It’s post-Mardi Gras season here in New Orleans so you know what that means? It’s Lent and even though most people I know aren’t practicing Catholics, “giving up something for Lent,” is a thing here. Many people give up booze. Many do the typical “fish Friday” thing. I’m giving up vegan king cake…which is super easy considering king cake generally disappears from bakeries the day after Fat Tuesday. I know. I’m so disciplined, right?
So, yeah, I’m not really giving anything up but that’s OK, I like an intention to eat healthier, especially after several week of indulging in restaurant food (or post parade dinners of chips and salsa… and king cake). Things were a little crazy there for a while.
A lot of people may give up meat altogether for Lent. Yay! This reminds me, not related to Lent, but perhaps a New Year’s resolution (was New Years really over 2 months ago?!), but a fair number of friends and colleagues have recently told me that they are flirting with the idea of being vegan. I thought perhaps a Vegan 101 blog post might be in order, so this is for my flirting with veganism friends and for those of you who are new vegans and those of you who may be v-curious but the prospect of giving up Burrata makes you wonder if life wouldn’t be worth living (hint: it is). The time for New Years resolutions is past, but hey, anyone can do Lent.
In all seriousness, there’s no need for a special time of year to get started on this lifestyle, whatever reason you have to consider it. My own reason that I went vegan was “for the animals.” I was young and lucky enough not to have any health concerns, plus I never felt right about eating meat after reading Charlotte’s Web. There I was, chock full of idealism and a junk food vegan was born. If you’d like to read more about my personal vegan journey and outlook, read this post that I wrote back in August.
The good news is, even with that 5-7 years or so of youthful junk food veganism, I saw the light and gradually became health conscious. By the way I still don’t have any health concerns, save for that typical hitting 40 and suddenly realizing you have to be more careful with your joints (it’s so annoying to be mortal sometimes). I’ve been working out 5-6 days per week for my entire adult life and my knees and elbows are begging for more yoga and less high impact cardio. That sucks but at least my cholesterol and blood pressure are pretty dang perfect. I don’t have diabetes or any other age-related disease that becomes a concern starting in your late 30s. It seems as though this vegan thing is a good thing for my health.
Hot Chicken-style Tofu from Graze Nashville
Whatever your intention, the great thing is you’re going to have no choice as to the results. You will make a difference. You will be leaving less of a carbon footprint. You will probably be healthier. All good stuff, right? That said, I just ask that you don’t become an asshole and think you’re better than all non vegans because stuff like that doesn’t help the cause.
Without further ado, here are some vegan hacks to get you started and keep you going:
1. Don’t let semantics get in the way of your goals.
This is a controversial subject but I suggest that while you’re doing your online research and read vegan blogs and watch vegan Youtube channels that you don’t get too tripped up by terms, specifically plant-based vs. veganism. That shit annoys the hell out of me. Those militant vegans and their insistence on semantics annoy me because part of what is going to raise vegan-consciousness is by using the term itself. Vegan. If you’re eating a plant-based diet but still wear animal products, it’s best to still use the term “vegan” when you describe your dietary restriction.
To be clear, no, you’re really not “vegan” if you buy leather shoes and bags. You’re not being “vegan” if you go to a show where animals are doing tricks (I can’t believe people still do this, but whatever). And if you’re abstaining from meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey but still buy leather shoes? Not vegan. Technically. The vegan police would demand that you call yourself “plant-based.” Here’s the thing, though. The word “vegan” is well-known in English-speaking countries and there’s translation for it in just about any (major) language. When you’re traveling outside of the US, and you’re ordering food in a restaurant, it’s easy enough to say, “Soy vegano” or “je suis végétalien” or “lo sono vegano” etc. So, use the term vegan. No one will arrest you.
Vegan Antipasto plate made for me when on a truffle-hunting tour in Florence, IT
I am still asked what vegan means by servers, even in the US (never in Canada, but I digress) and there’s an opportunity for you to (politely) teach someone. Let’s not add “plant-based” to confuse the matter. And new folks to the lifestyle getting intimidated by semantics isn’t going to make eating vegan any easier.
2. Feel free to enjoy all the vegan junk food (sometimes)
There’s so much of it! There’s the accidentally vegan crap like Oreos. I personally don’t stock my cupboards with them but who am I to turn away a good pint of Cookies ‘n Cream? Speaking of, have you heard that Ben & Jerry’s now has an entire line of dairy-free frozen desserts? Again, not my cup of tea, too sweet, too heavy, but trust me, it’s better than that soy frozen dessert I used to lick my wounds with 20 years ago. My favorite vegan ice cream that you’ll find in the supermarket is Coconut Bliss, but if you’re lucky enough live in a city where they make artisanal small batch frozen vegan goodies, lucky you!
Damn, an entire paragraph devoted to ice cream. I think you know what I’m talking about here (by the way, banana ice cream is almost as good and so much healthier/lower fat. Invest in a Vitamix and have at it). But it doesn’t end there, my friends. There’s chips. There’s fries. There’s candy. There’s cake. There’s the aforementioned king cake (if you live in New Orleans).
Pumpkin Spice Donut from Cinnamon Snail, NYC
And while I don’t recommend making this a main part of your diet if you’re going vegan for health reasons (seriously, you will feel shitty, unless you’re a teenager), it’s a great way to indulge once in a while or as much as you need to in order to avoid the “real” junk!
3. Don’t knock it if you can mock it
There’s fake meats. There’s decent vegan cheese (I think I like Daiya more than real cheese and Miyoko’s mozzerella is perfection). There’s ice cream (covered above). There’s vegan mac & cheeze that you can buy in a box (not my thing) or make yourself so that it’s even more decadent/delicious/comforting (I make a homemade cashew/cauliflower cream and mix with pasta).
There’s even greasy/gooey/good vegan pizza
Oh and there’s also this
What the hell?!
The Beyond Burger is the closest thing to meat I’ve ever had (and my burger-loving boyfriend agrees). I recall a time when veggie burgers were typically dry, beany affairs. Now there’s this, not to mention the Impossible Burger (not yet available in stores, but in restaurants in NYC that I’ll for sure be hitting up when I return in the spring).
While this all typically falls into the “junk” food bit covered above, you can mock things with whole foods too. So let me tell you about my queso…
4. The Purge: Don’t feel you have do it
Your closet may contain dozens of pairs of leather shoes or perhaps you had a thing for cashmere (we’re not talking about anyone I personally know of course). Some people donate their leather, wool and other animals that they’ve worn before. Some cannot afford to do so. Do what you can. Don’t beat yourself up over it. This is the way I rationalize it: wool is friggin’ itchy. Leather smells like death. When there are ethical designers out there like Stella McCartney, Vaute Couture and Cri De Coeur making super cute clothes and accessories, there are no excuses anymore. Also, check labels because there are plenty of other designers who make items without wool, silk or leather. Unintentionally vegan clothes just as fabulous.
5. Know that most doctors are not nutritional experts
Generally speaking, doctors are here to treat illness, not prevent it. While these days they are usually in agreement that vegan diets are healthy, I come from decades of being told that I needed dairy for calcium, meat for protein, etc. I’d meet the worried, pitying glance straight on. I need not share all the findings that indicate otherwise here, do I? Here’s where you need to arm yourself with facts. Read books. Watch Forks over Knives (my personal favorite) and other documentaries. Then read what opposition there is to those facts (usually funded by groups that have special interest in keeping their industry alive). I’m not going to get political here though. Nope. Not going down that rabbit hole. There’s a wealth of information out there for you!
6. Slaughterhouse Videos etc.
I don’t recommend these. If you need to see torture & killing to convince you that you’re making the right choice, go for it.
7. Making mistakes
Sometimes they sneak an animal product in where you least expect it. This lifestyle is a learning process! If you accidentally think something like “non dairy creamer” is vegan (it isn’t) and learn after the fact, that doesn’t mean you blew it so you might as well have at your kid’s cheese pizza. And if you are that into your kid’s cheese pizza maybe you need to reevaluate things. And you know what, your kid might love vegan pizza (refer to photo above)!
My parting words: Try your best. Do your research. Read labels. Take risks in the kitchen. Eat well! Thrive!