Cross-posted on tjbaer.com.
Greetings, friends, and a very merry Veganuary to you! After the approximately 500 years that comprised 2020, it’s nice to take a clean step into 2021 and entertain a shred of optimism that this year may be better. And while we can’t control what The World at large does, we can at the very least somewhat control the “better” in our own lives. And one way to do that is via what we eat.
When it comes to going vegan, most people exist somewhere on the spectrum between “ugh, never” and “tHiS iS tHe BeSt ThInG eVeR!1!” As with most folks, I myself started on the “ugh, never” side and am now firmly entrenched in the “best thing ever” camp.
But why? Why go vegan? Could we perhaps have the reasons in a handy list format that makes everything clear and easy to read?
Reasons To Go Vegan:
- Health. Despite what all those “Got Milk?” ads may have told you, eliminating dairy, meat, and eggs from your diet actually is good for you. Going vegan drastically reduces the risk of a whole mountain of grim prognoses, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, liver problems, and even Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- The Environment. Eating plant-based really does help the environment, both in terms of fewer emissions and in terms of the resources needed to produce the food we eat. (Easier to eat the crops we grow rather than feeding said crops to an animal, killing the animal, and eating the animal, in other words.)
- Animals. Not eating meat, dairy, or eggs means fewer suffering animals, and that’s pretty great no matter how you look at it.
I’ll also say that there are so many excellent documentaries, books, and resources that can 100% convince you that vegan is the way to go, and some of my favorite docs are Forks Over Knives and Vegucated, the latter actually being what started me down the vegan road in the first place.
But how does one “go vegan”? Is it even possible?! How is someone supposed to upend their entire way of eating and not be miserable when doing it?
How to Go Vegan Without Hating It:
- Let go of perfection. First thing to keep in mind is that no matter what some of the more militant members of the veg clan might tell you, you don’t have to be perfect. You can make mistakes, you can slip up, you can even take your time and ease into this gradually. The important thing is that you’re doing something, and that’s way better than doing nothing. Also remember that your taste buds adjust to the foods you eat, so it might take a little while for some of these new foods to taste awesome to you. But once your tongue gets used to not being blasted by nuclear levels of fat, salt, and sugar, you’ll actually be able to taste and enjoy fruits and vegetables and may in fact find yourself saying, “This kale is AMAZING.” Srsly, it happens.
- Look at the things you already eat. Shockingly, “vegan” is not a special, separate category of food – it’s just food, man. Potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, bananas, even Oreos (AKA, the bane of vegans trying to eat healthily) – all of these are vegan foods, and you probably already eat some of them. So start your Veganuary journey by making a list of any foods you already eat that are vegan. Have oatmeal for breakfast? Awesome, it’s vegan. Or are you a connoisseur of avocado toast? Also vegan, provided your bread doesn’t have dairy in it (and bread without dairy is pretty easy to find, so don’t fret). Pasta with marinara sauce? Vegan. Make your list and see how many foods you already eat that have no meat, eggs, or dairy in them.
- Start veganizing other foods you eat. Next, look at the non-vegan foods in your daily rotation and figure out how to make them (or a variation of them) without animal products. Instead of meat chili, bean chili. Instead of cereal with cow’s milk, cereal with almond milk, soy milk, cashew milk, or any of the other approximately 17,000 forms of non-dairy milk out there. Instead of spaghetti with meat sauce, spaghetti with marinara sauce. Etc.
- Check out vegan options at restaurants. If you’re someone who can afford to order from restaurants, have a look on GrubHub or UberEats or your delivery service of choice and type “vegan” into the search box. If you live in a more developed area, you’re likely to find a lot of vegan options you didn’t even know existed. Also, if you’re a fan of Chinese food, Mexican food, Japanese food, Ethiopian food, Indian food, or a variety of others, you can generally find vegan options already on the menu. While I wouldn’t recommend eating a ton of restaurant food for both health and financial reasons, it can be a great way to get introduced to the delicious possibilities and have them cooked by someone who (hopefully) knows what they’re doing.
- Head down the YouTube rabbit hole. My first vegan YouTuber influence was Cheap Lazy Vegan, who I’m pleased to report is still out there making awesome videos about all the great vegan food she eats. But all you need to do is type “vegan recipes” or “vegan cooking” or something similar into YouTube (or Google), and thousands of results pop up. You can also try Googling “vegan ____ recipe” (insert name of your favorite non-vegan dish here), and you’re likely to find a way to veganize it.
- Consider a kickstart. Another option is to use a vegan kickstart program, like this 21-day Vegan Kickstart provided by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. They’ll give you recipes and meal plans and everything you need to do this right, and if you need more motivation or help, they also have an awesome podcast.
- Consider vegan “transition” foods. Foods like vegan hot dogs, chicken, beef, sausage, lunch meat, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. are things that exist! If you’re having trouble making the transition, there is absolutely no shame in heading straight for these products, and while they’re not the healthiest foods you could be eating, they’re still going to be way better than what they’re replacing. The brand Gardein in particular has a ton of awesome products in the frozen section, Beyond Meat is killin’ it (metaphorically) in the burger and sausage game, and some grocery stores even have a full-on vegan section for all your animal-product-free needs.
- Don’t worry about protein. Seriously. The shocking truth is that despite popular opinion, plants have protein. You don’t need to rip your teeth into the leg of a passing cow to get all the protein you need, and you don’t need to do genius-level mathematical equations to calculate the correct amount of protein in every meal. Essentially, as long as you’re eating enough calories in a day, you’re getting enough protein. I wrote a whole blog post on this a while back, but basically what it comes down to is that you could eat only white potatoes for an entire day (which I do not recommend in general) and still get enough protein as long as you ate enough calories. If you have enough to eat – even if it’s plants – you will be absolutely fine on the protein front.
- And speaking of calories, definitely make sure you’re getting enough. First-time vegans often complain of being tired and immediately jump to the “I must not be getting enough protein!11!” conclusion. In fact, fatigue is usually a symptom of simply not getting enough calories to fuel your body. Plant-based foods are lighter than animal products, so you’re going to need to eat more of them to feel the same level of fullness. Eat enough, and don’t be afraid to eat a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, to cover all your nutritional needs.
- Have…fun? Going vegan doesn’t have to be a trudge. It can actually be pretty fun and exciting. Trying out new foods, feeling better physically, losing weight if that’s something that interests you – there’s a lot of awesome stuff about being vegan, and despite the stereotype, vegan food isn’t boring. Most vegans report eating more varied food than they ever did before they went plant-based, because they’ve let go of their old meat-centric plates and opened themselves up to other possibilities. You can also have fun documenting your Veganuary journey, whether on social media or via blog or even YouTube vid. Share what you’re doing with family and friends, watch videos, join Facebook groups, experiment in the kitchen, shop in aisles you’ve never visited before in the supermarket, try restaurants you never would’ve considered before – just have a blast. And know that whether you stick with it 100% or not, what you’re doing is making a difference, and that’s pretty great.
Some quick and easy meal ideas, in case you find yourself at a loss for where to start:
- Oatmeal with nuts and fruit (I usually add maple syrup or agave + a sprinkle of cinnamon)
- Tofu scramble with toast and fruit
- Pancakes or French toast with fruit and maple syrup
- Cereal with non-dairy milk, nuts, and fruit
- Full-on vegan “meat lover” breakfast with vegan sausages, vegan bacon, Just Egg, vegan cheese, and whatever other crazy stuff you want to put in there, + antacids for dessert (probably).
Lunch or Dinner:
- Pasta with marinara sauce topped with a ton of veggies and nutritional yeast (and if you don’t know what nutritional yeast is, do yourself a favor and look into it)
- Bean chili (black beans, kidney beans, veggies, spices, even plant-based ground “beef” if you like)
- Stir fry with rice, veggies, and tofu topped with a delicious sauce
- Chickpea salad sandwich (chickpeas + salt + lemon juice + nutritional yeast + a little vegan mayo mashed or put in a food processor, spread on toasted bread with lettuce and tomato *chef’s kiss*)
- Homemade pizza (pizza crust covered in sauce and piled with veggies; add vegan cheese shreds if you like, but it’s often surprisingly better without).
- Refried bean burrito (spread vegetarian refried beans onto a tortilla, add veggies and seasonings of your choice, wrap and eat). You can also add some delicious sweet potato fries by slicing up an uncooked sweet potato, salting lightly, and baking until crispy.
- Giant salad of doom (I usually do lettuce, cucumber, celery, carrots, quinoa, and sometimes some other random tasty things like baked sweet potato, avocado, cabbage, kale, or marinated tofu. Top with vegan dressing of your choice or sprinkle with salt and lemon juice or salt and seasoned rice vinegar, which is seriously delicious on salads.)
- Noodle Soup (boil rice noodles [or noodles of your choice], add carrots and celery [and/or veggies of choice] to the pan during last few minutes of cooking, add vegetable bouillon (Better Than Bouillon’s No Chicken Stock is the best, in my opinion), add tofu or whatever else you like, eat.)
- Lentil soup, the recipe for which I will actually include here since I typed it up a few weeks ago:
Lentil Soup/Stew Thing
1 cup dried lentils
3-4 cups of water
1 Tbps Better Than Bouillon “No Chicken” stock (to taste)
Assorted chopped vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, celery, kale, or whatever other veg you feel might go well in a lentil soup/stew)
- Cook lentils according to package directions. (Rinse lentils, add to pan with water, bring to a boil, simmer for about 30 minutes.)
- When 7-8 minutes remain on lentil cooking time, add vegetables that need a bit more time to cook (carrots, celery, mushrooms).
- When 4-5 minutes remain, add vegetables that don’t need much time (kale, other leafy greens like spinach).
- (If water cooks down too much during cooking process, splash in some more. Likewise I would suggest stirring occasionally, especially after you add your veg.)
- When lentils are done cooking, add vegetable stock and stir, starting with a smaller amount to be on the safe side.
- Taste and add more stock or seasoning if need be. Otherwise, dig in and (hopefully) enjoy.
Variation: Cook lentils with brown rice or your grain of choice (may require a slightly longer cooking time depending on the type).