Here are a few things I have learned that make going vegan easier. Some or most are common sense. Some maybe not so much. Number one thing is to realize there is some difficulty only because you have spent a life time learning to eat and cook with animal products and now you need to learn some new ways. Go into this with a sense of adventure, not dread. It is fun and rewarding.
Shopping. At first it may seem odd to skip over the dairy, meat, deli sections. But it is liberating. You will learn what works for you and what does not. Some vegan things are easier bought online. If you have a vegan friendly grocery nearby, that is even better. You can buy processed vegan specialty items which may cost more, or you can make your own with inexpensive produce. No different than a non-vegan’s choices in the market.
Leather, silk, wool, down. All non-nos in the vegan world. Would I buy a new product made from these things? Nope. Am I going to toss out my shoes because they are leather? Nope. Doing so will not save any animals from being harmed. Less harm is caused by using what you already own. But to each their own. When buying new, there are easy options out there and you can save money by not buying leather. And recently reading that often leather coming from China is not from cows, but from dogs… might be more motivation for some.
Physical changes. I can’t speak for everyone, but expect to have changes in your digestion. Part of this I think is from your gut bacteria changing. For the short term, you may experience more gassiness. This will pass (no pun intended). After some weeks, the veggies and beans and tofu will sit fine in your digestion and you will be happy. And you will find the same thing will happen if you take a vacation from vegan and eat some meat. Instant smelly gas. Your gut lacks the proper bacteria to handle it.
Typically as a vegan, you will poop easier and also you may poop more often. Instead of hard pellets or tarry logs that smell really bad, your poop will be softer, which is easier on the outlet portal. Also your farts will not smell bad.. not to say we emit roses. The difference is, if you spend time around the feces of a plant eater like a horse or cow, as compared to the feces of your Uncle Bob, you will know what I am talking about. But one downside, when you need to go, you may really need to go. Sorry for the graphic detail, but good to know, right?
Friends. The entire vegan thing makes many people very defensive. Expect some snarky comments. Expect stupid questions over and over. Expect well meaning questions over and over (“but where will you get your protein?”)…. Expect some to be dicks. But also try to not be that superior dick vegan too. If some “friends” really can’t deal with it, and are judgemental and dickish.. I just stop being with them. It is not too much to expect respect and give it.
Funny thing is… if you did not eat something for a religious reason, or due to some health issue, or an allergy, or because it really just tastes bad to you… everyone will give you a pass on that. And make sure they accommodate your needs. But tell them you are not eating animal products for ethical reasons creates a different reaction. So the take away is… you may find it easier to not stress the ethical side of your decision, at least for now. Being vegan creates an internal defensiveness (and sometimes not just internal) that I think many people struggle with… like a smoker being around all ex-smokers.
By the way.. dumbest thing I have ever heard- “You know how you can tell someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they will tell you right away.” No let’s look at this with some critical thinking skills. How do you know someone that does not tell you is a vegan? A bit of ‘Confirmation Bias’ here. Many vegans I know never mention it. And if I meet you… I do not mention it either. It DOES come up when I have to explain why I don’t want the hamburger or ice cream. Second point… how many people do you know that tell you about that steak they ate, the best hamburger… or make bacon jokes. Just about everyone right? “How do you know someone is NOT a vegan? Don’t worry, they will tell you.” And they do. But if it one of your group… you don’t think anything of it. See the disconnect?
Eating with others. Always a challenge depending on the circumstances. If you are invited to a BBQ, ask if you can bring your own veggie patty. A pot luck? Bring a main vegan dish and let people enjoy some vegan cooking. Restaurants? Most places will have some vegan option, and even if not, can make something vegan for you. If I am invited to a restaurant that looks like my only option is a salad, I will most likely graciously decline the invite. Most buffets will have enough side dishes you can eat to make a meal.
Holidays. If you do your own holidays, not a problem. Make a vegan meal tradition. If you are going to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving… then it can be harder. Specially with the focus so much on meat. Ask if you can bring a dish. Ask if some of the sides will be free of meat and dairy. Unfortunately, some may take it personally, and add in their own reaction to you being vegan, to not eating what they lovingly cooked and worse… kicking family traditions to the curb… it can be bad. Try to deal with it as lightly as possible.
Some people may have issues just being around a bunch of people chewing on animal carcasses. If this is you, then politely decline invitations to non-vegan dinners. Myself, I am fine with ignoring what other people eat, but I do have a small amount of repulsion now just seeing the animal parts and flesh. After not eating those things, you start seeing them differently.
My vegan recipes will give you some ideas and read the vegan recipe page. There are a bazillion pages on the Internet on recipes for vegan. Most anything that one can cook, can be made vegan.
Easy ingredient replacements when cooking.
Butter. This one is very simple. Just use a vegan substitute such as Earth Balance. It is not more expensive, tastes the same as margarine, and is vegan.
Milk. Also an easy replacement. There are various vegan alternatives such as Soy, Coconut. For me, I like simple almond milk. The beauty of almond milk over cow milk (beyond the fact that it is cruelty free and no pus or blood in it), is that it keeps a long time in the frig. No need to smell it to see if it has gone bad enough to toss, like I used to do with cow’s milk. And it tastes great.
Creams. Many recipes use a creamy fat of some sort to thicken and add richness to the dish. It is easy to use alternatives. One favorite is simply avocado. Another is tofu. The other is to use blended raw cashews that have been soaked in water for a couple hours (drain the water). You will swear you are eating heavy cream or sour cream based dishes! Sour cream is simply tofu with spash of lemon juice and blended. Coconut milk adds a great creaminess to dishes.
Eggs. There are some great recipes for making egg replacements. When cooking you will find that egg is often used as a binder, but in many things, you can simply cook without it and you come away wondering why the original recipe ever used eggs. I find that the 1 tablespooon of flax see and 1 tablespoon oil and 3 Tbsp of water make a good baking substitute. Many recipes can simply use banana or oils instead. See this link.
If you are frying something that is going to be battered and need an egg replacement, make a milky wash of flour and water (or almond milk).
When eggs are used as a meat, substitute tofu.
You can also use Himalayan Black Salt added to tofu to make a great imitation egg. I make an egg salad that tastes exactly like eggs!
Cheese. This one is not as easy but not that hard so do not let it scare you! There are many dairy product replacements on the market and they all have different tastes. Some will not work for you, but other’s might. Or you can make your own using a cashew based recipe. There are also sour cream, and cream cheese replacements on the market. The number of items available continues to grow and the tastes improve.
Daiya is a well known brand that has many options and is often found in a regular grocery store. GO Veggie! is a brand that sells all kinds of cheeses but one caution, their products in purple are vegan. The green colored products are simply for lactose intolerant and are still made from milk products. The Go Veggie! parmesan is a great product that tastes like the real thing. And many more products are coming on to the market and best thing is… you can make your own.
As a recipe ingredient, you can use tofu or blended nuts (or both) often in place of cheese and it works great in lasagna or manicoti for example. Nutritional Yeast Flakes are a great source of B vitamins and add a cheesy taste to almost anything.
Lastly regarding cheese. You can learn to like certain foods without it. Such as pizza. Really. Cheese often exists to give you fat which we all love, but it makes up for lack of taste elsewhere. You learn to really appreciate a great crust and marinara when it is not covered in cheese. Cheese was never good for you. It is mainly congealed fat, but we all loved the taste of fat. So use substitutes, and do without dairy cheese.
- Firm tofu
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
- Portobello Mushrooms
- Bought products from Beyond Meat, Gardein, and others.
Take your old refrigerator meat drawer and convert it to veggies or left overs. Toss out the egg holder.
Treats. There are many vegan deserts and treats. Have you tried Ben and Jerey’s vegan ice cream? You can make great smoothies and shakes. We like banana, ice, and peanut butter all blended for a nice shake. And there is dark chocolate (not milk chocolate).
EATING OUT AND TRAVELING
On car trips, I will tend to bring some of my own foods, as it is easier. Some snacks and maybe a peanut butter sandwich. Longer trips I may bring a loaf, jar of peanut butter, knife and paper towels.
Airports used be tough. Look at the list below for fast food or restaurants you can eat at. More and more, I am finding better selection. Airlines is easy! If you are flying on a dinner served meal, make sure you specify vegan. You will get a special meal. And normally I get it before everyone else does.
Restaurants: You need to learn what restaurants you can eat at, and what menu items are available for you. Unfortunately, some restaurants do not understand vegan and only understand vegetarian. So they offer some cheese or egg based dish for the veggie eaters or worse… a salad. But often you can find a veggie burger.
Then there is the strictness you want to adhere to, which is a bit subjective. Some people will not want to eat food that was cooked on the same surface as some other meat dish. Or maybe the bread was made with butter. If you are very strict, you really need to do your homework. Me, I don’t worry about it too much. I just do the best I can without stressing about it. My goal is not a 100% purity, but to just eat plant based. I don’t keep score.
Resources– Happy Cow, Veg Out, and Yelp. Happy Cow is not as wide spread, but it is great for finding vegan restaurants. Veg Out is a good app to find places. Yelp actually works well if you do it right. Click on search, enter vegan and then the city. Now anything with the word vegan in a review should come up. Sometimes that happens when the review says “this BBQ place is the anti-vegan choice.” But you will see options and then you can search for the word vegan in the reviews using the Yelp search tool. Or click on the website for the restaurant and search what they have. Also see- http://veganbackpacker.com/featured-articles/how-to-order-vegan-food-at-any-restaurant/
One thing I have learned is to plan more ahead when traveling. It makes things so much easier. Before I travel away to any city, I have a list of places to eat and maybe even what menu items to try. The easiest thing is to first see if there are vegan restaurants. If you are near a Loving Hut, or a Native Foods, then that is where to eat.
Ethnic restaurants. America has been a very meat oriented culture, but other cultures have long embraced plant based meals. Ethopian, Thai, Indian are great examples. You can also eat well at most Middle Eastern restaurants. There are normally foods you can eat at some of the Mexican places, as well as Chinese and Japanese.
On the other hand, I normally stay away from: Steak houses, BBQ, Korean, Fast Food, Southern, English, Irish, Scottish Pub (unless they have vegan options), German, French.
Ethiopian- All Ethiopian restaurants I have been to, offer a full vegan plate served with Injera bread. There are many flavorful options using lentils, beans, cabbage/carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and collard greens.
Thai- Many Thai restaurants are vegan, or offer vegan choices. If not, you can still order most dishes fully vegan since they use coconut milk. You can order Pad Thai without egg and shrimp. Most tofu curry dishes work. Vegetable rolls.
Indian- Vegetable Samosas, Vegetable Curries, Fried Pakora, and Naan… Note often restaurant Naan bread is made with butter or ghee.
Middle Eastern- Falafel, Couscous, Fattoush, Tabbouleh, Hummus, Dolma (veggie version), Baba Ganoush. There are a lot of options with pita bread. Just ask to not have any yogurt based dip.
Mexican– Beans and rice (make sure meat is not used, beans are not cooked with lard). Bean burritos, guacamole, avocados. Many places have a stir fried veggie fajitas or burrito or enchilada using only veggies. Ask to not have sour cream or cheese on anything. It may be harder to determine if the tortillas were made with lard.
Peruvian- Often a great option with some amazing veggies dishes.
Chinese- You should be able to order a noodle dish such as Vegetable Lo Mein. If it is not offered, you can ask for it. Most places are happy to substitute tofu for any meat. Watch out for fried rice as it often contains meat and eggs. Safer to use white rice.
Japanese. Veggie sushi if they have it. You can even custom order a roll such as a California Roll, no Krab, but add avocado. Vegetable tempura (eggs might have been used so ask). Udon noodle dish. Miso Soup. Fried tofu bento. Edamame. Note, it can be hard to make sure that a Japanese restaurant did not use something with fish flavoring, so decide if that is a deal breaker for you.
Italian- Pizza, no cheese. Note pizza dough may not be 100% vegan. Or a simple pasta with a non-meat marinara sauce, hold the parmesan.
Mongolian and Noodle Houses- Mongolian normally allows you to customize your bowl to not include meat. You can nicely ask to have the grill cleaned before your food is cooked. Most noodle houses will have noodles you can eat. Make sure to specify no egg, beef broth. Noodles and Company- Japanese Pan Noodles, Pasta Fresca (w/o cheese), Indonesian Peanut Sautee, Penne Rosa (w/o cheese), Tomato Marinara (w/o cheese), Rustic Roll,
Vietnamese- You can find some vegan pho places. I wish there were more. Most places also have veggie rolls (fried) and spring rolls (ask for no shrimp). And often a tofu fried dish. Check the menu first!
Pizza- Cici’s Pizza, ask for vegan pizza and many vegan options in the salad bad. Little Ceaser’s and Papa Johns are vegan if you hold the meat and cheese. Pizza Hut Thin-N-Crispy pizza with no cheese is vegan. Claim Jumper’s pizzas.
Other Restaurants- Meat and Three (south). Just get the three and look for sides that do not have meat. Be aware that often the beans and collards will be made with meat, the mashed potatoes might have butter and cream.
Other Chain and fast food- Dennys- Salad, veggie skillet (say NO BUTTER), Boca burger. Pollo Loco- BRC burrito, hold the cheese, beans and corn. Chipotle- all kinds of vegan options. Red Robin- Boca Burger, hummus plate. Hard Rock Cafe- Veggie burger and veggie sandwich (hold cheese). PF Chang’s has vegan options. Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes- Many vegan options. Subway- Veggie dandwich, no cheese or mayo. Taco Bell- Bean burrito. Order “Fresco Style” which removes sour cream and adds tomatoes…Crunchwrap Supreme® with beans instead of meat, hold the cheese and sour cream, and add potatoes. White Castle has veggie burgers. Cracker Barrel has a veggie plate and baked potato. Waffle House has a potato hash with peppers, onions… just specify no egg or cheese. Many ice cream and frozen yogurt places have dairy free options, check first! Starbucks- May have some vegan options but should always have the oatmeal with fixings. Macaroni Grill- Pasta with garlic and oil, bruschetta (no cheese).
Or wing it. Tell the server you do not eat meat or dairy. Yes, that includes fish, chicken, etc. Yes, that includes egg, cheese. Some servers are great and will ask “are you vegan?” and some awesome places have a vegan menu that you did not even know about. Or the server will tell you some awesome off-the-menu options. Remember…. no matter what, at that moment you are their pain-in-the-ass customer so act nice and tip well.
When no easy options, look at the side dishes. You can also eat french fries. And beer.