This article is for new vegans and pointing them in the exciting direction of eating weird and surprisingly good foods. Before we start, let me share that I am not a 100% vegan. There are holes in my vegan knowledge, like cooking with tofu, but everything else that I’ve learned in regard to eating vegan over the past four years is in this article.
Having food allergies and being happy about eating a specific way is a mental game. I feel fortunate for being diagnosed with not only being allergic to gluten (which is a protein in most common grains), but to chicken eggs and to cow’s milk. Being allergic to “all things American” has forced me to be creative in another avenue of my life. At first it felt very restrictive; then I looked outside my culture and realized that several other continents use rice instead of wheat as their staple. My allergies have opened me up to being adventurous with making dishes I would of never of been exposed to, like cooking with powdered egg replacer, coconut milk and rice flour. I now pick up my food from an Ecuadorian market, a Korean grocery store and the local grocer’s heath food aisle. My life is more varied and interesting thanks to my food allergies.
I use to splurge on certain foods, like Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and then pay for it later. I finally learned that it’s not a treat to occasionally eat something I am allergic to. Instead I had to keep telling myself the “treat” is actually poison to my body. As you will see from this post, there are still tons of other treats that you can eat.
I don’t like saying restricted diet, because it is actually the opposite. Having limitations makes you more creative. Great artists use this technique of having limitations to create stunning works of art. Eating a restricted diet will show you that there are lots of options available. One downside to being vegan is having fewer options when eating out, but we’ll talk more about that later.
Where to start?
If you live alone or everyone in the house is eating vegan, it’s time to give away all non-vegan foods right now. Having them there will only temp you and remind you of what you can’t have. If you are the only vegan amongst others in your house, have a cupboard and a shelf in the fridge set aside for all of your “weird” foods. This will help you focus on what you can eat.
Start with what’s in the fridge. If you have a bunch of celery in the fridge, Google “vegan+ celery recipe.”
Make a dinner menu for the week. Or pick a recipe you want to try. Brainstorm breakfast foods and snacks for the week. Where could u eat for lunch?
On this blog, I not only talk about my art making adventures, but recipes that I’ve tried. Use the index on the right and look at the gluten free and vegan section. You are also welcome to email me with your questions at elizabeth at elizabethsymington dot com.
I use to be a part of a weekly menu swap, which helped me to plan out what I was going to eat every night. The group kept me accountable for planning ahead instead of eating junk for dinner. You can join a menu swap group like Menu Plan Monday, and share your vegan dishes, or look for a vegan group.
I have gotten to the point that after eating this way for four years, it doesn’t phase me when friends eat things in front of me that I can’t have. A few things do, like fresh hot pizza, crème Brule, brie cheese and mud slides, but other than that, it doesn’t even look tempting.
For the fun of it, take one of your prevegan days, and adapt it to your current lifestyle.
Trade recipes with friends, network, and feel less alone. Lots of people eat this way.
What does it mean to be vegan?
Eating vegan is either a personal or a food allergy choice, where a person doesn’t eat any animal products. This includes meat, milk, cheese, yogurt, lard…
Thankfully reading labels is getting so much easier and a lot of packaging now advertises if it’s vegan, egg or milk free. Words to look out for are whey, cream, lactose, butter, and milk. Depending on your situation, you or may not be able to eat the foods that contain trace amounts. You can test this by eating a little or you can just write it off the list and move on. If it says milk in the ingredients assume it’s cow’s unless specified.
Dairy officially means cow’s milk, not eggs. Most people lump these too together, but it’s important to know that if a package says dairy free, you still will want to read the label to see if there are any eggs in the food.
Don’t assume that it’s vegan because it makes sense that it should be. I still occasionally surprise myself when I read a label to find it not ok. Take lemon curd for example. It has eggs and milk, even though it’s in a seemingly innocent jar that’s on the canned food aisle. It’s best to get into the habit of reading the ingredients, even on the salad dressing at friend’s houses. They know you are not being rude and judgmental, but instead being responsible by looking after your health.
A lot of times, the common food allergies are bolded in the ingredients label, making it faster to shop.
Where to shop
Since more people are becoming aware of food allergies, there are more vegan options for us to choose from. Look for vegan foods on the health food aisle or ethnic food aisle of your grocery store and at ethnic grocery stores. Specifically Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have a good selection. Also, look for specialty grocery stores for those with food allergies. In downtown Sacramento, California, there is the Gluten Free Specialty Market, which carries other food allergy free foods besides gluten free foods.
“American Foods” are generally loaded with dairy and meat, so try Latin and Asian cuisine. I don’t have much experience eating out vegan (since I eat meat), so if anyone has recommendations or things to look out for, please leave a comment. Some sushi has mayonnaise in it, like the California rolls and the sauce on the spicy tuna rolls.
I’ve found that waiters don’t always know what is in the foods and have even seen them guess about the ingredients. What I do is explain politely that I have food allergies and that’s it’s very important to not have x, y and z in the food. You can also ask to read the packaging (like at starbucks) to confirm that it’s safe to eat.
I’ve been surprised many times when my food has arrived to be covered in cheese or sour cream, even though I specified that I can’t have any milk products. People without food allergies tend to forget that dairy comes in many forms. Even if the menu doesn’t say what the garnishes are it’s best to specify that you don’t want any cream sauces, sour cream, cheese…
If the food shows up and you can’t eat it, don’t eat it to be polite. It’s your health that is at stake, even if you’re vegan for personal reasons. The longer you go without a food, like cow’s milk, the worse the reaction could be if you had any. The flips side is also true for some people, that rotating in past allergy foods might not cause a reaction.
At restaurants, smoothie shops and particularly at coffee shops, they don’t always list if they carry nondairy milks. It doesn’t hurt to ask if they can make your latte with soy milk (or whatever milk alternative that they have).
Personally I eat a lot of Latin and Asian cuisine since the staple is rice and not wheat. Thankfully a lot of the dishes can be adapted being vegan.
For a list of recipes look under the Index on the right hand side and click on "GF and dairy free recipes."
vegweb- tons of recipes
Also check out the library for vegan cookbooks.
Speeding up the cooking process
Since it’s expensive and a bother to eat out with my allergies, I cook three meals a day. Even though I enjoy cooking I don’t want to spend all the time in the kitchen. One huge help is using a rice cooker. You can even steam veggies and cook meals in it. Keep in mind that brown rice more nutritional value then white rice. Also the Crockpot is a big help. You can make meatless stews and meatless chili. Cooking meals and freezing them is also a time saver. My latest thing is making my own sushi, which is ridiculously easy. I learned that you have to make the sushi rice fresh and the rolls have to be eaten then, otherwise they fall apart from being cold in the fridge.
Random Bits of Food Knowledge
Flu shots are cultured in egg.
There are vegan alternatives for yogurt, cheeses made from tofu, cream cheese (there are not a lot of cream cheese flavors, so make your own by adding spices, chopping up veggies, or adding fresh minced garlic). There are also meatless meats. Check out the frozen taquitos from costos (keep in mind they need something to dip them into otherwise they are very bland). At the local Target store, they have gf and vegan cake mixes and frosting.
Veganese is a nondairy mayonnaise.
Buying in larger sizes can reduce the cost, like big tub of yogurt versus individual containers.
If you are feeling overwhelmed about switching your entire eating lifestyle or want to celebrate this adventure, go to the store and buy a pint of tofutti Wild berry Surprise ice cream (this is my favorite ice cream, even over “normal” ice cream). I was going to describe how amazing the ice cream is, but it’s best left up to the imagination. For the locals, you can get it at Bel Aire in Rancho Cordova, CA.
Have fun exploring a whole new world of food and recipes. Veteran vegans please leave some words of advice or encouragement that would be much appreciated.
Also read “vegan food options” article