Help me become vegan!
April 1, 2012 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Help me become vegan!

I'm a painfully picky eater and I'd like to become vegan. I've been an animal activist (anti-fur, anti-circus, anti-animals in entertainment, anti-animal testing for cosmetics etc.) since I was 13 and am now 26. I've always used the explanation that I'm a painfully picky eater as the reason why I still eat meat/animal products. This actually true though and sometimes the prospect of trying new foods makes me have panic attacks b/c new foods TERRIFY me. I've decided to try to get over this and have been trying to cook new foods. So far, I've started making bean/lentil/pea type soups with no-chicken broth and I've also learned to make vegan miso soup (I've been careful not to buy the kinds with bonito/fish extract). I've also been eating vegan pastas (with fake ground round) and fake chicken nuggets.

I have several questions and would appreciate answers to all of them or a few of them!

1. Is it best to transition to vegetarian prior to transitioning to vegan? More or less, do you think it's too difficult to switch all at once... or... ?

2. I like to work out and stay fit and I have two protein shakes per day (one when I wake up and one before bed) to keep my metabolism high. I used to drink Isoflex (has whey) as a meal replacement with some nuts/veggies and a few months ago I switched to bodybyvi b/c it has more nutrients and vitamins. It also has whey protein. I haven't found a good vegan replacement for this and was wondering if anyone knows of any. Ideally, this protein shake would have 12-20g of protein and next to zero carbs or fats (I like to eat my fats and carbs separately through vegetables, fruits and nuts).

3. Does anyone know of any good and EASY meals to make? Typically, when I was cooking meat, I'd throw a slab of salmon/chicken on a cooking sheet, come back in a half hour and eat vegetables with it. I don't like sauces or spicy food (I told you, painfully picky). I eat most things very plain, which is easier to do with meat than it is with tofu. When I cook stir fries I usually just use olive oil. I'm not opposed to sauces like terriyaki sauce.

4. I love cheese and yogurt. Does anyone know of a good non-animal product version of these? All the cheeses I've found have casin (I think that's how it's spelled) which I know is an animal product.

5. Does anyone know of good websites where I could order some of these products that I can't find in the grocery stores?

6. I've wondered about leather in the past, I have friends that are vegan/vegetarian who won't buy leather and then I have environmental friends who say that the synthetic products don't decompose back into the earth leaving a lot of waste behind. Where do you stand on this?
posted by DorothySmith to Food & Drink (40 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
For your casein-free non-dairy cheese needs, Daiya is the bomb. I eat cheese and it's the only non-dairy cheese I actually like. It melts.
posted by Beardman at 12:10 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. I became a vegetarian in January 2011 after wanting to do it for so many years. At first, I was going to ease into it gradually (starting with 3 days a week and working towards an entire week of strict vegetarianism). The original plan was to stay vegetarian for an entire month as an experiment. Then I realized that there was very little in my way, so I just did it all at once and never stopped. The thing that really made this work for me initially is that I finally found some veggie burgers that I really liked, so even if I didn't want to be adventurous enough to dine out or cook something at home, I would have something to eat with a minimum amount of effort.

2. I don't know enough to comment about this.

3. Breakfast: oatmeal prepared in the microwave, or cereal. Lunch: chop up some mushrooms and maybe another vegetable such as bell pepper, sautee it in oil and soy sauce, and turn it into a sandwich with fresh baby spinach. Dinner: I usually put more effort into dinner; no real quick ideas from me for this one.

4. Check out Daiya, which is a company that makes vegan cheese products that do not include casein. I get it at Whole Foods here in California.

5. Check out Pangea:

6. I never cared for leather. I got rid of an old leather wallet and replaced it with a non-leather one. I donated an old leather belt that I had for many years. I still have some leather belts and shoes that I haven't replaced yet.

Good luck to you!
posted by germdisco at 12:14 PM on April 1, 2012

I'm not vegan, but I live with one, and I can't eat cheese or drink milk.

In addition to Daiya, look into Follow Your Heart vegan cheese, especially the mozzarella flavor, which tastes much closer to real mozzarella than the Daiya equivalent. It also melts differently. When I make vegan pizza, I use a combination of Daiya and FYH, and with the right coercion from the broiler, it makes a very convincing vegan cheese pizza.

Non-dairy milk alternatives are becoming more available. Look at the various brands of soy milk, almond milk, and rice milk, taste them, and decide which you like best. Soy milk is the closest to dairy milk in nutrition, but it does have that soy-y, beany flavor. I prefer almond milk, Almond Breeze brand, original flavor (why ever buy vanilla-flavored milk?).

With tofu, you can cut it into steaks or cube it and bake it, but that alone won't do much for flavor. A strong marinade will flavor the outside of the tofu. If you plan way ahead, you can marinate cubed tofu overnight for better penetration, or freeze then defrost the tofu, which makes it more spongy, and will let it absorb marinades better. Of course, you'll have to experiment. If you're picky about sauces, I worry you'd be picky about marinade flavors too. (Honestly, I've found sauce is the best way to add flavor to tofu.)

There's also tempeh. It's a bean or grain product, bound by a type of fungus. It has more flavor on its own than tofu, and often comes pre-flavored. That might be something you can plainly bake, but it'd be much better doused in soy sauce or brushed with a glaze or something.

You never know - my (previously vegetarian, then she developed a severe dairy intolerance, so now vegan) roommate used to eat pretty plainly roasted/baked vegetables and tofu. Then she met me and other food enthusiasts, and her exposure grew, and her tastes expanded.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:31 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

The real question seems to be this: can you get by without dairy? It's probably providing you calories and a little protein that you absolutely need if you're active, and until you learn to like tofu and legumes, you will probably be undernourished if you go vegan. Start trying one new dish involving tofu or legumes per week and phase out the dairy as you can once you find ways of preparing vegan proteins you find palatable.

You should be looking to get protein and most of your other nutritional needs met from your diet and only supplement as needed.
posted by slow graffiti at 12:33 PM on April 1, 2012

2. For protein shakes, look for soy-based ones. There are several prominent vegan weight lifters who blog or have been written up who might have specific advice, but you can also find this stuff on

4. Regardless of whether they have casein, cheeses all have milk, which is also an animal product. However, there are a fair number of vegetarian (non-vegan) cheeses, if you choose not to go vegan. Here's one guide.

6. Instead of substituting fake leather for leather, why not just avoid it all together? Buy fabrics instead and you've solved that problem.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:34 PM on April 1, 2012

Also: You are overthinking this. Here's my challenge: Starting today, don't eat any more animal products. It's not hard. Don't buy them when they are in front of you, and don't put them in your mouth when other people offer them to you. If you are hungry, eat things that are not meat.

If you find yourself really struggling, take a step back and let yourself eat dairy and eggs again for a while. You can always go vegan later.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:38 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

For someone like you, I'd say that the best way to make this transition is to add, a lot, before you subtract. You're on the right track now, trying new recipes and such, but I think you need to broaden your horizons a lot before you start denying yourself certain foods.

I would make a list right now of every meal you currently eat. That is, write down a list of all the recipes you currently make yourself for your normal lunches and dinners at home. Count how many things are in the rotation. Then count how many of them are vegan or can be easily made vegan (say, by substituting vegetable broth for meat). Over the next few months, start adding more meals to the rotation that are vegetarian and vegan. Keep eating your usual foods, but add additional meals as you try new things and find ones you like. Hopefully, adding without feeling like you have to deny yourself anything will be less panic-inducing, because you'll know that if you hate the vegan stew you've made, you can always eat the chicken you know you like. Focus on creating dishes that given you a wide variety of macro and micronutrients (fat, protein, carbs, and lots of vitamins). Keep doing this until you've found as many vegan dishes you like as you currently have meat dishes in your repertoire.

Once you have enough tasty vegan food to keep you going and the idea of eating a lot of vegan foods isn't so scary, then you can start subtracting the meat dishes. Start with the meatiest dishes, the ones that involve a big slab of meat. Then progress to the eliminating the less meaty foods, or omitting the meat from them. Eventually, you will be vegan, and you'll have plenty of tasty foods to eat.

Basically, I suspect that in addition to being a picky eater (and I know picky. I didn't eat a green vegetable willingly until I was 25, and I've been vegetarian since I was 9), you're also afraid of not being able to properly feed yourself. And for us picky eaters, that's a real fear. That's why I'm advocating that you prove to yourself that you'll have enough to eat and be healthy before you give up your comfortable meat dishes. It'll take longer than going cold turkey, but I suspect that doing it this way will also make the whole process a lot less stressful and more likely to stick long-term.
posted by decathecting at 12:43 PM on April 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

1. Is it best to transition to vegetarian prior to transitioning to vegan? More or less, do you think it's too difficult to switch all at once... or... ?

The one thing I would think about for you personally is if you try to do it all at once and and it's really hard, and you start eating animal products again, will you be too intimidated to give it a second shot? You know yourself better than I do so if you think that's possible for you -- have you thought about looking into locally/humanely produced cheese and yogurt? One of the main reasons I am not vegan is because, for example I can get eggs from chickens who live a bike ride away from my house and the lady who owns them has been well known for decades by my friends. I know the chickens are happy and nothing bad will happen to them, plus I'm not contributing to all the environmental destruction caused by factory farming.
posted by cairdeas at 1:04 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few overarching comments:

- Don't look for one-to-one substitutes (e.g., soy cheese, soy chicken) unless you want to eat lots of processed food. Your diet now actually sounds healthier than what I imagine your vegan diet would be. Getting into all the vegan specialty foods can lead to eating lots of tofu and gluten, which in my book are less healthy than the whole foods you're currently eating. I like croutonsupafreak's approach is good: "don't eat any more animal products... If you are hungry, eat things that are not meat."

- Given what you said about your food sensitivities and panic around trying new foods, I'd seriously consider continuing to eat cheese and yogurt, perhaps by carefully reviewing the animal care practices at a few select places. Dairy and eggs can be done ethically, I believe, having been vegan and later living with some chickens for awhile. You would have to look around for the best farms.

1. Is it best to transition to vegetarian prior to transitioning to vegan? More or less, do you think it's too difficult to switch all at once... or... ?

For most people, I'd recommend going cold turkey (har har). For you, given that not all foods agree with you, easing into it might be better.

3. Does anyone know of any good and EASY meals to make?

Just eat those same vegetables you ate. Only eat more of them, and make sure you're really mixing them up.

Lentil or black bean stews were my go-to meals. Good foods to have on hand are nut butters (peanut butter, almond butter, tahini) with celery or carrots, and hummus (easy to buy, and actually also even more delicious if you make it yourself). Here was a shopping list I made in another question.

6. I've wondered about leather in the past, I have friends that are vegan/vegetarian who won't buy leather and then I have environmental friends who say that the synthetic products don't decompose back into the earth leaving a lot of waste behind. Where do you stand on this?

I no longer try to win purity awards, but my opinion when I did was that buying used was the most ethical thing to do. Also, you can buy locally made products. So, for instance, finding a local artisan who made something like this wallet on etsy made of reclaimed seatbelts and bike tubes would be my top choice. It almost becomes affordable to buy things like that if you also buy a lot of what you wear at goodwill.
Ah, the good old days.
posted by salvia at 1:08 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


This actually true though and sometimes the prospect of trying new foods makes me have panic attacks b/c new foods TERRIFY me.

Have you ever thought about therapy for this? I mean it's one thing to just be someone with a fairly narrow range of things they like, and dislike of trying new foods. But what you are talking about sounds like something else, being TERRIFIED and having panic attacks when trying new foods. That's a totally separate issue. Did someone try to force you to eat disgusting foods when you were little? Or did you have an unexpected bad reaction to a food at some point when you were little that was really unpleasant or scary? Maybe it would be worthwhile to work on this too while you're coming at it from the other direction also.
posted by cairdeas at 1:11 PM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I was vegetarian and thinking of going vegan, giving up cheese seemed like an insurmountable hurdle. But my vegan friend said, "Don't look at going vegan as giving things up; look at it as an opportunity to try new things." I thought this sounded like some kind of self-manipulation mind trick at the time, but what she said turned out to be true. If you aren't willing to really dive in and try new things, it will feel like deprivation, and the part where new foods terrify you is what gives me pause in telling you to go for it. If you're truly willing to set aside that fear and look upon veganism as an adventure, I don't see how you could possibly be disappointed. I wasn't, and I haven't cooked with dairy or eggs in a year and a half now.

Check out Isa Chandra Moskowitz - her book Appetite for Reduction is full of healthy, great recipes that are simple and use ingredients you can find at the regular grocery store. I've made virtually everything in the book and can't think of anything off hand that has been disappointing. She also has a website with lots of great recipes and really helpful message boards, too.

I would recommend steering clear of cheese substitutes at the beginning - even the best of them do not really compare to actual cheese. After you've been vegan again you can try adding them if you really miss it, but I've found that I prefer to eat real, naturally vegan food rather than meat or cheese analogues.

Also, it is perfectly okay to go vegan by degrees if the thought of jumping in whole hog (so to speak) sounds too overwhelming. Start by making vegan dinners a few times a week, or maybe choose one meal per day to be vegan, and go from there.
posted by something something at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

This actually true though and sometimes the prospect of trying new foods makes me have panic attacks b/c new foods TERRIFY me.

Have you ever thought about therapy for this?

I actually was going to say, "have you thought about being tested for allergies or celiac disease?" Being "picky" could be a very rational approach to having some undiagnosed sensitivity that causes cramping or nausea. The best thing for me about being vegan was realizing I was lactose intolerant. Since your natural eating has evolved away from sauces (many contain wheat) and towards whole meats and vegetables, I'm wondering if you're allergic to gluten. That would make gluten-based meat substitutes a bad idea.
posted by salvia at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2012

I've been vegan for almost 6 years, after being veggie since I was 12. I am notoriously picky about what I eat (though in different ways than you), and that didn't change when I went vegan, and it doesn't need to change for you (unless you want to expand your food horizons, in which case go nuts!). The idea that veganism is "hard" is a myth, as is the idea that veganism is "restrictive". It is not hard and, apart from the obvious exclusion of animal products, not restrictive. I promise.
Dorinda's guide to going vegan:
1) Continue eating foods you like,
2) Continue avoiding foods you dislike
3) Stop eating animal products.

I don't mean to be flippant, but I've made it a personal vendetta to destroy to the notion that veganism is some sort of hardship or deprivation, because that simply isn't true. It's honestly not a earth-shattering change, as far as behaviour is concerned. The only "challenge" I encountered when going vegan was educating myself about various "hidden" animal products (Warning! Guinness is NOT VEGAN, a fact I discovered to my chagrin after spending a weekend in Dublin in which I subsisted solely on the stuff...oops. Lesson learned), but that knowledge comes with time and however much effort you're willing to put in.

Vegan meals don't need to be complicated in order to be tasty (though they can, of course, be as complex or intricate as your gourmet imagination allows). Because I am picky, and starved for time, and not a great cook, my meals often consist of a big colourful salad made with a variety of fresh greens (which I always have on hand), whatever random veggies are in my fridge at the time (again, I always have staples on hand) and with quinoa or chickpeas thrown in for protein; or sometimes if I want something "heartier" (and warm) I'll just toss a tray of veggies just in the oven with some lemon juice, salt/pepper, and a sprinkling of oil, and serve the roasted veggies over quinoa. Easy. Neither meal takes longer than 20 minutes to prepare, and there is room for endless variety (and varying nutritional profiles) depending on what veggies and other add-ins you use. When I have a little more time, I'll sometimes make up a GIANT pot of soup or chili and freeze individual portions to eat later as super-quick meals. There are a million places to find specific recipes, but I like vegweb for its searchability and expansiveness. Quinoa is a vegan's best friend. Use in place of rice or pasta in almost any recipe for a nutritional boost. I also tend to throw kale or another dark, leafy green into almost anything I make, since it is relatively high in iron, calcium, and Bvitamins (nutrients that are concentrated in animal products and therefore generally low in vegan diets).

I am also very active, and therefore choose to use a supplement on days when I'm doing extra-long workouts, or on days where I can't be sure if I'm going to be getting enough nutrition (i.e. when travelling, or eating in unfamiliar restaurants). I cannot recommend the Vega line of products highly enough. I use both VegaOne (the meal replacement/supplement) and the plain Sport Protein, depending on my needs, and have used the sport performance program to get me through several intense training programs. The line was developed by a vegan triathlete, and the philosophy behind Vega is described in these books.

As for purpose-made meat/dairy substitutes (i.e. fake cheeses, "veggie" meats, etc), I personally don't use any, and am not a huge fan of soy products in general (though I'll use tofu occasionally in a stir-fry or as a binding agent in baking), but I've heard good things from other vegans about Daiya (as mentioned above), Earth Balance (margarine), and Coconut Dream (vegan "ice cream"), but for "cheesy" flavour without the nastiness of chemical "cheez" -type products, I would suggest experimenting with nutritional yeast. Sprinkle some on top of some air-popped popcorn for an incredibly addictive, delicious, and healthy "junk food" substitute.

Though I am an advocate of simply eating "real" food and avoiding processed products, I have found that for the few "weird" or specialty items that I do incorporate into my diet, most major grocery stores nowadays (at least here in Canada) have a wide variety of products that cater to "special diets", so having access to the things I want/need as a vegan has never been an issue for me.

Good luck with your transition! And remember, it's only as difficult as you want it to be!
posted by Dorinda at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the wonderful answers!

As for therapy to get over the eating issues, it's definitely something I'd consider in a little while when I have more time (I'm in the last hurdle of my doctorate and avoiding anything time consuming until after the dissertation is completely written). When I was little, I was pretty sick (asthma, enlarged tonsils, allergic reactions to medications etc.) and my mother let me eat the things I liked b/c she felt bad that I wasn't feeling well a lot of the time. My eating resembles a 4 year old b/c little kids like things plain and I am just starting to venture out. As far as the fear, my biological father used to put things in my mouth when I was little and not let me spit them out if I didn't like them, which is likely where the panic surrounding trying new foods comes in. I'd say over the last 5 years however, I have begun to try a host of new foods and my eating hardly resembles what it used to in my youth. That's why I've decided now's the time to transition to vegetarianism since I now eat enough variety and have enough courage to at least try the plain things. The more comfortable I am in life, the more I'm willing to try new things.

Thanks everyone for the tips, I'm currently making a list of all the meals I could eat that are vegetarian and I think I'm going to do Peta's month long vegetarian pledge (they say a vegan pledge, but I'm going to do the vegetarian one first) starting today! I've been eating more or less vegetarian for the last month already, except when I eat out. That'll be the major change for now.

I also tried chickpeas two weeks ago, gag me. Bleh! Hummus, however, I can do. :)
posted by DorothySmith at 1:28 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As long as this is about you, and what you want, and all of your subjective nonsense with regards to food, you are just going to keep on being a hypocrite forever and forcing animals to suffer for your choices.

I came in here for the tough love because unless you change the way you think about the things you put into your body you will never be a successful vegan.

Being vegan is a lifestyle. I am not a vegan because I like vegan food, I am a vegan because of ethical principals which I will never violate. Just like I would never rob someone, or physically hurt an innocent person, so too will I never force an animal to suffer so I can thrive.

You see cheese, I see cows crammed into a factory farm. You see eggs, I hear chickens pecking themselves to death. You see 'food' and I see a slaughterhouse floor dripping in blood and offal, terrified animals screaming and fighting in vain for relief from their suffering.

You see a cow in a pasture, I see myself.

If this is not about the principal of 'do no harm' then just turn back now. Go find some other way to differentiate yourself and pacify your mental anguish.

If you are still with me, if you really want to do this, then for you to do it safely you must understand the following points:

1) Your body requires protein to survive. Veggie proteins can be difficult for the body to absorb. Be prepared to lean on beans, seeds, and seitan or your body will start to become malnourished. Figure something like 50 grams+ a day of protein to remain healthy. This is quite a bit of tofu / tempeh, so get ready.

2) There are vitamins and minerals which are difficult / impossible to acquire through a vegan diet. B12 is a biggie, Iodine and Calcium are as well, not to mention things like selenium. Of course, most non-vegan diets are lacking in these things as well, but you have to be extra careful as a vegan.

I am not trying to be mean. I really wish you the best if this is what you want to do, but being a vegan has to be a choice which is motivated first and foremost by principals, and secondarily by subjective notions like 'taste' and 'feeling.' Put the animals first, and this will be trivial for you. Put yourself first, and you will never succeed.
posted by satori_movement at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2012

I've been vegetarian for the past decade (and I've always been extremely picky). For me it has been a long, slow process of figuring out what I can eat that's good for me. My latest discovery has been soup: all those healthy things that I didn't know what to do with? Add water and voila, soup! A lot of people like to make stir fries or curries.

If you head towards vegan, consider starting with being vegan when you go out to eat. It is more easy to control what goes into the food you prepare at home and pick the dairy and eggs that comes from happier animals than it is to control the ingredients in food cooked by someone with a profit margin to worry about.

It looks like you're in Toronto. Here is a list of CSAs in Toronto. Getting a regular box of vegetables is incredibly helpful for me in getting good food into my life. Then I don't have to worry about going to the farmer's market or the grocery store and wandering around not knowing what to eat and ending up leaving with nothing (or something tasty, overpriced, and practically void of content like fake bacon). There's a whole box of food that I have to do something with! And if I can't finish it, I can always share.

Rice and beans and greens
posted by aniola at 1:39 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your chickpeas comment also made me think to add that there are so many different ways of preparing things - don't dismiss something altogether just because you didn't like it one time. For chickpeas, try roasting them - here are a few ideas for flavorings. It totally changes the texture and, to me at least, makes them absolutely delicious.
posted by something something at 1:46 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just want to say that I could not disagree more with satori_movement. Being vegetarian or vegan is about whatever you want it to be about, not what other people tell you it's about. It's a lifestyle if you believe it's a lifestyle. It's about ethical principles if you want it to be about ethical principles. Just as you wouldn't like it if other people tried to tell you what your values should be, you shouldn't tell them what their values should be.

For me, honestly, it's about the fact that meat seems icky. Seriously, it has bones in it, and there's apparently a thing called gristle that is like hardened fat, and it periodically gets contaminated with feces and kills people. That's repulsive. And yes, part of the reason I'm grossed out by meat is that it reminds me of living, breathing things that feel pain and have interests of their own and that are raised and killed under absolutely terrible conditions. But I wouldn't eat meat even if the animals got to eat cookies and watch cartoons all their lives and then died peacefully in their sleep, either, because I don't want to. I've been a vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) for 22 years, and for me, it's about 20% about living an ethical lifestyle and 80% "subjective nonsense."

You don't need "tough love," and you don't need more people trying to make you eat what they think you should eat. You need to figure out what you would like to eat, both aesthetically and ethically, and then eat that.
posted by decathecting at 2:06 PM on April 1, 2012 [18 favorites]

Yeah, I've been a vegetarian over 15 years and I gotta say, I think lines like this:

I came in here for the tough love because unless you change the way you think about the things you put into your body you will never be a successful vegan.

VERY commonly stop people from even attempting vegetarianism or veganism, even taking the smallest steps in that direction. This is not something you need to pay attention to, OP, it even intimidates ME reading it even though I've been veg at this point for more of my life than the time I spent eating meat.
posted by cairdeas at 2:13 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you Decathecting. I am one of those people that absorbs guilt way too easily to the point where I have trouble making a decision and hearing your words helped me. I already feel guilt about about eating animal products, hence why I want to change. My friend, who unfortunately is far away in Ghana right now, has told me over email to do what I can do for now and work on the other things later. She used the example that while she hopes that orphaned children all get the best possible life, that she wouldn't be able to mentally deal with going and volunteering in an orphanage. It made more sense when she said it, but more or less she meant work on vegetarianism and then if I feel like I still want to go further, then work on that and not let myself get bogged down with guilt for not being able to do everything at once.
posted by DorothySmith at 2:14 PM on April 1, 2012

Response by poster: Oops, I forgot the other part of her story... that right now she could afford to give a few dollars to helping the cause, but that's all she can do right now.
posted by DorothySmith at 2:16 PM on April 1, 2012

I have similar food issues and I find that acclimatizing myself to new flavors works better than just straight up "trying" new foods the way most people do - by forking a huge bite into their face. How they stand it is beyond me. Like I got into dried apricots by taking a teeny tiny little nibble off the outer edge and just hanging out with it, then I'd take another tiny little nibble. I find that much less overwhelming. So whatever new vegan food you want to try and get into, I suggest getting private, putting it on a table next to a neutralizer like a banana or a chocolate bar, and just taking teeny tiny tastes with your neutralizer food at the ready. Total palate control! It's OK if it takes you a while to get used to the flavor, btw.
posted by prefpara at 2:20 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I really, really, disagree with the attitude set forth by satori_movement.

Above all else, food should be for nutrition and enjoyment. I agree with your friend -- this is something that matters to you, and the changes you make to your lifestyle will benefit you and the world around you, no matter how small. Do not let guilt dictate your choices -- guilt is one of the primary factors in disordered eating, and it's not fair to you or your health. Should you make informed choices so you're not wasting food unnecessarily or supporting causes that you feel are immoral? Totally. But the idea of being a "successful" vegan or even vegetarian is BS. You are doing this for you and for causes you hold dear. That's all that matters. It's not a competition, and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, chuck 'em, 'cause they're wrong. I've been a vegetarian for 24 years (whole life), and it pisses me off to hear people diss others for not being veggie or vegan "enough". Mind yo business.

So! Take this slow. Start weaning yourself off of items you no longer want to eat and start substituting with legumes, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, etc. Do what will ultimately be best for you. If you discover you need to retain certain animal products in your diet for a while because that's what will serve your body better (and yes, that needs to come first over anything else), so be it. You will eventually find a suitable substitute, and if for some off reason you don't, it's not going to make you a failure or any less of a vegan for needing that food thing so you can stay healthy. You can't do good in the world unless you take care of yourself first.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 2:25 PM on April 1, 2012

Look, she lead her question with "I've been an animal activist since I was 13 and am now 26. "

So clearly she is beyond thinking of food as just nutrition and enjoyment. Animal rights seem to be her motivating desire to make this change, not anything else.

I have never met a long term vegan who did not rank animal rights as their #1 reason for being a vegan. This does not mean they do not exist. I have met plenty of vegetarians who just do not like meat.

Dorothy, I was not trying to guilt you into being a vegan. You absolutely can do whatever you want at your own pace. There are plenty of stops on the way from omnivore to full on herbivore.

You sound like a person who cares deeply about animals, and I was simply suggesting you let your compassion be the prime motivating reason for adopting these new life habits. The pace at which you make the change is absolutely up to you. If everyone makes just a little change, it will result in a huge difference.

I probably sounded sterner than I meant to because I see so much of my former self in what you wrote. I am the prototypical difficult eater, and had tremendous difficulty changing my eating habits until I changed the way I thought about food. Of course, what works for one person may not work for another.

Your health and well being are extremely important and if this is stressful, then you do not have to do it. Nobody HAS TO be a vegan. Better to keep doing what you are doing, and doing a good job drawing attention to the suffering of animals, than to cause yourself cognitive dissonance and stress.

Is there a vegan or vegetarian food cooperative near where you live? Meeting locally with other vegans / vegetarians is an excellent way to learn about the best techniques for being a successful veggie.
posted by satori_movement at 2:38 PM on April 1, 2012

Mod note: Folks, from this point forward any name calling is getting your comment axed, please be constructive from the get-go or don't answer until you can be. Problems? Go to MetaTalk, not here. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:40 PM on April 1, 2012

1. I'm a strict vegetarian, but I'd do what feels natural to you and up the ante if/when it feels right. If it feels right to go full-force now, then great! If you want to do it one step at a time, then great!

2. I really like Biochem's protein powders, and they make several vegan ones. They are exactly the profile you're looking for - lowest possible carbs/fat.

3. Having frozen meat substitutes, frozen veggies, cans of chickpeas, bags of rice, a big container of salad greens, etc. always stocked makes for easy non-inspired meals. Since you mentioned soup, there are a lot of vegan prepared soups by Dr. McDougall's that you could either buy or use as inspiration.

4. Not really anything to add to what's been listed above.

5. I buy some pantry items, and actually my protein powders, from Vitacost. They have a lot of coupons associated with the online store wherein I usually save at least $12 off the order total and qualify for free shipping.

6. I do not wear leather/suede/bone. I am ethically against it, and also believe that while some current manmade materials are bad for the environment, encouraging their sales improves the chances of companies allotting the resources for the R&D necessary to make better manmade materials by proving there's a market.
posted by vegartanipla at 2:48 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've found a few organic type places here (London, Ontario), but nothing that I know of that's strictly vegan. So far, I've been going to a few different places to get stuff. The fake meats aren't at a lot of the grocery stores of they only have one particular thing (ie. some have the fake chicken nuggets but not the fake ground round, some have extra firm tofu, others don't). So far, none of the grocery stores have the no-chicken broth, but I did magically find some at the S & H health food store. I know there's a food co-op somewhere but I'm pretty sure you have to volunteer a few hours a month to be able to buy stuff there (which I'll gladly do once this phd is done). I bet somewhere like that likely has more vegetarian options.

My plan was to limit tofu/soy meals to a few days a week and other than that rely on beans/veggies. I didn't realize until a few minutes ago that some of the breads at Subway and tortilla wraps are vegan (which is delightful b/c I could live off of wraps).
posted by DorothySmith at 2:49 PM on April 1, 2012

I'd reconsider making major dietary changes in the middle of dissertation stress, especially since food issues are (understandably) triggering for you. But that's me! If you're ready to tackle it, more power to you.

While I'm not vegan or vegetarian, but I've found some great vegan recipes on Post Punk Kitchen. I didn't think I liked garbanzo beans either, until I learned you have to drain and rinse canned beans. It's a completely different food when you get rid of the awful canned taste/texture! Also I like Faraon brand, because the beans don't have the 'skin' that I find on most other brands.

Here's a casserole recipe I tried the other day. It really is comfort food style, maybe give it a chance?

Good luck with your doctorate!
posted by Space Kitty at 2:54 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've been a vegetarian for 20+ years and just wanted to pop in and say that I also disagree with the all-or-nothing "tough love" approach.

I have three reasons why I feel this way:
--1. Black-and-white thinking (i.e. immediate veganism or total failure) sets you up for failure, both because it's discouraging when you start out, and because it sets up the thought process that if you fail once you're a total loser.
--2. When we're talking about major behavioral change, preparation is key. You are totally right to do research and find out the ways that you can best execute this change you want to make!
--3. Even when speaking about ethical concerns, some change is better than no change. Like, I have a friend who is "95% vegan" -- he cooks only vegan food, orders vegan food when going out to eat, but if he's in a foreign country where veganism is not really happening, or at someone else's house and they offer him a non-vegan food, he eats it. This flexibility makes his eating habits sustainable for him -- which means 95% less animal product consumption on his part, year after year...

Then to answer your question more directly:
A month of vegetarianism sounds like a good start in a transition-to-veganism. Do you have access to a library? Try checking out "How To Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman. It has ... well, everything, and a lot of it is pretty simple and plain (as I think you're indicating you like). Check out "Veganomicon" too. Ask your vegan/vegetarian friends to come over and cook dinner with you one night a week -- they can show you recipes that work for them. Look especially into recipes that involve beans, nuts and legumes. There are a lot of great ones (my family practically lives on variants of beans and rice and mujadara). And, you know, considering how picky you are, a meeting with a nutritionist might be awesome, if you could afford it.

Good luck and good eating, DorothySmith! Do it for love instead of guilt -- keep in mind what you value and why you're doing it -- and be gentle with yourself as you shift your behavior to be more in line with your own values :)
posted by feets at 2:57 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

As general advice, based on what caused me to ultimately stop being vegan, I'd suggest you try to avoid the desire to become purer and purer, and defend yourself against any external judgment (some of which is displayed in this thread). I stopped being vegan in part because I got sick and wasn't getting better, and in part based on realizing that the abstract rules I was using actually didn't hold true in every circumstance. Holding to veganism too rigidly, more and more rigidly in fact, is what ultimately made veganism fail for me (or vice versa). So, do what you can, and don't let that last 10%, 2%, 1%, 0.01% crush you.

A more flexible and less guilt-oriented approach is actually better:
- For starters, you'll do more good by doing 90% right sustainably, rather than overwhelming yourself trying to do 96 or 98% right and then abandoning the effort. All-or-nothing thinking too often leads to doing nothing.
- The law of diminishing returns means that there are probably better ways to invest your time and energy than trying to achieve 100% perfection. It might take you an extra 2 hours a week to have a diet that is 90% "pure" but 8 hours a week to reach 95% or 14 hours to reach 97%. Compared to marginally improving your own diet, those extra 12 hours would probably have a much bigger impact on animal welfare if, say, you donated them to a well-run political campaign.
- Last, I think your own intuition and thinking will point you toward more nuanced and better decisions. Rigid rules stop that from happening. Some may disagree with me here, but by my criteria, it would be much worse for animals if I ate soy imported from Brazil, processed, then packaged in plastic, than if I eat eggs bought from a nearby family that has a few hens running around in their yard that they feed organic compost from their own garden scraps. After all, soy kills animals and people. But don't let that article psych you out either! You're so aware, well-intentioned, and thoughtful -- I'd stay flexible, so that your values and analysis can guide you to the best decision under whatever circumstances you find yourself.

Bon appetit!
posted by salvia at 3:09 PM on April 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Dorothy, I did not mean to derail this thread, nor did I mean to be a jerk. My original comment was inappropriate, and I should have practiced some of the compassion I preach so much and written something more supportive.

Hmm, there does seems to be a natural foods coop in London. It sounds like anyone can join for a small fee, and though they encourage volunteering, they also allow non-volunteers to shop for a small service fee. I bet they will have tons of options for vegan / vegetarian food, and they also sell ethical and responsible animal products.

The living centre seems like a nice place to learn more about raw / and alternative types of diets.

Happy cow is a decent resource for learning more about vegan / vegetarian options in any major city. Vegout looks super tasty.
posted by satori_movement at 3:20 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks Satori_movement! I appreciate the leads you found. I've started writing things down b/c one day I learn about something and the next I forget about it until I've actually gone and shopped there. I'm writing down these ideas right now!
posted by DorothySmith at 3:24 PM on April 1, 2012

I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I do eat a lot of vegetarian and vegan foods, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for satori's POV. The reason is that when you're making such a radical and restrictive change in your diet, the first step is to detach yourself from your desire for certain foods, and this is the exact opposite of being a picky eater. You have to put yourself in a place where the main thing is that those vegan foods are just foods you need, and the nature of it isn't that important to you-- all that's important is that it fulfills your nutritional needs and is vegan. You can't be that person who says, "I could never give up a good steak!" because you DO need to shed your desire for it, and if you DO have that desire, you need that desire take a back seat to your desire to not consume any animal products.

The nature of being a picky eater is that you're attached to and dependent on specific foods, and being a vegan has a big component of personal detachment.

But the first step is really to expand the range of foods you are willing to eat and then, once that is done, eliminate the meat and dairy, leaving the new kinds of vegan foods in place.
posted by deanc at 3:44 PM on April 1, 2012

Oh, and do not forget vitamin D. D3 comes from lanolin, so it is not technically vegan, but D2 is made from mushrooms. In either case, a vegan needs to supplement D, but so technically do non-vegans. So yea, B12, D2, Iodine, and Calcium are the big ones. Soymilk or other types of synthetic milks will provide all of those vitamins and minerals, except for iodine(check labels!).

And before I forget, hemp seed protein powder is an excellent way to get a boost of protein in a shake type format. Unlike other types of protein drinks, hemp powder is rich in fiber, in addition to having a complete profile of amino acids. Nutiva is one brand, Jeff's best hemp is another, both of these can be purchased on amazon. Hemp seeds can also be added to salad or sauces for omega 3s / protein / zinc.

Chia seeds are an excellent tasty way to get some calcium. You can buy whole chias on amazon, soak a few tablespoons in fruit juice, and voila, instant protein / fiber / omega 3 / antioxidant boost. Chias have more antioxidants than blueberries!

Also, I just noticed the leather part of your question. Wikipedia has a nice section on the environmental impact of leather. They use some nasty chemicals to tan a hide....though some synthetic materials are not much better....

Second hand leather products are a different issue, I think everyone has to come to their own conclusion about those types of things. The best type of situation is to use natural fabrics like hemp, and cotton, but obviously cotton is no angel, and hemp products can be difficult to find.

In addition, for things like shoes, there can be some issues. Sanuk makes vegan shoes which are quite comfy, and made from simple materials, they also use some recycled materials in their shoes.

Actually, Zappos has a whole vegan section!

Despite my childish attempts to make things black or white, other posters really nailed it. "Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is always good advice.

Trying to make ethical decisions can be very tricky. Take honey for example, is it an animal product or not? One of the oldest vegans I know eats honey. Their reasoning is actually kind of interesting. Commercial bee keeping is essential to modern day farming as bees actually pollinate crops. So, as other posters have pointed out, the most important thing is how you feel about all of this, not what someone on a website thinks.
posted by satori_movement at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

(ms. Veg)
I've been a vegetarian for the past 8 or so years. Cheese I try to avoid. Dairy I'm picky about. Eggs must be from happy chickens. (These are my "rules." You get to make your own.)

Best resource for me is Vegetarian Times. I really like their three sisters casserole and their African peanut stew. Three sisters makes an appearance at every Thanksgiving potluck we go to.

My POV on leather - I try hard not to buy it. (I'm not perfect, though. Shoes in particular are hard for me, despite all the awesome resources.) Used seems less offensive. This is different, to me, than fur - leather is more of a biproduct of animal processing than fur, which is the purpose of the animal's life. I will never wear fur.

Sometimes I ponder becoming vegan. I'll eat more vegan meals for a while, but this works for me right now.

One request - please don't tell people you're a vegetarian and then order a healthy option with meat in it. This confuses people and makes it harder for other vegetarians to actually get what they need.

Good luck!
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:35 PM on April 1, 2012

For protein shakes, get a blender and some silken tofu. I buy tins of keesar mango to make vegan mango lassis, they are always a big hit with my friends. Blended silken tofu with whatever other fruits would also be a good sub for most yogourt they sell these days, you can put sugar and vanilla and whatever else you fancy in there.

I used to love the heck out of a plate of chicken wings, but I found that slicing extra-firm tofu about 1cm thick and cutting into little wedges, baking it on a cookie sheet for 10-20 minutes around 200C turned into into these little chewy morsels I could drench with frank's redhot and it satiated that craving for good.

I love lentils a lot too, and lentils (or TVP) can make nice tacos. Dried TVP is much cheaper than the yves ground round and has however much salt and fat you want to add. I buy it at bulk barn but sometimes food basics sells it too.

I am a big fan of seitan, I've made unreal montreal smoke seitan and every year I host a vegtoberfest with the complete gamut of german fare one would expect, except veganized completely. I do it all from scratch too (and really should share the recipes)

I've been vegetarian for a long time but I had a massive advantage in that I grew up in a house with two parents that were cooks and I also worked as a line cook for a couple of years so I think nothing of making my own sauces, broths, gravies, etc. I find myself thinking of most packaged vegan food as junk food now.

I still love and eat a lot of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. I work as an ironworker now and it's a really physically demanding job and most of the time I have PB&J for lunch... they are also great done up like grilled cheese sandwiches.

Finding good vegan substitutes for my childhood comfort foods makes it easy for me to eat vegan. Me-mail if you'd like any suggestions on veganizing foods.
posted by glip at 4:53 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I went from saying I'd never date a vegetarian again to becoming 95% vegan to marrying a vegan. For me, the things that helped the transition were first, eating for health and fuel rather than just pleasure. Then learning to love the crazy range of vegetables and means of preparing them. Then last, really embracing who much you can freakin eat when all you are eating is vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Its kinda awesome. You should try it. :)

Also, satori_movement has principle, but truly, you don't have to be principled exactly like that to be a good vegan. As an example, my husband is a great vegan and has been for years, but his primary reason is for health. he doesn't want to die any time soon.He runs constantly, bikes centuries just for a kick, likes to go "pick up heavy things" at they gym, he is basically the most happy little fitness nut I've ever known. He just doesn't eat things that come from animals, and the fact that his eating isn't killing anything is just kind of a happy by-product.

Also check my previous question, its about vegan cooking technique.
posted by stormygrey at 5:54 AM on April 2, 2012

Background: I'm omnivorous, but my wife is vegan and 100% of my cooking is vegan.

1. Others have already commented better than I could, but I vote for gradual. I suspect you might find the whole thing easier from many points of view (shopping, cooking, eating) if you can plan out a week's worth of meals in advance rather than facing the question 'what I am going to eat tonight?' at the end of every single day.

2. No idea about this

3. Here are a few of my favourites:

4. IMHO, it's not worth bothering with cheese substitutes. I'm sure that some of them are palatable enough in their own right, but they sure don't taste like cheese, and are highly processed. Replace cheese in sandwiches with thick slices of avocado; in sauces with nutritional yeast and blended cashew nuts.


6. You totally have to make up your own mind on this (and similar dilemmas). Even leaving all other ethical concerns aside, is the exploitation of animals caused by breeding and killing them worse than the exploitation caused by destroying their environment pulling oil out of the ground to make synthetics (see recent events in the Gulf of Mexico)? You can probably find good arguments either way.
posted by primer_dimer at 7:18 AM on April 2, 2012

I can really only address number 1...but you could start adding vegan foods to your diet before you cut out all animal products. You'll be eating much less animal products without even realizing it.

I went vegetarian as a kid, cold, um, tofu. Up until the day I went vegetarian I ate turkey sandwiches and cheeseburgers and not much else. It was difficult and I was cranky--I eventually had to add a whole bunch of new foods into my diet (eventually the occassional fish, which i never ate previously).

At first I ate a lot of "replacement" foods too, because they were conveinent and had familiar flavors, but there's a whole lot of recipes for things you can make yourself that are cheaper, less processed, and tasty. Like tempeh bacon, lentils as ground beef substitute, or chickpea burgers!
posted by inertia at 1:24 PM on April 2, 2012

Concerning 2: I am vegan myself and the best protein shakes I have found are
a. Weider Soy Vanilla
b. Sunwarrior Sprouted Rice Vanilla/Chocolate

I prefer Sunwarrior because I am wary of consuming lots of soy products. I think sprouted rice is a much better base for a protein shake than chemically processed soy beans (separating the protein from the rest is done using chemicals in the case of soy). Weider soy protein is much cheaper though.

All other vegan proteins I have tried, whether rice/pea/soy based, tasted really bad.

I would suggest you try both and see which one you prefer.
posted by hni at 6:07 AM on April 8, 2012

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