In 1984 my aunt, Phyllis, was the best female equestrienne in the world. That summer, she represented the U.S. in the Olympics in Seoul Korea. Phyllis has all the motivation in the world to ride. It's her passion, it's her profession and her reputation. Clearly, she also has the ability. And, she has Grandma Grace. When it comes to support, Grandma Grace, her mother, my grandmother, is a tour de force. What ever you are into, you'd be so lucky as to have her in your court. Grandma broke out her chain saw and tractor and built a cross country course on the family farm - jumps, water obstacles, galloping paths - so Phyllis could train. Where other U.S. riders had million dollar facilities and sponsors, Phyllis had Grandma Grace. She built a barn. Herself. Nuff said. In 1984, Phyllis finished better than any other rider on the U.S. team. Support clearly matters.

It goes to 11

finished product

On a scale of one to ten, my carnorvosim went to eleven. If it had blood coursing through it, there's a good chance I tried to cook it, or would have. And I'm not talking about being a steak and potatoes guy either. I was a fried pancreas, brains and eggs, deviled kidney kinda carnivore. I always thought I had a pretty decent diet, all things cosidered. We buy mostly whole foods and I ate veggies with just as much enthussim as I did a side of beef. But you know the punch line already, in September of 2011, Susan and I made some dramatic changes to our diet - we switched to a (mostly) vegan diet. It started as a four day expirement, then a week, and a month. In December I converted a wine refrigerator dedicated to dry curing sausages and other salty porcine parts back into, well, a wine fridge. It's prominent place in our kitchen should give you an idea of how much meat was a part of our lives.

The costs of healthcare in the US are increasing at an unsustainable rate.(Although interestingly, the rate has slowed over the last two years). The problem, though, is cost means something different to each constituent. To the consumer (hint: that's us, the patients) costs are co-pays, deductibles, and pay check deductions (premiums) for insurance plans. If you get insurance through your employer, then they are, in fact, the ones really footing the bill. If you are a provider - hospital, doctor's office, clinic, etc, and you read about the "cost curve", your thoughts turn to fixed and variable costs. Implants, food, meds, gauze, overtime, the CEO's salary, debt financing, consultants....it's all part of what goes int the infamous $15 aspirin.

So what's all this got to do with meat? 

In January of 2011 I weighed 215 lbs. I'm 5'8 (on a good day…with shoes… leave me alone). You don't need a BMI chart to know that's too much Nick to be healthy. I was active. I've had a life-long obsession with extreme skiing and, in order to maintain some semblance of ability, I've tried to keep in reasonable shape. I have a trainer at the gym - going 3 days a week - and could probably have run a mile. Who knows, I hadn't tried in a long time.

If any of this sounds dire, let's recalibrate. I've always liked the term bon vivant, it says it all about someone who loves the good things in life. Sure, I was carrying around some extra pounds, but I was still skiing double blacks; and if I could do that on a diet of veal tongue, brussels sprouts, and red wine, what's not to love? The side effects are always in the fine print.

In 2004 my doctor diagnosed me with mild hypertension, high blood pressure. I freaked out a bit, I'm way to young for that! So he ordered a stress echocardiogram. A stress echo is a test that involves, at least my my case, shaving your chest, sticking some electrodes on and running on a treadmill while the cardiologist plays the name game to see if you work with any of the other docs he went to school with. The pronouncement: hereditary hypertension, there's nothing I can do about it but take my meds. "You'll be fine," he said, "just take the pill and it's nothing to worry about."

The pill costs me $20 a month. Not bad, right? My insurance covers the remaining $30, which comes directly out of my employer's coffers. Still, not a huge price to pay, all things considered. But, something in the back of my mind told me I was too young to be on BP meds; at this rate, what's next?

The case for support

The last meaty thing I ate was an extremely large - and, I'll add, quite tasty - pulled pork sandwich from a food cart outside the Petaluma Market in Petaluma, California. I remember it vividly, including my sauce covered fingers working to stuff the thing into my pie hole. It was damn good! I was on my way to pick up a vegan coworker at the airport and intended to adopt his diet as an experiment for the next few days. What was I going to do to stash the evidence?

That night we ate at white table cloth, rather high end vegetarian restaurant in the Mission district of San Francisco. "What do I order?"

"I'm having the tamales, they are totally vegan"

"That's what I'll have too then…."

I had the ability, we were in the birthplace of the fresh food revolution in America. I also had the motivation, I was excited to try a four-day experiment. Four days of eating in the Bay Area with an established vegan might be the best way to recalibrate your diet ever. It's also all about support: the restaurants, the menu, the coaching, the lack of pressure since we were both on the same page food-wise…

When I got home, I told Susan about the trip and diet. "Here, let me cook dinner tonight, I'll show you the kinds of things we ate…" And with that, I had one more day under my belt. And, more importantly, I had another notch in my support belt. Susan was eager to try her own experiment with diet change and together we could be mutually accountable. We could also cook for each other and not worry about having two separate menus.

There are also other, less obvious forms of support. The privilege of eating a plant-based diet of whole foods hasn't been lost on me. It's sadly more expensive to buy a grocery cart full of veggies, grains and legumes in this country than a cart full of subsidized corn-based processed foods. Having the financial support to make substantial diet change is not something I take lightly.

See what I mean? Support, particularly in any behavior change, makes a world of difference.

In part 2…

  • Self Tracking
  • Data
  • My cost curve
  • And the big reveal