In the winter of 2013, Beyoncé announced she would be sticking to a strict vegan diet for 22 days — a challenge rooted in the belief that a habit is formed within 21 days.
It seemed Bey's health kick was an effort to remain ahead of and affixed to a celebrity-wellness trend that her BFF Gwyneth Paltrow was now single-handedly spearheading (much to the chagrin of Martha Stewart). However, when Bey stepped out days later for lunch, in a pizza-emblazoned ensemble, it was clear she had a sense of humor about her newfound health regime.
beyonce pepperoni pizza ensemble! http://t.co/rEeQ6E4XYn
— Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) December 6, 2013
After all, Beyoncé has practically made a career out of anthems lauding the bootylicious female form.
However, ‘Yoncé stuck with the diet — and teamed up with her fitness trainer Marco Borges to develop 22 Days Nutrition, an at-home vegan delivery diet. Bey swears that if she can master it, anyone can.
I took that as a direct challenge.
It should be noted that I don’t necessarily have any hang-ups about my body, per se, and my relationship with the gym is an open one, but I’m a Texan girl who eats steak once a week. Could I be radicalized to adopt a vegetable-based diet? Would it give me the energy to release an album in the wee hours of the night? But more importantly, what it would be like to literally consume the ideals and standards of a celebrity? I had to find out.
I reached out to the company and they agreed to send me a four day trial of food in a few weeks — news which made me both excited and begin to perspire, slightly.
When the package arrived containing the meals that would sustain me for four days, there was a certain buzz about this diet that had already settled within the office: it was as if Beyoncé, herself, was in the building, whipping up vegan delicacies and new beats in the kitchen. She was not inside the styrofoam ice box, but rather her ideals were — and I suppose, there was something sacred about that.
Day 1: Penne provencal & banana walnut breakfast muffin
After spending the weekend gorging on my usual diet of Old Fashioneds and Seamless take out, I awoke Monday morning to face my 22 Day Nutrition diet. Incidentally, this week coincided with my birthday, which I have historically used as an excuse to drink heavily and let other people buy me expensive dinners. Not this year, though. It was time to reach for my vegan meal. While the packaging was ***flawless, the contents were suspect.
Obviously milk is not an ingredient in any of the prepared dishes, but every food item seemed caked with a colorless, thick paste. From the pasta to the rice, everything was awash in off-white, mossy greens, and dull brown. I grabbed 2 things: Penne Provencal and Banana Walnut Breakfast Muffin, and headed for work.
I arrived just in time for lunch, because disclaimer *I don’t eat breakfast, ever*, so I heated up the penne and took a seat next to my co-worker., We both peered into my bowl with doubts, but I fearlessly launched into my meal, only to find the first few bites were surprisingly good. Well, I’ll be. I kept chomping down in between vague references to Beyoncé and how environmentally unfriendly the plastic packaging was, when I noticed that this combination of zucchini and brown rice pasta was incredibly rich and heavy over time.
I needed a breather. I was growing full fast — lethargic, even — and set aside my bowl. I kept working, but my leather pants were digging into my growing food baby. I kept shifting to find a suitable position to sit; my co-worker started laughing at me. I felt the gas rising in my belly. Finally I was burping uncontrollably. I was apologizing to everyone around me, but I couldn’t help myself. My stomach was tight, my energy was low and there was no way in hell a woman of Beyoncé’s magnitude could get anything done with this type of diet.
An hour later, still gassy, famished and panicked, I warmed up the Banana Walnut breakfast muffin. The smell hit me as I ripped through the vacuum sealed packaging: pungent, but not at all like bananas. While edible, the muffin hardened quickly, and I found it too tough to finish.
At this point, I was screwed and hungry. The gas did not subside, instead morphing into sharp pains. My belly was distended over my now-unbuttoned pants. And I was nowhere closer to going platinum in one week.
I left work, feeling bad for myself, and headed home where I indulged in a fruit salad and some tea in an attempt to settle my stomach. Grumbling and gassy, I fell asleep ashamed and having accomplished very little
Result: Gassy and irritable
Day 2: Bikini Beach Brown Rice & Cauliflower "Mac & Cheese"
The next day, there was a pit of nerves in my stomach where my appetite used to be. But I carried on in the spirit of journalism — or at least in the spirit of Beyoncé.
I decided upon the Bikini Beach Brown Rice for lunch, because I adore mushrooms and kale, and couldn’t resist the comical name. It's shameless in its pandering to a Western woman’s (alleged) fears of wearing a swimsuit in public. Perhaps there's a direct correlation between this meal and the dance move below?
At work, I received a text from the guy I’ve been seeing, who was dead set on making me dinner for my imminent birthday — lamb with ceviche, mind you — but I didn’t reply. I couldn’t be broken…at least not this soon.
While I was heating up my lunch, a co-worker quietly asked about the diet, her eyes wide with curiosity.
I told her it hadn’t been treating me well, but I assumed to be a rigorous vegan like Beyoncé, sacrifices must be made, namely happiness. I showed her my “bikini” lunch and proceed to dig into the mush, scrounging for the mushrooms on my plate like a truffle-hunting dog.
The meal was… edible. Tasteless, but edible. I was relieved.
I texted the guy: The lamb dinner will have to wait. I was on a quest to make this vegan thing work. He was disappointed, I was disappointed, we were all disappointed that no lamb would be eaten.
At home for dinner, I decided upon Cauliflower “Mac and Cheese." The quotations are intentional, of course, seeing as cheese is sacrilege to vegans. I shuddered at the thought of what would exactly be “cheesy” about this concoction. It was “nutritional yeast” and elbow pasta, which I have never had, but I indulged myself.
The faux cheese tasted like, well, nothing. It was devoid of flavor and unsatisfying, and I grew bored of it quickly. Pushing my bowl away, I pondered cheese pizza and of course, lamb, instead.
Result: Nervous, but there were mushrooms, at least
Day 3: Oriental Mushroom Lentils with Sesame Broccoli
Anything labeled "Oriental" in 2015 is worth heckling, right?
I haven’t eaten lentils since college, to be honest, and as the steam rose from the bowl of these ashen legumes, I realized exactly why. I sighed and sunk into my bowl of politically incorrect edible doldrums.
The taste, you ask? Well, taste was not a factor any longer. Lentils will never taste like a rack of lamb (yes, I was still stuck on that), but these meals will never taste the way they do when Bey’s vegan chef prepares them, either. Bey, like myself, is a Texan girl with a Southern mother who raised her most likely on foods fried in Crisco oil. As Beyoncé has said before, she’s just a “natural fat person, just dying to get out.” To detach yourself from the the rich cuisine of our upbringing takes self-discipline — and a whole army. Bey may be eating lentils, but I know for a FACT they taste nothing like the uninspired bowl that was in front of me.
If it sounds like I was hangry, I was.
I finished reluctantly and figured I deserve some alcohol. After work at an art opening, my stomach grumbled as I imbibed white wine. I couldn't be bothered to ask the cocktail waiter if was vegan, so I sipped away and ran into a slew of colleagues who asked me how my birthday week was going. Cake… My mind turned to cake, and milk, and eggs.
I told them of the diet and they were all ears. “No, no, it’s awful. I’m hungry and gassy and the food is tasteless,” I assured them. Tipsy, I followed them to dinner, where I ordered a kale salad and something called a “Royal Crown”, which seemed to be somewhat in keeping of my whiskey diet. Oddly, I didn’t get wasted, despite having eaten nothing but plants all day..
Result: Boozy lentils.
Day 4: Cinnamon Date Oatmeal
It was the last day of my diet — and my birthday. I awakened to a slew of texts and phone calls from my family and friends, and the promise of cake.
I arrived at work and heated up some basic-ass oatmeal that appeared congealed. I was about to slather it with honey, when my co-worker shrieked at me at an ear-piercing pitch: “HONEY IS NOT VEGAN!”
Something inside me broke. I put down the plastic bear bottle, chuckled something nonsensical in reply, and knew that as soon as I finished the oatmeal, I would be done. I would eat cake and something that had a mother, because I couldn't have another person tell me what I can or cannot eat. It was my birthday, for fucks sake! I was spiraling…
I left work early to meet my bestie for lunch, where I ordered a fish sandwich and a Hot Toddy. It was surely 5 o’clock somewhere and I was sure Bey eats fish.
I spent the rest of the day on a shopping spree in the beauty and fragrance department at Barney’s (which is like food for the soul), and then consuming more alcohol with my brother and his co-workers, getting supremely (and rightly) hammered. At the end of the night an Uber drove my omnivore butt home.
Result: I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want… But I'm certainly no vegan.
I may have spent four days poking fun at Bey’s food politic, but I am in awe of Bey’s capacity to stretch her body and her artwork (which, in some ways, are one in the same) to unyielding ends. For what was her visual album Beyoncé if not proof that her enviable body, in its ability to contort, twist, and reshape into any form she chooses, is perhaps her greatest masterpiece? Wound into a corset or unfurled in a Houston Rockets basketball jersey, Beyoncé’s body is an instrument she uses to convey her message.
But the endless and merciless pursuit of maintaining that body seems to have been growing on the singer. “Pretty Hurts” is a ballad concerning the demands and pressures that the pop star has had to endure in order to maintain her enviable figure amidst an unforgiving media quick to body-shame. From eating disorders to invasive plastic surgery, the song tackles the ugliest sides of physical upkeep. Turning vegan is hardly a sacrifice when compared to other dangerous solutions.
Perhaps that sounds shockingly un-feminist — but from Beyoncé's earnest interest in wellness and physical strength, it would appear that her physique — and the maintenance of it — is a source of empowerment. For me, it was a point of weakness, but at least I tried. That much we have in common.
Marjon Carlos is a style and culture writer for Fusion who boasts a strong turtleneck game and opinions on the subjects of fashion, gender, race, pop culture, and men's footwear.