Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HOW THIS ALL BEGAN


I'm an omnivore. At least I have been. For 30 years I was a private chef to the rich and famous. When people asked me what my specialty was (for some reason a lot of them seemed compelled to ask me this), I would usually say, "rich people." Of course this was me being a smartass (a favorite pastime), but it was also accurate. My talent--and part of the secret of my success--was catering to the whims of the privileged class while surprising and delighting their pampered little palates.

Sometimes they wanted to “lose weight,” or "eat healthy," and sometimes they just wanted to pig out on whatever they had a craving for. Hilariously, they would often run these priorities in sequence, perhaps believing this would work in the alternate universe they inhabited. Forget whether their fad diet would (or could) make them skinny, much less healthy--my job was to give them what they wanted and amaze them with it.

I focused exclusively on the sybaritic aspect of food, with no particular regard for its impact on health. I was gifted with a furious metabolism that enabled me to eat copiously without storing a single gram of fat. If my clients wanted to try a new diet, I obliged them, but always with pleasure at center stage (reputation and job security, you understand). And it was a good living, with fabulous fringe benefits.

But in the last 10 years I've slowly begun to rethink all this, and reshape my food ideals to mesh with my evolving personal values. I'm on a lifelong quest to ascend, awaken, and become more conscious. Looking at food with new eyes, it was impossible to ignore the glaring issues of sustainability, ethics, and health surrounding what I choose to eat. One thing leads to another, and my first cookbook, Omega 3 Cuisine, turned out to be a collection of vegetarian recipes that feature plant-based essential fats.
 
My publisher belongs to a community that pioneered the vegan diet back in the sixties, so the subject has been hovering nearby for over a year now. I had been a fairly strict vegetarian from 1973 to 1981, but the vegan thing struck me as unnecessarily extreme (perhaps even laughable). Still, I can’t help but respect people who’ve remained true to their convictions for well over 30 years. Whatever they’ve been doing, it has made them extremely likable people, and we hit it off quite nicely.

The first book was performing well, so I pushed for another project. After huddling with his team, my publisher gave me one:  quick vegan recipes that can be completed in 30 minutes or less. I enjoyed the challenge (my meat-eating family was fairly tolerant) and dubbed my new book Speedvegan (look for it spring/summer of 2010).  Now I’m on a roll, right? What’s next?

Coincidentally, my wife was reading “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, who can run hundreds of miles without resting. Apparently their diet is mostly vegan—beans, corn, the odd vegetable here and there, and chia seeds (along with the occasional barbequed mouse). Hmmm, I’m thinking...


Then she says to me, “Hey! How about The Vegan Runner?” I wasn’t—had never been—a vegan or a runner, but the idea went right in and straight through to the next book idea: A 56-year-old cook becomes a vegan and becomes a runner, and writes a book about it, complete with recipes and musings.

A quick google (I hear that’s a verb now) revealed, sadly, a host of references to “vegan runner,” although the focus was more on running than food. I tried “vegan challenge,” but it turned out Oprah had been there and done that, although mostly for a week or so (some challenge, right?). Then it hit me: I would add the extra challenge (like being the only vegan in my house wasn’t enough) of running the Pikes Peak Ascent in 2010! That gave me less than a year to get in shape, and at least three if not five months of that would be runner-hostile. Perfect. So there you have it: Vegan Ascent. And here we go...

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