Don't be cruel: For Joshua Warchol, it's not just about nutrition — it's also about what the typical American diet does to animals
By Dan Champagne
WALLINGFORD — Joshua Warchol's future father-in-law loves his prime rib. Unfortunately, he won't have the opportunity to check it off as a meal choice at his own daughter's wedding.
"There will be no animal products in sight," Warchol said of his upcoming wedding to Tracy Lake. "There's nothing her father likes more than prime rib. He's a little bit disappointed about the wedding because the only time he really gets to eat prime rib is when people get married."
Instead, the guests will be treated to a vegan buffet in which there will be no meat, no eggs and no dairy products. There will be plenty of fresh vegetables cooked in olive oil, pasta primavera and even a cake made with soy milk instead of regular milk and either tofu or bananas instead of eggs.
Warchol, a 26-year-old Wallingford resident and the lead organizer of the Southern Connecticut Vegetarian Society, became a vegan about two years ago due primarily to an unlikely source. He gave up meat and dairy thanks to the efforts of comedian and actor Weird Al Yankovic.
Warchol got tickets to see Yankovic perform at the Oakdale Theater in July 2003 and decided to check out the comedian's Web site before the show. On that Web site was a link to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Web site.
That's where Warchol got a look at materials and videos about factory farming and animal suffering.
"I went from eating meat every day to vegan pretty much overnight," he said. "I ate more meat than anybody I know, but after I was looking at recipes and how everything was done and reading stories about how other people went vegetarian, it struck me that this was something I could do and there was no reason not to do it.
"I'm doing this because of the ethical concerns I have for the treatment of animals," Warchol added. "I learned that eggs are the worst and dairy is still terrible."
Warchol said the added benefit of being a vegan is that he feels healthier than ever and he has dropped 65 pounds in the last two years.
His fiancée came around about a year later, and now the pair share vegan cookbooks and recipes. Family holidays are a little tough, especially since some of Warchol's cousins are dairy farmers.
"That can be a little bit strenuous, but we're all very civil and we have some interesting discussions," Warchol said.
On Thanksgiving, Warchol brings a tofu turkey and prepares mashed potatoes with soy milk and margarine instead of milk and butter.
"I don't miss anything about the flavor or the textures, because all that can be replicated to any degree you desire," Warchol said. "The only thing I really miss is the absolute convenience of it. Meat products are everywhere. It's certainly less convenient when you have to think about what you're eating. I definitely cook a lot more and eat a lot less processed food now, but overall I don't miss anything about the taste."
The Southern Connecticut Vegetarian Society has around 65 members who meet throughout the year to share recipes and ideas. When they meet, each member brings a vegan dish for the rest of the group.
"From the moment Josh joined SCVS, he hit the ground running, said Peter Dean, the founder of the society, who now lives in Boston. "He'd attended every event since he's joined the group and he's always in a good mood and always has a smile on his face. He's like the cousin you always enjoy being around, because you get the impression Josh never met a person he didn't like."
The society held its first meeting on Jan. 26, 2003, which fittingly was Super Bowl Sunday — one of the biggest eating days of the year. There is also a Northern Connecticut Vegetarian Society, which meets monthly in Suffield.
"It's a community support system to help people who may feel like they're the only vegetarian in the entire world," Warchol said.
Warchol, a systems administrator for the Internet service provider DSL.net in New Haven, has helped Dean with the society's Web site, www.southctveg.org, and is also the webmaster of www.vegan.com.
Erik Marcus, the publisher of www.vegan.com and the author of "Meat Market: Animals, Ethics and Money," was the guest speaker at the society's meeting last weekend at Edge of the Woods Natural Food Store in New Haven.
"The Southern Connecticut Vegetarian Society is undertaking several new initiatives for growth and I have no doubt it will quickly become the primary regional organization for all vegetarians living in the central and southern part of the state," said Marcus, a resident of Ithaca, N.Y. "It's vitally important that groups like this exist since they help to show people how easy it is to make the transition to a vegetarian or vegan diet."
Joshua Warchol, 26, a Wallingford vegan, is surrounded by produce at the SpoonShoppe Brooke store in Meriden last week. (Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal)
Warchol added that not everyone needs to make the switch to vegetarian or vegan as quickly as he did. He said the lives of 80 animals are saved each year for every vegan in the world, but people could make a big difference just by eating one vegetarian or vegan meal per week.
"It's not a matter of limiting what you eat," Warchol said. "The easiest way to do it is to expand what you eat. If you add a new vegan meal to your diet each week, pretty soon you're going to be crowding out all the food you used to eat.
"It doesn't bother me when I go out with friends and they're having a burger," he said. "It doesn't bother me to the point where I won't enjoy my dinner. Would I prefer everybody was having a main vegetable meal? Of course, but it's not revolting or making me sick."
Warchol then got up from the table at Panera Bread in Meriden, leaving on the tray only one slice of his wild roasted mushroom crispani pizza, no cheese of course.