Las Vegas Sun

July 19, 2019

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Viva Las Vegan: Taking a shot, all summer, at a meatless existence

Vegan Summer

John Katsilometes

This is a vegan salad at Mom’s house in Boise. This is good livin’.

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Me and Morgan Spurlock, the man who helped inspire this adventure, bowling at the Gold Coast.

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Pasta primavera at Bootlegger Bistro -- vegan!

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This sorbet medley at Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria and Cucina -- vegan!

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This bartender's fire trick at Nu Sanctuary -- vegan!

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Steaks being prepped for the Marchetti family reunion at Redfish Lake, Idaho -- not vegan!

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Atomic 7 co-founder Ginger Corbett demonstrates the process.

As I poked at a vegan-friendly salad piled with mixed greens, cucumbers, shredded carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, sprouts, avocado, onion, nuts and seeds, I recalled a night of bowling with Morgan Spurlock.

Yes, we bowled, Morgan and I, two years ago. It was one of the great parties (and there were many) hooked into the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival. Spurlock was a member of the jury awarding awards to the best documentaries.

The bowling event was sponsored by Screen Actors Guild. It was held at Gold Coast bowling lanes and it started at midnight. All the trappings of a great party, in other words.

Spurock is the visionary who exposed the emotional and physical effects of a monthlong, all-McDonalds diet in the damning doc "Super Size Me." At the time he was producing the series "30 Days" for F/X, in which he spent that period of time living a particular lifestyle — he'd just finished spending 30 days living on minimum wage.

Spurlock arrived with filmmaker John Corey, who had wowed audiences with his thrilling and poignant documentary "Lost in the Fog," about an underdog horse (underhorse?) of that name from San Francisco. We were joined by CineVegas staffer Jennifer Cochis for a three-game series of guttural revelry.

Man, did we have a time of it. Spurlock is off-the-hook nutty. I think he had a 5:30 a.m. flight; we left the lanes at about 4. At one point, amid the splits, turkeys and high-fives, I asked him why he opted for 30 days as the duration for his offbeat first-person projects. He said that you need a true "period of time" to get a real feel for any new life adventure. It's a far different experience to work as a bartender for one shift than it is to spend 30 days working full-time at a tavern. In one shift, you might learn that a customer's favorite drink is a Crown Royal over ice with a twist of lemon. In 30 days, you might learn his family history, that he was raised by a nutty Uncle Ralph.

Spurlock also was interested that I was the one bowler not drinking. I told him I'd quit years ago, and the beer on the table looked to me like a Big Mac must look to him.

Or, like a Big Mac looks to me today.

In the spirit of Spurlock, 30 days ago I went vegan. I set out on the first day of summer on a personal and professional project I'm calling "My Vegan Summer," or "Viva Las Vegan" for this blog. This expands the "30 days" premise to more like 90, as the idea is to maintain a vegan diet for the entire summer, until Autumn begins Sept. 23. Thus far, I have not intentionally consumed any meat or dairy products since devouring a chicken entré and slice of wedding cake at "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" on the night of June 20.

What I can report, remarkably, even as a Las Vegas bachelor, is that I have been able to maintain both my diet and my consciousness as a vegan for 30 days. But I feel so new to this, still. I'll answer the one question I'm most often asked when I tell someone I'm vegan: "How's that workin' out for you?"

Not bad.

I'm not missing red meat, honestly, nor am I craving fish or chicken. But I am missing the dairy, and there are moments I would trample my musical hero and PETA enforcer Paul McCartney for a single pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey.

I dream, still, of the ultra-cheesy veggie pizza at Bootlegger Bistro.

But there is something to be said for your body feeling clean and lean. I've dropped between five and 10 pounds, down to about 200 after weighing in at 210 the day after My Vegan Summer began.

That's 210, nude, if the scale at the bus station can be trusted (thank you, Emo Phillips!).

Generally speaking, living vegan seems to have limited my previous dietary options by about 90 percent. It's good to know that when I pick up a menu. My eye goes to the salads, and my brain starts inventing dishes not listed, like, "Can I get the chef salad, but with no blue cheese, eggs, bacon, turkey, ham, ranch dressing and anything else I might find fulfilling? And can you replace all of that with garbanzo beans and five fistful of sprouts?"

That said, Go Raw Cafe is a Godsend. Two locations, one at 2910 Lake East Drive in Las Vegas (in The Lakes) and the other at 2381 East Windmill Lane, Suite No. 18. The house salad is described in the lead paragraph and rocks. I can also recommend the Mexicali Pizza, so I'll do that: Try the Mexicali Pizza. Loaded with Mexi "cheese," beans, rice, guacamole, salsa, sour dream, and hemp seeds (That's something you notice in vegan recipes, by the way. A lot of quotes. "Chicken," and "meat," like that).

Also, I'm convinced there is no purpose that cannot be served by hemp. You can build a subdivision with hemp. You can't sell it, but you can build it.

Over the past 30 days I've become a big fan of Whole Foods — land of the $17 salad — for its many vegan options. I've discovered the delight that is couscous. The tofu and edamame salads are fine, and this surprises me — on June 20 I would not have made such a claim. Eggplant, which I used to detest, is now "in play."

In fact, the purple plant figures in the best single vegan dish I've eaten so far: The Vegas Vegan burger at Burger Bar in Mandalay Place. The "bun" (quotes!) is actually two portabella mushrooms caps that are as large as wheel covers on a '57 caddy. Roasted eggplant is a prominent ingredient in this sandwich, which is also stuffed with marinated and grilled roma tomato, grilled zucchinis, sauteed peppers. Freakin' amazing.

Oh, and so is the oatmeal served at Peppermill — swimming with walnuts, raisins and brown sugar (but the Clown Sugar is just for show). Very fulfilling. My first week, I ordered the Peppermill oatmeal on consecutive nights. it's "the usual" (quotes) for me there.

And of course I cannot close without a nod to the restaurant I've visited most since this odyssey began (and even before), Red Velvet Café on West Sahara Avenue. The deserts are ridiculous, in the most flattering form of the word. Vegan tuna salad, vegan tuna melts, vegan taco salad. Terrific stuff. Aaaah, and the all-organic Atomic No. 7 is one of the finest dessert places, vegan-friendly or no, in the city. More on that shop, and all of these groovy haunts, as we progress. I'm eager to visit many eateries I've just learned about, too, like Rainbow's End Natural Foods, which is popular among my fellow vega-sauruses

You'll notice a void in this process, and that is I've not prepared much at home. What most people refer to as an "oven," I refer to as "hat cabine," and the fridge now is home to diet cola, coffee and ginger ale. I have made a couple of routine vegan-friendly pasta dishes. I've got organic peanut butter, soy milk, frozen dinners like vegan "spare ribs" and vegan "chicken marsala," (quotes squared!) which I believe are made mostly of pulverized and hard-pressed tofu. Fortunately Go Raw hosts food-preparation courses once a month; the next is Sunday, and I'm promised (ahem) VIP treatment. So pass the spatulator. Or whatever.

There's a lot to learn, a lot to live. People seem concerned about protein in a vegan diet, which for me comes primarily from nuts (every snack is nuts for me, I tell ya) and any form of whole or smashed bean. I still take my battery of multivitamins — after some consideration, I am back to taking fish-oil tablets, when for the first two weeks I did not. I've added a B-12 complex, too, to my daily One A Day Men's Health multivitamin. I might drop the fish oil. Who knows?

It's crazy, I know.

I'll be checking back as events merit — and baby, there have been many events to report — and meantime, if you've got any groovy recipes, pass 'em along. We'll start swapping, like their Grateful Dead bootlegs.

Rock on, vegans...

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