I like to eat animals. That isn’t meant to be pompous and it’s not meant to be a political statement, it’s just a fact. Veganism always struck me as a sort of self-chastisement; another well-meaning, poorly-conceived form of liberal guilt. The world is cruel and your kale won’t save it.

That being said, I  believe our extraordinary means gives us the chance to reduce both our environmental impact and the amount of animal suffering necessary for our enrichment. And so, I’ve decided to eat vegan for a week to understand the lifestyle, choices and challenges of people who think differently than I do.

Ground Rules

  • Fish is bad
  • Poultry is worse
  • Red meat is the devil
  • Say goodbye to milk, cheese and other dairy
  • No eggs
  • No honey or royal jelly
  • Breads, pastas or other processed foods can’t contain any animal products
  • Nothing can use animal-derived products in any way

There are a few places where my experiment differs from true veganism. First, if a food happens to be processed in a facility with animal products, I’ll still eat it (given that it isn’t part of the ingredients). Second, vegans tend to avoid products with refined sugar and palm oil for certain reasons. I’m not worrying about that. Lastly, I’ll also continue to tie my leather shoes, buckle my leather belt and bind my leather watch strap to my wrist.

Day 1 – Monday

I immediately ran into problems. Breakfast was going to be sourdough toast with refried beans and avocado, but when I examined my can of Old El Paso beans, it turns out that they’re cooked with 2 types of lard. It was back to the drawing board. With nothing substantial in the apartment because we hadn’t yet done our shopping for the week, I elected to wait until 11am and grab an early lunch from Clover Food Labs.

The interior of Clover was clean and minimal. After the cashier assured me that the Chickpea Fritter (read: falafel) Sandwich was vegan, I ordered that and a cup of Chinese oolong tea and people watched while I waited. Clover attracted the crowd you’d expect. Lots of late twenties, early thirties professionals peppered with occasional older folks. It aims squarely in the middle of the Boston professional scene.

Now for the food. The sandwich was delicious and a very filling lunch portion for $8, around the same as a typical Boston food truck lunch. As an Oolong fan, I enjoyed the tea, but for $3.50 I’d skip it unless I had a craving. Final Verdict: Clover is a solid vegetarian/vegan spot.

At 2pm, I forced myself to down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so I’d have enough calories for the day. Within the past two months I’ve shifted from Skippy Chunky to the locally made Teddie brand. Less sugar, no salt and no hydrogenated oils. The Teddie factory is right across the street from Night Shift Brewing in Everett, MA, where you can smell the delicious child-endangering peanut butter wafting as you sip a glass of Santilli. If you like peanut butter, I suggest making the switch.

For dinner, I recreated the beans from a Blue Apron recipe based on Brooke Williamson’s Top Chef winning dish from Season 14. I mixed that with brown rice and mashed avocado for a quick, tasty meal using ingredients we had on hand.
Rice, Beans & Avocado

Shopping Trip

After dinner, we went to Whole Foods to stock up for the week. The combination of unusual speciality ingredients, massive amounts of fresh produce and Whole Foods’ general expensiveness led to a food tab 20-30% more expensive than what’s typical for a full week of meals. Turns out being vegan takes dedication in more ways than one.

I’ll leave you with these images of an $8 carton of VeganEggs™ (equivalent of 10-12 real eggs).

VeganEgg Powder

VeganEgg Tips
Food always seems more appetizing when it comes with “tips.”

To everyone who is going to get hysterical about this new poll that claims 40% of millennials support government abridging offensive speech to minorities, I share in your outrage. If this poll is remotely accurate, I’m ashamed that so many from my generation can consciously want to curtail any form of speech, when those same freedoms were so instrumental to progress in the Civil Rights struggle, women’s suffrage, LGBT rights and every other battle we’ve had to wage and continue to wage towards creating an equal and fair society. Recent social victories are pushing the pendulum in the right direction, but I sincerely hope we don’t give in to the temptation of punishing the other side by becoming the very monster we just destroyed. Our ideals, egalitarianism and social justice, are morally good. Let them stand to all scrutiny, no matter how ugly.

But why aren’t Baby Boomers held accountable for all the ACTUAL harm they’ve done? We’ll hear a lot about “thought policing,” from the right, who wants to marginalize millennials as we gravitate more towards progressive politics. Where is the same moral outrage for practiced policing policies, conceived and implemented by Boomers, which created a devastating, racist drug war that incarcerated millions and severely crippled black progress.

Where is the moral outrage about gun violence when it affects anything but white, suburban communities? We’ve fostered a culture of mistrust between races and ethnicities where, for some reason, white people can’t empathize with blacks who are needlessly murdered by overzealous, poorly trained cops. The Boomers, who witnessed firsthand the importance of questioning oppressive authority throughout the 60s and 70s, were somehow perfectly willing to roll over and cede power for tenuous security. All because they were easily duped into believing boogeymen want to kill them and take their stuff.

Where is the moral outrage about the changing climate, which we’ve continued to allow to deteriorate long after we wised to our own role. Sold away by the Boomers and Generation X-cess, so they could prolong their own petty luxuries a little longer. Millennials will be the ones who contend with the inevitable negative consequences (including food and water shortages that will disproportionately affect minorities and poor) long after the last Boomer is gone.

Where is the moral outrage about Boomers leveraging Millennials future, with cuts to education, healthcare and benefits spending in order to save the super wealthy more money. Money they don’t need that they don’t invest, so they can continue to not create jobs with fair wages. Without quality, free education through the collegiate level, minorities and the poor will not be able to compete with more privileged. Without universal healthcare, the financial hole grows deeper for those on the cusp. Without liveable wages for full time employees, people are forced to take second jobs that further degrade the stability that might allow the cycle of institutional subjugation to end.

The current social state of college campuses is harsh and reactionary and misguided. Campuses need be totally free and open centers for debate. There are no “safe spaces” in the real world, and millennials needs to grow up (quickly) and cut their shit. But make no mistake, this strife was perpetuated by spineless Baby Boomers, the “Me Generation,” who embraced a culture that benefitted themselves slightly without regard for the massive ripple effect on the poor and disenfranchised. You can’t start a fire on a wooden floor to keep warm, then get angry when the whole house burns down.

Don’t allow these fading old people to call our generation a mess without saying something about it. They’re the past, we’re the future and we need to be better than they were. We don’t have a choice, they made sure of that.

Last Saturday, for the first time in my life, I ran ten miles. The number looks impressive. I’ve had several people remark on “double digits” in the lead up to this first one. From any perspective, it’s a milestone moment in endurance training.

The sad truth for my poor legs, however, is that ten miles is less than 40% of the total marathon distance.

The encouraging takeaway from each of the long runs during this training plan is that my stamina hasn’t felt truly tested. Every week, I’m convinced I can squeeze another couple miles out if I had to. I’m resisting the urge. I’m training smart, steady and slowly.

I fear the amount of progress is lulling me into false confidence. Training comes with gains and plateaus. I haven’t hit the latter yet. But I know that I can’t possibly continue for the next 21 weeks free from frustration and setbacks. I’m remaining as optimistic as possible.

To test my fitness level on the way to the Disney Marathon, I signed up for the 39th Annual Ridgefield Pamby Half Marathon on October 4th in Ridgefield, CT. It’s hosted by the local Wolfpit Running Club and should be a great event. I’ll be using this race as my “Proof of Time” for corral placement in Disney. Since past corral cutoffs have been heavily weighted towards projected finishes beyond 4:00, I’m not looking to race too hard, overexert myself and derail a couple weeks of training. Anywhere between 8:30 and 9:15 would be a comfortable pace for the half and would probably guarantee I’m seeded in the top 25% of marathon runners in January. My tentative goal pace is 8:45.

The half marathon will also be an opportunity to test my race nutrition both in carbo-loading beforehand and fueling during the race. It’s obviously nowhere near as intense as a marathon, and running a reserved pace may not require the same habits as if I was attempting a PR (though anything will be my PR the first time), but practicing energy gel timing and the logistics of water station approaches is essential to success when I finally run the marathon.

So cheers to 10 miles, but I continue to look to the real challenges ahead. I’ll have another running-related post once I’ve completed the half marathon. After that, it’s the long journey from 13.1 miles to the 20 mile run 3 weeks out. Then race weekend with the prospect of a week in Walt Disney World waiting as reward.

Ever upward.

So I started a new job recently, hence a conspicuous lack of updates. But yay money.

Next up on the Northern European tour: Russia.

More specifically, two days in St. Petersburg, formerly known as both Leningrad and Petrograd, the second largest Russian city that sits at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. It is considered the most Westernized city in Russia.

Though Moscow was the traditional capital of Russia, Tsar Peter the Great moved the seat of power to the city named for him in the early 1700s. The influence of these years is on display around the city and without, manifesting in opulent palaces and grand Russian Orthodox churches around the area. The Hermitage, housing one of the largest art collections in the world, partially occupies the Winter Palace, which was the official residence of the Russian monarchs. It’s impossible to escape the history, even if it’s interspersed with the more modern and familiar.

After an early morning tour corralling, our first step was to go through customs, which was simultaneously awesome and terrifying. None of the other countries along the cruise route required a customs check (besides an easy one in Denmark at the airport) so it was already something new. When combined with the generally intimidating element of Russian military scrutinizing your passport, that passport photo being seven years old and 40 pounds heavier, plus my very suspect long, dark beard, I was little tense. The two Russian male personnel looked down at my passport and gave each other a look. They studied the photo, bouncing from my visage on the page to the one in front of them. The two then laughed a bit, joked that I was  heavier, remarked on my beard, then sent me along. It wasn’t the international spy thriller I was expecting, but I still breathed deeply afterwards.

The tour bus took a fairly direct route to the Hermitage, stopping briefly across the Neva River for some great photos and an opportunity to be accosted by Souvenir Salesmen/Pickpockets. Our first day was overcast, so the photos weren’t as vibrant as they could have been, but the view of the Winter Palace across the water was no less stunning. Our expeditious journey to the museum was to stay well ahead of the general admission crowds. As we were a specially designated tour group, we entered a couple hours early.


Our first introduction to the decadence of the Tsars was a giant marble staircase with bright gold statues, wall details and chandeliers. This led up to the throne room, where a large portrait of Peter the Great hung behind the red and gold chair. I won’t labor over every detail of this palace (and many others), but it was appropriately awe inspiring to view these places. All of the palaces have some degree of restoration because of destruction and looting after the revolution. Still, to know that these sights were typical of the Russian monarchy leaves no question why the communists eventually came to power.

The Hermitage was originally set up in a much smaller space adjacent to the palace. Another later addition makes the museum complete. We didn’t get to see all of the exhibits, naturally. It sounds like you need a couple days to enjoy the entire collection. But we did see some Renaissance art (including Davinci), some Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Rubens and various others. I’m not sure when I’ll ever get back to St. Petersburg, so it would’ve been great to see more. Time was limited, though, and there was still much to explore in the city.

Next, we saw Yusupov Palace (aka Moika Palace), the famous site of Rasputin’s murder in December 1916. We had a fairly quick walk through, but it was neat to see the actual rooms where Russian nobles carried out the deed. They wanted him gone because of his increasing influence over Tsar Nicholas II. Rasputin’s death was infamously drawn out. First he was given cyanide laced food and wine, which failed. Then he was shot at close range, which failed again. As he woke up from the gunshot, he attempted to escape the palace. Rasputin was discovered, shot again, beaten mercilessly. Somehow still breathing, he was then bound and thrown into a freezing river. His actions during WWI are seen as contributing to the revolution’s ultimate rise to power and even though his death was celebrated and welcomed, the Bolsheviks still overthrew the monarchy.

For lunch we had a multicourse meal that began with fish roe on bread, a shot of vodka and a glass of sparkling wine. Then came a simple salad with dressing (not Russian dressing, but I guess it technically was). Next, some of creamy, very tasty soup. Then, a floured chicken dish with potatoes. The dessert. I’ll go ahead and spoil it ahead of time, but this lunch was almost exactly the same as the one on the second day, save some slight variation in the soup and dessert. It was unusual and probably meant to cater to tourists unfamiliar with Russian food, but I would’ve appreciated a more diverse experience. The food was perfectly tasty, though.


The last two stops of the day were Russian Orthodox churches. The first was St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the second was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. I’m used to seeing occasional opulence from Roman Catholic churches, but nothing compares to how ornate and beautiful these cathedrals actually are. They don’t exactly adhere strictly to the modesty synonymous with Jesus Christ, but to each his own. It’s common to cover your hair in these buildings and, indeed, there were sections within that you couldn’t go without doing so. St. Isaac’s was the larger of the two and less traditionally styled. Tsar Alexander I opted for a neoclassical dome and column arrangement, as opposed to the more recognizable spiral domes of other churches (Including Spilled Blood). The latter was traditional, with green, blue and golden domes at the top of several towers of varying heights. Inside, images of saints, angels and Jesus are prevalent in painted scenes similar to Passion depictions in stained glass. Anyone, religious or not, can appreciate the detail of these places.


Let’s pause for a brief intermission that lines up with the end of our first day in Russia. These two days were exhausting. Briefly summarizing it conjures up memories of blisters and sore feet. One thing I learned on this trip was that I like my laid back sightseeing vs. action packed days. Staying in a place for a week, sightseeing casually, and living like a local appeals to me more than the Cliffsnotes version of a 300 year old city. Luckily, some impromptu happenings awaited us on Day 2.

The second day began with a canal tour through the city. There are a series of waterways that intersect with the Russian rivers periodically and allow you to see the significant sights from water. A photographer’s dream for the most part. As we floated along, an abundance of military equipment and soldiers were visible along many of the streets. Turns out May 9th is Victory Day, which commemorates the Allied triumph over Nazi Germany in WWII. Russians consider this their biggest holiday and this happened to be the 70th anniversary, so the planned celebrations were huge. The parade in Moscow’s Red Square was the largest ever. We got some good shots of The Hermitage and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, but these military displays dominated most views.



We escaped the city and drove 30 minutes to Peterhof Palace, the Russian Versailles equivalent. Many of the rooms here were recreations of their documented state during the reign of the Tsars. Between the grounds, the interior and the large fountains in the rear, I’ve never seen a more quintessentially royal location. It wasn’t the primary residence, but if I was picking where I’d like to rule, it would be a place like Peterhof. This was also one of our UNSECO World Heritage Sites.



Lunch, which I’ve already described. Only other notable was that we sat with a couple of offensively pleasant British Columbians who sickened me to my core.


So now, our driver was tasked with getting us to Peter and Paul Fortress, adjacent to large swaths of Russians out celebrating Victory Day. Russian police warned us we couldn’t pass a certain point because the street was blocked to automobiles for the parade. We parked about a mile from our destination and continued on foot. Russian children carried balloons of submarines and WWII era fighter planes, there were Soviet flags waving in force and staying together became exponentially harder as we approached the fortress. At one point, our walk was stopped completely by a procession of WWII era vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. Everyone seemed jovial, which cast Russian stereotypes of cold and removed individuals to the wind. Honestly, even in massive crowds, nobody ever seemed pushy or rude to us, and we were conspicuously out of place tourists. We grabbed some ribbons a girl was handing out; in my opinion, a cooler souvenir than the most decorated Faberge egg or Matryoshka dolls.


The Peter and Paul Cathedral, on the fortress grounds, is particularly neat because it contains the remains of 46 members of the Romanov dynasty. Morbidity and history converging nicely. It was another beautiful, elaborately detailed building. By this time, though, I was definitely ready to call it a day. Russia was truly amazing, but two full days of touring left me ready for a much needed rest.

Would I ever actively seek out returning to St. Petersburg? Tough to say. Viewing more of the Hermitage collection would’ve been great. Having an authentic Russian meal, equally so. Russia is a notoriously difficult country to navigate without the language. And supposedly dangerous. I was expecting to feel more threatened by pickpockets, but the element was largely absent besides that first photo stop. Perhaps the feeling would be present if left to fend for myself. After seeing so much, it’d be tough to justify a trip back on my own. Despite the incredible experience, it always felt like a country at arm’s length. The impromptu Victory Day celebration was fun, but I’m not drawn back like some of the other countries on the tour.

I also thoroughly enjoyed figuring out the Cyrillic alphabet. Still doesn’t stop me from thinking “Pectopah” in my head every time I see the Russian word for restaurant.


Maybe a Moscow trip is in my future.

Next Stop: Helsinki. I discovered a particular affinity for both Finland and the Finns.



26 weeks from yesterday, the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon will get underway at 5:30am. I’ll foolishly or triumphantly be among the participants. Our shared goal: Run 26.2 miles through the four theme parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex without collapsing from heat exhaustion.

I can still recall watching the Boston marathon runners along Comm. Ave. in my freshman year at Boston College. Obviously, it’s just another excuse for college kids to drink (non-alcoholic beverages, of course, I was only 18), but I couldn’t help taking a moment of clarity to scoff at anyone who would willingly subject his or her body to such torture for bragging rights. I was a little shit of a kid. Thousands of athletic, strong-willed people passed by and my only answer was derision. I’ve come a long way.


Disney bills their marathon as “The most magical race on Earth.” The starting line is on the road outside of Epcot. The route starts north towards Magic Kingdom. Parts of Miles 6 and 7 are inside the park. You pass the main entrance, down Main Street USA, turn right into Tomorrowland, swing around to Fantasyland, through Cinderella’s Castle, then out a side exit near Frontierland. The route then turns back south for the longest stretch between park encounters. During Mile 13, the race enters the rear of Animal Kingdom, ventures past Africa, through Asia and Dinoland USA, then exits the main entrance and begins heading east towards Wide World of Sports. This is the second long lull of the race, but also prefaces what I’m expecting to be the most motivating section.


The Wide World of Sports Complex hosts major collegiate, amateur and professional events. It’s also the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. I’ve never been, but photos reveal a sprawling expanse packed with pitches and fields. The circuitous route hits miles 18, 19 and 20 all inside its confines. A highlight is doing a lap around Champion Stadium, where the Braves play.

At Mile 23, the race enters Disney’s Hollywood Studios through the side entrance, doing a loop past most attractions and then exiting out the front. From here to the finish, the route never leaves major guest walkways, so I’m counting on the familiarity to keep me moving. There is a lakeside path between the Studios and Epcot area resorts, which is a little over a mile. Then comes the comforting visages of the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht and Beach Club resorts, as well as the Disney Boardwalk. We’ll reach the 25 Mile marker just inside Epcot’s International Gateway, journey past every country in the World Showcase, hit the 26 Mile marker in the shadow of Spaceship Earth, then it’s just two tenths of a mile to paydirt just outside the park’s main entrance.

The appeal of Disney for the first marathon attempt, as I’ve tried to describe, is always having that next magical landmark to reach. My Disney fandom might just propel me to finish the feat I mocked ten years ago. The beacon of Epcot, my favorite park and Spaceship Earth, my favorite ride, can’t be overstated. Armed with this (and a little bit of training), I finally believe I can complete this thing.

There are varying opinions on how long to train, especially for a first marathon. Having run fairly consistently for a year, a four month plan would probably suit me fine. I’m electing to do six, however, so I can feel confident in my level of fitness prior to the race. And so the half year commitment begins today. Weeks and weeks of long runs to look forward to, all culminating in a breathless finish outside the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow..

Wish me luck.