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A Food Writer Takes on the 'Taco Cleanse'

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MELISSA HASKIN
  • Melissa Haskin

Visit Phoenix Books in Burlington, and you'll find an entire display devoted to tacos. Taco books, taco socks — tacos, tacos, tacos. The display was inspired by a new book called The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven To Change Your Life, which has been selling strong since it came out last month. Written by Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger and Jessica Morris, who are based in one of the world's taco capitals — Austin, Texas — the book recommends tacos for what ails you.

Are they serious? Not entirely. The book is filed under Amazon's Cooking Humor category, where — no joke — it's the No. 1 best seller. And the authors report unlikely results of following their diet ("Our skin glowed, our walks were jauntier, and Wes's beard grew at an alarming rate").

They kept up the ruse over email: "So many cleanses are about deprivation. We wanted ours to be about filling yourself up with delicious food." But if you read the copyright page, you'll find a small disclaimer: "Although the recipes are intended to be accurate and tasty, all other content is solely intended to be hilarious." 

Still, eating tacos all day sounded alluring. If a cleanse lets you eat all day, sure, I'm in. I decided to take them literally, and, gauging the rest of the internet (ahem, People magazine), we're not the only ones who did.

For 72 hours, I decided, I would eat tacos. It would be glorious. Salty, cumin- and chili-spiced beef piled into a taco shell doused with a million shreds of cheddar and a small mountain of sour cream. What could go wrong?

The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven To Change Your Life by Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger and Jessica Morris, the Experiment publishing, 224 pages. $17.95. - MELISSA HASKIN
  • Melissa Haskin
  • The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven To Change Your Life by Wes Allison, Stephanie Bogdanich, Molly R. Frisinger and Jessica Morris, the Experiment publishing, 224 pages. $17.95.

I called the publisher and asked for a review copy. While I waited, I imagined taco combinations: pulled pork, chorizo, maybe some exotic spices...

When my book arrived, I flipped the pages to learn what I was in for. Just what I thought: tacos for every meal. Breakfast? Eat tacos. Lunch? Eat tacos. Dinner? Have a taco. Still hungry? You need more tacos. Thirsty? You probably need a margarita.

You read that right. The book approves of margaritas. Actually, it almost encourages them, as this sample meal plan reveals:

BREAKFAST: Breakfast taco. LUNCH: Leftovers taco: leftovers from earlier in the week in a taco. DINNER: Go out for dinner at your favorite taco restaurant. SUPPLEMENT: Grab a drink while you're out for dinner.

Margaritas plus tacos equals cleanse? Yes, I have made an excellent life decision, I thought to myself. The only problem I could foresee was that I might get fatter.

But then I saw the snafu: It was vegan. The damn cleanse was vegan.

In seconds, my dreams of sour cream-filled tacos and gooey cheese were gone. I said good-bye to dairy and embarked on a 72-hour journey into vegan taco-ism.

The rules were simple, if inexplicable:

  1. A taco has only one fold.
  2. Tortillas must be flat‚ not bready.
  3. But waffles are the exception.
  4. A taco must be handheld and portable.
  5. A burrito is never‚ ever a taco.

(But, the authors explain, you can always open that burrito and refold it into a taco.)

This was my first cleanse ever, so I was going to do it right. I followed the rules to a T, even taking tortillas with me when I joined a friend for an Ethiopian dinner.

During my three days, I ate all sorts of tacos. For my homemade taco base, I turned dried Vermont-grown pinto beans into refried beans spiked with chipotles in adobo. I went out to eat and had wonderful seitan tacos. (OK, that was a joke. My one piece of advice for you if you go on this cleanse is to avoid seitan. Do yourself a favor and buy nice fresh veggies or make a tater-tot taco — yes, the book has a recipe for that.)

Though I knew the taco cleanse was somewhat a joke, I wondered: Could a taco cleanse actually work? I reached out to some experts to see what they thought.

To start, I called Krissy Ruddy, a certified holistic health coach who threw a Raw Vegan Taco Party at City Market/Onion River Co-op last summer. Her workshop description even made that prospect sound good: "We'll turn walnuts into a perfectly seasoned, crumbly meat-free taco filling, with fresh and zesty tomato-cilantro-lime salsa, and creamy, tangy cashew sour cream."

Ruddy and I chatted about her class, her love of tacos and her vegetarian lifestyle. She said she thought my cleanse was a great idea and offered simple advice: "In winter, your body needs warming food. Look for hearty seasonal ingredients, like butternut [squash]." She was right. On my third day I ate a sweet-potato taco that was just what I needed: comforting, warm, substantial.

But not everyone was sold on the cleanse idea. "Most cleanses are unnecessary and lead people into a cycle of going on and off diets," wrote Lauren Fowler, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Vermont Center for Integrative Therapy in South Burlington. In an email, Fowler explained that our bodies have natural detoxification systems, and the best way to support them is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods.

Dana Notte, a registered dietician in Williston, had similar thoughts. "The liver, among other systems, has the very important role of detoxing our body, and it is very good at it," she said. "Drinking nothing but juice, or eating nothing but tacos, isn't going to improve this process ... a healthy diet is one that emphasizes balance, variety, moderation and pleasure!"

Notte was right. Eating tacos didn't cause me to grow three inches, or lose three pounds, or start to sparkle. I didn't have an extra bounce in the morning or feel the energy of 1,000 children eating Popsicles. But I also didn't gain three pounds or feel more tired.

What the cleanse did do was push me out of my comfort zone and force me to rethink my idea of a taco. Could a taco have potatoes? Yes. Could a taco taste good without sour cream and cream cheese? Absolutely.

I'm not sure I'd recommend the taco cleanse, unless you really, really love vegan tacos and have a lot of time on your hands to gather the proper ingredients. If you want variety, you're going to end up spending plenty of time and money.

Sure, I got to eat a bunch of food, which most people on cleanses can't say. For the most part I enjoyed what I was eating and even felt good about putting it in my body. But in the end I learned the sad truth of an earlier warning from Notte: "No matter how much you love tacos, you will get tired of them."

That doesn't mean I wouldn't still go for a vegan taco like the phenomenal sweet-potato option at the Mad Taco in Waitsfield or Montpelier. But in the future, instead of following The Taco Cleanse exactly, I'll use it as a cookbook. Some of the recipes are downright delicious, and many of the ones I didn't try look enticing.

Take the Chocolate Raspberry Dessert Tacos on page 166: You start by making a soft taco shell with almond milk, then fill it with melted semisweet chocolate and fresh raspberries. I tried to extend my cleanse one extra day so I could gather supplies for this confection, but I didn't make it. Mid-morning, just after 72 hours had passed, I poured myself a bowl of old yogurt. Not the epic win I was going for to end my cleanse.

But now I have time to go shopping. So if you'll excuse me, there's a dessert taco calling my name.

My Taco Cleanse Diary

Sweet-potato-and-pecan taco - MELISSA HASKIN
  • Melissa Haskin
  • Sweet-potato-and-pecan taco

Day 1:

11 a.m. Purchase tortillas at New World Tortilla to take home.

4 p.m. I'm very, very hungry, and everything in the market looks good, but I know once I get home and start cooking I'll be fine ... except I have to cook these damn beans for, like, three hours.

6 p.m. I'm eating a tortilla with avocado, peppers and salsa and thinking, This isn't so bad. I can do this. Maybe it's because I was starving, but this is delicious; I can taste the unadulterated, fresh, bright veggies.

Day 2:

10 a.m. Shove my mouth full with half a taco, which is so stuffed it probably verges into burrito territory.

1:17 p.m. Realization: There's probably no actual nutrition in the tacos I usually make; they're just 50 to 80 percent sour cream and cheese.

5:25 p.m. Drink margarita at restaurant. Terrible vegan taco arrives; the fake meat is a mushy lump in a drippy, oily sauce. Try not to gag.

9 p.m. Attempt to fry plantain. Fail. Make snack taco with beans and potato.

10 p.m. Put candy cane in mouth — remove it immediately. Can I have a candy cane? I don't know. Set candy cane down. Turn on movie to distract self.

1:01 a.m. I'm really hungry. Contemplate breaking my cleanse because it's cold and late and I don't want to make a taco. The Force is weak with me.

Day 3:

9:30 a.m. Not hungry for a taco, but I pack one for my drive to Waitsfield.

10 a.m. Now I'm hungry and driving and staring at my taco in the passenger seat. Every time I hit a red light, I pick up the taco, but the light turns green before I can put the taco in my mouth. Considering eating like a caveman, but am headed for an interview...

12 p.m. Contemplate trying to drive home to make taco. Am too hungry. Order vegan-friendly option at Mad Taco. Taco is hearty and sweet and delicious and filling and interesting. This is what vegan tacos should be.

2:24 p.m. Need another taco.

3:40 p.m. Sweet-potato-and-pecan taco is sweet and satisfying. Shove it in mouth while running out door, wishing I had more time to savor it but knowing I am not good at eating tacos while driving.

5:30 p.m. Head to Ethiopian dinner with tortillas in hand. Arrive and realize that not only is everything vegan-friendly, but it comes in taco-type injera bread. Much rejoicing. But — don't tell — I had to use a fork. I think this means it doesn't count as a taco since I can't hold it in my hand (rule No. 4).

8 p.m. Home and hungry again. How am I always so hungry? I need to go on a diet.

8:50 p.m. Is there a support group for people who are always hungry? Could I get an avocado delivered to my house? Or a vegan taco?

11:07 a.m. Pour bowl of yogurt bought last weekend. It's all lumpy and gross looking ...

END CLEANSE.


The original print version of this article was headlined "72 Hours of Tacos"

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