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The Unsatisfying Story of Vegan Penn Jillette

Every so often my husband will mention how he’s interested in becoming vegetarian. Yesterday he was telling me about Penn Jillette, the famous comedian from Penn & Teller. He had read how Jillette is now a vegan, saying with personal interest that Jillette said “he feels so much better now.” First I was perplexed, we are both Penn & Teller fans and as performers over the years Penn Jillette struck me as an unapologetic manly man, veganism seems totally at odds with his character. I also barked at my burger loving husband, “What would you eat if you became a vegan? What do you even like that’s vegetarian?” There was no reply because my husband leaves all the food decisions up to me and I am nowhere close to being a vegetarian myself. 

I wanted to know more about this so I go online and Google ‘Penn Jillette Vegan’ and found this LA Times article

“At 6 feet, 6 inches and 330 pounds, he was hospitalized for his high blood pressure and a 90% heart blockage. Already taking six medications, he was warned that early death was assured unless he got serious about his health.” 

Ahh the old loose-weight-or-die notice, I thought then kept reading. Penn lost 105 pounds by radically changing his diet saying that he wanted to challenge himself by going “hard-core vegan”. Good for him, but there was no real information, what was he eating precisely? You can be vegan and still be unhealthy, pasta is vegan. With hard-core pronouncements the whole article read like a bragging deflection of the unpopular-ness of being vegan. 

Unsatisfied, and frankly annoyed with Penn, I mean, how unfair to his wife was it for him to carry around 100 extra pounds through a decade of marriage? I needed to know what this “hard-core vegan” diet was. This article in Good Housekeeping sheds a little more light, and I have underlined the top points that I think made Jillette’s diet successful;

Under medical supervision, Jillette embarked on the "potato diet," eating only plain potatoes for two whole weeks

… This arbitrary but restrictive method is what's known as a "mono diet." After subsisting on spuds alone for 14 days, he started phasing in vegetable stews and salads for added variety

Despite the intense restrictions, the performer stuck to it, losing 75 pounds in three months without exercising until he hit his target weight of 225 pounds. The 64-year-old says the boring menu helped him break bad eating habits he'd fallen into before.

This type of 14 day restrictive dieting is supposed to “flush” all the old foods out of your body, essentially resetting your body for a new way of eating. I’ve tried it and it’s extremely difficult to do. It can also be dangerous and medical supervision is advised. I thought it was interesting how Jillette was using his mind on this, trying to challenge himself and use boredom to his advantage. 

"I'm not good at moderation. I wanted to do hardcore stuff," Jillette told GMA in 2016. "I wanted to lose the sense of eating socially ... It was just a way to lose all the habits I had gotten into.

That last statement, losing your habits, changing your habits, that really is what dieting is about. It’s worth more of a read, especially for anyone who wants to know more about dieting but what about the vegan? They didn’t use the V-word once in the Good Housekeeping article and I was still unsatisfied. Why vegan? Is he really not consuming any eggs? I Google further and the only websites that say “vegan” along with “Penn Jillette” are mainly vegan websites. But there’s a book!  Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales. It’s $6.22 for the paperback and weirdly, $12.99 for the kindle edition. What the heck is going on??? 

I’m not buying this book, I think, but I read the excerpt, a funny screed about him getting fat for a part and then all the bad health consequences of gaining all that weight. What’s nice about this is Penn is talking like a normal guy who like many men I know just did their thing not expecting any devastating health consequences. But on the Amazon page for this book, even after glancing at the reviews, I still can’t find any information about the vegan. I guess I have to read the book to know precisely what vegan diet he’s on and why?  However I’m not going to buy his book because 10% of the reviews are 1 star. 

After all this Googling all I know is Penn Jillette lost weight on some restrictive diet of potatoes, and is bragging about it to promote his book. Reluctantly I log into Twitter. He mentions being vegan in a bunch of tweets wearing it like a badge of honor. It’s like vegan is cool because he says so. I guess it’s politics? Maybe it’s too liberal or something to talk about veganism?  I wish somebody would have a grownup conversation about vegans! 

Farhad Manjoo must have had the same thought in Stop Mocking Vegans in the NY Times he says, 

“I want to urge you to give vegans a chance — to love and to celebrate them instead of ridiculing them. We need more vegan voices, because on the big issues — the criminal cruelty of industrial farming; the sentience and emotional depth of food animals; the environmental toll of meat and the unsustainability of its global rise — vegans are irrefutably on the right side of history. They are the vanguard.”

I agree, I am not a vegan myself but I respect them. I’m glad someone like Penn Jillette is now promoting it. His journey towards enlightened eating makes for a valuable story that I hope a lot of people can be inspired by.  I don’t believe in judging anyone on what they eat, I know that diets confuse a lot of people. I don’t need to lose weight and like my husband implied, it’s about feeling good — eating a lot of veggies makes everyone feel good.  Now I am going to take the husband challenge. I’m going to experiment with more veggie packed recipes, throw them at him and find some new favorite meals. 


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