The five-hundred year vegan diet

I recently told Barry I wanted to experiment with a special diet. Based on some of the purification or “detox” diets I’d read and heard about, we would remove a bunch of foods from our diet for two weeks. Then we’d add them back gradually, to see whether we notice a difference.

Here’s the list of foods we have removed from our diet:

  • Sugar (also honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners)
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Corn
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Tomatoes & potatoes (nightshades)
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts

Barry was happy to go along with the plan, in part because he’s a fan of the 100-year diet concept. That’s a diet where you only eat foods that our ancestors were eating 100 years ago, avoiding all the additives and chemicals that have come into our diets in recent decades. This diet would be even more basic than that, so I jokingly called it “the 500 year vegan diet.”

The only problem was, when we mentioned our plan to friends and family, they were horrified. “What are you going to EAT?” they asked, when they heard the list of foods we were eliminating from our diet.

I’m happy to report that after a week and a half, we are not starving! According to the FAO, there are 50,000 edible plants in the world. We’ve only eliminated a handful of the possibilities. Rice, which is a staple for half the world’s population, is one of our favorite foods, and we can eat that.

To begin, I set aside our routine breakfasts, which are based on cereal (sugar, wheat, corn, and dairy), eggs, or corn grits with cheese. I crafted three new breakfast menus, based on oatmeal, buckwheat groats, and injera (sourdough teff pancakes).

The first day, I braced myself for something awful. Oatmeal without brown sugar and milk? While it simmered, I added a couple of chopped apples, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and a small handful of raisins. It was delicious. Day two: Kasha with lemongrass and mint, another chopped apple, and some chopped dried plums. By the time we got to the injera, which we ate with apple compote, we were really enjoying our sugar-free, egg-free breakfasts.

Lunch was a little trickier. I didn’t want to stop work and spend an hour chopping in the galley every day. What would we eat without the option of tortillas or crackers? Day one, I whipped up a quick batch of hummus and spread it on jicama and radishes and cucumbers. The next day, I turned dinner leftovers into an exotic soup. Day three’s leftovers became a bean salad. I had the hang of lunch now.

Snacks have been challenging. We tried rice cakes topped with almond butter, but it’s hard to find brown rice cakes around here. I ended up putting the almond butter on apples instead, but it doesn’t stick as well as peanut butter. Barry often grabs a handful of nuts for his snacks.

Dinner is where my cooking really shines on this food plan. Every meal is a multi-dish presentation with two or three colorful dishes made from vegetables, grains (brown rice, wild rice, amaranth, or quinoa), and beans. I’ve used cumin, mustard, and coriander seeds for curries; and mint, rosemary, basil, and oregano for salads. I’ve used almost every spice in my bin, finding uses for galangal, white pepper, fresh-ground nutmeg, and smoked Spanish paprika.

One of the best things about the diet is that I’ve developed some entirely new recipes. We had a dinner party last week, and at midday, I decided to cook my red lentils ahead of time. I cooked them, opened the pressure cooker, and stirred in a spoonful of Madras curry powder and a little butter. I dipped a spoon into the pot to taste the results. Yum! It was so delicious, I spooned it into a couple of bowls and shared it with Barry for lunch. I had to make another batch of the Creamy Curried Red Lentils for our dinner guests.

Barry and I also have a new favorite rice dish,  and a cheesy green bean dish that uses nutritional yeast and arrowroot powder. And I haven’t documented the variety of dishes I’ve made with spinach, mustard greens, leeks, green beans, asparagus, rhubarb, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, fresh peas, and bok choy.

I’ve had to modify a few recipes, leaving out tomatoes (Vegetarian Feijoada), sugar (Pickled Onions), or cream (Indian Cauliflower and Peas). But some dishes fit within the guidelines just fine, like the Lemon Rice I served at our dinner party. There were no leftovers of that one.

At all three meals, I garnish our plates and try to present food that is colorful and pleasing to the eye. I’ve used nuts, olives, grated lemon peel, cilantro, and parsley, but the ingredient we both enjoy the most is not the most colorful. It’s the love.

We haven’t noticed a lot of changes in our bodies (except for a few pounds lost) as a result of the diet, but we have learned this: As long as food is served with love, it’s satisfying and tastes fantastic. That discovery  will change the way we eat for the rest of our lives. Even if we add all the “forbidden” foods back to our diet, we won’t need much sugar. With the added love, our food will still taste sweet.