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The Vegan Low-Down: An Unofficial Guide by Karen Tavenner [Guest Post]

The Vegan Low-Down

How to eat things that will make you feel awesome, make the Earth feel awesome, and make it really legit when you say you love animals

An unofficial guide by yours truly

Karen Tavenner Acosta

1. This is going to be easier than you think.

And harder. You can’t go around thinking you’re depriving yourself of things you enjoy; remember instead that you’ve made a kickass decision and that it’s really exciting. Because it is. You’re going to try lots of incredible things and realise that you can, indeed, live without dairy, eggs, and meat. In no time, you’ll be wondering why you thought this was such a big deal.

2. Vegan ≠ Healthy

This one kinda sucks. Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And that’s totally fine. Just don’t be fooled into eating really greasy fast-food vegan delights every day of the week and vegan brownies, cheesecake, and ice cream for dessert. Oreos are vegan. They will also clog your arteries. That being said, I eat Oreos whenever I feel like it, because life isn’t about torturing yourself.

3. Do things your way.

You may go cold turkey and never touch an animal product again. If so, that’s wonderful. But more likely, you will find yourself longingly staring at a side of mac n’ cheese at a restaurant somewhere or at an enticing packet of M&M’s on sale after Halloween. Don’t make a habit out of it, but every once in awhile, eat whatever the fuck you want to eat. Seriously. You’re not a terrible person for doing it. Your health won’t deteriorate because of it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Be kind to yourself. You’re learning and growing and your vegan journey is deeply personal, so allow it to be.

If the situation calls for it, do whatever feels right to you. Switching over to a different lifestyle can be really challenging, and the fact that you’ve decided to do this is already incredible. It’s ok to do vegan your way. And if you deprive yourself and categorize food as punishment / reward, this is going to be really awful. Over time, you will likely lose interest in things that at the beginning you thought you might die if you never ate again.

4. Some people will be dicks to you.

It’s just the truth. People don’t like to be confronted by different things that challenge their long-held beliefs or that reveal guilt they may already feel and suppress. You may know this already – this may have been you in the past. As a society and as humans we’re really emotionally attached to the food we eat. It’s deeply unsettling when people around us switch their lifestyles. Many people will be supportive and curious and accepting, but many won’t. Over the years, the number of people who are dicks about it will decrease – I promise. Every year it becomes more acceptable to be vegan. Hold your head high and don’t let them get to you. Remember that their reactions have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Be kind, and be patient. This is honestly the hardest part about the whole ordeal. And if there are times you want to scream (ahem, Thanksgiving), you can always call me and I will commiserate with you.

5. Do your research.

Look into what your protein intake should be for someone of your height and weight. Then google the amount of protein in things like legumes, grains, pasta, nuts, and vegetables. Honestly, I have no idea how much protein I consume and it has never been an issue at my check-ups. I eat a balanced diet – lots of fruits and veggies, a legume (any type of bean – hummus counts – edamame, lentils, peas, peanuts, etc) and grain (rice, spelt, bulgur, pasta, bread, farro, oats, quinoa, whole wheat tortillas, millet, amaranth, rye, etc) with pretty much every meal. Sprinkle seeds on top of your food for extra nutritional kick (chia, hemp, sunflower, sesame, flax, etc). Additionally, get yourself some nutritional yeast and put that shit on everything. It’s so good.

  1. Quinoa has all nine essential amino acids. It’s practically edible gold. Look it up. Also, beans and rice are a complete protein. Boom.

6. Don’t overdo the meat substitutes.

By this I mean tofu, seitan, tempeh, and all the “fake meats” you’ll see at the supermarket. That stuff is for sure going to be really tempting at first because it’s high in protein and you will likely be worried that you’re not getting enough (you probably will be, though). However, if you overdo certain things you can develop intolerances and that’s no fun. This means bloating and other adverse intestinal side effects that I promise you don’t want. These things are super yummy and good for you, just eat them in moderation – a few times a week if you want instead of every day, at least at first, until your body gets used to new things and you figure out what your gut likes and doesn’t like.

7. Take B supplements.

This is the only thing I take supplements for. B12 specifically, because you can’t get it by eating only a plant-based diet. There are vegan B12 supplements that you can get on Amazon or at CVS or wherever. Take one daily and you’re set!

8. Rinse your beans.

Open can, pour beans into strainer/colander, and run water over them until there isn’t any more foamy stuff. That foamy stuff makes you fart. If you rinse your beans they won’t make you fart. You’re welcome.

9. Simplicity is key.

At first, you may be like, “holy crap this is all so new and there are so many products to try and things I don’t know and now I have to cook all this fancy stuff and I’m not sure how to handle this”. Take a deep breath. Relax. Get yourself a good cookbook (I recommend Forks Over Knives). You don’t have to make fancy meals every day. Eating PB&J when you’re out of ideas is totally fine. Refer to #5 for a list of foods to keep in mind – follow that basic layout of foods and you will find a world of endless delicious combinations. And by all means, get super fancy with it whenever you want. Indulge and treat yo’self when you want to. Have fun!

10. Embrace label-reading.

This is your new identity. You are now a fervent label-reader. Check all packaged items you buy for dairy derivatives, egg and meat ingredients, and sneaky stuff like gelatin and glycerin. They’re in way more things than you might realise. You can download the Is It Vegan? app and use it to scan the barcodes on food to determine whether or not they’re vegan. Also, lets you search beer/wine/liquor to determine its vegan-ness.

11. Don’t be shy about asking questions at restaurants.

Call ahead if you know where you’ll be eating. Ask if they have any vegan options. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, take a look at the menu online. Flag things with dairy, eggs, and meat, obviously, and then call to see if you can get certain dishes made without that stuff. Also: don’t trust soup. As a general rule, assume soups are made with chicken (or beef) stock. This isn’t always the case, but just putting it out there. Many times servers don’t know how the soup is made and sometimes they’ll lie to you. If you don’t care about a lil’ chicken stock every once in awhile, do you. Just be aware of this as a thing.

A word of empathy: if you get anxiety about asking a lot of questions, I’m with you there. This is why it helps to come prepared. Also, sides are often vegan – that’s where all the veggies (ask for them to be steamed or cooked in oil vs. butter), rice, potatoes, and beans (make sure there’s no lard or meat – especially at authentic Mexican food joints) tend to live, and the fries. If all else fails, get fries. Hassle-free and delicious. Such a win.

12. Social media.

We live in the best time of all times for going vegan. Go on YouTube, Instagram, search for Podcasts or wherever you prefer to ingest social media (or just Google), and go crazy. There are thousands of vegan accounts out there with amazing ideas and sage words of wisdom. So many people are out there doing exactly what you’re doing, and realising that will foster a sense of camaraderie and community that is phenomenal.

13. Snacks.

Pack them. Snacks are your friends. You may feel like you need to eat more or more frequently to stay full and nothing sucks more than being hungry and out on the town with no vegan options to be found. Just trust me – you’re gonna wanna have snacks.

14. Be patient.

You may find that by going vegan you’re suddenly eating way more fiber than you ever did. And this might mean that your intestinal tract will be under a bit of stress at first. Especially if you’re suddenly eating clean and especially if you’re going all out and trying all the vegan dairy and meat substitutes and processed foods in the supermarket. What I’m saying is, you may experience bloating or gas or much more frequent bowel movements. The intensity of this depends on your old habits and how drastic these new ones are. You may not experience any of this at all. But if you do, be patient. Your gut may need some time to reset, but these things are not permanent, so persevere. And above all else, listen to your body.

15. Don’t be a dick.

I don’t think you will be, but don’t attack people for not going vegan. It will likely fall on deaf ears. The truth is you can’t push this on people if they’re not ready. It just doesn’t work that way. Everyone comes to it differently, and the arguments that convinced you may have no effect on others. This part is frustrating because you now have this effervescent, newly acquired knowledge and you want to help the people you love. But aggression doesn’t really work. Instead, look for moments of curiosity. Those are really small gifts that indicate to you that the person you’re talking to is (even if just an infinitesimal amount) open. And once there’s a little crack in the shell of a non-vegan where a bit of light can shine through, odds are that crack will ease open in due time. And there’s nothing more beautiful and exciting than when someone you love and care for tells you they’re going vegan. Speaking of which…

16. You’re doing great.

I mean it. I’m so proud of you. Look at you, you shiny new conscious eater! Go out there and embrace this exciting change. And if you ever want to chat, I’m here for you.

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