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Feb 12, 2014 10:27 AM

Going vegan

I have in the past attempted to eat solely vegan foods in an attempt to satisfy self imposed ethical and moral standards. I attempted this without doing much research or giving much thought to how heavily this would impact my life.

I would like this to be a thread in which people can provide information to persons looking for more information on the vegan lifestyle and how to approach this monumental change with the information that will make the transition as successful as possible.

Share stories, experiences, links, references, warnings, or red-direct to another thread if this is a repeat.

How did you approach this new diet/lifestyle? What were the reasons that motivated your change? Has it been easy? What's been the hardest thing? What are some unexpected consequences/benefits you have experienced? Do you feel better as an individual for the change if it was ethics-based? Have you struggled with this diet? Have you found a new community of individuals/ friends through this diet/lifestyle change? Would you recommend this to someone who is just trying to lose weight? What would be reasons for NOT assuming this diet/lifestyle?

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  1. i am a pescatarian, not a vegan, but 99% of my meals are vegan.

    in no particular order
    1) when first starting out virtually my entire recipe file and cooking repetoire was animal-based. i was at a loss about what to cook and how to cook it for quite a while. it takes a while to develop this knowledge.
    the main points to remember are:
    A) LEGUMES are your friends
    B) most interesting legume recipes are ethnic: i.e. indian, morrocan, south american, etc.
    if you insist on trying to replicate european food you will be left eating phoney meat (unsatisfying imho) and other bland, greasy, food. your spice rack will need to change to accommodate these types of cuisines.

    i find that brown rice is a more useful/appropriate starch for most legume-based food. also, imho, the frozed pre-prepared brown rice that trader joe's sells is ideal because you can pour out only the amount you need and it can be nuked in less than a minute and IT COMES OUT PERFECTLY every time.

    2) i LOVE restaurants. when i first started out virtually all the restaurants that i frequented served animal-based food almost exclusively. it took a while to develop a new set of favorite restaurants.

    3) when eating meat, normal people don't think it is ok to belitttle nor judge your food choices. when avoiding animal products many omnivores think you have just entered the category of "fair game" and it is ok to publicly judge/dismiss/belittle/insult you and to try to start an argument with you about what you choose to eat. it takes a long time to come up with ways to deflect/defuse these boorish oafs

    4) when i first started to reduce animal-based products, i INCORRECTLY thought that all my efforts at weight control could go out the window. after about a month of gaining weight, i realized that the weight control efforts still needed to be in place: not any more nor less than before, but they can't just be abandoned completely. you can't start making daily trips to the bakery/doughnut shop and eat the stuff with a quart of sorbetto every day and think that you won't gain weight.

    5) re: health benefits
    as i weaned off of animal food, my severe arthritis basically disappeared.
    up until that time, i had been taking NSAIDs every three hours for YEARS in order to live a semblance of a normal life. after weaning, it took about three months, but i was able to completely forgo the NSAIDS and after about 5 months actually was able to join a gym and participate in group classes! obviously, my experience is not a scientific study, but it has been enugh to keep me walking the straight and narrow. i absolutely don't want to risk returning to being a cripple.
    maybe my experience is a result of reducing animal products, maybe it is a result of increasing legumes? no one knows. i don't care. i'm sticking with this program.

    4 Replies
    1. re: westsidegal

      "A) LEGUMES are your friends
      B) most interesting legume recipes are ethnic: i.e. indian, morrocan, south american, etc.
      if you insist on trying to replicate european food you will be left eating phoney meat (unsatisfying imho) and other bland, greasy, food. your spice rack will need to change to accommodate these types of cuisines." this is great advice.

      To which I add the following:

      * You need to meet new ingredients, things like nutritional yeast, seaweed and miso that can deepen an enrich the flavor of vegan dishes by adding umami

      * You have to take new approaches to how a meal is composed. You're not looking for dishes to substitute for meat or fish, you're looking for great food that includes protein sources. Immersion blenders, silken tofu, and red dal can turn sauteed or roasted vegetables into wonderful, protein-rich sauces that you can serve over pasts, grains, beans or vegetables.

      *small children and pregnant and nursing women can thrive on vegan diets, but only if someone is working conscientiously at keeping the protein content high.

      1. re: westsidegal

        p.s. when cooking mexican-type bean dishes add sliced avocados.
        one of the things that people miss about eating meat is the flavor and mouth-feel of fat. avocados are an excellent source of delicious fat to satisfy that craving.

        1. re: westsidegal

          true! And avocado mashed up with lemon or vinegar makes a lovely ooey gooey salad dressing requiring no other oil...clings beautifully to dark leafies!

          1. re: Val

            I often use a half avocado to massage into my raw kale salads (with a little lemon and salt) and it gets every leaf coated with just the right amount!

      2. I'm no longer vegan, but I eat vegan 99% of the time as well.

        I was a vegetarian for many years, half out of concern for animals (this was prior to the widespread coverage of how animals are bred and treated) and half out of a general dislike of meat products. It started when I was a kid and lasted into my early 20s.

        The transition to vegan was somewhat natural. I've never been able to eat an egg in its identifiable form (still won't, totally gross), so only used eggs in baking. This was remedied easily, and I found this aspect of transitioning to veganism simple (food substitutes).

        I'm also lactose intolerant, so that was no big deal. I already had been on soy, rice, or almond milk from age 13.

        The only issue I had was with cheese--my lactose intolerance allotted me one small serving of cheese per day. This was always some cream cheese on a bagel, a string cheese, or a slice of pizza with half the cheese scraped off.

        It doesn't sound like a lot of dairy to give up, but it was my last "reservation" about going vegan. And of course, the incidental dairy in things like chocolate or other processed foods. Honey I sub with maple syrup. Stopped buying/wearing leather. Not a big deal.

        The solution was to really start cooking/baking everything from scratch. Again, this was a decade ago, and 100% vegan foods were not so easy to come across when out and about. Today, I don't think it's so difficult. I live in L.A. and there are 4 vegan restaurants (or vegetarian with 1/2 vegan menus) within a mile of my house.

        I would never go vegan solely for weight loss. I have always been underweight though, so I can't speak to that from experience.

        I have many vegan friends but it is not a subject of conversation. Nor did I talk about it incessantly back when I was vegan. I don't think it's something to be talked about all the time. If someone is interested, sure, go ahead, but it's been my experience that trying to lecture people about animal abuse is not only going to annoy them, but also make you look like a nut. And nobody likes to be told how unhealthy their diet is. Nobody. I was not vegan or vegetarian to make a statement, it was simply what I preferred for my body and conscience. It's not my job to preach or convert others. Being vegan in L.A. is like having blonde hair. Nobody cares.

        As to the unexpected benefits/pitfalls: I felt amazing. Far better than I thought I would. For a short time, I went on a vegan macrobiotics diet to try and help with some health issues and I will say I had more energy than I've ever had in my life. That was very tricky for me personally, as food options are quite regimented.

        I can't think of any real downsides, apart from the obvious ones of having limited food options. But I don't think that's a big deal.

        I would recommend making sure your vitamin levels are adequate. My B12 got very low over time, and still is, since I eat so little dairy/eggs/meat. I get B12 shots, as oral supplements were not enough.

        In the end, I say go for it. You're not handcuffed to veganism for the rest of your life. It's not going to hurt you.

        I've made my peace with the fact that I now eat dairy in the form of butter in cookies, or chocolate. I use eggs in baking. I eat my small piece of cheese almost every day. And I have actual meat maybe 3-4 times per year. It is not animal-friendly, but it is not to excess and it's what my body needs as I try to heal from a 9 year bout of serious illness.

        Good luck.

        4 Replies
        1. re: nothingswrong

          <The solution was to really start cooking/baking everything from scratch>

          110% agree: no matter what your preferred diet, you will always be better off if you make it yourself.

          1. re: nothingswrong

            <<Being vegan in L.A. is like having blonde hair. Nobody cares.>>

            respectfully disagree.
            for an object lesson, look on the LA board where an OP requested help finding a restaurant to accommodate the rehearsal dinner for her son's wedding. the parents of the daughter in law were flying in from India and were vegetarians for religious reasons.
            the suggestions given to the OP included Fogo de Chao which is a brazilian steakhouse in which the servers parade around the restaurant displaying the cooked animal carcasses and carving off slices in the middle of the dining room.
            basically MANY posters thought that it would be JUST FINE to have the in-laws to be forced to watch this spectacle (which flew in the face of their religious beliefs) AND only to provide a salad bar for the in-laws after they'd flown halfway around the world. (after all, it was said, having salad for dinner won't HURT the in-laws).

            when i first moved to a more plant-based way of living i tried to do it surreptitiously because i wasn't sure i'd be able to follow through and didn't want to deal with the fallout if i failed. i was SHOCKED at how many people took offense if i didn't buy barbecue from the operation that cooked the stuff at the farmer's market. you'd think these folks owned the barbecue concession themselves. why were they even watching my food choices?

            absolutely there are TONS of people in LA who are very judgmental and watchful and involved in the food choices of others without invitation. i know this from repeated personal experience as i never made an announcement and my move to a more plant based diet was a relatively gradual one.

            1. re: westsidegal

              That's interesting about the Fogo de Chao/Indian family thread.

              I have a feeling it's partly a generational thing, and partly a foodie thing.

              I'm in my (late) 20s and certainly see far less "judgment" and much more tolerance of alternative diets/lifestyles amongst my peers versus, say, my parents. When I went vegetarian (as a kid), my parents were kind of horrified. And when I went vegan, they told me I'd probably die from malnutrition. To them, dinner was meat+starch+veg. My mother is Greek and that's how they ate every night. Always meat on the plate. My father is half Eastern Indian and half Irish-American, but they also ate meat at least once daily. I found it surprising when I got older to learn that many Indians ate vegetarian the majority of the time, because we sure as hell didn't when we had Indian. There was ALWAYS chicken, usually several chicken dishes.

              I also remember there was this big push by my parents to get me to eat fake meats and tofu and whatnot, when in reality, my protein levels were always normal just eating a plant-based diet to my liking.

              As to the foodie aspect, the people who frequent this site IMO do not accurately represent your average Angeleno. People in L.A. like food, sure, but the opinions I see expressed here (and on the L.A. board specifically) are absolutely not similar to those of my friends, family, or even the vague acquaintances in my social circle. I could count on one hand how many friends I have who I'd consider "foodies," or really give two sh*ts about discussing food or restaurants. My brothers are really into food, a friend from college, maybe a couple work acquaintances. I think your average Angeleno loves and appreciates the diverse and year-round amazing food/produce we have here, but they don't feel the need to talk about it all the time or log onto the internet and recommend restaurants to others. They certainly wouldn't suggest a family dinner at Fogo de Chao for vegetarians (though my older brother thought it was hilarious to go there when I was a vegan.)

              My point is, I think your average Angeleno in my age group knows plenty of people who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, or on some other restrictive diet, and chances are they know where to go to eat with said person. In my group of friends, diets are accommodated most of the time when we choose restaurants to go to as a group. If we have someone who can't do gluten and also doesn't eat processed foods, we go to Café Gratitude or some other such sh*t. When we have vegetarians and vegans in tow, we go to Astro Burger (the one on SaMo Blvd. in WeHo) because they fry in peanut oil and have amazing veggie burgers. Or we head to Thai Town to one of the many restaurants that are veg-friendly.

              Those are just casual eating examples, places we frequent, but you get my point. It's not a big deal, there's no fuss about it. When we have dinner parties, there's always some non-meat option available. In the "younger" crowd I really rarely see any eye-rolling or ignorance regarding special diets. Or maybe it's just my social circle, I dunno.

              1. re: nothingswrong

                come to think of it, iirc, the most vocal of the folks who were judgmental about the in-laws seemed to be posters who i have always assumed were "older."

                i think you probably have hit the nail on the head by identifying it as a "generational" issue.

                (since i'm an old fart who is vegan most of the time, it stands to reason that i'd see more of this belittling of vegans/vegetarians than you would.)

          2. I am vegetarian and getting close to vegan. My partner is mostly vegetarian. (Cheese is our most difficult thing to give up, though we have drastically reduced our consumption.) We changed over to vegetarianism gradually, and if your conscience allows, that's a much easier way to transition. When you first start out, it can be an overwhelming task to re-think your approach to meals. You may be used to planning "protein, carb, veg", and feel lost without that structure. I started with Meatless Mondays, and found more and more recipes that we liked, so expanded to 3, then 5, then all meatless meals. Over time, you find out that nothing bad happens if you don't have a protein centerpiece (meat or otherwise), and you get more comfortable serving two vegetable dishes side by side. I discovered that if you make a long-simmered sauce without the meat, it tastes pretty much the same. And the appeal of a lot of meat dishes is more about the sauce than the chunk of meat.

            It also helps to have some no-brainer meals on file for those nights when you are mentally exhausted. I do a weekly meal plan that really helps out - no trying to put together dinner ideas on the drive home. This is also useful so you can balance nutritional needs across the week - maybe a quick pasta one night, then a more protein-rich legume the next. Make a list of basic dinner ideas, and vegetables you like, so you have a menu to choose from. And if you have a bread machine, remember that everything's better with a slice of fresh bread next to it.

            I went lacto-vegetarian because I got some backyard chickens. Once I spent time with them, it was obvious that they seek love and attention just as much as a dog or cat. And once the compassion meme gets turned on in your brain, there's no reason it should exclude any other animals. (Which can be inconvenient if you raise bees, and thus object to the way bees are treated by the commercial pollination process.) It absolutely makes me feel better as a participant in the world, and has become a major influence in my life. I don't necessarily feel healthier, but I have lost a few pounds. We rarely eat in restaurants anymore, due to a number of factors not all related to diet choice. But this does mean I can follow our somewhat quirky food rules in the meals I make at home, and avoid the angst of ordering in a restaurant.

            One thing I've learned to avoid - don't label something as a substitute if you can avoid it. (Cashew cheese sauce, I'm talking to you.) If you're thinking of it as a nice smooth cashew sauce, it's just fine. But if you attach a label like cheese to it, it changes your expectations, and you are likely to be disappointed. This is especially true if you are serving it to non-vegans.

            2 Replies
            1. re: patricium

              ok, ok, patriclum: i'll stop calling my white "cream" sauce, which i make by whirling silken tofu in a blender, "cream" sauce.
              what you say makes sense.
              i'll just call it white sauce from now on

              also would like to add to this statement of yours
              <<I discovered that if you make a long-simmered sauce without the meat, it tastes pretty much the same>>
              not only is what you said true, but also
              the widely held belief that it's the animal that adds most of the flavor to animal stock is UNTRUE.
              mostly, it's the SALT that is the primary source of flavor in most stocks and i've found that most soups/stews can be prepared using plain water as a substitution for most stocks and still the dish turns out well.

              most folks have never really tasted real salt-free chicken stock (an amazingly bland concoction); they think the salt taste, which is the predominant taste, comes from the chicken!

              1. re: westsidegal

                Yes, I agree about stocks too. I tend to cheat and use Better-than-Bouillon concentrates when a recipe calls for stock. I was totally creeped out the first time I tried their not-chicken stock, because it tastes exactly like the with-chicken version.

            2. I am a lactose intolerant vegetarian who hates aside from greek yogurt my diet is vegan.

              I became vegetarian as a child, more than 20yrs ago, and ate fish about 2-3xs a year for a few years.

              This choice is very personal and whatever the reasons are they must resonate deeply to you personally. My empathy for animals was and is my primary reason with many other factors such as health and environment supporting this.

              I eat a whole foods mostly unprocessed vegetable centric diet that works best for me- day to day i have a ton of energy, don't suffer from mid afternoon slumps and i sleep well. My diet plays a huge role but so does the timing of my meals and snacks as well as my excersize routine.

              I think that going from omni to vegan would be a difficult transition and would advise to go omni to vegetarian first. You have to relearn what a meal can look like to avoid dependance on over processed faux meats and avoid carb overload.

              Reading blogs, recipes, and menus from vegetarian/vegan restaurants is important to research to avoid getting stuck in a rut- which is obviously possible following an omni diet as well. This recent threads has some great cookbook recommendations:

              Eating out can be difficult but i have had 100% success rate when i called ahead and spoke to the restaurant about any dietary restrictions. I have had some amazing vegan meals that were made for me off the menu this way.

              The best advice i have is never ever leave without at least one snack on you. For example, i have a baggie of dry roasted edamame and a larabar in my handbag right now, and always have snacks in a drawer at work that i replenish regularly- such as a jar of nut butter, various bars, primal strips vegan jerkey, freeze dried fruit, and a few amy's organic soups. I assume when going to a party at someone's home that there will be very limited options and therefore i have a big snack before going so if there is nothing i won't starve, but if there are options i'm not too full to enjoy.

              No one wants a sanctimonious preachy dinner companion who is deriding the choices of others, so i keep my own choices to myself and i do not ever offer any unsolicited advice or judgement. When pressed i will focus on only how delicious vegan food is and can be.

              I do not ever "miss" meat/chicken/fish etc, and have not ever "craved" it- i can imagine almost no circumstances where i will eat those again. As long as their are choices i can make that are kind and spare the abuse and or death of animals that is my choice.

              In the past five years or so there has been a huge increase in vegan friendly items at the grocery store, improved labeling of vegan items, a larger number of restaurants with vegan choices, and some well established chefs who have created wonderful menus and recipes.

              Focusing on adding more and increasing food choices is key- do not focus on what you cannot or are no longer eating, but approach it as "oh this wonderful indian chickpea curry sounds great" or "i just bought a bunch of swiss chard on sale, i'm going to find new ways to use it". This isn't a "diet" and it is not in any way about deprivation, but without deep personal conviction, organization, and a positive attitude it will be challenging.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Ttrockwood

                to add to Ttrockwood's comments: the recipe site run by Vegetarian Times has become a new favorite source of recipes.

                on the left side of the page and at the bottom of the page are all the categories.

                another site that i like is:

                i like that the recipes on both these sites are not attempts to replicate the "comfort food" that was popular in my childhood.
                at this point, not only am i bored with comfort food, but getting away from highly saturated, high-calorie, low fiber food, is an end in itself.
                imho plant-based food should not be an attempt to return to the unhealthful ways of the past.
                it should be good for MY health too!

              2. p,s
                re: cooking with legumes.
                imho, dried legumes, when cooked, taste MUCH, MUCH better than canned.
                the problem is that it's a pain in the neck to cook them on top of the stove.
                the easy work around for this is to cook them in a covered glass casserole dish in the microwave.
                almost all microwaves, today, can be programmed for two-stage cooking (even my friends who say that their microwave can't do this, are amazed when i go online and get the instruction manual for their machine and find out that their machines CAN, IN FACT do this.)
                you just set the timer to be on high for enough time to get the temp up to simmering and then set the timer to 10% of normal output for the rest of the cook time.
                after punching in the numbers on the microwave, you can leave the house, do your errands, and come home to perfectly cooked beans.
                cheaper and they don't taste of tin nor plastic like the canned ones do.

                4 Replies
                1. re: westsidegal

                  In our quest to eat more vegan meals, we invested in a pressure cooker a couple of years ago (really not so expensive - Fagor ~$50-60). I can't begin to tell you how this has changed our approach, as it is SO much quicker and easier to prepare beans and whole grains. I can make a bean meal from scratch in about 30 minutes after work, if I remember to throw the beans in water in the morning before leaving. Without soaking, it still doesn't take all that long. The quality and taste of the beans is far superior to conventional stovetop cooking or from a can. Of course, I still keep a couple of cans around for super fast meals when I'm too tired/late to cook. Additionally, stews and soups get that nice umami long-cook flavor FAST. I can even make a stovetop baked bean dish in about 1-2 hours, vs. 4-6 in the oven!

                  1. re: Science Chick

                    I'm intrigued by the idea of a pressure cooker. I keep looking at them on Amazon and shying away. You've re-inspired me!

                    1. re: owen_meany

                      I was equally timid and kept thinking of my Mom's warnings, based on her experiences from decades ago. The Fagor on Amazon is beautiful, with a very heavy gauge bottom, and easy to use. Really nothing to it! A few tricks:
                      1. Basically, take whatever normal cooking time you use and divide by 3 for the pressure cooker
                      2. For sauces/stews with beans: You can do your sauté first, then just add everything, close, pressurize and off you go.
                      3. Very very thick concoctions (spaghetti sauce, pea soup, chili), I found they can burn since you don't check/stir every so often, as with conventional cooking. So I try to get it furiously boiling before pressurizing and stir a lot then, then get it quickly up to pressure and turn down the heat the minimal I need to keep the pressure but not burn it.

                      Good luck!!

                  2. re: westsidegal

                    I started using so many more dried beans when I picked up a mini crock pot at the thrift store. Now, I just toss some beans and water in when I got to bed and the next morning they are perfect and ready to go!

                    I make so much more hummus this way. For a lot less than using canned chickpeas or buying small containers of it.