Quick, easy guide to veganism (and extra tips).
To begin to dispel the common myths of veganism, I thought I’d give a quick list for anyone out there who is new to the cruelty free lifestyle. I hope it will give you a jump-start into veganism; there’s no need to beat around the bush when it comes to animal cruelty!
1. Start with fresh fruit and vegetables. I know, you may have many recipes or quick fix snacks that rely heavily on cheese, eggs, or junk food filled with dairy derivatives and honey. Now’s the time to look at what you’re usually buying and critically examine your current diet. Take a blank page, and list all of the fruits and vegetables you like, and can see yourself eating on a regular basis. Try and get a lot of colour in there as well by attempting to think of at least one fruit or vegetable of that colour. To get an idea of what could be on your list, check out this basic meal plan (alternative version featuring recipes here). Some basics for me are broccoli, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, and lentils (I’ll touch up on the importance of beans later on in the beyond basics section).
2. New features to your grocery list. Along with your basic fruits and veggies, we’re going to have to add a few affordable items to the list (note: these aren’t exactly necessary, but make being vegan so much easier - and they aren’t hard to obtain). I highly recommend SoGood Omega 3 soy milk: omega 3 fatty acid is essential no matter what lifestyle you choose.
Omega DHA is identified by Health Canada as something that supports the normal development of brain, eyes and nerves, and it must be replenished in our bodies throughout our lives.
Along with the benefit of DHA omega, one serving has 30% of your daily calcium and is a great source of protein, not to mention a plethora of vitamins and minerals. If you can’t find Omega3 soy milk in your area or are allergic to soy, look for almond or hemp milk alternatives. Hemp milk is higher in healthy fats, and no, it doesn’t turn you into a granola crunching hippie. If you want an alternative source of omega 3, try looking for flaxseed or simple soy products. As for price, SoGood is quite affordable. I’ve seen chocolate soy milk cost less than dairy chocolate milk at times in various stores. I’ve also found large bags of flaxseed meal for no more than 2 dollars. Choose whichever option is most available and affordable in your area. One more item that strikes very useful for the vegan diet: b12 nutritional yeast. It’s an ingredient that lasts very long, and is packed (I can never properly stress how abundant it really is) with b12. It is less available than most soy milk, but will be found in bulk sections, organic sections, and if need be, health food stores (I don’t frequent health food stores, though - jacked up prices for a lot of otherwise cheap ingredients). It’s great on pasta, in sauces, and in vegan mac and cheese recipes. It’s a healthy food additive that you’ll often find me sprinkling on sweet potato fries just before they go in the oven.
3. Match your grocery list to some recipes. Look at what you’ve got so far - do any recipes jump to mind? Have tomatoes, make bruschetta. Steamed broccoli can go in just about any dinner plan. Got a myriad of asian style vegetables? Whip up a stir-fry. Carrots, bell peppers, cabbage and onions? Try these rolls. Spinach, and mushroom, these “cheezy” pockets. Eggplant and zucchini? Casserole night. Can’t find a good dish here? Try searching vegweb. Breakfast can be a medley of fruits and some soy milk, or try looking up a great vegan french toast recipe and chuck a couple of apple/banana slices on top. Fruits and nuts are optimal for snackage. (Add in whatever grain products and spices are necessary to your top recipes - some pasta, whole wheat bread, tomato sauce, paprika, garlic powder, etc.) Know that there’s a difference between whole wheat and whole grain. Always check your whole grain specialty breads to make sure they don’t contain honey :) Try to buy whole wheat pasta in bulk as a great money saver, and for lazy nights, keep a good sauce recipe around or just a plain old can of tomato sauce, throw in some veggies, and have a quick and lazy dinner.
Steps beyond the basics:
Having trouble finding cruelty free products? Get to know a few basic companies that do and do not test. Be wary of products owned by Mars, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Church and Dwight, as they test on animals and own many subsidiaries you wouldn’t think were un-vegan. Did you know that Mars (a major animal testing company) owns Uncle Ben’s Rice? Mars is also known to perform vivisection, the dissection of live animals.
Want to optimize your veggies? Not all vegetables are created equal. There are different types of veggies, and all have a different effect on the human body: Cruciferous, Legumes, Tubers, Squash, Leafy Greens, and the “Vegetable” fruits.
Cruciferous - high cellulose content, and thus should not be your only source of vegetables as it would be hard to digest. Moderate amounts of cellulose are useful for dietary roughage, which surprisingly aids in clean digestion. Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Collard Greens, Kale, Horseradish, Rutabaga, Turnip, Chinese Cabbage, Cauliflower, Broccoli Rabe, Daikon, Bok Choy, Radish.
Legumes - Should always be cooked thoroughly, and are once again should be eaten in moderation for digestive purposes (that isn’t to say you should eat one bean and then be done, but don’t shove it down your mouth with a garden shovel!). The best of this group is lentils. Lentils are high in protein and often said to be one of the common vegan staples. Beans should not be forgotten and should be lightly incorporated into your diet, unless you have a particular difficulty with digesting them. Red, White, Pinto, and Navy beans. Chickpeas, Lentils, Green Beans, Peanuts, Peas. Yes, peanuts are a legume!
Tubers - humans did not evolve eating tubers (we certainly didn’t evolve eating foie gras either, nor did we begin to milk cows until a much later period), and are high in starch and cellulose. The safest vegetables in this group are carrots, jicama, and sweet potato fries. Having them every now and again will do absolutely nothing to harm your health, but just like many others, they shouldn’t become your one and only. Beet, Potato, Carrot, Sweet Potato, Taro, Yams, Jicama, Parsnips. Bleugh, beets!
Squash - for argument’s sake, squash is relatively similar to tubers. The easiest to digest squash is the zucchini, which is rather tasty grilled. Yellow, Acorn, Butternut, Kabocha, Spaghetti Squashes, Pumpkin, Zucchini.
Leafy Green, i.e. vegan’s best friend - ”the ideal vegetable”. Leafy greens have no negative digestive connotation, are high in nutrient and low in calorie, these are the veggies that you want every day. These are important! Arugula, Spinach, Water Spinach, Cylon Spinach, Purslane, Corn Salad, Watercress; The Lettuce Family, Including Loose Leaf, Romaine, Red Leaf, Green Leaf, Iceberg (Crisphead), Summer Crisp, Butterhead (Boston or Bibb), Cos, Imperial, Lollo Ross, Round lettuce, Endive.
Fruitegebles - Somehow, these made it on everyone’s list of “vegetable” even though in reality, they’re just non-sweet fruit. They should be eaten regularly with your leafy greens, as they are nutrient rich and easily digestible. Bell Peppers (Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, etc), Okra, Tomatillos Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Tamarillos.
Check out vegan cooking and baking blogs for more inspiration.
Extra Note: Any other “necessary vegan” foods you’ve heard of, faux this and mock that, they aren’t really necessary. That isn’t to say you should never try any, but they aren’t truly a core part of veganism. They’re a processed product, often expensive, which can easily be made at home. I’ve listed MyVeganCookbook as a resource for many of the recipes above, which also has a great number of homemade meat alternatives. If you can find a cheap ice cream machine, vegan ice cream is ridiculously easy and cheap to make. Nutritional yeast (as mentioned above) already makes for a key ingredient in many “cheese” sauces. Veggie burgers, something almost every vegan has had at one point or another, are easy and fun to make when you choose which veggies go into it!