I've been a vegan for a few years now, munching my morning trail mixes and afternoon bagels with avocado around the office kitchen, living in a nice but niche bubble. So I was pretty surprised when Beyoncé, whose lifestyle so hardly resembles mine, announced teaming up with her personal trainer on a vegan meal delivery service, called 22 Days. Gossip blogs yammering about ethical diet options? Queen Bey trying to play in my sandbox? I thought I'd test it out, order a week's worth.
The next Friday, a big cardboard box arrived printed with words like "Ripe" and "Nutty" and "Sooo Good" in a cute pea green. Inside was a plastic cooler—recyclable, like all of the packaging. In the cooler, slow-melting gel packs surrounded five pre-made, not-quite-frozen meals in standard microwavable trays. "Lunch or Dinner," they each said on the labels; specific days aren't designated, so the order is also up to you. For an impulse buy, a week of Beyoncé lunches don't come cheap: it was $92.45, including shipping, or more than 18 bucks a meal. Here's what it was like.
This crummy bowl of rice won't hurt you
Not the best start. Though I microwaved according to the instructions, the pre-cooked rice was totally underdone, so most bites were weirdly crunchy. The artichoke was a little flabbier than you'd hope, and the peas were a little less vibrant. There was a very suspect lack of saffron, an expensive but key ingredient in paella. The whole thing just wasn't super flavorful, but at least that made it seem undoctored. That's 22 Days' significant upside: their ingredients are just a bunch of plants. Everything's organic, too, and there's no gluten or dairy or soy. The stats are consistently solid: 500-odd calories with very low sugar and salt, and a boat-load of fiber and protein. This paella didn't taste great, but it didn't hurt my body, or any cute little pigs.
Beyond the Beyoncé connection, I was genuinely interested in 22 Days because, despite a general interest in food, I just don't like cooking. It takes a long time and leaves a mess to clean up—whenever I've got the extra bucks, I'd rather pay someone to make it for me and get another hour of my life to read. There is, however, one thing I love to make: paella, prepared according to a recipe from the restaurant Candle 79. There are 90 minutes worth of steps, but they're all easy and kind of fun, and the result is fuckinnngggg dank. So maybe this wasn't the most fair choice for my first day. Was the 22 Days version close? Of course not. But they've got four more tries to get better.
A best-case-scenario stew, and why eating vegan is worth it
Turns out they only needed one more day—this stew was super tasty. The rosemary was rich, and the stew had a nice garlicky bite, so I didn't want to add any spices or anything, like I did the day before. The kale and broccolini were, again, duller than something you'd handpick from Whole Foods, but the vegetable ratios were solid. I was fully on board, taste-wise, and feeling kind of giddy about it.
Subscribing to Beyoncé's meal delivery service is something you sort of want to make public—it's just funny to talk about—and as I took conspicuous photos and notes in the kitchen, a few coworkers asked me about the program's goals, wondering if it was designed to help people lose weight. Portions are being controlled for you, obviously, but 22 Days is wisely vague about its overall purpose. The delivery included a "welcome" letter, which said that "a Plant-Based diet and lifestyle should be defined by the individual and his or her own personal goals," and suggested that "a plant-based diet is good for you and also good for the planet."
For me, this open-ended approach is a welcome improvement upon Jay Z's announcement, in 2013, that he and Beyoncé were taking part in a 22-day "vegan challenge." (That challenge must've been the impetus for the business; the name comes from the idea that it takes 22 days to form a new habit, and that's how long their marquee plan lasts, at three meals a day, for a total of $629). "You can call it a spiritual and physical cleanse," Jay Z wrote back then. That rubbed me the wrong way because I believe veganism is the one way of eating that's not about you. If white bean stew makes someone's body feel clean or healthy, that's merely a happy side effect to a bigger, far happier benefit of not ruining a bunch of animals' lives—it's their well-being that I'm more concerned with. (If you're unconvinced about the ethical value of veganism, definitely watch "Meet Your Meat" or "You Can Help Stop This"—that's what did me in.) But for a business like 22 Days, I understand why laying out a case for better health will be more compelling for more customers than if they'd pushed an ethical one; I'm just glad they haven't diminished the logic of the latter with "spiritual cleanse" mumbo-jumbo.
With vegan food, everybody always wants to know the protein count
Microwavable meals at work are so public: they're stored in a common fridge for perusers to see, they're fragrant when cooked (sometimes to a gross degree—I'm looking at you, fish people), and they get consumed on the premises, instead of at some restaurant around the corner. The genius of 22 Days is to not only make a healthier, more ethical option, but to mail those conversation-starting, question-raising meals straight to your office, for all to see and consider.
Second to weight loss, the most common question from people around the company kitchen was "Does that have enough protein?" Today's mushrooms and lentils were, once again, nourishing yet simple, with 28 grams of protein—58% of the daily recommended. None of my 22 Days meals dipped under 50%. Out of curiousity, I checked the company fridge for other frozen options, and 22 Days had more protein than anything I saw from Trader Joe's, Annie's, or Lean Cuisine. One frozen burrito had a third the protein and 14 times the sodium. I don't know why people worry about protein so much—vegetables, grains, and nuts are plenty rich in the stuff. Look at how muscular bulls are, and they don't eat meat. (I didn't come up with this comparison; it was yelled on my subway train a few years ago by a fanatic pamphleteer. There's something beautiful about the idea of them and Beyoncé sharing common ground.)
At this point you can just do it yourself
Looking at it, this one's nothing to write home about: brown rice and some vegetables. In fact, it's something I eat really regularly at home. But the squash was really good, with just the right amount of cumin and turmeric. Some vegetable pieces were comically oversized, but that seemed almost like a good sign: not some skimp squash.
Comprised of simple, cheap, common ingredients, this dish in particular—but also 22 Days' prepared meals in general—feels far more homemade than gourmet. If you ordered it at a restaurant, you'd be let down by the chef's lack of creativity and adventure. But if it was coming from your own kitchen, you'd be pretty satisfied. It's utilitarian, doable. For the type of person susceptible to subscribing to a meal delivery service, that's just about the most inspiring thing imaginable. It makes you want to cook better food more, even if to just to make the same thing for less. That's not a bad lesson to learn for $18.
But the realization you can do it yourself is a good outcome for everybody
This last day was as boring-yet-satisfying as the one that came before, and just as encouraging that you can make it yourself. But I think that could be a good thing for 22 Days, actually. As one coworker suggested, the company is probably not aiming for a niche market of super-customers eating their meals exclusively; their goal is more likely to get everybody to try 22 Days once. Buyers who switch to homemade and don't renew their meal subscription aren't a problem so long as they've helped stir up excitement around the idea of vegan eating in the process. There's a line in the welcome pamphlet that seems really important, for admitting its small role: "We are excited to be a part of your journey to healthy living!!"
I don't think 22 Days will be joining me on the rest of my journey, but I bet they'll be fine with that. Even before blasting out this story, I probably talked to a dozen people about their products, cracking the same dumb joke about how eating like Beyoncé was really firming up my ass. If I didn't already eat like this, I'm certain I'd feel emboldened to add vegan meals to my diet. After a week on their plan, I might even cook more. I told this to someone, and they said that 22 Days should include recipes—but they don't even really need to. You just cook some rice. Steam some vegetables. Season it a little. Maybe buy a couple Yoncé records with the money left over.