our first cooking effort this week (also because we drank wine during the process.)
We baked chocolate chip cookies, which aren’t as moist and buttery as regular cookies, but have one major advantage:
COOKIE DOUGH YOU CAN EAT WITHOUT WORRYING YOU’LL GET SALMONELLA.
Once we filled up the tray with cookies, we finished off the rest of the dough before watching a few episodes of Fleabag.
This night stood out since we’re usually so in motion, budgeting our time as best we can between quick after-work dinners and late-night walks. It was nice to take the time and enjoy a real meal together.
After enjoying cold brews and an early-morning walk for breakfast, leftover pasta was on the menu for lunch. I was super excited about it. I wished it were a little goopier, which made me realize: I was starting to badly miss cheese.
A friend I hadn't seen in a few years was in town, so we went out for dinner and drinks. While I had been trying to eat specifically what Brad ate, I was too hungry not to deviate from the plan. I scanned the menu a few times over and ordered a small sesame eggplant dish and a jasmine margarita at Republic. It's a risk, but I was 99.99999999 percent sure this was vegan, so I went for it. Don't tell Brad.
To change things up, we went to our respective Whole Foods. I got a kale smoothie and a vegan chocolate chip scone. The smoothie wasn’t sweet at all but did feel revitalizing and healthy. I hoped I'd be motivated enough to turn this into a real habit, because my dream is to be a Girl Who Juices Regularly.
Because we’d been so honest about what we ate this whole week, I finally fessed up my crimes from the previous night.
(No regrets though.)
CHIPOTLE DAY. Brad told me his order and I got the same: a bowl with sofritas, beans, brown rice, veggies, salsa, corn, lettuce, guac, and multiple hot sauces. Muttering an audible “no thanks” to cheese and sour cream proved to be one of the bigger challenges of this experiment. The absence of a dairy-like substance on top was tough, vegan or otherwise. Give me something.
After work, Brad and I went to a fancy birthday dinner for his work. Shortly after we arrived, salad was already waiting for us at the table … topped with a goat cheese medallion. Like Brad, I pushed it to the side, but the seconds in which my fork touched the creamy circle of pure bliss and nudged it to the forbidden edge of the plate felt eternal in their misery. I soothed my tears with an unbuttered bread roll.
For dinner, there was a “vegetarian option upon request," with no other details provided. At this point, I’ve been on the vegan train for so long that I was ready for any ride.
They brought a stack of grilled vegetables and brown rice. I kept thinking about how I needed to buy one of those Sriracha bottle keychains for times like this.
Dessert, sadly, was riddled with dairy. So more room for wine ;)
*A lot of room for wine.
We were ready to indulge, dammit. We started with brunch at Blossom on Carmine, a spot that would totally have an annoying line out the door if it weren’t all-vegan (it’s always amusing to see people walk in and leave upon realizing.)
We both got “all-day breakfast slams,” which were platters of sausage, shiitake cheese grits, spicy hash browns, sauteed kale, and a biscuit with grape jelly. In a word, it was majestic.
To make the most of our day of indulgence, we walked about 7 miles around the city before eventually heading back to Brooklyn. Our last meal of the day is slices of pizza at Screamer’s, an all-vegan, hole-in-the-wall pizza shop. We got a few to try: buffalo cauliflower, sausage and peppers, pesto with artichokes and sausage.
Vegan experiment or not, reaching for three different pizzas at a time just felt like the natural conclusion to any good Saturday night to me. With our only concrete plans revolving around food, this was one of my favorite dates we’ve ever had.
We both agreed the toughest part of eating like my boyfriend for a week was meal-prepping ahead of time and coordinating, mostly because we usually just do grilled cheese but wanted to get fancy for this post (YOU’RE WELCOME, READERS.)
Truthfully, him being a vegan makes me like him more. I like that he has something he cares so deeply about and commits to, even if it’s not always easy and incites weird reactions from people. And sometimes I forget that I can be one of those people too:
Will I ever go vegan? I don’t know, but if I did, it would be through a slow and gradual change rather than a sudden “no meat/fish/eggs/dairy/honey/etc.” diet like this one. But maybe that’s just me - I’ve never successfully made a big change in my life overnight.
When we first started dating, I wondered about our future a little bit. Would I get annoyed with eating vegan more often because we’re together? Now, I just don’t see that happening - there are so many different options out there, and most of the time, the substitutions are nearly impossible to notice.
Brad mentioned that he saw this experiment as (in his own words) “real partners in life shit,” because I was willing to eat whatever and whenever with him.
I mean, how could we both not get excited about avocado fries?
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