Countdown to Veganuary: Survive and thrive

I’m coming up on my two-year veganversary, which is really exciting! Going plant-based has improved my life in a myriad of ways. I save a ton of money on groceries since I don’t buy animal products or byproducts, and even though the vegan takeout options in Providence are numerous, I don’t eat out nearly as often as I did before going vegan. I also have more energy and suffer less from my chronic gastrointestinal illness!

Plus, I’ve become a significantly better cook. (Just ask Reed.) Not being able to cover things in cheese means I have to actually make them taste good. What a concept.

I’ve come a long way from my first post about going vegan, way back in February 2015. I feel confident talking about veganism with others, most especially omnivores, and I’m well-versed enough in cooking vegan food that I’m often able to bring friends around to the idea of living plant-based after a handful of meals at my apartment.

In fact, this post exists as a helpful guide for my friends! Several of them are interested in trying Veganuary in 2017. (If you sign up at the website, you get a free digital copy of their celebrity cookbook!) I offered to make a series of posts about vegan living in order to ease them into it, since I thought it would benefit readers who don’t have to listen to me talk their ear off all the time, too.

Although I moved from an omnivorous diet into a vegetarian one before going vegan, I know that a number of people opt to jump into veganism full-stop from being true omnivores. I totally applaud that. But I imagine it’s also kind of intimidating, so here’s some cheat sheets to make it easier:

Also check out this handy food pyramid from Oldways Vegetarian Network (ignoring the top portion, obviously):

pyramid

The biggest and most important part of maintaining a balanced vegan diet is listening to your body. I learn something new about food and how it benefits me every time I cook. If I don’t know what something is or what it does, I Google it. If I need to substitute an animal product and don’t know how, I Google it. If I can’t afford a spice for a recipe I’m trying and might not like, I find substitutes. I fine-tune recipes and make up my own, always aiming for healthy, balanced meals that pack a punch of delicious flavor.

rockridgeGoing vegan has a learning curve, just like anything. Don’t be afraid of it. And if you mess something up, don’t get bogged down by it! Just learn from it and move forward with that knowledge firmly tucked under your (non-leather) belt.

A good friend of ours gifted us the Rockridge Press Vegan Cookbook for Beginners when we first made the transition two years ago, which was hugely helpful. It contains checklists for what to clean out of your kitchen, what to look for at the grocery store, and what ingredients to avoid. It’s an awesome guide to getting started, because it covers weird ingredients and more. I highly, highly recommend getting a copy! It’s less than $6 on Google Play and iBooks, which is honestly a steal.

If you can’t or don’t want to grab a copy of this book, that’s cool. I can help you out!

Labels warn for allergens! Hurray! If you see something like “Contains/may contain milk, eggs,” then whatever you are holding is not vegan. That one’s easy.

UNFORTUNATELY, a lot of non-vegan ingredients hide behind unrecognizable names. Things to avoid:

    • albumin, casein, casein hydrolysate, caseinates, diacetyl, gelatin/gel, ghee, honey, lactalbumin, lactalbumin phosphate, lactoferrin, lactose, lactulose, lard, lysozyme, meringue, meringue powder, milk protein, ovalbumin, potassium caseinate, pudding, recaldent, rennet casein, surimi, tallow, tagatose, whey, whey protein.

There are also a ton of ingredients that may or may not be vegan, so be careful. Always check the allergen label, especially if the ingredients include things like:

    • artificial butter flavor, bacterial cultures, caramel, chocolate, egg substitute, lactic acid, lecithin, margarine, nisin, nougat.

As you get more comfortable with veganism, you’ll recognize brands and foods that are best avoided, which will make everything easier. As with anything, practice makes perfect. I really must stress that if you’re unfamiliar with something, use your resources! Ask vegan friends or use Google. There’s a wealth of information available to help you out.

Also, be aware that animal products are often used in processing, even if they’re not present in the final product. For example, some refined sugar is processed using bone char (ew) and beer and wine are often filtered with isinglass, which is obtained from fish bladders (extra ew). For bone char-free sugar, check this list and for vegan-friendly alcohol, check out Barnivore. Also, read labels! Call companies! Make yourself heard!

Beyond the grocery (and liquor) store, one of our biggest struggles when we first transitioned to veganism was going out to eat. It’s since gotten a lot easier, especially since there are so many vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants in Providence, but when we first started out it was hard not to feel like we were being difficult when we asked the waiter to tell us all of the ingredients in the vegetarian menu items and ask about cross-contamination in the frying oil.

Welp.

Once again, Google is super helpful when it comes to chain restaurants, but it can be harder at small, local places if there isn’t a clearly marked vegetarian or vegan section on the menu. My best advice is to be kind with your server and exude patience and understanding, even if you get frustrated asking about ingredients or cooking methods. You’ll feel better knowing that you didn’t accidentally consume an animal product and the next time your server encounters a vegan guest, they’ll be prepared. Win-win.

If you’d rather avoid going out, especially in the first month when you’re getting used to things, I highly recommend cooking at home. Not only is it way cheaper and often a lot healthier, it’s fun. Going vegan has taught me so much about flavor profiles and cooking techniques; I can do things with tofu now that I never would have attempted when I first went vegetarian eight years ago.

One of my favorite things to do is try recipes from my favorite vegan bloggers and cookbook authors, most of whom I follow on social media. I screencap Instagram posts of food and send them to my fiancé with captions like, “guhhhhhhhhh” and then we work the ingredients into our weekly shopping list. It’s an excellent system. I highly recommend it.

If you want to try, check out these people and their delicious food:

To keep track of recipes I like, I use the bookmarking app Pocket. I also screencap a lot, though Pocket is nice because then I can send people links instead of having to Google words from screencaps to figure out where they came from… Oops?

Things I've recently bookmarked on Pocket. I organize recipes based on type and whether I've tested them or not. If I really, really love them, I add them to my favorites.
Things I’ve recently bookmarked on Pocket. I organize recipes based on type and whether I’ve tested them or not. If I really, really love them, I add them to my favorites. It’s super easy to use and organized by tags, which is amazing. I love it.

If you’re thinking of going vegan in the new year, I hope this post helps you out, even if it only points you in the direction of kickass recipes. I’ll be posting a local restaurant guide and some recipe round-ups and reviews throughout Veganuary, as well as some new recipes I’ve been whipping up!

Stay tuned. And if you’re taking the plant-based plunge, talk to me about it! You can message me on Twitter or comment below. I’m here for support and help. Totally.

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