Plant Based 101 – A Crash Course in Going Vegan

Los Sucrose goes bananas – literally!

I’m not one to push my beliefs on anyone, I think you should eat what makes you feel good and that’s all. That being said, I’ve been a vegetarian and on-again/off-again vegan for 14+ years and I’ve done my fair share of eye rolling at the stupid stuff people say about my diet. (And when I say “diet” I mean, the food I choose to eat, not a weight loss program.)

So this post is for those of you thinking about changing your eating habits. Whether you want to try vegetarianism or veganism, or you simply want to try to cut back on meat and dairy and eat more veggies. It’s a crash course at best, but I hope you find it helpful. If you stick around there’s a really good cookie recipe at the end!

Ditch Dairy 

We’ll talk more later, but if you’re looking to get a jump start, download my quick handout of dairy replacements here.

Elephants don’t take protein supplements

Say you want to start eating healthier, so you decide to cut back on meat and dairy. You make the mistake of posting about it on Facebook or telling your uncles at the family BBQ. Suddenly, everyone has something negative to say about eating vegetables. Maybe they mean well, or maybe they’re just being haters. Either way, you shouldn’t let anyone discourage you from what you feel is right for your health and your body. Whether you eat meat and dairy or not, I hope your experiment with eating Plant Strong introduces you to some new delicious foods and a healthier way of cooking because elephants are vegan, and they seem to get plenty of protein. Oh, and you can arm yourself with some sassy answers to common questions about veganism here.

What do I eat?

Personally, I think you should eat vegetables and lots of them. Eat a wide variety across the color spectrum – green, yellow, orange, purple… if it’s pretty, eat it. Along with your veggies, you should eat some whole grains – oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa – the possibilities are endless. You can eat pasta (I like brown rice pasta and whole grain pasta,) eat beans, lentils and legumes (those may or may not all be the same thing, I didn’t pay attention in science class.)

One mistake I think people make when they stop eating animal products is mentally subtracting meat from the dinner plate and getting bummed on what’s left. Hm, steamed broccoli and a baked potato. Yay! And from that sad scenario comes the inevitable “where do you get your protein?

Long story short, most Americans get too much protein because of their animal product-based diets. Additionally, the protein they’re consuming is cheaply produced, pumped full of hormones and hard to digest. (I’m not touching on animal rights here because that’s not why I’m a vegetarian. I’m a vegetarian for my health. But I do get annoyed when people argue about humane slaughtering methods or they say “well what about organic, grass fed beef?” First of all, how about I humanely slaughter you? Second, are you really buying organic, grass-fed meat ALL the time? Really? What about when you go out to eat? My money says you are, at least sometimes, eating cheap, shitty meat. So unless you’re Ted Nugent, step off with that argument.)

These are called vegetables, they are edible.

If you want to read a lot more about protein and a vegetarian diet, Rip Esselstyn does a very concise job of explaining it here. He also cusses and threatens violence a lot less often than I do.

And if you don’t feel like spouting off facts about the protein in spinach and whatnot when your grandma corners you with that question – ask her where elephants get their protein and remind her not to leave you out of the will.

So that’s the “no, you will not die of vegetarianism” part of the show. Let’s get back to the food.

In my humble opinion, the more open you are to experimenting with cooking methods, other culture’s spices and ingredients and just trying stuff in general the happier you will be as a vegetarian. I grew up eating Mexican food in Arizona and Chinese take out in the Midwest. It might not impress you, but if you’ve ever been to Joliet, IL a 7 year old girl who loves Mandarin Chinese is pretty rare. Because my palette was never really “meat and potatoes” I’ve adjusted quite well to the idea of veggies in a spicy sauce or rice and beans with savory collard greens on the side. If you hate vegetables, you’re going to have a tough time, let’s be real here.

One trap I will warn you against is the tofu/fake meat trap. I myself was a fake meat addict for years. Because, again, when you subtract the burger from your dinner plate you aren’t left with anything very exciting or so it seems. So say you can replace that burger with something vaguely burger-like… why, it’s a lazy person’s dream! It’s so easy to buy a box of veggie corn dogs, chik’n nuggets, veggie burgers – and that’s OK sometimes. Like when you’re cooking out, or if you get home super late. But don’t rely on pre-packaged fake meat stuffs as your main source of nutrition.

This chick can afford a lot of veggie burgers.

For one, it’s god damn expensive. $5 for four corndogs? What am I the Queen of fuckin’ England? Also, it’s just as processed and gnarly as all the stuff you just said you weren’t going to eat any more! I know some people will disagree with me, but I feel the same way about tofu. Unless you live somewhere where you can buy it fresh, tofu is hella processed. Additionally, soy is pretty controversial. Some people say it can lead to cancer, others argue that most soy is genetically modified, which is pretty creepy. Even if you don’t eat tofu, you’re eating soy, I promise. It’s cheap and they put it almost everything, read the ingredients to like, five things in your pantry. I bet you’ll find soy in three. So I try to just play it safe and not rely on it too much. (Again, all things in moderation. I love Rama with tofu and I’ll risk a little genetic mutation to enjoy it once in a while.)

The last thing I will say about fake meat is that it will totally cock block you from the best part about being a vegetarian/vegan – eating delicious plants.

Plants are seriously tasty, you just haven’t given them a chance yet. One night at my house we’ll have brown rice pasta with marinara (throw a handful of spinach in, you won’t even taste it and it’s super good for you) and the next night we’ll have a bowl of brown rice topped with bean and veggie chili and a side of collard greens. We eat a ton of Indian-inspired food – lentils in tomato sauces, chickpea mashes, spicy potatoes… we make all-veg tacos (cook all your favorite veggies together in some taco seasonings, throw them on a corn tortilla with some fresh crunchy greens and avocado and that’s a damn good taco.) Stir fry, soups, stew and man-oh-man do we eat stuff out of the slow cooker!

I could go one for days, but let me just answer the question “What can I eat?” You can eat food.

What are some recipes?

Check out the recipe section above for things I make regularly. And check out these resources for more ideas:

Heavens, what to make?

Well, obviously you could check out all the vegan recipes available on a little site called Bake and Destroy – if you need to get started quickly check out my Bowl of Stuff!

Whole Foods recipes - free online resource of thousands of recipes. You can search for vegetarian, dairy-free, vegan, you can even tell the finder that you want something featuring beans, or something healthy. I use this all the time. There’s also an app that you can whip out at the grocery store.

All the Post-Punk Kitchen books – there are so many. Veganomicon, Vegan with a Vengeance, Vegan Brunch (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I also eat breakfast and lunch. I guess I can talk more about that later,) Appetite for Reduction, Viva Vegan… sooo many books. If you’re just going to buy one I recommend Veganomicon – it actually tells you how to cook different grains, beans, veggies. It’s a great book for beginners.

I also recommend picking up a vegetarian slow cooker book, or just stalking Vegetarian Slow Cooker.

Ask your veggie friends for their recommendations, too!

OK, back to breakfast and lunch right quick. Tony and I invested in a powerful blender and we both drink a smoothie every morning. I throw baby spinach in mine with a bunch of berries, he likes bananas and pineapple with a high-fiber green powder. Tony says he’s full until lunch on his smoothie, but I usually have a whole grain English muffin with hummus or apple butter when I get to work. Granola with hemp milk is good too, and it’s also really dirty hippy sounding. On the week ends I’ll make something from Vegan Brunch – waffles, or the delicious vegan biscuits and gravy recipe.

If you’re athletic I suggest Rip’s Big Bowl from the Engine 2 Diet book. Oh, and when I was talking about books I forgot to mention Meat is for Pussies as another good one for tough guys and athletic types.

I usually bring left over dinner for my lunch, but in a pinch I’ll throw together some quick-cooking brown rice and a packet of dairy-free Indian food from the grocery store – Trader Joe’s has yummy packages of spiced chickpeas and things like that. The list of ingredients is short and all in English, so I don’t mind eating stuff out of a box once in a while.

I love dessert (duh) so lately I’ve been baking with white whole wheat flour a lot and eating pure-juice popcicles and coconut milk ice cream when it’s hot. Coconut milk is high in fat, so don’t go thinking you can binge on it and lose weight. But it’s also a lot more filling than dairy ice cream – so take a small scoop and savor it, your belly won’t let you eat too much.

Stuff you need

Personally I think being a vegetarian is very inexpensive, you just have to invest in a few things to make it fun and then the food itself is pretty cheap.

Equipment:

  • a blender – you’ll want it for smoothies and for pureeing soups and things
  • veggie scrubber –  Tony uses one to scrub fruits and veggies so we don’t have to peel them. When you buy organic produce you’re losing out on nutrients by peeling it. (You might want to peel non-organic, since the skin is where the pesticides tend to seep in)
  • slow cooker (or, if you’re impatient, a pressure cooker) – Tony uses this thing all the time. In the morning he’ll throw in some root veggies, beans, maybe some TVP (more on that later) some tomatoes, garlic, veggie broth… then it cooks all day. When I get home I warm up the…
  • rice cooker! And then we have dinner.
  • freezer bags – I know they aren’t eco-friendly, but when you make stuff in a crock pot as often as we do, you have a lot of leftovers. It’s awesome to come home and throw some frozen leftover chili on the stove and then dick around on Tumblr until dinner is ready

Food stuffs:

  • Tofu is adorable, but you should eat other stuff too.

    nutritional yeast – nutty, cheesy and super nutritious. We put this in everything we eat – chili, stir fry, greens. It’s good on popcorn and you can even made mac n’ “cheese” with it…more about “nooch” here.

  • a variety of grains – quinoa being the awesomest. Quinoa is a perfect food. You should eat it ALL the time. And keep a variety of rices, couscous and other grains on hand.
  • TVP – textured vegetable protein is a soy product, so eat it sparingly. But you can get it in bulk at Whole Foods for relatively cheap and it’s a good thing to throw into chili (man, I talk about chili a lot) or to use in place of ground beef. It soaks up flavor, so we’ve let it slow cook in BBQ sauce all day and come home to a delicious “pulled pork.”
  • seasonal fruits and veggies – whatever is in season will always be cheapest, will always taste best and will always make you feel good
  • Bragg aminos – like soy sauce, only cooler. We put this on EVERYTHING. Helps with digestion and tastes like smokey heaven.

Mayhem and foolishness:

OK so here are other things I thought of that may or may not be helpful:

  • If you shop at Whole Foods, do the bulk bins and whatever produce is local and affordable. I try to get other staples at Trader Joe’s or my local produce stand.
  • Pre-game it when dining out. Check the menu online or call and find out about veggie options. Most likely even the gnarliest steak house will have a pasta dish for you. Don’t get stuck eating a salad like a loser.
  • Eat “bowl of stuff.” This has become my favorite meal. I make things I like together – BBQ TVP, collard greens and brown rice, and then I layer them in a bowl and eat them all together. It works with almost anything. Different textures and temperatures are awesome too. Warm quinoa with chopped raw tomatoes and red onions, cooked back beans, avocado, crunchy cabbage slaw and Kalamata olives? Throw on some Bragg aminos and I’ll be your girlfriend til recess.

I’ve been in such a better mood, had so much more energy and have been so happy since I started eating this way everyone in my office is fascinated by the Plant Strong diet. So much so, that we’re having a Plant Strong potluck on Thursday. I’m making the mac n’ yeast recipe I linked to above, and these awesome vegan coconut macarons I had at my first Plant Strong meet up at Whole Foods.

Plant Based 101 – A Crash Course in Going Vegan Recipe

vegan coconut macaron

By BakeandDestroy Published: June 7, 2011

    These tender little treats won me over at my first Plant Strong meet up. I smuggled some home in a napkin to prove to Tony that we weren't going to starve to death by eating healthier.

    Ingredients

    Instructions

    1. Preheat your over to 350. Place ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Depending on the size of the dates and ripeness of the banana, you might need to add more or less coconut flakes. The mixture should be moist, but not gooey.
    2. Scoop by the tablespoon onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake 10-15 mins, until done. Cookies will be soft, but golden brown and will hold together.

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      What are your questions about eating more plants? And vegan/veggie readers, what’s  your advice to people who want to eat more plants?

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