Ten years ago, Marc shared an experience with his wife Lynn that encouraged both to adopt a vegetarian, and then a vegan, diet. Here, he talks about handling business dinners at steakhouses, how he shops for professional clothing, and making time to cook on a regular basis.
You live in Baltimore. How long have you been there?
I’ve lived in Maryland since 1991 - that was actually the first time I lived in the US. My dad was a Foreign Service officer, so I was born in DC, and three weeks after that, we were in Germany. From then on, we lived in a lot of different countries. It added a lot of color and open-mindedness to my personality, I like to think.
You went vegetarian with your wife, Lynn, after you both had the experience of driving behind a chicken truck, and reading a jarring article in The Washington Post. What was that experience like for you?
Seeing that was like an off switch for me – no more meat. Because that is what it looks like. As a kid, I assumed, “This is America, we do everything right, and in the best possible way. Animals are food, but when they are processed, it must be so quick, they never feel it.”
Once I saw the truck and the article, I realized that’s not the case. It opened me up to the ethical aspects of deciding what to eat.
And then, you went vegan after volunteering at the animal sanctuary where Lynn worked. Was that hard for you?
I loved cheese and dairy. I didn’t drink that much milk, but cheese was a big thing for me.
I try to be a strict vegan. I went out and got a vegan tattoo – so I’ve got “Vegan” on my arm.
Why did you choose to go vegan, and opposed to just eating more sustainably produced, ethically raised animals?
I like the concept of free-range. But the problem for me is – if a truck comes to take the animals, that free-range animal ends up in the factory process again.
Once I became a vegan, I couldn’t separate the food from the animal. I’ve always had pets, and I don’t see the difference between a parrot and a chicken, or a dog and a pig. There’s food on my plate, but if it was an animal, and I don’t want to eat it.
Your job requires you to have dinner meetings with colleagues and clients. I imagine that being vegan in those circumstances can be difficult.
In a business environment, everything is about going to a nice steakhouse. So, I’ll go to a steakhouse, and that’s fine. But, I will get a salad - which, for men, can be a dainty decision. So, then it comes out – “Wow, you don’t eat meat? I never would have thought that.” Many of my colleagues think all vegans are hipsters and really skinny.
What do you say to them?
People will ask me, “Why did you make such a hard decision? What drove you to this extreme?”
And I try to gently touch on it – I’m not trying to scare people, or disgust them. I’m not going to push a pamphlet in front of them, because that’s almost what they’re expecting. I just try to gently explain that that is what drove my decision.
How do your colleagues respond to that?
If I approach it in a rational manner - I’m not attacking you - they accept the decision. They may not necessarily say, “You know what, I’m going to try this,” but, they don’t instantaneously shut it out, either.
You can see it in their faces, the recognition of, “Oh wow – battery cages,” – people don’t know that concept . Because, the industry doesn’t promote how they process and rear those animals. If you touch on it, you can usually see an “a-ha” moment for others.
How did you develop this approach?
When Lynn and I made this decision, we made friends with some of the members of local animal rights organizations. We hung out with a lot of them, we got to know them. And, I like them, I love what they stand for, but how they approach condemning the argument – I also see how it scares a lot of people. I don’t know that fear is always the best tactic. So, I try to avoid that.
Have you ever been tempted to go back to your old diet?
No. Never meat. Fakin’ bacon smells great to me, but real bacon? I know what it is. And the reason why I don’t even want it, is because my decision was based on ethical reasons. People who do it for health reasons – “I want to be a little healthier, I want to lose some weight” – it’s so easy to make that slip back into eating fish or chicken.
Have you always been someone who cooked? Or, did you become more of a cook when you became vegetarian and then vegan?
I always have cooked. It’s something I got from my mom - always take time to prepare a home cooked meal. Dinners around the dinner table – that was important. You sit down, you enjoy, it’s a moment.
I would not say I’m a chef. But, I can cook.
Did you face any challenges in altering the way you shop for groceries?
What’s challenging for me, is having to read ingredients. There’s always something to watch out for – there could be honey or casein in certain products. I have to read this long block of information and determine for myself – is this ok or not? It can be frustrating, sometimes – I just want to buy something and go!
But, when I look around, and I see people blindly grabbing stuff without consciously thinking, “What is this thing I’m buying?” that sort of reinforces my desire to read ingredients.
What advice or tips can you offer to those who don’t have much time to cook?
If you’re going to be vegan or vegetarian, you‘re probably going to have to cook more food at home. If you want to make that decision, you have to make that commitment to cook.
I know many people don’t cook and don’t want to. I happen to like it.
I work in DC, but I live in Baltimore, so it’s an hour commute. I get home, walk the dogs with Lynn, and then spend an hour cooking. I think I’ve just accepted that the last block of my day is me making dinner.
How do you shop vegan? I imagine that for professional clothing and briefcases and things like that, it’s a challenge.
That is a lot harder than my diet.
I stuck with my leather shoes until they were done – I committed to no longer supporting the industry, but I wasn’t just going to throw them away. And, now I wear what I call my plastic shoes – they look normal, I even get compliments on them, and they’re vegan.
I go to Payless. You can go to Moo Shoes. There are options out there. It’s not as quick as going into a mainstream store and buying shoes - it’s like taking the time to reading ingredients.
I have a man-made belt – I’ve had it for five years now, and it’s fine. It’s not Gucci, but no one looks at me and says, “That’s a fake plastic belt.”
What do you see as the greatest benefits to your vegan lifestyle?
Guilt-free eating. I am very happy with my diet. It’s healthy and it’s cruelty free through and through. It’s just a joy to eat.
Mark’s seitan steaks are a joy to eat - stay tuned for the recipe!