Do you ever feel like people treat you like you’re from Mars because of your diet? I consider my diet “normal.” I eat greens, grains and root veggies. I don’t do dairy, gluten or meat. I’m a vegan. It works for me. I’m healthy. I don’t advocate the typical American diet of burgers, fries, with not a green on the plate, but I also don’t bark at people who choose to eat that way. If they want to feel like crap and end up with health issues later, that’s their choice, right?
So why do I feel like a foreign invader when I leave my own house and try to feed myself? Why does anyone really care what I choose to put in my mouth?
I have found that more people do not respect my lifestyle for becoming a Vegan than those who do. I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear, but it’s the truth. It’s difficult to even get my own family to support my decision to become a Vegan. They complain they cannot go to the restaurants they want to go to when I’m around. Or, they simply ignore that fact that I’m there and carry on with their normal dishes laden with butter and cheese. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize vegan’s couldn’t eat dairy!” claims my mother every time I see her.
In fact, before my latest trip back home to visit, my parents asked me to ship my own food in with me so they don’t have to deal. Seriously? I can’t even go to the market and purchase my own food and prepare it in their kitchen? Nope. They don’t want to deal with my weirdness. MY weirdness. Well, I guess I was an outcast. Me, a person who travels all over the country and no matter what, no matter where, I am able to figure out how to deal with my dietary constraints. If you even want to label them as constraints. But to my family and many others, I’m abnormal.
You know what, even though this may be the reality, and it may not be easy going Vegan, it is so worth the effort in how great you’re going to feel so please stick it out.
When I first went from omnivore to Vegan, I got a little freaked out about how plant based proteins were going to satisfy me. I wasn’t doing dairy or red meat but all of my go-to dishes involved some form of fish or chicken, so how was I going to do this?!
I have made a LOT of mistakes in my Vegan cooking that were expensive and the great news is, I’m about to prepare you so that you don’t make the same. I don’t want you to get discouraged when you’re just starting out.
Here are some really helpful tips when preparing your own food (or if you have to deal with giving a “chef” at a restaurant tips to accommodate you):
1. All fats are not created equal
Don’t bother trying to replace butter with Vegan margarine in recipes. It will break and curdle. In fact, don’t bother with anything that attempts to mimic butter. The texture is weird, the flavor ‘eh’. Your substitution will…..be kind of yucky.
Sesame oil is great for Vegans because it is high in protein, as well as having other health benefits. Toasted sesame oil is commonly used for its flavor, but if you’re not a fan, try cold pressed sesame oil.
Coconut oil is another alternative. Unrefined coconut oil has all sorts of health benefits, and also has a very coconutty flavor, so just be aware of that before you fry up your potatoes in it. If Pina Colada potatoes aren’t your thing, refined coconut has little coconut flavor, but fewer of the benefits of its unrefined cousin.
2. Beware the Fake Meat
You’ve discovered that there are soy products that taste just like real meat! YES! That’s what you’re going to do! You’re just going to substitute the real thing with these Vegetarian/Vegan alternatives.
If giving up meat is just too uncomfortable for you, don’t. Otherwise, stop kidding yourself.
Vegans don’t eat meat. Don’t waste your time and money on pretending to eat meat that isn’t meat. They don’t taste like it, look like it or smell like it, and they are so packed with sodium, sugar and artificial flavors, they’re really no healthier than actual meat.
Wake up call! There is no alternative to animal meat. If you’ve gone Vegan, you have answered a higher calling – your health, your religion or political convictions. That calling comes with letting go of old habits and accepting that this is a new lifestyle. Honestly, it won’t be long before you feel so great, you no longer miss it at all.
Along the same lines, though:
3. Nuts and Seeds are also not meat or eggs
There are recipes that suggest you can process flax to take on the texture of scrambled eggs. Don’t believe it. Same thing with cashews for egg salad. It’s just not true. Don’t bother. Nuts and flax can be expensive. Find ways to use them that accentuate their already wonderful qualities, not mask them.
Soft tofu has an egg-like texture, but doesn’t taste like eggs. It’s tastes like whatever you season it with. This is the perfect segue into the next tip:
4. Know Thy Tofu
There are two types of tofu – soft, or silken, and firm. They come in the same packaging, are both fairly flavorless, and will both taste exactly like whatever you season them with, but are totally different in how they cook.
Soft tofu has the texture of custard or pudding. In addition to being a good egg substitute (texture only, not flavor), it is great in soups, smoothies, cheesecake, dips, and well… custard!
Firm tofu is dense and solid enough to grill. It does well in stir-fry dishes, and will hold together in dishes you might have used meat for in the past. Just remember, it won’t taste or feel like chicken or beef. It is also great as a ricotta substitute for baked Italian dishes like lasagna and stuffed shells.
Truthfully, I don’t eat tofu anymore. I never really liked it, but recent studies question the health benefits of processed tofu, so it was no big thing for me to give it up. But if it interests you, there are tons of good recipes out there – just be aware of the texture and flavor!
5. Milk is milk. Vegan beverages are not milk.
Beverages sold in your grocery store dairy refrigerator that are not cow’s milk – they’re not cow’s milk. They are kind of creamy and white, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s milk. They have way less calcium, iron, virtually no protein and, unless unsweetened (and nearly flavorless), they contain tons of sugar.
OK. That was a harsh reality check. But there’s more.
These beverages don’t cook the same way cow or goat milk does. Biscuits made with soy milk turn to rock like pucks that crumble into sand. Almond milk separates when frozen, leaving a rubbery film on top of it. YUCK. You CAN cook and bake with these beverages – just don’t expect soy milk to act like buttermilk. It won’t.
Coconut cream (the canned stuff you find in the international food section of your grocery store, not to be confused with the refrigerated stuff or coconut water, or the sweetened stuff for fruity cocktails) has the texture of heavy cream and is great in recipes. Spend the extra $0.30 for the organic stuff if you can. Just remember – it is going to have a very coconut flavor, so don’t think you can dribble some over your pasta and have a great cream sauce. I LOVE using coconut milk with curry spices, so think Asian rather than Italian flavors.
6. Greens are a delicate matter
Greens are great and there’s a whole world of leaves for you to discover – and to learn how they cook and blend. Green smoothies are really refreshing and healthy for you if blended with the right ingredients, but will take on the look and texture of baby poop in a chocolate protein powder shake. Collards are sturdy but can go grey when cooked too long. Kale is great for any long cooking, but baby spinach will melt away if it’s cooked too long.
Proper cleaning and storage is very important here, or you will quickly burn through the cabbage in your pockets. Leafy greens can be really dirty when you bring them home, but wait to wash them until you’re ready to use them. They will wilt and get slimy almost immediately. Instead, store your greens with a clean paper towel in the bag in the fridge to wick moisture away until you are ready to use them, THEN wash them thoroughly.
If you’ve got a bunch of greens with stems or roots still attached, store your stemmed herbs like a bouquet of flowers, with the stems submerged and they will last longer. My secret tip for limp greens? Shock them in icy cold water, just give them a quick soak in ice water, spin or pat dry and they will go crisp again.
Becoming a Vegan is about unmasking your food. It is authentic living at its most basic.
@hayleyhobson (Click to Tweet!)
Hiding your proteins in artificial flavors and fooling yourself into eating vegetable based proteins is not sustainable and if you’re taking the plunge, do it for the long haul. I promise you will feel better, inside and out.
And if your family doesn’t want to deal with you “messing up” their kitchen with all of your “inedible ingredients,” LOL, email me and I’ll give you some suggestions on where you can have your food shipped in from. 😉
I have given you some great tips on how to make your vegan substitutions better on your tastebuds. What are your thoughts? Have you tried any substitutions that either worked for you or didn’t? Please leave your comments below.
And if you liked this post, please feel free to share it on Facebook, Pin it or Tweet it. Thanks!
Hayley Hobson is an author, speaker, business coach, yogi, Pilates instructor, and holistic nutritional expert based in Boulder, CO. Her unique and intelligent style promotes strengthening while softening—empowering her clients to heal not only their physical bodies but their hearts and minds as well. To learn more about her nutritional courses, events, and custom programs, visit hayleyhobson.com or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
Image courtesy of Frank Kehren.May 3, 2014