This week, I’m responding to my friend Jason’s question: Do you have any tips on going vegan while being cooped up at home because of the coronavirus? I share 8 tips from my 8 months as a vegan (funny how that works out).
Now I’ve been vegan since September, so I’m no vegan black belt. But I’m perhaps in a place where I still remember the switch and can share what I’ve learned in the past few months. Before I start, if you’re wondering what being vegan has to do with climate change, I recommend going back to episode 24 from last year: Where’s the beef? There I rant about the impact of meat and dairy on the climate. Alright, here are eight tips I have for going vegan.
8 tips from 8 months as a vegan
- Learn your options. My switch was easy because I’d been mostly vegetarian for 15 years, and had had vegan on the brain. In other words, I knew where in my neighborhood to get good vegan options, and generally what going vegan meant I could or couldn’t eat or cook. If you’ve been vegan-curious for any length of time, use that to your advantage. If not, go easy on yourself, but start to pay attention and build up your vegan knowledge. At the grocery store, remember that whole foods that aren’t meat or dairy-based are generally vegan. You don’t need to look for a fancy vegan label, which sometimes means the food is more expensive; just check the ingredient list. And when you can go out again, Happy Cow is a cheap app that helps find restaurants and fast food places with vegan options; I’ve found some real gems with it.
- Always have snacks on hand. At the beginning, I was hungry all the time. No idea if this was lack of protein, all in my head, or something in between. So I’d recommend stocking up on quick vegan snacks. Here, nuts are a great choice. Bonus points if you can find nuts, or a high-protein, high-calorie option, that you think is amazingly delicious. You want something that you can grab in a moment of “good god, I’m starving!” and that’s easier and more appealing than a non-vegan option.
- Learn to cook your favorite foods. I used the opportunity to do more cooking experiments, focusing on things I knew I’d miss. The thing I’ve missed most is eggs, as I was eating scrambled eggs probably twice a week before I went vegan. So I’ve played with chickpea scramble and tofu scramble and can say, kala namak and nutritional yeast are worth their weight in gold if you’re an egg fanatic. Find them and use them.
- Learn to cook “naturally vegan” foods. I generally find it’s good to cook things that are “naturally vegan,” so I don’t feel like I’m jumping through a lot of hoops and substituting out the “real” thing for a “fake” version. If you’re going vegan, it’s a huge win for your health, because you can easily “force” yourself to eat more fruits and veggies, and by cutting out meat and dairy, you’re cutting out lots of bad fats and processed foods you shouldn’t be eating in the first place.
- Find vegan “guilty” pleasures so you don’t feel deprived. I’ve become a regular at the vegan doughnut place near me, and am a huge fan of Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice cream. I’ve also warmed to sorbets, which is a big deal for someone opposed to fruits in dessert on principle. And of course, vegan cookies are something even non-vegans should get into, if only because you can make and eat a whole bowl of cookie dough without fear of the dreaded salmonella.
- Take a vitamin supplement for peace of mind. Some people worry about calcium or B12 deficiencies, and a supplement takes the worry out of this.
- As you go, you’ll find yourself refining precisely what veganism means to you. For me, the first example of this was when I went to my then-favorite pizza place with my family. I tried to order a vegetable pizza with no cheese, and the woman behind the counter informed me that there was milk in the dough. There was literally no vegan food option at this place. I swallowed hard, and ordered the pizza with no cheese, figuring anything else would seriously disrupt the eating experience for me and my family. Of course, my pizza then came WITH CHEESE. This was my first real test as a vegan. I ate the pizza, and although I had to admit it tasted better than it would have without cheese, I didn’t enjoy it. But my calculation was that they’d throw the pizza out if I refused it, which meant food waste and animal suffering. Now I understand dozens of other factors I could have considered, but that’s the way I went. You’ll find yourself developing a hierarchy of values for yourself that includes things like food waste, accommodating others and asking others to accommodate you, and gifts. What do you do when a friend gives you milk chocolate on your birthday? Your answer might be different from mine, but then again, I never liked milk chocolate.
- Finally, it helps when you’re thinking about eating something non-vegan to remind yourself why you went vegan in the first place. For me, it was the ethical argument: even products that don’t kill the animals involved make them suffer in sometimes brutal ways, and also lead to the death of other animals, such as the male offspring of dairy cows. For Jason, my understanding is that you’re going vegan for your health. So here you can rest assured that the vegan option is usually healthier than the non-vegan one. I made an awesome mac ‘n’ cheese a few weeks ago where the cheese sauce consisted of carrots, potatoes, and garlic. It tasted sinful and had hidden vitamins!
Good luck, and keep me posted!