Well, you managed to lurch all the way to 2018 without succumbing to cancer, heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, osteoporosis, or any of the other diseases that arise from the Standard American Diet. At least I hope you did. Congratulations!
But now it’s 2018, and what better time to stop killing yourself in plain view of your friends and family with a New Year’s resolution to go vegan in 2018?
Plus, it’ll just piss them off. Bonus.
For well over a decade now, I’ve enjoyed the numerous benefits of a vegan diet, ranging from the way I feel to the way I look and even the way I smell. I mean, I still smell with my nose, but the bouquet of my personal musk has improved since I stopped gnawing on dead bodies. I can’t believe I ever fell for the “you need meat to live” meme or the “b-but muh protein” meme, but having been raised in the Bible Belt, I’ve believed stupider things.
I have three major suggestions for anyone who is remotely interested in vegan or vegetarian diets: ridding yourself of the “muh protein” meme, becoming less terrified by the zillions of meat and dairy substitutes out there (many of which are better than the original), and learning to cook like a mofo.
Proteins are just big, gnarly molecules made out of amino acids. There are only 16 that it can’t manufacture (hence “essential” amino acids), and like all other necessary nutrients, they’re all found in staggering abundance throughout the plant kingdom, which illuminates how inane the “I need protein, I need meat” mentality is.
Consider that any cell contains within its nucleus a strand of DNA, which is just another big, gnarly molecule made out of amino acids. If it’s a cell or it has cells, it contains DNA, which means that it contains protein. Equipped with this knowledge, you can now roll your eyes when restaurants refer to certain foods as “proteins,” which is well beyond stupid. (Never rely on restaurants, media, or food companies for nutritional advice … just look at the deadly Atkins Diet, the nonsensical gluten-free fad, the disastrous anti-fat crusade, and the artificial sweetener debacle and you’ll see what I mean.)
Now consider that the Power Plate advocated by the Physicians’ Committee was so spot on that the USDA plagiarized it with MyPlate. (But not without slapping on the superfluous dairy category to appease the dairy industry, a scientifically indefensible move when one considers that any nutrient that dairy provides is readily available in a vegan diet. Yet dairy causes myriad health issues and introduces hormones, antibiotics, and concentrated pesticide residues from GMO foods to the body in addition to causing the ailments spelled out in the first paragraph. Remember, if you need a job done really poorly, ask the government to do it.)
Now consider that it is nearly impossible for any diet that provides enough calories to be deficient in protein.
So stop worrying about protein already. You sound like a moron. You’ll run out of oxygen faster than protein prattling on about it.
General nutritional advice — even from the FDA, which is hardly a vegan propaganda outlet — is to enjoy a variety of plant-based foods. You can try the “eat the rainbow” method, which simply entails a conscious effort to eat different-colored foods throughout each day. With that approach combined with a mindfulness of the main food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds — there’s little need to worry about any kind of supplementation.
I’m pretty sure that vegans in the 1970s who wanted mayonnaise just mixed dirt and water and spread it on bread.
Now the vegan market is booming with new products coming out every day. It’s a little ridiculous, but I’m not complaining.
I’ll admit that I’m not big on fake meat and dairy. I have lost my taste for meat entirely, and I’m not particularly interested in eating something that closely resembles an autopsy.
Furthermore, most meat analogues are heavily processed, meaning that while they’re still often less harmful for you than life-threatening animal foods, they’re not ideal staple foods. While I think that most of the fermented and cultured foods I’ll mention below are okay as staple foods, I believe that most meat and cheese analogues are best used sparingly.
Still, I vividly remember the “so what the hell do I eat?” phase, and a good veggie burger was a welcome option during those days.
I’ll be the first to admit — hell, let me warn you — that some faux meats and cheeses are decidedly unsatisfactory in their efforts to replicate the real thing. A plasticy, vaguely cheesish square of readily indiscernible origin that resembles an actual dairy product in the way that carob resembles chocolate isn’t much consolation for an struggling dairy addict.
Fortunately, there are some really good options out there now.
Gardein makes surprisingly passable meat analogues that are now found in the freezer sections of most supermarkets. As far as veggie burgers go, they’re hit or miss, but Boca is the worst. Beyond Meat uses heme iron in their burgers to get that real “blood” taste — perfect if you’re into the taste of blood! Steer clear of vegan hot dogs; some have been found to contain meat. However, Tofurky sausages are pretty damned good, and Field Roast is even better. As a matter of fact, both brands are pretty stellar across the board.
Daiya is a brand that makes all manner of dairy analogues. Their shredded cheeses melt well and make decent pizza toppings. Plus, it’s relatively common and inexpensive.
But if you want an alarmingly cheesy nondairy cheese, you will need to find something that is cultured.
A perky little badass named Miyoko Schinner altered the course of human history when she wrote “Artisan Cultured Vegan Cheese.” She takes a nut base and cultures it in exactly the same way one would culture dairy, resulting in … well, it’s straight-up cheese. It’s no less cheese than Gouda — it just doesn’t use cow’s milk as a base. You have to taste it to believe it. You can try her brand, Miyoko’s Kitchen (Chao is a comparable product). If you’re a real badass, you can order her book and learn to do it yourself. Any cultured or fermented vegan cheese is going to approach god-tier levels of dankness. They’re also somehow actually good for you. I know, it’s weird.
I’ve yet to encounter a bad brand of vegan yogurt. They’re all so simple (let friendly bacteria have their way with a pile of food — usually of an almond, soybean, or cashew base — and soon it’s yogurt) that there’s not much that can go wrong. It’s still cultured, it’s just a way healthier (and ethically cleaner) base. Just try a few and see what you like.
If you are looking to replace butter, organic Earth Balance is as good as it gets, and it’s easy to find as well.
Vegenaise (erroneously but insistently pronounced ‘vee – gun – ayse by the faithful) is king of mayo. I always thought mayonnaise was disgusting before I was vegetarian, but I can eat Vegenaise with a spoon. Or a ladle. It makes incredible dressings and sauces, too. Best Foods makes a passable mayo as well, but steer clear of Nasoya unless you like your mayo like you like your congested Sumo wrestlers: snotty and jiggly.
I suppose I may as well hit the “soyboy” meme now.
If you are concerned with phytoestrogens turning you as gay as Alex Jones’ frogs, consider the massive doses of actual estrogen in dairy. So if you think phytoestrogens in soymilk are going to make you gay yet you’re still literally drinking actual estrogen in cows’ milk, I guess I’ll see you at the next pride parade.
And now for a quick sidenote to aspiring reformed dairy addicts: All dairy contains a protein called casein. It does bad things to you (like cancer), but it also breaks down into several things during digestion, one of which being casomorphins — opioid peptides that are created during the deconstruction of casein.
As far as addictive power goes, these SOBs purportedly have about 1/8 the potency of actual heroin. They’re there because they aid in the bonding process between a baby cow and it’s mother (it’s baby cow food, remember?). They are why you think you can’t live without cheese.
You can live without cheese, just like you can live without cigarettes and crystal meth. But as with any addictive substance, you’ll have to give yourself time away from dairy (probably 4–6 weeks) so that your brain chemistry can reset itself. Until then, you are going to experience cravings, and it will suck. When I was moving from vegetarianism from veganism, I totally broke down after a few weeks and raced to the nearest Mexican restaurant for a plate of cheese enchiladas. The struggle is real. Deal with it head on.
Eating fake meat all the time is expensive, and it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of anyone’s diet. Knowing how to cook gives you total control of everything you put in your body and at a far lower price point. Corporations are not concerned with your longevity or quality of life, so depending on the freezer section or canned and boxed foods is a bad idea for anyone.
If you are male, being a badass cook means that you are absolutely 100 percent going to get laid. Period. Learn to cook like a boss and you will find it necessary to have pallets of condoms airlifted directly to your residence.
If you are female, while a more direct route involves tearing the ribcage open, the maxim that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach generally holds true.
I had the exquisite honor of being general manager of the world’s best damned vegetarian restaurant — Nashville’s fabled The Wild Cow — and I briefly co-owned the local staple vegetarian cafe in Gainesville, Florida: Book Lover’s Cafe. I definitely learned to cook by being thrown in head first.
If you are able to get a job in the kitchen at Peekaboo Kitchen or Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Village Cafe, that will definitely be your best crash course in vegetarian cooking. Good luck with that, though.
For the rest of you, April Ashcroft does local vegan whole-foods wizardry classes in St. George. In fact, she’s doing one this Thursday, Jan. 4, at 6 p.m. in St. George. Visit health4lifecooking.com and email April to register. You can also check out her videos online.
If you’re not into that, I heavily recommend two cookbooks. Skip the gorillions of niche vegan cookbooks and go straight for Deborah Madison’s classic “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” If there’s a vegetarian bible, it’s either that or New York Times food reviewer Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” These are both worth buying (special mention to “Veganomicon” and “Thug Kitchen”).
Those were just three tips. There’s no reason to stop there. The internet is replete with how-to guides, starter kits, and nutritional research, so go get it.
Now you have no excuse to continue to shave years off your life while lowering its quality with conditioned habits that are easily outgrown. If you don’t want to go fully vegan or vegetarian, you’ll still enjoy increased health by eating more plant foods and fewer animal-derived foods. Do it for yourself, and if that’s somehow not a good enough reason for going vegan, do it for your family.