- Ride-or-Die Vegan Essentials for your Resolution
Of course January is the perfect time of year for people to change their lives around, whether they start going to the gym, practicing more self-care or participating in Veganuary and going vegan for a month (hopefully longer!) But a really common question is “Where do I start?” and I think these beginner roadblocks are what lead to many a discouraged new vegan, and may lead to giving up on veganism altogether because it seems too hard. I’ll start with some tips:
*Disclaimer: I’m not advocating for nor against plant based diets (as opposed to a vegan lifestyle), I’m discussing what works best for me personally and this post is not to be read as the be-all, end-all vegan bible*
- Don’t try to switch right from animal cheeses to vegan cheeses. This is number one for a reason. Although many vegan cheeses are great in their own right, if you’re a hardcore cheese lover, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed. I suggest giving up any kind of cheese, vegan or otherwise for at least a month or so, that way your tastebuds’ memory will have faded a little bit. From conversations I’ve had and threads I’ve read online, this seems to be the biggest issue for people. I’m Italian, so I get it.
- Take a multivitamin. New vegans often complain of lethargy and a lack of energy, which is understandable because first of all, you’re turning your dietary world upside down and second of all, you haven’t got the hang of it just yet. But you will!
- Don’t feel obligated to drink kale smoothies every day. Am I encouraging you to eat like shit? No, I’m encouraging you to eat what you like, but make it vegan.
- Figure out how to veganize your favorite foods first. You’ll have these to rely on while you experiment and explore with new vegan foods.
- Don’t let peoples judgements and shitty attitudes discourage you. You’re likely going to catch a lot of flak from people you know, but mostly people you don’t, but that’s a fact of life you have to deal with as a vegan, unfortunately. People don’t like their ideals challenged, and you don’t really have to say much for them to feel that way.
- Learn your substitutes. Knowing off-hand what things can be swapped in the place of animal products can be super helpful, like flax for eggs, cashews for cream, oil or Earth Balance for butter, etc. That way, when you’re at the grocery store you’ll know what staples to pick up every time you run out.
- Check out recipe databases. Pinterest, One Green Planet and my personal favorite, Food Gawker, are great resources for a diverse selection of vegan recipes.
- Join Facebook groups and/or follow subReddits. Facebook is a treasure trove of groups for just about any obscure (or not-so-obscure) interest, as well as Reddit. Just type ‘vegan groups’ in the search bar, or head to r/veganrecipes or r/vegan to check it out!
- Look at the menu before you go. Eating out as a vegan is far from impossible in most places. Be sure to check out the menu before you head out to a restaurant, that way you can figure out what you want, and also prepare yourself for any questions you may have for your server. When in doubt, salad and french fries.
- Know what’s vegan and what isn’t. There are things that usually aren’t vegan, but on a very rare occasion, they might be. For example, Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies but there are brands like Annie’s and Whole Foods 365 that are 100% vegan. There are also many really sneaky ingredients hiding behind unsuspecting names. Did you know that not all wines and beers are vegan? Check out this handy list.
- Realize you don’t have to truly give anything up. There are tons and tons of vegan alternatives to the foods you know and love. Cheese, ice cream, chicken, burgers, hot dogs, even fish have all been veganized!
Now comes actually going to the store and buying things. Below I’ve created a list of the things I usually keep in my house, and the items in bold are the ones I use frequently (multiple times a week or almost every time I cook).
- Acorn squash
- Bell peppers
- Bok choy
- Broccoli rabe
- Brussel sprouts
- Butternut squash
- Mixed greens
- Spaghetti squash
- Sweet potato
- Swiss chard
- Black beans
- Cannellini beans
- Kidney beans
Dried herbs & spices
- Bay leaf
- Celery seed
- Garam masala
- Garlic powder
- Montreal steak seasoning
Nut butters, sauces & condiments
- Almond butter
- Gravy master
- Liquid smoke
- Maple syrup
- Peanut butter
- Soy sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Tomato paste
- Worcestershire sauce
- Apple sauce
- Canola oil
- Coconut milk & cream
- Diced tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Thai red curry paste
- Vinegar (white, balsamic, red wine, rice)
- Tofutti cream cheese
- So Delicious coconut whip
- Earth Balance butter
- Ice cream
- Shredded mozzarella and cheddar
- Tofutti sour cream
- Unsweetened/unflavored almond, cashew or soy milk
- Gardein products (especially beefless crumbles)
- Veggie burgers & sausages
- Vital wheat gluten
Nuts & seeds
- Flax (ground)
- Animals Left Behind in Hurricane Florence and Our Emotional Response
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash
Hurricanes absolutely devastate and decimate communities, destroy homes and rob people of their livelihood. Some even lose their lives and loved ones. But every time there is a natural disaster, a spotlight shines on cats and dogs left behind.
I can guarantee that an overwhelming majority of people in this world love animals. Some are cat people, others are dog people, but we can all agree that companionship and affection from a four-legged friend goes unrivaled. This is why seeing footage of exhausted dogs treading water hits you where it hurts. We have flashbacks to the pets of our childhood, or the ones waiting on the couch for us at home. “How could someone leave their pet behind?” we say, holding back anger and often, tears.*
Among the never ending influx of these photos and videos, people often get too wrapped up in “What about the dogs?!” to consider those whose suffering, on a mass scale every day, is either ignored or not thought of at all. Yes, I’m talking about cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and every other creature treated as a commodity.
Am I discounting the suffering of companion animals? No, of course not. Although they’re afforded legal rights and included in most states’ government evacuation plans and farm animals are not.
What I’m saying is all animals deserve to be treated equally.
According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 9 million pigs live and die in North Carolina alone…that’s only about a million less than the entire human population in the state (10.27 million). And that’s only pigs! Imagine adding every other factory farmed animal into the mix.
Wouldn’t it be nice if just before they evacuate, farmers had enough of a heart to set the animals free? Fat chance. They’re left in cages and crowded barns, only to drown and die in the very captivity they were born into, never getting a fighting chance to see the green grass or the blue sky. They’re simply seen as lost cash, but the farmers will be reimbursed through insurance. And that’s your tax dollars, folks!
How do we break this cognitive dissonance? How to we show people that these videos of struggling puppies represent all of the animals we’ve failed? The truth is, the adorable baby animal videos you see on The Dodo are no different than those on your plate.
If you beat a dog, you’re a criminal. If you torture a cow, you’re a wholesome farmer with an expensive commercial showing smiling cows grazing in the grass.
Why must it take a disaster that claims thousands of human and animal lives for us to realize that we’re doing things the wrong way? If the thought of a drowning piglet turns your stomach and brings tears to your eyes, just think of how they feel when they take their last breath in the slaughterhouse.
* (Differently abled and low-income/homeless folks may not have adequate access to resources to help with emergency preparedness and reliable public transportation and shelter, which means there needs to be a government mandated program to assist in natural disaster situations).
- 5 Tips for Prospective Vegans or Reducetarians
If you’re here, odds are you already know what vegan means, but what the heck is a “reducetarian”? According to The Reducetarian Foundation:
“…A “reducetarian” diet, [is] where participants reduce the amount of meat they consume in order to improve their health, protect the environment, and spare farmed animals from cruelty.”
While reducetarians are not vegan, I support anyone who strives to cut down on the amount of animal products in their life (both diet and lifestyle) and I really think that people willing to take these steps, including vegetarians, are just future vegans in training!
On my personal Instagram, most of the things I post in both my story and on my feed are vegan-centric, and as a result I’ve had quite a few people contact me, asking “How do I go vegan? I just don’t know where to start.” So rather than writing a long-winded and potentially confusing essay each time, I’ve decided to compose this blog post as a comprehensive guide.
- Avoid vegan cheese
Yeah, I said it. A problem I personally encountered while attempting to transition the first time years ago, my failure laid in vegan cheese. I went straight from cow’s milk cheese to vegan substitutes and was sorely disappointed because like a lot of people, I expected it to be just like the “real thing”. I of course thought all vegan cheese was disgusting, and I would never make it as a vegan, although this was before the age of having access to brands like Miyoko’s and Violife, the two brands near and dear to my heart. So when transitioning, focus on less cheese-centric recipes. I know every vegan says this, but after you get over the hump you don’t miss cow’s milk cheese at all. After a few weeks, experiment with some vegan cheeses especially those linked above. Annie’s makes phenomenal mac and cheese that’s so close to Kraft, not even my omnivorous loved ones could tell the difference. And if you’re steering clear of processed foods, feel free to make your own!
2. Veganize your favorite recipes
It’s a lot easier than you think; there is a substitute for pretty much every ingredient you could ever need. My chocolate chip cookie dough truffles are insanely easy to make, and the only truly vegan ingredient is the Earth Balance butter. There are a ton of vegan comfort food recipes all over the internet including the one you’re looking at now, sure to satisfy your craving for familiar foods. Even after being vegan for almost two years, I am still a huge fan of mock meat brands like Gardein and Beyond Meat. Gardein seriously has a mock meat version for everything! Fishless fillets, meatballs, burgers, turkey cutlets, wings, you name it. They’re 100% vegan so you’ll never have to scour the list of ingredients. Also, Beyond Meat has absolutely exploded over the past year with their products like the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. The demand has been so high for these products, that they’re set to increase production by 200%!
3. Watch out for hidden ingredients
The following are ingredients commonly hidden in foods that are not vegan: beeswax, honey, casein, milk powder, whey, gelatin, lecithin (soy lecithin is vegan), lactic acid, isinglass and more. For a complete list, check out this site.
4. Take it slow
Some people can transition from omnivore to vegan overnight, but if you think that’ll be too much of a shock for you, try vegetarianism first or eliminate one animal product from your diet every week and replace it with something vegan. Common reasons that cause difficulty in transitioning are diving in head first without a plan, not taking a multivitamin supplement and unexpected body changes. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. You want to be sure that you’re still eating enough of the nutrients you need to keep your body going, and if you neglect this fact you could run into some problems but honestly just! take! a! multivitamin! It’s as easy as that and there are very few reasons why someone can’t be vegan if there are any at all. Unsuccessful vegan transitions all stem from a lack of preparedness.
5. Keep your goal in mind
What’s motivating you to do this? The animals? The environment? Your health? By becoming vegan, you’re making an impact and don’t allow anyone else to tell you otherwise. According to PETA, in just a year you’ll have nearly two hundred animals from slaughter. Imagine the impact you could have in ten years, or even a lifetime! Watch documentaries, read books, ask other vegans about their experiences. There are an endless number of resources at your disposal so take advantage. Check out this vegan calculator to see your impact.
There will be people telling you that you’re only one person and what you’re doing doesn’t make a difference. Any time someone says that, I show them the Starfish Story. Best of luck on your vegan journey, and feel free to ask me any questions you might have!
- Why I’m Vegan
As a vegan, I of course get a lot of stupid questions on a near daily basis, but one I don’t mind is “Why are you vegan?”
As a kid, it was my dream to become a veterinarian. When I look at all of my old drawings from my childhood, they’re all of animals. My old pit bull Buster was my best friend in the entire universe, and when he died it felt like I died too. So what? Almost everyone is an animal lover. However, it took twenty-five years for me to comprehend that I wasn’t truly an animal lover, because I was selective about who I loved, and I viewed some as a commodity, or simply a piece of meat.
At twenty-two, I became a vegetarian after being diagnosed with colitis, and morally I felt better about no longer consuming meat. I ate this way for three years and thought “How could people still eat meat?” because I was completely blind to the horrors of the egg and dairy industries, and later on became educated and wallowed in guilt because I thought I couldn’t give up cheese. Today I sit here and think “How could people still consume animal products?”
Farm animals are incredibly emotionally complex, sentient beings with an acute awareness of their surroundings and the ability to experience pain like you and I. They’re forced to live in filth and squalor until they’re herded to be slaughtered. The cognitive dissonance between cute videos of piglets and cows and the animal flesh on one’s plate is very real. Unfortunately the egg and dairy industry is just as violent, if not more than the meat industry resulting in a lifetime of torture ending in death.
There is no humane way to kill someone who does not want to die.
Understandably, many people avoid factory farming exposé videos because they’re really difficult to watch. But my philosophy, and I’m sure many others vegans would agree with me, is if you can’t face the reality of where your food comes from, how can you eat it? If you cry at the Sarah McLachlan commercials, how could you not spay and neuter your pets?
The turmoil between omnivores and vegans is pretty intense, but I believe that in any capacity, the best way to get someone to see things from your perspective is through education and empathy. In my opinion, calling people stupid or throwing fake blood on them or acting holier than thou is completely counterproductive to the vegan movement because it pushes others away. I’m vegan for the animals, not for my ego.
- Why Everyone Should Watch Earthlings
I’ll be frank, Earthlings is hands down the most disturbing documentary I have ever seen, and I have a feeling it’ll hold it’s rank forever. When I was newly vegan, I was all about vegan documentaries. Cowspiracy, What the Health, Food Inc., you name it, I’ve seen it. I had always heard about Earthlings, and how it’s a “must watch” for all vegetarians and prospective vegans, so in February of 2017, I decided to give it a try. How bad could it be? The answer: really, really bad.
Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, it’s broken up into five chapters: pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. After having watched the first chapter (about fifteen minutes) that closed with the image of a pit bull in a garbage disposal, I clung to my dog for dear life as hysterical as I’ve ever been and it subsequently took me an entire year to finish the remaining hour and twenty minutes, watching parts sporadically as I couldn’t handle the emotional and psychological pain. It’s the realist horror movie you could ever see (and is even categorized as such by IMDb).
Why would anyone want to torture themselves like that? As a vegan, I thought I already knew all there was to know. Meat is bad, milk is bad, eggs are bad, leather is bad. But what makes them bad? Bearing witness to it is a much more visceral experience than reading about it, and honestly I think the experience of watching Earthlings is what made me commit to veganism for life and become more of an animal activist than a passive individual. To read that leather cows have their tails broken and chili pepper paste rubbed in their eyes to keep them moving, or that monkeys have their necks broken when they’re used as car crash dummies, or that foxes have electric prods forced into their anuses is bad enough, but maybe not enough to stop one from buying leather or products tested on animals or fur coats. When you see it, you may think differently.
We live in a capitalistic society which means we’re so very far removed from the products that we consume that we forget what they started off as. Bread was once wheat, your jacket was once a cow and your breakfast was once a little pink piglet. The age-old question is “Would you kill it yourself?” and although people may say yes to be spiteful, the true answer, once one is standing face to face with a screaming, suffering animal, is no. So even if your answer is no, you can still see what it’s like second-hand.
People are afraid to give up the lifestyles they’ve been accustomed to, trust me, I know. I grew up as a (mostly) Italian-American in New York who regularly visited Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to have mile high prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches. Taking everything you’ve known to be a symbol of family and comfort and flipping your world upside down is terrifying. But nothing is more terrifying than being an animal tortured for the sake of human consumption and entertainment.
If you’d like, you can watch Earthlings for free here.