This post is for those of you who have reached out over the years wanting to try veganism but weren’t sure where to start. It’s a crash course at best, sprinkled with personal advice, but I hope you find it helpful.
We’ll talk more later, but if you’re looking to get a jump start, download my quick handout of dairy replacements here.
Elephants Don’t Take Protein Supplements
Say you want to start eating healthier, so you decide to cut back on meat and dairy. You make the mistake of posting about it on Facebook or telling your uncles at the family BBQ. Suddenly, everyone has something negative to say about eating vegetables. Maybe they mean well, or maybe they’re just being haters. Either way, you shouldn’t let anyone discourage you from what you feel is right for your health and your body. Plus, elephants are vegan, and they seem to get plenty of protein. Oh, and you can arm yourself with some sassy answers to common questions about veganism here.
What Do I Eat?
Personally, I think you should eat vegetables and lots of them. Eat a wide variety across the color spectrum – green, yellow, orange, purple… if it’s pretty, eat it. Along with your veggies, you should eat some whole grains – oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa – the possibilities are endless. You can eat pasta (I like brown rice pasta and whole grain pasta,) eat beans, lentils and legumes (those may or may not all be the same thing, I didn’t pay attention in science class).
One mistake I think people make when they stop eating animal products is mentally subtracting meat from the dinner plate and getting bummed on what’s left. Hm, steamed broccoli and a baked potato. Yay! And from that sad scenario comes the inevitable “where do you get your protein?”
Long story short, most Americans get too much protein because of their animal product-based diets. Additionally, the protein they’re consuming is cheaply produced, pumped full of hormones and hard to digest. I’m not touching too much on animal rights here because I know that topic can polarize some folks, but I do get annoyed when people argue about humane slaughtering methods or they say “well what about organic, grass fed beef?” First of all, how about I humanely slaughter you? Second, are you really buying organic, grass-fed meat ALL the time? Really? What about when you go out to eat? My money says you aren’t. So unless you’re Ted Nugent, step off with that argument. And if you are Ted Nugent, get off my blog because you are the worst.
If you want to read a lot more about protein and a vegetarian diet, Rip Esselstyn does a very concise job of explaining it here. He also cusses and threatens violence a lot less often than I do.
So that’s the “no, you will not die of vegetarianism” part of the show. Let’s get back to the food.
In my humble opinion, the more open you are to experimenting with cooking methods, other culture’s spices and ingredients and just trying stuff in general the happier you will be as a vegetarian. I grew up eating Mexican food in Arizona and Chinese take out in the Midwest. It might not impress you, but if you’ve ever been to Joliet, IL a 7 year old girl who loves Mandarin Chinese is pretty rare. Because my palette was never really “meat and potatoes” I’ve adjusted quite well to the idea of veggies in a spicy sauce or rice and beans with savory collard greens on the side. If you hate vegetables, you’re going to have a tough time, let’s be real here.
So let’s talk about fake meat, because for most people new to this game, fake meat is an easy transition. There are some truly amazing options out there these days – made from everything from pea protein to mushrooms. Companies like Beyond Meat and Gardein are setting the new standard for delicious, healthy meat alternatives. Previously in this post, I warned against eating too much soy and seitan but with all of the new alternatives out there made from pea protein and even fungus it’s easier than ever to eat a plant-based diet.
I also previously mentioned that building your diet around fake meat is expensive, and implied that you’d need to be the Queen of England to afford such a diet – but even that has changed since I originally wrote this post. You can now find really good meat alternatives at very affordable prices in stores like Target and even Walmart (no comment). I do still like to make and eat whole food alternatives whenever possible, like jackfruit, which we’ll talk more about later.
OK, But Also Eat Plants…
Plants are seriously tasty, you just haven’t given them a chance yet. One night at my house we’ll have brown rice pasta with marinara (throw a handful of spinach in, you won’t even taste it and it’s super good for you) and the next night we’ll have a bowl of brown rice topped with bean and veggie chili and a side of collard greens. We eat a ton of Indian-inspired food – lentils in tomato sauces, chickpea mashes, spicy potatoes… we make all-veg tacos (cook all your favorite veggies together in some taco seasonings, throw them on a corn tortilla with some fresh crunchy greens and avocado and that’s a damn good taco.) Stir fry, soups, stew and man-oh-man do we eat stuff out of the slow cooker!
I could go one for days, but let me just answer the question “What can I eat?” You can eat food.
Check out the recipe section above for things I make regularly. (Keep in mind this site started in 2006 as a vegetarian, but not vegan blog, so some of my older recipes do call for dairy.) And check out these resources for more ideas:
Again, there’s a little site called Bake and Destroy with lots of recipes for you – if you need to get started quickly check out my Bowl of Stuff!
Whole Foods recipes – free online resource of thousands of recipes. You can search for vegetarian, dairy-free, vegan, you can even tell the finder that you want something featuring beans, or something healthy. I use this all the time. There’s also an app that you can whip out at the grocery store.
All the Post-Punk Kitchen books – there are so many. Veganomicon, Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Brunch… sooo many books! If you’re just going to buy one I recommend Veganomicon – it actually tells you how to cook different grains, beans, veggies. It’s a great book for beginners.
I also recommend picking up a vegan slow cooker book, or just stalking Healthy Slow Cooking.
Here are some of my other favorites: Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen: 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos, & Lots of Creamy Italian Classics, Vegan Casseroles: Pasta Bakes, Gratins, Pot Pies, and More, Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes, Artisan Vegan Cheese, The New Chicago Diner Cookbook: Meat-Free Recipes from America’s Veggie Diner, and, of course, Bake and Destroy: Good Food for Bad Vegans.
What About Breakfast?
Tony and I invested in a powerful blender and we both drink a smoothie every morning. Tony says he’s full until lunch on his smoothie, but I usually have a whole grain English muffin with hummus or apple butter or a bagel with avocado and sea salt when I get to work. On the week ends I’ll make something from Vegan Brunch – waffles, or the delicious vegan biscuits and gravy recipe. You can find some of my favorite smoothies and juices here.
If you’re athletic, or just really hungry in the morning, I suggest Rip’s Big Bowl from the Engine 2 Diet book. Oh, and when I was talking about books I forgot to mention Meat is for Pussies as another good one for tough guys and athletic types.
Stuff You Need
A plant-based diet can be very inexpensive, you just have to invest in a few things to make it fun and then the food itself is pretty cheap.
- a blender – you’ll want it for smoothies and for pureeing soups and things
- veggie scrubber – Tony uses one to scrub organic fruits and veggies so we don’t have to peel them & lose those nutrients. (You might want to peel non-organic, since the skin is where the pesticides tend to seep in.)
- slow cooker – we use ours constantly – throw stuff in when you wake up, come home to dinner
- rice cooker – another machine running near-constantly in my house. We use ours to cook rice, quinoa, cous cous and more.
- freezer bags – I know they aren’t eco-friendly, but when you make stuff in a crock pot as often as we do, you have a lot of leftovers. It’s awesome to come home and throw some frozen leftover chili on the stove and then dick around on Tumblr until dinner is ready
nutritional yeast – nutty, cheesy and super nutritious. We put this in everything we eat – chili, stir fry, greens. It’s good on popcorn and you can even made mac n’ “cheese” with it…more about “nooch” here.
- a variety of grains – quinoa being the awesomest. Quinoa is a perfect food. You should eat it ALL the time. And keep a variety of rices, couscous and other grains on hand.
- TVP or Soy Curls – textured vegetable protein is available in the bulk section at Whole Foods, which makes it pretty cheap. Both of these proteins soak up flavor, so soak them in veggie broth and slow cook them for great sandwich fillings, stews, salad toppers, etc.
- seasonal fruits and veggies – whatever is in season will always be cheapest, will always taste best and will always make you feel good
- Bragg aminos – like soy sauce, only cooler. We put this on EVERYTHING. Helps with digestion and tastes like smokey heaven.
- jackfruit – I buy mine in an Asian market, but you can also find it online. Make sure you get it unripe, and in brine, not syrup. Check out my Jackfruit WTF for a super simple recipe and more on this weird, meaty fruit.
Mayhem and foolishness:
OK so here are other things I thought of that may or may not be helpful:
- If you shop at Whole Foods, do the bulk bins and whatever produce is local and affordable. I try to get other staples at Trader Joe’s or my local produce stand.
- Pre-game it when dining out. Check the menu online or call and find out about veggie options. Most likely even the gnarliest steak house will have a pasta dish for you. Don’t get stuck eating a salad like a loser.
- Eat “bowl of stuff.” This has become my favorite meal. I make things I like together – BBQ jackfruit, collard greens and brown rice, and then I layer them in a bowl and eat them all together. It works with almost anything. Different textures and temperatures are awesome too. Warm quinoa with chopped raw tomatoes and red onions, cooked back beans, avocado, crunchy cabbage slaw and Kalamata olives? Throw on some Bragg aminos and I’ll be your girlfriend til recess.
And now, just a bunch of links to my favorite places to buy vegan stuff online:
Vegan Cuts – pantry staples, beauty items & various monthly subscription boxes so you can try new things all the time
Vegan Essentials – the name says it all
Herbivore Clothing – sassy t-shirts & whatnot
Petit Vour – a monthly beauty subscription box
B.A.I.T. Footwear – seriously cute, 100% vegan retro-inspired shoes
Have more questions? Leave them in the comments! Experienced plant-eaters – comment with your favorite cookbooks & resources, too!
Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Vegan Coconut Macaron
By June 7, 2011Published:
These tender little treats won me over at my first Plant Strong meet up. I smuggled some home in a napkin to prove to Tony that we weren't going to starve to death by eating healthier.
- 8 medium sized dates pitted
- 1 banana ripe
- 1.5 cups coconut flakes
- Preheat your over to 350. Place ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Depending on the size of the dates and ripeness of the banana, you might need to add more or less coconut flakes. The mixture should be moist, but not gooey.
- Scoop by the tablespoon onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 mins, until done. Cookies will be soft, but golden brown and will hold together.
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Bad Word Bad Guy would be a great wrestling character…
Love this!! You just say it how it is girl! haha It was so great to meet you!!
Love this. I was a vegetarian for 26 years. Stopped about 10 years ago, but still eat mostly veggie. I also cook by color, texture, put everything together and, voila, delicious. We go out to eat ALOT – too much- but am leaning back toward simpler easier, less fou-fou more REAL food. Great post.
Oh, I’m also over people who, when I say I was a vegetarian for 26 years, come back with “I’m sorry.” they think they’re funny. Not.
Amen on the nutritional yeast + popcorn. It’s the business.
I tell friends about it and they look at me like I’m crazy.
So why no dairy? Is the answer along the same lines of not eating meat? I love a lowfat greek yogurt w/vanilla and honey, everything else I could live without…So I guess I want to know what makes this yogurt so mad for you when it seems like it shouldn’t be.
I love fake meat too, but I recently discovered the joys of the homemade veggie burger. Cheap, healthy, delicious, and solving the summer grilling conundrum (seriously, I like bell peppers and all, but I need something more than a pepper kebab for dinner).
Also, can you post some slow cooker recipes sometime? We ate the shit out of the Cannibal Corpse tofu one. My slow cooker cookbook’s veggie recipes all taste like soggy depression.
Re: Why no dairy?
Countries with the highest rate of dairy consumption, including the United States, New Zealand, Britain, and Sweden, also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. Although their citizens consume massive amounts of dietary calcium, the excessive protein in that milk, cheese, steak, fish, and eggs always trumps this important mineral, leaving them with a net deficit.
In fact, low-fat dairy is actually worse than full-fat because they’ve subtracted fat without subtracting protein.
That’s all great as far as the science is concerned but my rule of thumb is “look to nature.” Does rhino drink cow milk? Do elephants make cheese out of goat milk and supplement their diets with it? No, of course not. Because they don’t need to. They get all their nutrients from plants.
I actually have more of an issue with dairy than I do with meat. I understand that our natural defense in nature was cunning so we could hunt. And back when we were living in caves and dying in our 20s we never knew where our next meal would come from, so we gorged on meat whenever it was available.
Of course these days our meat sources are much different, and I woudl argue that the way we mass manufacture meat especially in this country has been a decline, not an advancement in food technology.Our bodies are also very different from your typical carnivore’s – long intestines, not much acid in the stomach, short, blunt teeth. So while I get that we *can* eat meat, it doesn’t mean that we *need* to or should.
Dairy, though? It’s just weird. You don’t see it in nature, and there’s absolutely no reason for the USDA to tell you it’s good for you except to support agribusiness.
If you like it, you like it. Me? I like the way I feel better without it.
i love slipping veggies into my muffins. if i don’t have time to bake a fancy desert, i normally use a ghirardelli brownie mix with a pureed can of black beans. the brownies come out really fudgy, plus with more fiber and less fat. no one can ever guess that there are beans in them or that they are vegan.
i don’t enjoy cooking like i do baking, so i normally stick to what’s fast, lots of stir-frys and soups with various grains and veggies.
So too much protein in the dairy takes away from your abilty to absorb the calicum you need?… So, what is the best way to get one’s needed calicum/vitiman D intake without dairy and taking supplements? Because I know vitamin supplements are iffy as well…I am anemic and arthritis runs in my genetics big time so I am trying to keep my iron up (i know there are plenty of veggies with high iron) and get my bones stronger so that means lots of calicum and D to absorb calcium, right?
The best way to get calcium and all the vitamins you need is from plants!
Great sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, oranges, kidney beans, lima beans, whole grains, Swiss chard, lentils, raisins, broccoli, kale, celery, tofu, and romaine lettuce.
Likewise, ample amounts of protein can be found in plants – spinach is 51 percent protein; mushrooms, 35 percent; beans, 26 percent; oatmeal, 16 percent; whole wheat pasta, 15 percent; corn, 12 percent; and potatoes, 11 percent.
The only nutrient that plant-based foods lack is vitamin B12. But you can get a daily supply of B12 by downing two tablespoons of nutritional yeast, a glass of fortified soy milk or a bowl of fortified cereal.
Thank you for this post – I am not a vegetarian or vegan (let’s face it, I enjoy meat on occasion) but I do like to eat veg/vegan a few times per week. I have 2 Moosewood cookbooks and the Seven Secrets cookbook but was looking for something else. SO I just went to my local library and picked up the slow cooker book and Appetite for Reduction. Looking forward to trying them out!
Thank you for this post. Definitely learned a lot about vegetarianism/veganism as well as the issue of dairy in just the comments alone. I added “Appetite for Reduction” to my Amazon wish list as the author and I have something in common — both have PCOS so it will be a great read.
I love this post! One thing I notice a lot from people when it comes up that I am vegan is a weird idea that it is some sort of “extreme” lifestyle….from vegetarians too…that it is going overboard. What I think is extreme is being taught what to eat according to big business and advertising. Being manipulated into thinking that we need something that is actually bad for us. My husband and I have been vegan for 15 years and one of the best things that came along with it is that we know what’s in our food and we know where it came from. Not a lot of people can honestly say that. I grew up eating kraft dinner and now I can cook like there is no tomorrow!!
I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my veggie heart for being an inspiration. I found your blog through the food issue of Bust magazine and thought it was totally rad. Being a baker myself I am obsessed with food blogs and yours stood out. But it was your first post on your 28 Day Healthy Eating Challenge that changed my life. I watched the trailer for Forks Over Knives and had en epiphany. When I saw that guy standing there describing all the medications he takes and still doesn’t feel well, I thought “Holy shit, that’s gonna be me!” (Yes, I am also guilty of the Bad Word) The more I thought about it the more it made sense. I don’t like eating meat, I have never enjoyed it. I used to be a vegetarian but then went back to eating meat because I was lazy and thought I needed it, etc.
So my friends and I went to see Forks Over Knives and I have checked out and read numerous books from the library, stalked a dozen vegan blogs, gotten massive support from other veggie friends and derision from my carnivore friends. But I figure it just comes with the territory.
It’s a process and I don’t eat perfect everyday. But I feel like I have my life back or better control of my life. And I have you to thank for that. So thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep up the amazing work. You rock.
after suffering from intenese sinus pain and pressure almost daily for the last ten years and the onset of intense vertigo attacks four years ago, i started to see a naturopathic doctor (my allopath couldn’t find anything wrong). she talked to me about how food can affect the way your body works and the way you feel. in retrospect, DUH!, but as americans i don’t think we really think about that often. after years of playing with my diet, i found that eliminating dairy and cutting back on meat and alcohol A LOT has cured my issues. i can go weeks at a time without any sinus issues and haven’t had a vertigo spell since i cut out dairy. i now eat vegan and vegetarian at least 75% of the time. when i do eat meat, i cut back on my portions to the old rule of a serving shouldn’t be larger than your palm. i’m pretty petite so that makes for a tiny serving.
oh and did i mention i suffered from terrible acne for over ten years too?? since adding kale, spinach, microgreens, etc. to my diet, my skin has totally cleared up.
now, i am never not going to eat pizza again and i am never not going to eat a cheeseburger again so i refuse to label myself as anything but i know first hand that the more veggies i eat and the fewer animal products i eat, the happier and healthier i feel. those around me see my new eating habits and talk about how they could never do it, but hey what i’m making sure looks and smells good! instead of being preachy, i have decided to lead by example and if others get it, great and if not, well i hope they don’t suffer too much for it. i think most maladies can be traced back to diet and the american public really needs to be educated about that far more than they are currently.
One of my closest friends is a vegetarian and for the summer I’ve been mostly a pescatarian. I think after reading this blog (which I saw from a link you posted on tumblr) I’m going to make the full transition to vegetarian and see where that takes me. Thanks for such a helpful blog!
I love your new site! I haven’t been on in awhile and it is awesome . . . and also fate. I have been fresh juicing in my “diet” for awhile now and I have been thinking about trying vegatarianism again and this post kind of just punched me right in the tits! I want BOS immediately . . . like immediately. This should be a definite movement . . . BOS BITCHES. Thanks so much for being a little punk rock, vegatarian, badass beacon in the night . . . Natalie you are the rockinest.
Oh and PS – HAIL KALE CHIPS.
I love that I re-read my post and realized I spelled vegetarianism and vegetarian wrong . . see I have been away waaaaaay to looooong, damn that pinky finger. 😉
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Is it okay to place a portion of this in my personal site if I publish a reference to this web-site?
As long as you link back to my original post!
Loved this! Straight to the point and very funny.