What does it mean to be vegan? How are vegans different than vegetarians, exactly? How do vegans get protein? And what the heck is riboflavin? If you’ve ever had these questions rattling around in your brain, grab your hemp backpack and organic granola, because we’re going vegan! At least for one day…
You subscribe to the vegan philosophy
As a vegan, you don’t just have a diet. You have a philosophy. As a vegan, you do not believe in the commodification of animals. You believe that animals have rights and dignity just like humans. Not only should they not be killed and eaten, but they also shouldn’t be pressed into service making eggs, milk and other products for their human overlords.
Thus, vegans don’t go vegan for the health benefits, or because it is cheaper, or because it is environmentally friendly. If you’ve heard that veganism leads to weight loss or will reduce your carbon footprint, stop reading and instead try vegetarianism or an actual diet, like keto. As a vegan, it’s all about the animals.
You are surprised at the number of things you can’t eat
Cutting out animal products is harder than you might think. Cakes and pastries? Nope. They have milk and eggs. Vegetable soup? Better see if the broth has chicken stock. Indian curry? Careful: it might be made with goat or buffalo cream. Gelatin comes from animal bones and tendons, so no Jell-O or gummy bears. And don’t forget honey – that’s out too.
This, of course, cuts out many of our main sources of protein and fat, two of the three essential macronutrients (the other being carbohydrates). So where do they come from? Well, as stereotypical is it may be, tofu is a classic vegan staple. Soybeans (from which tofu is made) have a lot of protein and good fat, plus a tonne of iron and calcium – two key micronutrients that are high in meat, eggs and dairy.
Other high-protein, high-fat foods that fill the nutritional gaps include:
- Black beans
- Green peas
- Coconut milk and other plant-based “milks”
It is hard to find good recipes
There are a lot of good vegan recipes out there. As a vegan for a day, you’ve found that vegan chefs tend to be vegans first and chefs second. That “mind-blowing vegan lasagna!” you found online was just “mind-blowing” by vegan standards, which are… well, let’s just say veganism is about respecting animals, not winning Iron Chef competitions.
But there are some things you can do to stay faithful to your vegan convictions and also enjoy your food. First, don’t get too invested in vegan versions of animal products. Non-dairy cheeses and tofu-based “meat” not only tend to be expensive and taste lousy, but they are often extremely highly processed and full of chemicals to achieve that close-but-not-quite taste and texture.
Our advice: leave the past behind. You are a vegan now. Embrace veggies, fruits, nuts and grains, and stop clinging to the meat of yesteryear. Avoid processed vegan imitations. But also shy away from vegan versions of decidedly non-vegan foods. Instead, look for recipes from mainstream sources that are already fairly close to being vegan. Vegetarian recipe books and websites tend to have a much broader range of options, and you can often convert them to vegan by swapping out only a few ingredients.
Sure, you’ve had a pizza with no cheese and no butter, but be honest: did you really enjoy eating it? Or was it just what you had to order when your friends went to that new pizzeria and you didn’t want to be stuck at home watering your organic succulents?
There are a lot of non-food products you also have to avoid
Remember that silk comes from worms? And leather, of course, is a no-no. Many soaps and candles have animal tallow, and many types of glue really do come from horses – or at least, they incorporate animal collagen. And then you have to order expensive vegan makeup and shampoo because lots of cosmetics are tested on animals. And that opens the whole issue of medication tested on animals…
Vegan communities still debate and discuss the ethics of many animal-related products. Some don’t mind using products from insects, but others do. Some avoid animal-tested cosmetics but compromise when it comes to medication. The truth is that veganism is more of a personal journey than a set of hard-and-fast rules, and it requires constantly examining yourself and personal values.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go full vegan to protect animals. Ease into it by starting as a vegetarian or pescatarian (where fish is okay). For eggs and dairy, choose free-range, antibiotic-free farms and suppliers. And of course, grow dreadlocks.