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How to Go Veg, part 1

(post, Trista Cornelius)

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It’s spring, and along with the satisfaction of cleaning out closets, shopping for sandals, and remembering the juicy crunch of fresh, local produce, spring is a good time for fresh starts.  Some of my friends are thinking about becoming vegan, and since spring is the perfect time to begin, I thought I would answer some of their questions here.  Part 1 includes a little about how to begin and how to get your protein, especially if you’re active or an athlete.  

First, let me say, getting your protein is no problem at all.  Protein is made up of essential amino acids, right?  As long as you get those amino acids, your body will produce the protein you need.  How to get those essentials?  Eat a variety of whole foods, a lot of them, every day.  Simple and delicious as that.  Truly.  You’ll see.    

To make the transition to a plant-based life rewarding, adventurous, and life-long, change the perspective of your senses (taste & texture, look, smell, even the sound).  It took no time at all before the smell of carmelized onions, the sting of sea salt on roasted  yams, and the creamy richness of vegan key lime pie did for me what bacon, roasted chicken, and cheesecake used to do.  In fact, when I learned how to savor, I realized the foods I’d craved before (cheese, ice cream, Doritos, Cheetos) did not satisfy if I actually paid attention to them rather than wolfing down great quantities to fill some void.  Besides, once your palate adjusts to natural food, not the hyped up laboratory-derived flavors of processed food (even chickens are pumped with saline solution to make them taste better; you probably haven’t eaten an unadulterated chicken in your whole life unless you’re lucky enough to be connected to a real farm, not a factory farm.), the plant alternatives taste better, you can eat more of them, and they help your body, heart, and mind thrive, not strain, huff and puff, and sag.  

Veg enthusiasts will tell you that when they went vegan, they lost weight, their skin cleared, they had boundless energy, and they never felt or looked better in their whole lives.  I don’t doubt this, but for me, these results took a few years.  What happened for me right away was even better—I felt happier, more positive, lighter (less downtrodden, not that I lost weight at first), and a feeling of abundance and possibility started to replace the more familiar anxiety and scarcity—not just about food, but about all of life.  This is hard for me to explain, so I’ll try to do a better job in a future post.  Just know that when I switched my diet, my overall happiness and satisfaction in life improved and continues to do so for the last four years.  

So, here’s how to begin:

First, get Dreena Burton’s book <em>Vive le Vegan</em> from Herbivore,, or the library.  This is by far my favorite vegan cookbook.  I like the simple, clean, uncluttered layout, the stories in the introduction, even the appendix about how to raise children vegan (even though I don’t have children).  Every recipe is healthy and low fat, but not one tastes like it, and every recipe has turned out great for me.  Burton has two other books out, but this remains my favorite.  

In addition to Vive le Vegan, choose any one of the other titles listed at the end of this post.  Read all the way through both books, considering the introduction, the appendices, and taking time to consider each recipe.  Daydream.  Write down the recipes that interest you most.  Think about what’s currently in season where you live, but for now, turn a blind eye to transportation miles and let yourself try some new foods (like jicama).  As soon as you’re finished reading, that’s your start date.  From that moment on, go 100% vegan for at least 10 days and see what happens.  

I  highly recommend the 100% for 10+ days, not some hybrid of vegan with your current diet because your palate will adjust faster, and you’ll more likely feel the rush of energy and enthusiasm powerfully.  

Next, using only the two books you’ve chosen, make a recipe plan for each week.  It’s not like you have to be really rigid, but there may be things you need to stock up on, like apple cider vinegar (used in a lot of vegan desserts), quinoa (a seed that cooks up like a grain), or coconut milk.  

Consider starting your day with organic oatmeal made on the stove, no instant packets with sugar and junk mixed in and no microwaves.  Boil your water, add your oats, stir and turn it down to a slow simmer.  Go get ready for your day, and return to the stove to find a pot of creamy oats waiting to be modestly adulterated.  I suggest a splash of almond milk, chopped dried papaya or apricots, and a spoonful of dried, shredded coconut.  If you’re concerned about protein, sprinkle a tablespoon of hemp seeds on top of your oatmeal once it cools a little.  (I buy them at Bob’s Red Mill).  

For lunch, slather a thick spread of hummus (try the cannellini bean yam one from Burton) on a whole wheat tortilla (read the ingredients in tortillas; if there’s much more than water and flour listed, find a different brand), sprinkle on some roasted red peppers, or fresh pea shoots, or sprouts, or shredded carrots, or all of these, and roll up.  Add a sliced pear for dessert.  

For a snack, mix shredded carrots with dried cherries, the juice of half a lemon and half an orange, some zest from each.  

End your day with squash sauce (Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan)—one of my favorite staples and I used to think I didn’t like squash at all—over brown rice noodles or buckwheat soba/udon noodles.  top with some roasted kale (wash, remove stem, trim, and toss with oil and salt and roast for 10-15 mintues at 375).  

Make your own vegan dessert—I like Burton’s chocolate chip cookies, or treat yourself to a cupcake from Sweet Pea Bakery.  Even, on the off chance this 10+ day experiment doesn’t commit you to the vegan lifestyle for good, you’re sure to find vegan frostings WAY better than the butter or cream cheese kinds.  Dreena Burton’s frostings made with silken tofu have the added benefit of being low in fat and almost healthy compared to butter cream.  The Veganomicon frostings can’t be called healthy or low fat, but they taste as thick and rich but better than cream cheese or butter cream.  Truly.  

The significant shift to all whole plant foods in your diet will make you pay attention to your daily food in a way you probably have not before, and this is part of the satisfaction of a veg life.  At least it was for me.  I instantly felt excited and inspired by my food, struck by how many colors could be in a meal, eager to savor each bite and notice its different textures and flavors.  I felt happier, calmer, with a more steady energy throughout the day.  I felt supremely happy.  Feelings of doubt, worry, fear, and scarcity started to give way to feelings of abundance and possibility.  

That might sound profound, but if you’re lucky, you eat a few times a day.  If, a few times a day, you practice being deliberate and make choices based on your goals and values, you get to assert your vision of the world a few times a day and counterbalance the grim, glum, and downright gloomy.  

Choose one of the following:  
Everyday Vegan
Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan
Thrive (by Brendan Brazier, especially if you're an athlete)
Vegan Vittles
Voluptuous Vegan
Search for vegan recipes here at Culinate (there’s a great lemon layer cake)
Vegan with a Vengeance 

There are many more vegan recipe books, and a search at your local library will yield great results; these are ones I suggest for beginning. 

Let me know how it goes!