Over the years I've had several friends and family members reach out to ask me questions regarding their new uncharted vegan lifestyles... I'm always happy to answer questions to the best of my ability, in regards to my own personal experience! Here's the latest correspondence I've been having with a childhood friend who reconnected with me through Facebook, after years of not staying in touch. I thought I would post here to share with other new vegans, or readers who would like to contribute more information for me to pass along to my new vegan friend :)
Hey lady.... I'm contemplating a change for my 27th year. I'm considering going vegetarian. Lots of reasons...ethical, health, etc. I know you're strict vegan, but I'm not sure that's quite for me. Yogurt and good cheese are staples in my diet. That said, it seems you manage to eat really well, and you're very slender but not emaciated so you must be doing it right.
I'm wondering if you have any tips, resources, great recipe books, etc., that you would be willing to share.
-L wrote me another message on my wall telling me that she decided to dive straight in and go totally radical vegan! REJOICE!
First of all, I just have to say how ridiculous it is, how time flies. I don't think I've seen you in what, a decade??? Jeepers. Thank goodness for facebook, otherwise I would have no idea you're going radical vegan! SO great to be back in touch.
A few "tips" or whathaveyou... When I became vegan (right before I turned 18), it was after years (9 to be exact) of being vegetarian. The transition sort of happened naturally after learning that many milks have blood (especially chocolate milk), puss and other icky things in them I switched to soy/rice. Then learning that many cheeses have remnants in them (stomach lining) which I didn't consider vegetarian, and also gelatin of course (ground hooves, skin, and bone) I didn't consider veggie so they were all already eliminated from my diet when I switched to vegan, which I've been now for ten years.
The point here is that it is a process. for me that process was long (over the span of 18 years), and I'm still learning more about how to live a cruelty-free, healthy life as a vegan. (not buying furs, leather, wool, or silk, and not buying any products tested on animals or with animal products IN them-i LOVE urban decay make-up btw, and mac also is vegan). So don't beat yourself up if you have a slip up and say, "Screw it! I ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's I must not be vegan anymore!" It might happen, and it might not, but know that we're all human and even just if you choose to drink soy/rice/oat/almond milk for the rest of your life instead of dairy/animal milk THAT alone is making a huge impact. And it only gets better the more you dedicate to consciously consume...
OK OFF MY SOAPBOX. haha. Here's a few Essentials for nutrition that I would highly recommend you invest in always having stocked in your fridge/cupboards.
1. Nutritional Yeast.- Source of B12. you grew up in mendo so I'm sure you know what it is, yellow yeast flakes sprinkled on toast, popcorn, mixed into pasta sauces to make them creamier, and used for a number of recipes to add a "cheezy" flavor.
2. Flax Seed Oil.- OMEGAS. You need omegas, and flax is one of the few places you can get them if you don't consume fish. You can also buy flax bread, or flax seeds to sprinkle into your salads, bake into your muffins/cookies etc... but I prefer the oil to blend into smoothies, add a little to my cold cereal, and whip together with vinegar and mustard for a yummy homemade salad dressing.
3. Spirulina powder.- Superfood. Iron, Protein, vitamins etc... I use this in extreme moderation, over oatmeal (turns it sci-fi green haha), in smoothies or over salad. I don't like the taste but you might if you like the taste of nori (seaweed), but its REALLY good for you, and if you use a little you can't taste it at all but still get the benefits.
Other than those above which are the only "tricky" vitamins to get by eating food alone I'd say try to eat at least one meal with fresh veggies and fruits every day. Leafy greens (spinach, various lettuces, kale) are nutrient rich and you'll start craving them. Here's what I usually eat:
Breakfast: Oatmeal with agave syrup (buy in bulk at costco so its cheaper), or cold cereal, toast with Earth Balance Butter, or left overs from dinner.
Lunch: I graze after breakfast on fruits, apples, oranges, left overs (rice/beans, pasta, pizza, soup, quinoa etc...)
Dinner: Pasta, Soups and Stews, Roasted and stuffed veggies, homemade pizzas, Salads, Gnocchi, tacos, taco salads etc...
And I usually have something sweet before bed (dark chocolate chips- most dark chocolate is vegan, but check labels, hershey's for example still puts milk in their dark chocolate b/c its "cheaper").
ALso here's my vegan blog: www.veganshowandtell.blogspot.com
I post recipes, and various tidbits, and there is a long list of links on the right hand column along with some other helpful things, like a shopping list and essentials.
You asked about going out to eat, and just about every restaurant I've been in has SOMETHING for me, many times the pasta dishes (no butter, no cheese) with grilled veggies looks better than my meat eating friend's dishes and they all wish they ordered what i did haha. There is always the salad fall-back plan, and most breads are vegan... if its served with butter I request a side plate and balsalmic vinegar and oil to dip it in.
Most Thai curries can be made veggie (which is also vegan).
Sushi usually has a vegetarian option (which is most times also vegan, or can be made vegan)
Mexican food can be tricky, But i love it! Always ask if their rice was cooked with chicken or beef broth (many times not, but depends on the place). I stick to the whole black beans instead of refried (which are healthier anyway and are definitely not risking the chance they were cooked with lard). After that its easy, I load up corn tortillas, (hard or soft tacos b/c some flour tortillas have milk in them), and load on the guacamole, salsa, lettuce, and fixins (hold the cheese).
Indian food- many times is also vegetarian and vegan (just ask which dishes if any they used "Ghee" to cook with- a rich dairy butter).
Pizza- most pizza places have vegan crusts (ask thought), and I order veggie pizzas with no cheese, though I've found two places here in Austin that actually have vegan cheese options, so you just have to know where to go! Yumm!
Ethiopian food- MY FAVORITE. All vegetarian dishes are vegan (for the most part, ask though I've never had any tell me there was dairy used).
***I also notice that if I say I have a severe "dairy allergy" (and explain my restrictions) instead of saying "I'm vegan" the wait staff have less of a tendency to lie, or treat me rudely like I'm being high maintenance or something. For some reason I feel its more polite, then again it depends on the restaurant. at a veggie only place I feel comfortable saying "I'm vegan."
Again, so happy for you and your choice! If you have any questions feel free to ask me... I have so much more to say about it, but I think I gave you enough to read haha.
Oh last thing: Follow Your Heart Gourmet cheese is the best brand I've come across (melts! doesn't taste horrible!), and beware, "Tofu Rella" ISN'T VEGAN... a lot of "Dairy Free" cheeses actually have milk protein listed in their ingredients. Yeah I know, annoying right? Its only labeled as such b/c its technically "lactose" free, though not entirely DAIRY free (jerks!) hahaha.
GOOD LUCK! So awesome!!!! You go girl.
thanks soooo much for sending such a wonderful info-packed email.
I checked out your blog, and some of your sister blogs and just found a load of great info.
I had a moment earlier today when I was making my Power Pancakes (leftover brown rice, whole wheat flour, vanilla protein powder, egg replacer, ground flax, benefiber, cinnamon, soy milk...covered in boiled strawberries and roasted almonds YUMMY) and I went to go taste the batter. I instinctively stopped myself because I didn't want the risk of getting salmonella from the eggs. Then I remembered there weren't any eggs in the batter and that I could taste it without fear. That's when it hit me--how strange it is to eat stuff that can make you sick unless you cook it to kill the bacteria/viruses. That's just so bizarre.
Anyways, today marks my one month anniversary from when I decided to not just go vegetarian, but totally vegan. And I have stuck to that completely--with the exeption of visiting my best friend's family farm in Wisconsin where the meat they served they had raised themselves, and it would have been considered gravely disrespectful to insult the product of their labors. Although I hope when I return the next time that we can work something out, because I'm just really not ok eating meat at all. It bothers something deep in my soul.
One of the biggest surprises to me was that I am not having any problem in finding enough variety of foods to eat. In fact, that's been the fun part. I went to Trader Joes and bought everything and anything vegan that looked good that I wanted to try. And then I had a little tasting party of one. And I have found enough substitutions for other things...can we talk about how totally AMAZING veganaise is? I actually prefer it to the taste of regular mayo. I may just get fat eating the stuff because my new favorite sandwich is spouted protein bread with veganaise, avocado, salt and pepper. Heaven.
Not surprisingly, I've found other people have the hardest time understanding that food exists outside of meat, eggs, and dairy and always crinkle their nose as the word Vegan, and then ask what on earth I actually eat. I read recently that Americans typically eat only .25% of all the edible food available. So that leaves a lot for me to try.
One of the more challenging aspects is being with a partner who is a pretty hard-core carnivore. He's a fireman, and BBQ is really part of the culture. He has cut down on a lot of the meat he eats around me, and has taken a liking to our local Indian Buffet, which is all good. He's also switched to almond milk. But, he's always going to love his fast food bacon-wrapped cheeseburger. And that's hard for me, because I'm so repulsed by the whole thing. He went to a crab feed a couple weeks ago, and came home just smelling like crab...which was not just sexually unattractive but also mentally bothersome. I've watched The Deadliest Catch too many times to get the image of the poor crabs being hauled out of the ocean, dumped onto the hard surface of the ship deck, and then scooped into a big tank for our consumption. I always feel bad for the crabs, and am never disappointed when the fishermen pull up an empty pot. So I was wondering about your husband....has he always been veggie/vegan, or was this something that he did with you?
Also...even though I am eating lentils and such, I'm still not getting enough protein and I feel tired. Suggestions?
And how do you deal with people trying to say: well, eventually a little bit of meat or milk here or there won't kill you.....
That's been aggravating....people are supportive only as far as it makes them comfortable.
Also...did you get cravings after you gave up cheese? I am finding that the eggs and cheese thing are the hardest for me. But a lot of the things I thought I would be really sad without, I'm not. Sushi is a great example...turns out it was the wasabit/soy sauce taste ON the piece of sushi I liked so much so a veggie roll tastes just as good.
Anyways, I have to run along but I really look forward to continuing this conversation. I feel like so much is changing in my life right now, and the more support I have the better. You happen to be the only vegan I know so I may be leaning a bit on you, if that's ok.
Anyways, I hope you are doing really well and thanks again for being such a cheerleader in this crazy sane experiment of mine.
I'm so happy for you! And I have some time right now, so I'm going to respond to your questions...
*So I was wondering about your husband....has he always been veggie/vegan, or was this something that he did with you?
-Honestly? When we started dating (3 months before I moved to England for my senior year of college abroad) he stopped eating meat b/c I was vegan. We broke up when I moved away (we were too honest and perhaps "social" to pull off a long-distance relationship), but he came out to visit- took me traveling, and though while we were apart he started eating meat again, he told me that if after school I stopped being a crazy ex-pat, and move in with him he would go veggie again, but I would have to quit smoking (american spirits don't test on animals/are "vegan" ha, irony right?). We both wanted to quit, and we did, and have stuck to it ever since. Altho JUST RECEntlY! Jason announced that he's going full VEGAN too! (it only took him 5 years of my cooking to figure out its not hard to do I guess haha). For you, perhaps just introduce him to other foods whenever possible, I've never met an omnivore who refused yummy vegan stuff (even I refuse yummy seaweed dishes sometimes, so choose GOOD veggie/vegan food to get him hooked on) and be patient, probably will take a long time, if ever to get him to give up meat.
*Also...even though I am eating lentils and such, I'm still not getting enough protein and I feel tired. Suggestions?
-Beans and Rice! All kinds of beans, there are so many kinds. Black beans, pinto, black-eyed peas, split peas have protein too... and yes lentils. Quinoa has protein, and whole wheat pasta does too. There are various veggie "proteins" to choose from too, tofu obviously (though you should consume this is MODERATION), seitan, tempeh, etc... this is a useful chart: http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm
-also sometimes if you're tired perhaps you're eating too much sugar/caffine and not getting proper sleep. I drink camomile tea before bed, and try to drink Yerba Mate in the morning which doesn't dehydrate me like coffee does, and is a sustainable energy (that in fact also has protein in it. Tea with iron and protein!)
*And how do you deal with people trying to say: well, eventually a little bit of meat or milk here or there won't kill you.....
-People stopped saying that to me a long time ago, remember I've been vegan 10 years, and before that 8 years veggie, so 18 years of not eating meat... I think at the earlier points other people (usually omnivores), feel the need to bring you back over to "their side" because they think it will make them feel less guilty. When/if anyone does try to push their carnivorous ways on me I just ignore it, or tell them its against my spiritual beliefs (which it is...), or say, "you wouldn't try to make a jew eat pork, or a hindu eat cow, would you? its just not for me." or something along those lines. that usually shuts them up. haha.
*That's been aggravating....people are supportive only as far as it makes them comfortable.
-And I totally agree with this, however, during these 18 years of my life, every single member of my family and extended family (with the exception of one), have been omnivores. Quietly I've definitely felt like they can do what makes them comfortable, and I"m the one who has to suffer through smelly tables full of gross meat, and it doesn't seem fair. Though I will say that after years of me not getting militant when they ask me questions (no matter how DUMB! "but we're made to kill/eat animals, suck cow's tits"...?!) I try to answer patiently and honestly, to really help them see my point of view, rather than feel like they need to be defensive or write me off as acting superior to them. And these days though not entirely veg, just about my entire family and majority of extended family don't eat red meat, and several are full veggies! YAY! Also more environmentally friendly.
*Also...did you get cravings after you gave up cheese?
-THERE IS NOTHING LIKE DAIRY/ANIMAL CHEESE. I STILL MISS SEVERAL KINDS! But considering that is pretty much the only thing I miss (i never liked eggs, or ate them at all aside from the occasional quiche which can be made just as good/better with egg replacer) I think its not so bad. Smoked Gouda, Dry Jack, Brie, Extra Sharp White Cheddar, Fresh Parmasean, are all memories that I hold close because I will never experience them again, though the tufutti "better than cream cheese" taste to me just like cream cheese, and the canned "vegan" paramsean powder tastes just like the kraft kind I grew up covering my pasta in, At least I have those tastes still in my life. Also, over the last 10 years I feel like there have been more variations on vegan suitable cheeses (follow your heart has mozarella, cheddar, nacho cheese, and monterey jack)... I'm hoping to see more variety in the vegan cheese world, but for now I'm content roasting whole gloves of garlic and smearing them on my crackers with cornichon pickles instead of fancy european cheeses.
Anyway! HOpe that helps, and lean away, I have offered vegan advice to several curious friends and family members along their uncharted vegan territory, and I am more than happy to. I wish someone was there for me to ask questions to and get advice.
Good luck! and happy 1-month vegan birthday! :)