Society Café’s vegetable tasting (FROM TOP): king trumpet mushrooms and roasted beets, quinoa pilaf, grilled artichoke, All Things Green
Last spring, I came up with a crazy idea while dining with a friend at a Dallas steakhouse. Before that fateful dinner, I’d known she was vegan, but I’d never actually eaten out with her until then. So watching her take an excruciating 15 minutes to successfully order a vegan dish took me by surprise.
Me, I just ordered a filet. Didn’t even open the menu.
Intrigued by the challenge of her lifestyle choice, I vowed to return to Las Vegas and follow in my friend’s footsteps by going vegan. I would embrace the lifestyle completely, I decided, but after 90 days I would reevaluate. I just wasn’t ready for a permanent commitment to a life without meat, cheese or any other animal products. On June 22, my experiment began. As it turned out, that very week, none other than Steve Wynn was in sun-washed St-Tropez taking his own last non-vegan bite of food. At least I was in good company.
A Meatless Strip?
One of the many differences in Steve Wynn’s going vegan and my going vegan is that one of us has serious sway in changing the food culture of Las Vegas—at least at the two major casinos he owns on the Strip. After taking the plunge himself, Wynn and then-president of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore resorts Andrew Pascal decided that there should be vegan options at all of the hotels’ restaurants—the employee café, The Buffet at Wynn, SW Steakhouse, Sinatra, Stratta, Switch Steak, Lakeside Grill, every one.
All of these choices made my own experimental diet much easier, I’ll be the first to admit. But seven months after the big boss went vegan, my curiosity began to take hold: I wanted to know how one man’s decision had affected the masses. Veganism is a pretty tough sell in hedonistic, steakhouse-centric Sin City, even if said steakhouse is named after the salesman. Regardless, even Las Vegas die-hards live in the era of Whole Foods, where stick-thin Hollywood celebs continuously tout the latest and greatest macrobiotic or raw food diet.
So I was optimistic about Wynn’s hold on his own employees at least—how many had followed his lead? After half a year, exactly zero had made the full leap, at least that I discovered, although many tried it for short amounts of time. More than a few, however, had gone vegetarian. The tourists passing through were harder to assess. For one thing, the vegan menus themselves have become immensely popular, especially at Tableau and steakhouses like Switch Steak, Botero and SW Steakhouse. “A lot of people order the vegan appetizers because they’re so beautiful and tasty,” admitted one waiter, “but then they go for the rib-eye for their main course.”
Veganism Wins...Sort Of
As curious foodies were throwing off my study at every turn, I, too, became a statistic, albeit one with a new appreciation for portobello mushrooms. My own veganism ended after my original 90-day allotment. During that time, I did feel good that I wasn’t putting anything unhealthy in my body—aside from too much coffee, which is vegan but not good for you in my multiple-cups-per-day regimen.
But it just wasn’t for me. The experience, however, left me with plenty of advice to dish. For starters, before you make the switch, you should understand that for the first several days, maybe two weeks, you might suffer from uncommon irritability. ( typical conversation: Friend: “Did you see America’s Got Talent last night?” Me, yelling: “That show would be a lot better if anyone on the show actually had talent!” Friend: “I can’t wait until you start eating meat again.”)
There were also digestive and gastrointestinal changes and consequences that I won’t detail here. I had a problem keeping weight on, too. During the final two or three weeks, I felt as if the pounds were just dripping off me. (In total, I lost 15 pounds and my cholesterol dropped 50 points.)
Once, during an interview with Olivia Newton-John at The Venetian, I noted I’d gone vegan. She told me that she had lived this lifestyle for a few months several years ago and asked how much weight I’d lost. “Ten pounds,” I said. This was about eight weeks in. “You will lose more, I promise,” she said. “Everyone does.” Right, Olivia!
What didn’t happen nearly frequently enough was preparing my own food: I refer to my oven as my “hat cabinet,” and the refrigerator is where I keep my bottled water chilled. Such is the bachelor life in Vegas (and probably anywhere). It’s an eating-out life, and I did well to survive the vegan experience. No more, no less.