Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. – M. Twain
The old saying is funny even if you are a member of the offended party: How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll ****ing tell you. This is not an article on the benefits of veganism or the controversies it’s aswirl in. The idea is to explore the borderland where contemporary diet fads meet the post-truth age.
In the Trump era, post-truth is on an inexorable rise. No amount of in-depth research is allowed to stake out a bigger claim to truth than a celebrity’s spur-of-the-moment tweet. What bigot would trust Galileo over NBA player’s Kyrie Irving’s conviction that the planet is flat? Everything is epistemologically equal: science and religion, journalism and hear-say, experts and dabblers shake hands while facts ride off into the sunset. Post-truth covers a lot of ground from cries of Fake news! to circumstantial shitstorms to the surge in Flat-Earth disciples.
However, the term is often used in a media setting where it marks a changing of guards. The story approximates this: Whereas once a few, near-oligopolistic outlets and publishing houses ruled over what is considered fact/general knowledge, nowadays the media has diversified so vastly that the one-time arbiters of accepted knowledge have lost their monopoly. A multi-platform democratization of information and truth has taken place in the course of which the scientific and journalistic standards for fact-finding have often been left in the dust.
Without any scientific studies or statistics of my own, not even SurveyMonkey, I have noted that this new media landscape seems to give rise to a salient specimen of journalist: the *self-experimenter. From presidents they have learned that news and facts are created in the wake of whatever the messenger chooses to type. Rather than long-winded interviews with experts, much preferable to phoning authorities or questioning witnesses, the new journalists create the content by performing the experience/experiment themselves. This one-person-outfit has the added benefit of efficiency. In the post-factual era of obsolete stats n=1 is as good as n=100’000. The journalist becomes a method actor who takes risks, deprivations and bodily modifications upon herself to give the reader/consumer news they can identify with, lit af facts to be woke to. Plus the spectacle of getting there. The dividing line between these nouveaux newshounds, popular bloggers and (amateur) YouTubers on similar trajectories towards truth is fuzzy at best.
The *self-experiments, oftentimes ego-investigations, are diverse but they usually boil down to a forced march through a conspicuous aspect of pop culture. E.g.: one year of playing Fortnite two hours a day (I personally topped out at three minutes); half a year of only drinking water and eating kale; another half a year without alcohol (ouch! nooh!); four months without smartphone (followed, I assume, by a year without a job); a full thirty-one days in the middle of summer without any kind of media – the list goes on.
The last one I came across, particularly revolting, was a N.Y. bloke who inspired by men’s man psychologist J. Peterson, decided to go on a ten-day beef bender. It sounds too terrible to be true: only salted cow-meat and water for a week. There were pictures of this Gabbat guy with piles of T-Bone steaks packed in styrofoam piling up on his arms…to boost credibility? Because that is the other side of the one-person experimental media: Where does showmanship end and reality begin? What self-flagellation are the journalists able to endure and readers/viewers willing to tolerate? Suddenly the freedom from facts risks becoming an enslavement to spectacle.
Undeterred by all of the above, I took note of the fact that among the many experiments conducted, veganism although an over-the-top trendy topic is missing. This is because going vegan is itself considered to be a test. That is setting the bar low considering that even celebrities of maximum materialism subscribe to the animal-free lifestyle. Moreover it neglects the plethora of vegan meat surrogates and the unpredictable, fascinating effects they might have on one’s metabolism when consumed exclusively. Inspired by the Guardian’s A. Gabbat I resolved to go him one better: ten days of only consuming one single vegan meat surrogate [plus water]. The better to compare if the effects would be equally awful. Thus my torment took its course.
Day One: Restriction of Choice
Part of the idea behind a monomaniacal project is that there will be no more pain of choice. Instead everything is reduced to a simple everyday ritual so that the individual becomes an accessory to the objective. When I found myself, as often before, standing in front of the Migros’ fridges’ Quorn/Cornatur/Soy section where all the flesh substitutes hang, I was unpleasantly surprised, how varied they actually are. And this, mind you, is leaving aside Anna’s Best devilry of vegan delicacies (Vegio Raviolone Spinat, Taboule Oriental, Vegi Dim Sum Shao Mai, Couscous African Rub, etcetera). If you filter the Migros product range through the vegan sieve, you still end up with 330 products. So I had to make a ten-day-proof decision. I coughed up three criteria:
A – It should be very meat-like to emulate all those other challenges.
B – It should be crude and un-scrumptious to give my experiment a high degree of difficulty (disqualifying, for example, Cornatur Grill Ribs)
C – If there is no heater or micro-wave present, I should be able to face my demons and eat the (un)bloody thing raw. Without getting into serious gastrointestinal troubles.
Dear reader, I stood in front of the fridge a very long time indeed; the shelf-stackers must’ve begun musing on what mischief I was up to. Which indeed I was. Ultimately, I decided on spending the next 192 hours exclusively preparing, devouring, digesting and expelling whatever would be left of Cornatur nuggets. Coarse enough. In hopes of not looking stone crazy in front of tellers who I see twice a week, I only buy three packets and swear to space out my purchases across different branches. To be clear, I fundamentally like these nuggets but I was going to find out just to what degree exactly. (Day One, later: For dinner I limit myself to five nuggets. I almost make the grave mistake of covering them in Ketchup, violating my self-imposed code of conduct. Or as the cool French folks call it, my deontology.)
Day Two: Entering The One Dimension
I get up early to pre-fry my nuggets. There are two kitchen-nooks at our school but given the hellish miasma that would be caused if all teachers willing to were to cook, boil, sauté and whatnot, the more straightforward approach is to ban it. So I have to do it at home. Already I run up against the difficulty of my inexistent rule book: I don’t want to burn the nuggets but I don’t want to besmirch their purity either. And 06:30 is not the time to go on a wild goose chase for precedents by my siblings in the spirit. Nor do I know of any canon for *self-experimentation. I decide that one spoon of olive oil per four nuggets is the permissible and maximum amount of admixture with any other, foreign nutrients.
In the lunch hour I eat my eight nuggets. Usually there are nine but this one is different, just my luck. Then I drink my glass of water feeling that some of the E461 and sesame seeds might still stick to my gullet. Another glass, to be safe. This one-dimensional lunch of Cornatur is neither good nor bad, it simply is. Thereby perfectly reflecting the existentialist mood of
Mondays. Nor do I feel anxiety about doing this for another nine days, I just will. Everything is as it should be, except for the kids on lunch hour giving me amused, befuddled looks. I wave them off in my perfectly neutral Swiss voice „It’s an experiment. I have to research how long a person can survive on Veggie nuggets (the colloquial term)“. Laughter and a bedlam of questions ensue.
In the evening I decide to stick with five nuggets to establish a routine. My girlfriend shakes her head vehemently, she’s already deeply pissed about what I’m doing no matter what ingenious explanation I produce. Her luscious salad makes her look right and me feel wrong.
Day Three: Our Lady of The Fridge E. Kla
I wake up and immediately feel that something is off. Leaping off the mattress I make a dash for the toilet but instead of the expected landslide there is only a long, low, rumbling f***. I exhale down below and spatter residuals for a good ten minutes waiting for a fecal deluge that never happens. Then I make ready to take a shower but my cellphone, sometimes smart, sometimes spooky, informs me that I am a good two hours away from the start of my habitual snooze’athon. My other half, not necessarily better just different and a fitful sleeper at the best of times, lets it be known that she is entirely unhappy with this experiment. Without asking for it, she has become an uncontrolled variable, as unscientific as any post-truther could hope. I feel bad but I also realize: control variables are out of fashion anyway.
As I fry the Cornatur nuggets in crepuscular light, I am assaulted by a first sense of unreality: Again? This? I am one of those neurotic people who extremely self-consciously keeps changing up his routines, brands of beer, running routes and whatnot in hopes of squeezing a pulpy diversity of experiences out of life’s orange. This vegan monotony is counter-intuitive. I get the heat and timing perfect: the nuggets are golden.
In a state of dissatisfaction I have lunch. Feeling empty after nine nuggets, I quaff 1.5l of H2O. I cannot deny it, things are going badly already. For the lunch kids the novelty of my experiment has worn off. Instead they are trying to get me to play Fortnite with them; they sing its high praises but I only know so because of the adjectives they use, the nouns describing their virtual slaughters are alien, impenetrable.
In the evening we have to do a bit of grocery shopping; the possible wordplay isn’t lost on me. My variable half informs me that she demands I see the doctor later in the week to get a full check-up, threatening to kill me if I die of a heart-attack or the like. I inform her that according to Gabbat this is in the playbook anyway: the doctor, all that medical fake news. Then I stand in front of that fridge again. One of the female employees is smiling at me but I can tell it’s not flirty; she, her tag names her E. Kla, looks at me then glances at the Cornatur Nuggets, then back at me, smiles and disappears in a poof to reshelf elsewhere in a microcosmos full of forbidden delicacies.
At home, 7 pm, I prepare my nuggets in a flight of dark desperation. Subjective feeling: bad but survivable. Gut feeling: one solid block disconnected from the rest of my body. Instinct: For heaven’s sake Themba, break this off immediately!
Night of Day Three: Congress In Session
I stand at the lectern in front of the semi-concentric crowd and try to speak; in theory I have something important to say, something that would automatically cause world peace, somehow, but I’ve forgotten the precious words. I gaze out into the tiers of the UN general assembly, there are cows, dolphins, human beings, a walrus that looks like D. Trump and a sizable faction of fowl, they’ve all begun chanting into my silence. I listen up: COR – NA – TUR! COR – NA – TUR! COR – NA – TUR! …over and over again. And they are pelting me now with I don’t know what. I pick up one of the projectiles: an orange, marzipan M. Instead of waking up I absquatulate into a less threatening, less symbolic, less memorable dream. Later I do wake up after all, too early again, for my ten minutes of porcelain-seated flatulence.
Day Four: In Reference to Sustainability
This is my life now: nuggets, nuggets, nuggets. I stand in front of the four gas cookers and blast away, wondering how often and voluminously I may toot before our kitchen is consumed in a bright ball of fire. Basic physics. I feel horrid, I feel like I can’t feel the inside of my tummy. But then I wonder if I was ever able to feel the stomach itself, the lining of the gut, etcetera? The sounds of the flatulence, mine, are unfamiliar: a mean and high-pitched susurration as from arrogant air that resents joining other air. This is self-abasement begging for a reason. Even as a *self-experimenter I can still recall my journalistic motivation: at least one soul better read this silly article.
As I toss the folded carton into our recycling box and study the other three pieces already piled there, the question of sustainability reasserts itself. Why would a vegan product dedicated to the survival of our planet come double-wrapped in plastic then carton? They could print all the relevant product info on the black plastic or transparent cover, goodbye colorful cardboard. But paradoxically a plastic-only package would obviously look less environmentally friendly, especially when lacking the greenness of the carton. I shake my head as if to make all of this go away.
Teaching German, helplessly trying to convey grammatical basics and futile calls to the doctor, eat up my morning. On the fifth attempt when it’s time for a quick-fast lunch, I get through: booked solid for the week. I plead and implore while placating my insensate belly with my free left hand. The assistant, as is her wont, distrusts my claim to urgency. At last I resort to alternative facts, claiming I’ve been struggling with heart palpitations all night and morning. Which I fear soon enough will be true for real. I get an appointment for the following day, the halfway point, the point of no return. After that there are only twenty minutes left for my meal, I blaze through the Migros nuggets. An awful idea, as I come within an inch of reversing the lot of them. I am now officially and non-absurdly afraid that I might myself become a human Cornatur nugget.
I spend the whole afternoon in extreme light-headedness and as punishment for my Pinocchio phone-call, I experience what feels every bit like palpitations proper. Between lessons I send my girlfriend a lovey-dovey WhatsApp that in retrospect could be decoded as a goodbye message. I feel panicky. I curse myself. I fear my teenage anxiety might resurge. I spend a few of what are arguably the worst hours of my third decade in life.
When I come home I lie down, the feeling has been inverted and I feel unspeakably tired. I lie down on the couch and drop into a blackness out of which I am woken by my girlfriend. The gym? Not in a million million years. I try watching John and Tyrion for a while but slip into a fitful half-delirium instead. Around eight’o’clock I rise back to a semblance of wakefulness, stagger to the bathroom, spew vile matter for a while, then squirm my way bedwards. At some undefined later point in time Nomhle’s worried face swims into view and I try to assure her that everything is fine by which I mean to convey I will not die within the next 12 hours. Trying not to cause a mess in our bedroom, I repress the contents of my stomach, the notion of a five-nugget dinner and my subjective reality itself. I sleep horribly, as does my far superior half.
[…stay tuned for part II folks!…]