Okay. So you are interested in the many benefits of going vegan , but maybe you don't know where to start. Well, I'm happy to help where I can. Just to clear the air, becoming vegan doesn't mean that you have to start throwing red paint on people or protesting in front of KFC. You don't have to go overboard.
Know the difference between vegan and vegetarian
- Vegetarian - someone who abstains from the consumption of meat – red meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of any other animal; they may also avoid foods that include by-products of animal slaughter, such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin.
- Vegan - someone who refrains from consuming animal products, not only meat and fish but also eggs, dairy products, and other animal-derived substances, such as gelatin.
Find your "Why?"
If you're trying to go vegan, you're gonna need something to motivate you. I'm sure you have your reasons. I have compiled a list of my reasons for going vegan if you need ideas. Remember your reason and be prepared to voice it in a non-confrontational manner to all the people who will ask you why you aren't eating the queso.
- For my health.
- For my love of animals.
- For the impact I can make on the environment.
And when you're thinking about this, remember to prepare yourself to speak about your dietary choice in a way that doesn't make people feel like you think they're evil or fat or whatever. This is a choice YOU are making. Don't impose it on others or come off as rude. It's better to lead by example than by argument or force.
I've found that I spend a much shorter time in the grocery store than the average person. Not because I don't have any choices, but because everything I want is in generally the same area! Start with the produce section and go crazy -- get whatever fruits and vegetables you love! Move onto the dry items, checking food labels for milk, casein, whey, geletain, eggs, and animal glycerin. Usually, whole wheat pastas are safe and a lot of cereals are too.
Here's my list for a normal trip to the grocery store-- remember, I'm a clean-eating vegan. Your list could look very different from mine if you eat pastas and whatnot:
- Vegetables - Leafy greens (romaine/spinach/kale), broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, avocado, tomato
- Fruit - strawberries, honeycrisp apples, grapefruit
- Nuts - almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts (all raw and unsalted-- not because salt is unvegan, but because raw is healthier)
- "Dairy" section - vanilla almond milk, extra firm tofu, soy tempeh
- Natural section - quinoa, almond butter, agave nectar, brown rice protein powder (I actually order mine from Perfect Fit), Larabars
- Oils/Vinegar - canola oil, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar
- Grains - brown rice
Veg Family has compiled a helpful list for well-known food items that are actually vegan. I was happy to learn that oreos are vegan -- made with soy!
Sample daily food intake
Here's a sample of what I eat on a normal day. Keep in mind, I eat lean, clean, and green because I'm trying to get six pack abs. You can go a little bit crazier than this if you want.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal w/ protein powder, ground flaxseed, dried cranberries, diced strawberries, and a drizzle of agave nectar
- Mid-morning snack: Apple
- Lunch: Thai Tofu Veggie Wraps
- Afternoon snack: Larabar
- Post-workout: Protein shake (protein powder blended with chilled water)
- Dinner: Tofu, avocado, and kale salad
- Eggs in baking - Ener-G Egg Replacer, applesauce, fruit preserves, ground flaxseeds, mashed banana
- Meats in a meal - tofu, tempeh, black beans and brown rice, quinoa
- Butter - Earth balance
- Milk - almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, hemp milk
- Cheese - Daiya (the best vegan cheese substitute)
- Cream cheese - Tofutti
- Ice cream - Purely Decadent's coconut milk icecream
I'm not a fan of fake meats, but those exist too.
Change your mindset and be open to new things
You will experience different textures than you may have with the foods you are used to eating. One thing that helped me make the transition is to introduce foods into my diet, not as a replacement, but as an entirely new thing. If you try to like tofu thinking that it will taste and feel like chicken, you will be upset. The taste and texture of tofu is very different from chicken. They're two different foods that shouldn't be compared like that.
Don't sweat slip-ups
Many times, I have found out that something I was eating wasn't vegan. I didn't realize that most authentic Mexican restaurants put pork in their refried beans until I was in high school (I stopped eating meat when I was eight). You do the best you can. Be proud of yourself for that and don't sweat the small stuff.
Getting the proper nutrients
- Protein - more people in the US get too much protein than too little. I wouldn't worry about this too much unless you are a body builder (if so, protein shakes!!). We weren't designed to digest meat at every meal. It's actually pretty ridiculous when you think about it. Would an old school farmer or a hunter/gatherer kill and eat an animal for every meal? No. That's way too costly. They would eat primarily vegetables and fruits-- things that are in abundance. According to an article on HappyCow.net, "A varying diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, and legumes provides more than adequate amounts of protein - only without the added cholesterol and saturated fats, antibiotics, chemicals, steroids, sulfuric substances, etc., found in animal sources." For more information, read the China Study by T. Collin Campbell. My husband created some business cards to hand out when people ask how we get our protein. You can print your own here.
- Calcium - another weird thing about the way we eat in the US is that we consume large quantities of animal milk. This is strange because we are the only species that consumes milk post-growth. And we don't even consume our own milk most of the time. We drink cow milk, which is designed to turn a little cow into a big cow. I, personally, don't want to be any kind of cow and I don't want any of the hormones that were injected into them in my system, but I digress... You don't need to consume diary products to get the calcium you need. This idea has been engrained in our minds by the aggressive advertising done by dairy companies. We can get all that we need from plants. Happy Cow goes on to say that, "Plant-based foods are abundant in first hand calcium that is more easily absorbed by the body."
- B12 - the requirement for B12 is very low, but it is essential for cell division and blood formation. You can get this in supplements or in B12 fortified soy milk. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or nursing.
- Vitamin D - vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which makes it quite important for bone health. Vitamin D typically comes from exposure to the sun or eating fatty fish. Vegans can get the vitamin D that they need by eating fortified foods and drinking fortified soymilk or taking a supplement. For more information on Vitamin D, check out this article from vrg.org.
As vegetarianism/veganism is becoming more mainstream, most restaurants these days offer some kind of meat-free dish. Salads are usually safe (Not Olive Garden. Their salad dressing is one of the least healthy free foods out there. Don't eat it.) Be honest with your waiter and friendly so that when you ask for substitutions, they will be more inclined to appease you.
- Seafood: Salad and they may have sauteed veggies (ask them to use oil instead of butter)
- Steak: Salad and maybe veggie side dishes
- Mexican: Veggie fajaitas, salad, rice and black beans, guac, chips
- Italian: ask if their pasta has egg in it, if not: pasta with red sauce or olive oil (no cheese), veggie primavera, salad, veggie pizza with no cheese
- Greek: Hummus pita, salad, potatoes
- Asian: most Asian restaurants offer a meatless tofu dish
- Sushi: avocado rolls, miso soup, seaweed salad
- Indian: Indian restaurants are SO vegan friendly. These are probably the easiest places to find multiple options -- unfortunately for me, they're too spicy
- Sandwich: veggie lovers (no cheese), hummus, veggie soup
- Burgers: most places offer a veggie or black bean patty option for a burger, salad
What you can do during the holidays
Usually, holiday meals are centered around a meat, but they also have veggie side dishes. Load up on the veggies and maybe bring a vegan dish to share! I've seen Tofurkey and vegan stuffing at the store. It's worth a try! Whip up something extra delicious to make a good impression. If it's not an event where it is appropriate to bring your own dish, eat a little before you go so that you aren't hungry if you can only eat from the raw vegetable platter.
A lot of snacky items are vegan. Peta has compiled a list of chips, sweets, and more tasty stuff that is "accidentally vegan."
Going to camp or to a retreat
In my opinion, this is the hardest part of being vegan. When you are at camp or at a retreat, you have little to no control over what is being prepared for a meal. If the kitchen staff decides today is sloppy joe day, you will probably have literally no options for food.
I usually play it safe by bringing my own food. I inform the kitchen staff of my dietary restrictions when I arrive and they are usually very willing to let me use fridge space. I don't pack anything too fancy or that has much prep work. Usually I pack nuts/trailmix, Larabars, fruit, and stuff to make PBJ--low maintenance foods.
Dealing with silly omnivore questions/comments
- Are animal crackers vegan?
- So can you eat ______? (Fill in the blank with something ridiculous like salt or strawberries)
- If you were stranded on a desert island and all there was to eat was a _____, would you eat it? (Fill in the blank with some animal product or live animal)
- Oh you're vegan, I'm sorry.
- You're so pale (fair-skinned) because you don't have meat in your system.
- Where are you getting protein???? (They usually ask this as if they think you are going to die soon)
Smile pleasantly and respond. There's no need for two snarky people in the room. They will always ask and they will always think they are so clever. Even though I've heard these questions hundreds of times over the years, I still respond with a smile, "Just because animal crackers have imprinted faces on them doesn't mean that they are made with animal products. Most animal crackers are actually vegan." Usually negative comments come from people who haven't done their research on nutrition and/or veganism. You can ignore these comments. Reacting in anger only fuels the fire. Prove them wrong by how healthy you are!