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Editor’s Letter: Let’s Get Meat-Free

Frame > Frame Stories > No. 8: The Vegan Issue > Editor’s Letter: Let’s Get Meat-Free
Photo by Joe Vaughn.

Two weeks — that seems to be the limit of my veganism.

Twice in my life I’ve tried to follow a plant-based diet. During both attempts, staged nearly 20 years apart, I couldn’t quite get to week three without ingesting some kind of animal-derived food product.

So, yeah, I’m a pretty shitty vegan.

Lentil soup is mental fruit
and ginger root is good for the yout’
Fresh veg-e-table with the mayatl stew
sweet yam fries with the green calalloo

Dead Prez, “Be Healthy”

I first became aware of veganism through the punk and hardcore music scene I belonged to as a teenager. Veganism was one of those things that the more disciplined (see: militant) kids ascribed to, often hand in hand with a straight-edge lifestyle (abstaining from drugs and alcohol). In their Earth Crisis hoodies, they somehow seemed even more pissed than the rest of us, who were merely disaffected (see: privileged) youth thrashing against the ennui of modern Western life. Back then, choosing veganism was still largely anti-capitalist act of resistance.

But, lest my musical tastes be seen as too esoteric, I also found myself falling in love with a flourishing brand of politically and socially conscious hip hop. Yeah, there was Mos and Talib and Common. But there was also Dead Prez, who put a fine point on this whole veganism thing with a bangin’ track called “Be Healthy,” featuring rhymes that espoused the benefits of eating plants and choosing a healthy, mindful lifestyle.

So, at the age of 18, about to head out on a bootstrapped two-week tour of the Eastern Seaboard with my scrappy hardcore band, I decided to try my hand at this lifestyle swirling around the underground. I don’t recall much about the food on that trip, except for lots of hummus and chickpeas and falafel, a vegan potluck in a basement in Connecticut, and the carton of Twinkies salvaged from the Hostess outlet Dumpster that sustained me in between actual meals. (No, Twinkies aren’t vegan, but they are totally “freegan” if acquired outside the standard capitalist apparatus.)

After the tour, I decided this whole veganism thing just wasn’t for me and went back to my meat-eating ways. Mos Def stayed in the rotation, but Dead Prez fell out.

Fast-forward to March 2020. Here I am entering my fifth year as the Detroit Free Press’ restaurant critic. At that point, I felt like I’d done a pretty crummy job covering the burgeoning vegan dining scene in metro Detroit, even as the likes of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) were naming it a vegan-friendly oasis.

I decided I would spend the entire month following a strict plant-based diet and write about it for the newspaper, thus beginning my second foray into plant-based eating, this time for purely professional reasons.

Pretty quickly, I realized what a disservice I’d done to readers by basically ignoring the vegan community in my previous coverage. From the first mention of the project, I was inundated with communications from folks far and wide expressing their interest and appreciation, as well as their corrections. No, I wasn’t going “vegan,” someone wrote. Rather, I was following a “meat- and dairy-free diet.” Turns out, vegans love to argue semantics…

“Maybe visit an animal sanctuary to understand what motivates many vegans,” someone suggested. “Plant-based is a way of eating but being vegan is a lifestyle.”

I kept detailed notes along the way. Some highlights:

Day 3: I’m already realizing that this area of the food world is far more complex and broad than I had considered. Even the nomenclature is now making me feel like a clumsy novice. I have a lot to learn.

Day 5: What bothers me the most about this diet is all the chewing.

Day 8: Getting kinda sick of this. Craving some meat. Or at least eggs. Runny fried eggs and bacon and toast.

Day 9: Taco Bell put cheese in my 7-Layer Burrito even though I asked them not to!

Alas, the notes stop shortly after, as the entire newsroom and world prepared for an unprecedented lockdown on public life meant to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.

As the crisis unfolded, my plant-based eating project took a back seat. The WHAT of my meals became less important, as the question of HOW took over. Animal products quickly found their way back onto my plate, if only as a familiar dopamine-triggering coping mechanism against a world I no longer recognized.

Welcome to The Vegan Issue

All this to say that the Vegan Issue of Frame Stories that you are now reading brings with it a tiny sense of closure for me, or at the very least a loud and proud acknowledgement that the vast spectrum of plant-based eating and veganism matters — and matters deeply to the future of our existence.

Unlike my original participatory journalism project, I am thankful to now be in a position to call upon a host of other people who have brought their own expertise and experiences into the fold, together arriving at a richer exploration of plant-based eating than I could’ve ever mustered on my own.

For starters, freelance writer Jerilyn Jordan did a lot better than my measly two weeks. Having recently celebrated her first veganniversary, Jerilyn walks us through — in both hilarious and deeply personal fashion — all the things she’s learned in her first year of plant-based eating. Like, who knew ghee wasn’t vegan? (Link: What I’ve learned (and accidentally eaten) during my first year as a vegan)

On the other side of the spectrum, Grand Rapids-based vegan chef and philosopher Evan Scott Edwards, Ph.D., offers a deep rumination on the morality of eating plants, distilled from a decade of thinking about and researching vegan philosophy for his dissertation, Autotrophy of the Other. Evans suggests a profound reframing of the moral lens through which we view eating, one that centers the life-affirming abundance and nourishment plants offer. (Link: A vegan philosopher on the morality of eating plants)

A number of high-profile vegan restaurants have closed in and around Detroit in the last year, so freelance writer Courtney Burk looked into how a few that remain have radically adapted to survive, ultimately asking the question: Do we even need vegan restaurants anymore? (Link: Where have all the vegan restaurants gone?)

Despite the closures, Detroit is still a vegan-friendly town. Our friends at VegOut Magazine round up 10 of the best restaurants for plant-based dining. (Link: Try these 10 vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Detroit)

We round out our coverage with a primer on vegan wines from Frame Sommelier Sean Crenny (Link: Yes, vegan wines are a thing. Here’s why.), and Mixtress Jaz’min Weaver offers a recipe for a vegan whiskey sour with all the seasonal vibes — hold the egg whites. (Link: Frame Cocktail Recipe: Vegan Winter Whiskey Sour)

Meanwhile, Nepantla Cafe chef-owner Rocky Coronado takes up residency Nov. 2-27 at FRAMEbar for CANTINA VEGA, a celebration of vegan Mexican cooking and Indigenous roots.

In the wise words of Dead Prez: “It’s all love.”


Mark Kurlyandchik