Not sure if you have heard of the Veganuary 2015 campaign. (If you haven’t and would like to learn more, click here.)
Warning: this is a lengthy post. Don’t enter it hungry. I’ve tried to narrow it down to “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Please read “the Good” first, if anything.
What is a Vegan anyway? Vegans are an alien race conspiring to take over the Earth. Just kidding! (Although sometimes I think Vegans are viewed as just that: Ooooooh evil Vegan heathens! Moh ha ha ha! Run for your lives!) Seriously, according to Wikipedia, Veganism is defined as the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, as well as following an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient animals. A follower of veganism is known as a Vegan.
This Veganuary campaign is intended to inspire – challenge? – people to give up meat and dairy for one month. You may recall that last year my husband and I created our own challenge to eat only plants for three months, in essence, giving up meat and dairy. We did so well with our challenge that we kept right on going to this day. Take a look at Plant power, baby. We set out to define ourselves as Nutritarians, but we still need to work and refine our eating habits a bit more to achieve this high bar. We have settled in our first year as Vegans, unwittingly. I believe it takes more than a mere month, even more than a year, to really shift one’s lifestyle. Although, there is the myth of the 21 day habit. A lifestyle change is a bit more than just one life changing habit isn’t it? 21 days x 10? x 12? x 30?
Either way, I want to encourage Veganuary and I’ll share with you some of my experiences in unwittingly becoming a Vegan over the past year with the hope that it will inspire you to make even one or two small changes in your lifestyle.
THE FOOD! I LOVE food. I loved food before changing my lifestyle and now I love food even more so. I cannot believe how good, really good, plant-based foods taste. Even the thought of eating meat gives me indigestion while a homemade veggie burger, or even a homemade Vegan sausage, now makes me drool. It wasn’t that way at first, but somewhere along the way, my tastes changed and I will say for the better! I have graduated even further and now even cheese doesn’t quite have the appeal it once had for this born Cheesehead from Wisconsin. That’s right, I’m from Wisconsin and I’ve given up cheese! But a homemade Vegan cheese – now we’re talking! (I’ve made that baked almond feta cheese numerous times – at parties, attended by herbivores and carnivores, it is always GONE!) I know it’s incredible to believe but your tastes can and will change, too, if you adopt this type of lifestyle.
What is incredible to believe is how I can feel so satiated, and be so into food, only eating plants.
COOKING. A plant based menu is all about flavor and you will learn to cook up some amazing flavors – you will surprise yourself most likely.
“Why do vegetarians spend so much time making things that resemble meat or cheese?”
FLAVOR. It’s not about missing meat or cheese, it’s about flavor and cravings. It’s rather difficult to explain but think of a craving for the ultimate: mac-n-cheese! Everyone “identifies” with mac-n-cheese. You can almost taste it just thinking about it. Oh no! So bad for you, but it’s so cold out, it’s the weekend, I want to couch surf, and I want MAC-N-CHEESE! If you delve into this craving it’s part comfort, part decadence, part gooey, part pasta. Salad just ain’t gonna cut it, you know? So, just make a gooey, comforting pasta dish that’s savory and decadent with only plants. I give in to this recipe here. It is one of my favorite Vegan mac-n-cheese recipes and it incorporates Cauliflower – the power of cruciferous vegetables! (It doesn’t have to be purple Cauliflower. I use the plain old white variety all the time.) I have yet to try a cashew cream based mac-n-cheese and I am sure it is decadent, as any recipe I have ever tried with cashew cream is delicious!
If you peeked at any of the above recipes, you probably noticed a few ingredients that may seem foreign to you. I assure you many ingredients I use now were completely foreign to me. I have discovered and learned a whole new way of cooking and enjoy it. We cook – A LOT – for some of you that may be bad. For us, it’s good.
To be successful at this lifestyle change we need to plan and we needed to relearn/restock our pantry with some foreign ingredients. We have one health store where we live in NY about 45 mins away. We buy many of our ingredients there. Here in Florida we trek to Gainsville, about an hour away, and shop at Trader Joes. Whole Foods or any local health store works, too. We need to stock up and plan because there isn’t any running around the corner for tofu or nutritional yeast in a pinch. Amazon also has just about anything anyone could ever need. For the curious, here is a list of Vegan staples I try to always keep stocked in my pantry:
Old / Vegan:
Butter / Earth Balance
Mayo / Veganaise
Sour Cream / Silken Tofu (recipe)
Cream / Canned Coconut Milk
Milk / Alternative Milk (Almond, Coconut, Rice, Soy)
Cheese / Vegan Cheese such as Daiya for pizza or lasagna, other homemade
Cream Cheese / Tofutti Cream Cheese (better: homemade recipe)
STAPLES (I try to always have on hand):
Raw nuts – cashews, almonds
Spices: Onion, Chili, Smoked Paprika, Cayenne, Cumin, Tumeric, Sea Salt, Pepper
Herbs (Fresh is best – I grow most of mine, of course.)
Amino Acids (or soy sauce)
Sesame seed oil
Pastas – quinoa, whole grain, soba noodles (buckwheat)
Flours – whole wheat pastry, oat (I just grind), all purpose, almond, chickpea
Canned – chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans
Dried – chickpeas, beans (Rancho Gordo – click here – has the best, tastiest beans!)
Tofu – extra firm
And of course, LOTS of veggies and greens!
I used this recipe in place of Nacho cheese.
Vegan Key Lime Pie recipe here. It is for mini Key Lime Pies but I made it into one whole pie because we didn’t have a muffin tin here in our rental. I might add a few extra graham crackers for the crust next time (for a whole pie) because, oh yes, I will be making this again!
We cook out of necessity because there just aren’t many options for us on the menus in our small town’s restaurants. On the other hand, if you live in Asheville NC, you have wonderful options! We highly recommend “plant” and “Laughing Seed Cafe” restaurants.
With just a little effort you can seek out Vegan dining options. Subway – veggie sub. Chipolte burrito – black or pinto bean burrito, or bowl, or try their new sofritas! I even hear White Castle is rolling out a veggie burger. Asian restaurants usually have the most options.
No matter your taste in food, home cooked meals are always better and better for you. No one has ever improved his/her health by dining out each day.
And your health will improve! I cannot say I’ve lost any weight but I can say I feel great – I have energy! Enough to exercise more so much so that I’ve even began a new jogging regime. I never feel indigestion, ever. I haven’t tested my blood yet. My husband on the other hand has lost 30 pounds (men, ya know?). His blood work reflected a 50 point drop in his cholesterol. His blood pressure is down. (I am confident mine will reflect the same.) My brother-in-law was also inspired and adopted a plant-based diet in late October. He has lost 25 pounds since.
It’s difficult, at first, to get together with family or friends. It’s sort of awkward. No one knows what to make for you. We’ve found the best way to deal with this is to ask what is on the menu and bring our own food to compliment the meal, feed us, and enough for others to try. Be prepared is our motto.
Breakfast is the most difficult. Eggs – no. Pancakes – yes – if they are homemade with alternative ingredients. French toast – same. No butter. It’s a lot to ask of your host or hostess. We fall back on bagels and bring our own butter and cream cheese. We’ve made our own tofu scramble alongside the chef of the house. I’ve made vegan doughnuts. Almond milk and cereal. Oh but there are so many, many incredible recipes and I will get better at this. On the list to try: a Vegan frittata out of a newly purchased cookbook. Homemade bread – because who doesn’t like homemade bread? – is another option, maybe with some chia jam.
We still get together with friends but I’m sure we’ve missed out on a few invitations because, ssshhhh, we’re “Vegan.” We bring our veggie burgers to grill alongside the hamburgers – we aren’t strict in that sense. (Some Vegans would not like their veggie burger to touch a tainted meat grill and I get that, but we like to be as accommodating as we can.)
Appetizers are the easiest! Hummus is pretty mainstream. Guacamole. I like to make something a little less mainstream and more special just to state that yes, we heathen Vegans can also have fun! Wegmans’ (if you have one nearby) veggie sushi is a quick purchase and delicious! Even my sister is now hooked on their sushi.
It takes practice and preparation but it will become easy. We’ve got appetizers down. We have dinner down. Breakfast is our next get together challenge and we will accomplish it!
There are a TON of wonderful Vegan/plant-based cookbooks out there to help. I own only a couple but have more on my wish list. I’m sure there are some great ones I haven’t even heard about yet. There are some addressing a FAMILY lifestyle change. I am also a fan of Heidi Swanson. Most of her recipes are vegetarian or easily converted to suit a plant-based menu.
I’ve learned to cook from some great blogs, too. Just a few of my favorites (there are many):
Produce on Parade (based in Alaska for those of you who think you can only eat plants in warm climates!)
It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken (based in Toronto, CA again for those of you who think you can only eat plants in warm climates!)
I also constantly “PIN” Vegan or plant-based recipes to my Pinterest Board “What if there isn’t food in our next life?”
Are we perfect? No. We’ve succumbed to a fried Grouper sandwich. We’ve succumbed to a diner omelette. I’ve even succumbed to smoked gouda (before watching the video link below). The point is we get back on our horse each time (should I even use a horse in that context as a Vegan?). The point is we try. If you want to try and can only do one day a week or two out of three meals a day, I consider that awesome! To fail is to not try!
The ugly is obviously the meat and dairy industries, and it is ugly, real ugly. I’m not going to subject you to any of its horrors, that’s up to you (by clicking on the links – fair warning). There are many days when I wish I didn’t know what I know. It makes me incredibly sad, but learning of the cruelties of the dairy industry alone keeps me far away from cheese. I also have a difficult time understanding how we, as the human race (or any race for that matter), can turn such a blind eye or even revel in our ignorance. I think it is abominable. I never want to hear about someone’s bacon fetish ever again.
If you are seriously attempting to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and are feeling a little “weak” just visit this site, Mercy for Animals. Watch one, or two if you can manage, of their undercover investigation videos and you will jump back on your own horse doubletime.
Want some cheese or veal? No you don’t. (I cried, no sobbed, over this and it still haunts me to this day.)
There really isn’t any kind of wonderful life for animals we slaughter for food in these industries. Organic or not, the legal practices are appalling. The demand is not sustainable, either. For fun, just recognize how cheese is on EVERYTHING! Saturday I was in a (small) restaurant/bar in a (small) town and I took note of the many, many meals readily available to order and what was being served, and that same scenario is going on all over! So multiply that by what? A billion? How can we keep feeding that kind of demand? What would a plant-based industry look like? What would that evolve into? Something good? Or something just as ugly? I don’t know, but all I ask is that people think about it and not turn a blind eye to the cruelties of our meat and dairy industries.
On the bright side there is Farm Sanctuary and The Gentle Barn. I adopted a turkey this past Thanksgiving (instead of eating one) through Farm Sanctuary, and my husband bought me a membership for my birthday!
Even alcohol – which you would think is plant based right? – uses animal ingredients in its filtering and refining processes. I found this ap to guide me in my choices.
Now I am also learning that plants have feelings, too, but duh, as gardeners we already know this. Still, I am always thankful and grateful to whatever is on my plate. I mean if a monk can say a prayer over a polluted water crystal and change it significantly … whoa. (Masaru Emoto)
If you think that’s weird, here’s where it gets really weird.
Since my husband and I have chosen to eat plant-based, we feel and are so much more fortunate. Our businesses have prospered. Our fortune has prospered. I am so much more happy. We are happy! I can’t explain this one (or the water crystals!), other than that there is so much more going on in our universe than we see. I liken it to the “magic” of my garden. When I am out in my garden, tending to it, loving it, or even cursing it – which I really do try to refrain from, it brings me a certain feeling of peace. It fills me up somehow and I am at peace. I am at peace like that nearly all the time now. I believe if you partake in tortured animal you are somehow ingesting that cancerous torture – and I think it truly does affect some of us negatively. I also feel a much deeper connection to the earth and all that’s around me. I used to miss a certain connection I felt in Maine being out in the boonies. That feeling of connection is back, although slightly different. I know, it’s weird – way out there, looney, she’s been digging in the dirt too long – but how else may I explain?
Living proof, here I am happy as a clam in Cedar Key (by the way Cedar Key is one big ol’ clam farm).
Clams aren’t Vegan or plant-based by the way, but they sustain this small town. After watching the above, and seeing the work involved, I appreciate the clams on anyone’s plate. We are too disconnected from our food. There isn’t any right or wrong, but I sincerely hope you try a plant-based lifestyle or even maybe, just one recipe. I hope that plants and plant-based foods enrich your life. I am happy to answer any questions you may have or offer encouragement if needed! This was a difficult post/subject matter to write about. It’s a touchy subject and I hope I haven’t offended anyone or animal.