GOING VEGAN CAN BE SCARY — UNLESS YOU KNOW THESE 10 SECRETS.
If you’re thinking of going vegan but don’t know if you’re up to the task, here are 10 things you should know:
1. YOU DON’T LOVE THE MEAT. YOU LOVE THE SAUCE.
Once upon a time my partner ate meat, and boy did he love the pork in his dad’s black bean sauce. He was so, so sad that he would never get to taste it again upon going vegan. Then he visited Grasshopper in Boston and tried the tofu in black bean sauce. Holy god, did he stop missing pork. Simply put: he loved his dad’s dish because of the delicious, specific sauce, not the protein it was coating.
So many meals we adore contain unnecessary animal products. We associate meat with countless recipes that are served just as well by seitan, tempeh, plain old vegetables or an ever-expanding array of frighteningly realistic fake meats. Seriously, tell me fake chicken nuggets aren’t just as good as (if not better than) the “real” thing.
Relatedly: You don’t actually crave cheese. OK, maybe you do. If you have a superspecific longing for plaincheese — not, say, tucked into a burrito — then that can be difficult (though not necessarily impossible) to satiate. I get it. I loved cheese. I was one of those people who used to say, “I could never be vegan because I just love cheese so much!” But you know what? I didn’t actually love cheese, specifically, at least not in most contexts in which I was eating it. I loved a certain combination of sweet, salty, savory fattiness along with particular textures. I’ve accumulated an arsenal of recipes that address those cravings, and every day there are more actually-edible alternatives to commercial cheese.2. IT WON’T LIMIT YOUR PALATE. IT’LL EXPAND IT.
Yes, you are cutting items from your diet, but you are also adding new stuff. This can be very exciting if you like food. Few vegans end up eating the exact same diet without animal products. You will probably be pretty disappointed and unhealthy if you keep ordering burgers minus the meat. You will start trying new things, and hopefully you’ll like many of them! Dropping ingredients on which we rely can break us out of food ruts and open a world of culinary possibilities. Since going vegan, I cook more and better and eat a wider array of foods.3. YOU DON’T HAVE TO MISS OUT ON DELICIOUS BAKED GOODS.
A vegan baker won Cupcake Wars. Strange but true: most of your favorites don’t need the dairy. There are soooo many other binding, leavening and moisture agents. With a bit of research, you can probably bake a cookie that tastes just like what Grandma made.4. NONDAIRY CREAM CHEESE ISN’T JUST ACCEPTABLE. IT’S BETTER.
Bagels are one of the food staples on set when I direct my uber-low-budget films. I tend to get cream cheese to smear on said bagels, and I used to get a smaller container of tofu cream cheese for myself. Yes, “used to” because I noticed that, while the dairy sat undisturbed, the tofu disappeared. When asked, most of the omnivores said the nondairy cream cheese tasted better. When given the option, most of them actually preferred it.
Not only are many dairy substitutes just as good; some are better.
5. GETTING PROTEIN IS NOT A PROBLEM.
I have never once in my decade of veganism had any issue with protein deficiency, and I’ve made zero concerted effort to “get enough protein.” Yeah, that’s anecdata, but the idea that vegans generally have trouble getting protein is a myth. You know why meat and dairy contains protein? Because the animal from which it came ate plants containing amino acids. You, too, can eat these plants. If you are concerned, there are accessible lists of protein-rich vegan foods. When in doubt, consult a doctor or other professional, please.6. YOU WON’T LIVE FOREVER. YOU WON’T EVEN NECESSARILY LOSE WEIGHT.
One mean old lady I had the misfortune of sitting next to at Thanksgiving with my grandma a few years ago grilled me about why I wasn’t eating everything. When I told her, she looked at me suspiciously: “Hmm. I’d think you’d be thinner, then.” Yeah, that happened.
While dropping meat and dairy will almost definitely be a good move for your overall health, lowering your cholesterol and reducing your risk of many diseases, your weight is partially determined by genetics. And there are tons of delicious, fattening vegan foods. Many people do lose weight, but I sure didn’t. Yes, you may have more energy, think more clearly or improve your skin’s glow by going vegan, but results vary.7. YOU CAN STILL EAT ANYWHERE, EVEN (ESPECIALLY) FAST FOOD.
It’s pretty darn convenient being vegan in NYC, but even when I travel to small towns across the country, I always find stuff to eat. It may require some internet recon and occasional questions I worry will annoy servers (please be both clear and courteous with servers!) but it’s doable.
I can also always hit up one of the many chain restaurants with consistent menus that I know have something vegan, and possibly cheap. I won’t lie; it can be harder to find quick, inexpensive meals on the go as a vegan. But in every place I’ve been, it has been possible.
I won’t give fast food chains free advertising, but suffice it to say that omnivores have been shocked at some of my road trip drive-through requests. “You can eat there?” Yes, I can. Like a queen. Not that I recommend it. I do, however, recommend the app Vegan Xpress, which lists vegan options at tons of chains.8. YOU DON’T GET A PASS TO BE A JERK.
I know there are some vegans out there giving us all a bad rep. I also know some people are attracted to veganism because of guilt about consuming animal products that 99.9% of the time were produced under straight-up torturous conditions and are the single biggest contributor to climate change, among other environmental costs. Going vegan can convert guilt into self-righteousness.
Going vegan is one way (not the way) to do less harm through consumer choices. Maybe. If you’re buying produce made possible by abused farm workers who have called for a boycott, for example, I don’t really care that you’re using the strawberries to make a vegan pie. We all participate in an unjust food economy. Being vegan doesn’t exempt you. Get over yourself. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, not to get high on self-righteousness, let alone to shame other people. I know butchers with whom I feel more politically aligned than with non-intersectional vegans who think their diet gives them a moral high ground to be awful about everything else. Stop. You’re not helping.9. AFTER AN ADJUSTMENT PERIOD, YOU WILL STOP MISSING ANIMAL PRODUCTS.
It was hard at first. Now it’s not. Meat and even my once-beloved dairy just gross me out, and I was the type of person who would drink a pint of milk and it settled my stomach. I don’t feel deprived. I don’t miss it. I get anxious about lab-grown meat because the thought of eating it makes me want to retch, but I have no ethical reason not to eat it, and what if someday I’m at a dinner party where they’re serving it and I don’t want to be rude? Not that I have social anxiety issues or anything.10. THE HARDEST PART MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU THINK — AND IT MAY NEVER GO AWAY.
Food is a huge part of our lives — how we come together, express love, continue traditions. I feel conflicted when I visit family and cause them stress, however much I try not to, by having what can seem like an overly complicated set of nonsensical dietary restrictions. My family wants to feed me because they love me. They may worry that they don’t know how or will mess up. There are cultural foods, from blintzes to lox, that I rarely or never can share with my family since going vegan. I don’t mind missing out on the food; I mind the disruption and even distress my not eating it can cause.
Similarly, when someone I don’t know well offers me food as a gesture of kindness and connection, and I have to turn it down or ask a million questions (and then usually turn it down anyway), I often feel rude. I hate being a pain in the face of hospitality. I hate throwing obstacles in the way of human connection.
I negotiate these dynamics in my own ways, and as plant-based diets grow in popularity, it does generally get easier to explain without offending (especially if you’re not a dick about it; see #8.) But this is one sucky thing about veganism that has not yet, for me, gone away. In fact, this is the number-one reason that for months I resisted labeling myself “vegan.” I didn’t want to preclude the possibility of consuming dairy socially if it felt rude not to. I eventually decided I shouldn’t put things into my body that I genuinely didn’t feel okay consuming in order to make other people more comfortable. At this point, even if I could choke down a (cow)milkshake, it would probably make me very sick, which is a good incentive not to be “flexible.”
That’s me, though. Do what makes sense for you. There are no perfect answers, but we can do our best. Just know that most of what you may have heard about how impossibly hard it is to give up animal products is either not true or only temporary for most people. You can do it, and do it without depriving yourself of health or deliciousness. Every single day, I am glad I made this choice.