1. Why did you become vegan? Earlier this year, I watched a series of documentaries that changed my life forever. Food Inc., Earthlings and Cowspiracy are just a few of them. (warning: graphic content).
I have always envisioned myself as a non-violent person, as one who does not want to cause harm or suffering to any other living beings. When I learned of the horrific violence and cruelty that billions of animals endure each year to satisfy our tastebuds (not to mention the abuses and mistreatment that factory farm workers endure in order to ensure corporate profit, from being forced to defecate in their pants to operating dangerous equipment without training), I knew that going vegan was the only way for me to live in a manner that was consistent with my values.
2. Do you miss eating meat and/or dairy?
I don't miss eating meat at all. I stopped eating meat several months before I became vegan so I lost the taste for it awhile ago. One of the reasons I started investigating a vegan diet is that I felt noticeably happier when I stopped eating animals. It was a hard-to-identify, intangible feeling, but it was very prominent in my mind, so giving up meat has been easy.
I don't miss eating dairy either. Most of the time. It's not like I'm sitting at home and wishing I could use cow's milk instead of almond milk in my smoothie (that would be hella gross). It's more, like, I'm out with friends and everyone is ordering pizzas with cheese bubbling over or generous scoops of creamy gelato, and I want to join the fun with them. I don't want to sit out and be the Lonely Lucy who ruins everyone's fun by reminding them that I'm the vegan in the room.
Of course I don't verbalize these feelings, and people seem to enjoy their food without paying any attention to my crazy inner monologue. And then I remind myself why I became vegan, and my longing for that pizza or gelato disappears. Plus, if I'm still craving pizza or dessert later, it means that I'm craving fat and/or sugar, and there are plenty of ways to satisfy those cravings. See below.
3. Are you sure you get enough protein?
This is probably the most common question that vegans get, and probably the most annoying. Unless I look like a malnourished child or tell you that I'm aspiring to become a bodybuilder, there's no reason to worry about my protein intake.
For one, plenty of non-vegans don't eat enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but you don't see me asking meat-eating strangers about their nutritional deficiencies, do you? (if you do see me doing this, please slap me).
More importantly, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For me, that translates to roughly 40-45 grams of protein if I live a sedentary lifestyle, and approximately 20-25 grams more if I live an active lifestyle. And according to my alma mater's medical school, "the research on the optimal amount of protein to eat for good health is ongoing, and is far from settled." In any event, if I'm eating 50-65 grams of protein each day, I feel like I'm doing pretty good.
But since this is a Q AND A, I will give you an answer to this vexing question: Yes.
Yes, I do eat an adequate amount of protein, at least on most days. Some days, I fill up my belly on of cookies and bread, so I probably fall short. But in general, I feel healthy, I have more energy than most of my peers, and I exhibit none of the symptoms of protein deficiency (muscle atrophy, edema, thinning hair, pale skin, difficulty sleeping, brain fog, and general weakness). In fact, my hair is thick and wild, I sleep like a baby, and I have the mental acuity of Albus Dumbledore.
So, where exactly do I get my protein from? Obvious sources like beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and plant-based protein powders, but also non-obvious sources like seeds, nuts, nut butters, ancient and whole grains, superfoods like spirulina, and certain vegetables like peas, broccoli, spinach. Curious for more details? Leave me a comment!
If you're guilty of having asked me if I get enough protein, I forgive you because I too used to think the same thing. A few years ago, I remember asking a vegetarian how she got enough protein, and then she proceeded to drop a lot of knowledge on me. #micdrop
4. Do you occasionally cheat on your vegan diet?
No. I didn't become vegan because I thought the whole gluten-free thing was getting old and I wanted to try a new fad diet. There is no "cheating" for me because this isn't a diet. Please, however, do not misunderstand this to mean that I eat healthy, unprocessed foods ALL of the time. I am human, and I like my sugary, refined carbs just as much as you do.
5. Do you feel healthier?
As you may have intuited from this blog, health, to me, is much more than being trim and eating well. It also encompasses mental, emotional, and spiritual health. With regard to my physical health, I have noticed that I experience less frequent stomachaches and digestive issues (though they have not disappeared entirely).
With regard to my mental/emotion/spiritual health, I feel markedly healthier and happier. I feel as though I can now live my life with authenticity and truth, in a way that is aligned with my core values and beliefs (i.e., no more liberal guilt). I also do not feel any regrets over what I eat these days. I do not obsess about eating healthy or "clean" because I know that I eat a lot of whole foods and vegetables, even if my diet is far from perfect. I don't freak out when I eat an entire bar of dark chocolate in one afternoon. And I always get a cookie or muffin when I pass by a vegan bakery because there aren't that many options, so I have to try all of them to figure out which is my favorite (duh!).
6. What do you eat? Walk us through a typical day.
I eat lots of things!
Smoothie bowls, porridges, parfaits, toasts, leftovers. Those are my five major food groups for breakfast.
If you want to make your prettiest smoothie bowl ever, check out my tips here. But now that winter is approaching, I have been craving porridge, which consists of a grain or mix of grains such as oats, quinoa, or amaranth, cooked in plant-based milk. I sprinkle a few handfuls of nuts and seeds, drizzle on the nut butter, and top with fruit. For a parfait, I layer almond/coconut/cashew yogurt with lots of nuts/seeds or granola, fruit, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and maple syrup. I usually add in some protein powder to my smoothie bowls, porridges, and parfaits for extra energy.
When I'm lazy or pressed for time but want a filling breakfast, my go-to breakfast is two slices of some sort of whole grainy/sprouted toast with smashed avocado, chickpeas, hemp seeds, greens, & balsamic vinegar. And for my laziest of days, I just pour a heap of leftovers into a bowl and scarf them down. See, I'm just like you normals.
I am known to bring intricate three-course meals to work for lunch. For instance, (1) a creamy soup made with lots of vegetables and coconut milk topped with cashew cream + (2) a side salad + (3) a protein source (i.e., tofu quiche).
Other days I bring loaded tacos, which consist of tortillas topped with homemade refried beans, sautéed vegetables, crumbled tempeh, guacamole, cashew sour cream, vegan cheese, and salsa. And yet other days, I bring some classic comfort food like that lasagna you just saw and force myself to eat a leafy green salad beforehand.
When I don't bring lunch, Chipotle is my main man. There are quite a few vegan-friendly options near my office, but I usually stick with Chipotle because I already know it's delicious. My go-to order is the sofritas tacos or burrito bowl + add guac. It tastes amazing AND it packs 25 grams of protein for all of the protein-doubters out there (probably more than 25 grams because the Chipotle employees always give me extra food when they realize I'm not eating meat). Win-win!
If I'm at home, dinner may be a repeat or variation of lunch. Occasionally, I will be disgusted by my leftovers and will whip up something fresh, like one-pot chickpea pasta or a tofu/tempeh stir-fry. This happens pretty rarely because I am usually too lazy to cook after work, and often rely upon toast as my saving grace. If I'm out for dinner, I will order whatever my vegan heart desires.
I snack constantly. Nuts, fruit, hummus, nut butters, Lara bars, Square protein bars, dried fruit, toast, granola, dark chocolate, cookies, and Sour Patch Kids are just some of my favorites. Did you notice how my list got progressively less healthy?
7. Is it expensive to be vegan?
Nope! I mean, it certainly can be expensive. Like if you shop exclusively at expensive health food boutiques, live on juice cleanses, or try to emulate Gwyneth Paltrow's diet.
But, if you're a normal, eating vegan can be quite cheap. For one, meat and dairy are expensive, particularly if you try to eat the higher-quality products (i.e., I once spent $30 on 4 servings of meat at Whole Foods; I cried afterwards). On the other hand, vegan staples like beans, lentils, pastas, and grains are usually dirt cheap. Admittedly, organic produce can rack up the dolla billz. But that's why I don't buy everything organic, far from it. I try to stick to organic for the Dirty Dozen (the 12 or so crops that are most heavily sprayed with pesticides), and buy conventionally-raised produce otherwise. I also try to buy a large percentage of my produce locally at my farmer's market. Sometimes this doesn't necessarily save me money, but I get a lot more bang for my buck: fewer pesticides, fresher, better quality, and noticeably better taste.
The most expensive part of being vegan are the specialty products (I'm looking at you, artisanal tree nut cheese). But you don't have to buy those products, and you can certainly make your own at home!
8. Do you eat honey?
If you google "Is honey vegan?", you may find yourself falling very far down a rabbit hole. Ethical vegans (those who abstain from consuming animal products for ethical reasons) typically do not eat honey because they do not believe in taking products produced by animals for their own use, including honey. I consider myself an ethical vegan, so I do not eat honey. I don't buy it, and I don't cook with it. But I'm not going to be a radical stickler about it. For instance, I was at my favorite cocktail bar recently, and after drinking half of my cocktail, I realized it had been made with honey. I was disappointed, no doubt. But I didn't really do anything about it except for momentarily mope about it. What was I supposed to do? Force myself to regurgitate? Nah.
9. Is it hard being vegan?
No, not really. I say not really because I would be lying if I didn't admit that there are occasions when it would simply be easier to not be vegan. After all, most food institutions cater to the traditional American diet, and many of our rituals and social activities revolve around food. Luckily, I love to cook, so I don't rely on restaurants for most of my meals. And also, luckily, I live in a cosmopolitan city that caters to many different diets. I have yet to frequent a restaurant in New York City that has had zero vegan options. And finally, I have a great set of friends and family who are usually willing to try vegetarian or vegan-friendly restaurants!
10. How did you give up cheese?
See the answer to question #1: watching lots of documentaries. Actually, after I stopped eating meat, I really wanted to become vegan. I tried a vegan diet for a week and felt great, but there were certain foods I felt like I couldn't give up: cheese was one of them, and by extension, pizza. So was ice cream. The reason I couldn't go fully vegan was that I didn't have a strong enough reason to give up those beloved items. That is, until I watched these earth-shattering, life-altering documentaries (and read a few books).
After my documentary binge, it was rather easy to give up cheese and ice cream because an innocent, beautiful cow's suffering simply wasn't worth it for me. Also, it's 2016 and I live in Brooklyn. There are some AMAZING vegan alternatives out there, and I'm having so much fun exploring them! Seriously, there's an entire vegan cheese shop in Brooklyn, and Van Leeuwen has an extensive line of decadent vegan ice creams like salted caramel and peanut butter choc chip.
Do you have any questions about being vegan that I didn't cover? Drop me a line below!
Lots of vegan hugs and kisses,