EAT: The New Vegan Starter Guide

Let's get this out of the way: if you're on this blog for the food, it's a fair bet that you're already vegan, you're interested in veganism, or you're at least down to try some tasty-ass vegan food (not to be confused with tasty ass, which you are welcome to try on your own time). I know that a few of my friends are interested in eating more vegan food, and having been pretty relaxed about the whole thing, I've kind of recommitted recently - so I thought this was a good time to lay down some advice for would-be-vegans with a few tips and things to know before you dive in.

I'm also going to drop some helpful links and personal recommendations below - heads up that if you buy through any of my Amazon links I get some £££ for that, so if you're interested in any of the below anyway, do a girl a solid and use my links.

First off: if you understand that veganism in general is a good idea for animal welfare and the environment, but you don't know exactly what's so fucked up that it's got people changing their diets so radically, start here.

For a vegan push:
  • Simon Amstell's Carnage, 2017. Starting with the most recent, as this nudged me back into being serious about my diet. It's funny, presented as a mockumentary, but also a realistic and non-preachy presentation of how the meat and dairy industries function (the forced insemination of cows, the mass deaths of male chicks etc) that I'm always shocked to realise that people just... don't know about. I hate being preached to (WORST VEGAN EVER) and this doesn't do that, so I recommend it.
  • The go-to vegan documentary, Cowspiracy, 2014. I've never actually watched this, but I'm pretty sure this has turned more vegans than any other piece of film. 
  • Earthlings is also talked about a lot.
  • Live and Let Live covers the environmental, ethical and health reasons to go vegan.
I learned most of what I know about meat and dairy farming through articles and blogs, so I don't have a lot to link to that's affected me personally. Ten years ago, there was a lot of talk around the book Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin - personally, I wouldn't read this, as although it does endorse a vegan diet and was the first time I really heard about the ethics of it, it's also very much a diet book, and I hate hate hate the tone of it. Luckily, we've come suuuuch a long way in a short time and there are much better endorsements of veganism these days.

For vegan recipe resources:

  • My all-time fave vegan cookbook author is Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and my go-to is her book Appetite for Reduction (this one ISN'T a diet book... confusing, I know). Alternatively, Veganomicon is a great resource.
  • I learned a lot about vegan cooking as a student through Angela Liddon's blog, Oh She Glows. Angela also has a cookbook, which I don't own but have heard good things about: The Oh She Glows Cookbook.
  • As with many things, the internet is your best resource for vegan recipes, and the best place to find recipes - and by extension, food blogs - is Finding Vegan.
  • Also, the #vegan tag on Instagram is your best friend. A lot of that stuff comes from vegan bloggers who know their shit and are super inspiring. This is straight up where I get 90% of my ideas these days, and the great part is that it's not just fancy recipes that take lots of effort - you also just get to see what real people are eating on a daily basis, even if that's mostly sweet  potatoes and houmous (which... for me it is. Love a sweet potato).
  • And like, duh, but my recipe index is here.

Starting out tips:

  • First of all, don't feel you need to go 100% from the outset. I am fairly chilled about this shit, not because it doesn't matter to me - obviously, it does - but because I know not everyone can do this, whether it's for health reasons, money reasons, time reasons... whatever. The good news isn't that as veganism becomes more mainstream, money and time are both becoming less of an obstacle as alternatives become more accessible. Like everything else, the more demand there is for this stuff, the more companies will rush to fill it. So, like... be cool. You don't need to be perfect. You could buy one carton of soy milk a week instead of cows' milk, and I would be like 🙌🙌🙌👌👌👌👏👏👏, because that's a choice you've made to do good.
  • Related: if you can make one change, as I said on twitter recently, consider switching from cows' milk to one of the zillions of alternatives. I lead with this one as it's the simplest switch, and because the dairy industry is a TITAN and very upsetting. I like sweetened soy milk, because I am an enormous baby trying to kill myself with sugar (LISTEN, I am TRYING to switch to unsweetened. It just doesn't taste as good, ughhhh). It's also the most readily available, whereas you can't always bank on almond or oat milk or whatever being available; most supermarkets also do their own brand version, making it much cheaper. British people, I've found soy milk is the best for tea. Almond milk is chalky and disastrous in it. Save cashew milk for cereal, where it's delicious, and live your best life. 
  • If you can make two changes, drop eggs from your diet. My reasons for this aren't as good as my reasons for milk, and mostly revolve around visuals of  male newborn chicks on a conveyer belt into an industrial grinder. Because they can't lay. So they are considered waste. Millions of them. Listen, I'm fine.
  • A lot of things are vegan that you wouldn't expect... and vice versa. You're going to read a lot of packaging and eat a lot of falafel when you're starting out. A lot of supermarkets have introduced major 'free from' ranges in the last few years, but it's worth keeping an eye on even these, as I know in Sainsbury's at least I'll often pick something up, then it turns out it's 'free from' gluten and milk or whatever and still has eggs in it.
  • Nobody Likes Vegan Cheese: A Poem. Vegan cheese has a terrible reputation, and it's totally deserved, because it has traditionally been terrible. Once again, this is something that has come on a LOT in recent years, but it's still not quite there. One brand I do like is Violife, and again, Sainsbury's free from cheese are affordable and pretty solid (skip the cheddar, get the feta and the Wensleydale and cranberry. Also, their garlic and herb vegan cream cheese tastes exactly like Boursin, I swear to god).
  • That said... of course things will be more expensive (and probably less healthy) if you depend on processed alternatives to dairy foods. Doesn't make it bad, but there are a few easy alternatives - things I once grated cheese over usually get a large dollop of houmous these days, and/or some sliced avocado.
  • Unless you know a lot about nutrition, consider taking a multivitamin with B12. This isn't because you can't get everything you need on a vegan diet, but B12 is the one vegans tend to miss out on. I would just say take a B12 supplement, but last time I went to Holland & Barretts it was actually cheaper to buy a multivitamin that included 100% of your B12 needs, so like, why be without.

Your Weird Best Friends:

  • Me, obviously.
  • Nutritional yeast sure is something great that sounds disgusting! (This description also applies to me). This is like... cheesy, nutty sprinkles, that you can use generously to add a cheesy flavour to food. It's also super good for you and full of the aforementioned B12. Lots of vegan 'cheese' sauce recipes use this - save some money and buy it in bulk.
  • Nut butter. (Please imagine me making a hideous, lecherous face every time I say the phrase 'nut butter'). I use almond and cashew butter to make a zillion types of sauces, and every one of them is killer. A thinned down version -cashew cream- makes for an amazing gratin, or else can be used in baking for cheesecakes and frosting and what have you. Non-peanut butters are super expensive, but if you have a good blender you can make your own; alternatively if you want to make a nut cream (ohoho) soak your nuts overnight (OHOHOHO) and then they're tons easier to blend, even with a cheap ass stick blender like mine.
  • CHEAP SHIT. This is something I never see vegans talking about, mostly because most vegans are a lot healthier than I am. As London is a ridiculous joke of a place and 80% of my income goes on rent, I tend to buy from the 'basics' or 'value' ranges in supermarkets where possible. Fun fact: often, products in these ranges won't have dairy in, because in order to cut costs the manufacturers will have used cheaper vegetable fats etc. I eat a lot of Sainsbury's Basics ginger snaps, which cost next to nothing and are vegan, whereas if you look for biscuits that are actually MARKETED as vegan, they've often got the exact same ingredients in but are four times more expensive. LIFE HACK. Similarly, buy a cheap vegetable spread rather than a branded vegan 'sunflower oil' margarine or whatever. They're the same, bro.
  • If you're a baker looking for an egg replacer, chia and ground flax seeds are the answer. These are expensive to buy but go ten times further than real eggs, so work out much more cost efficient. You can make a flax 'egg' out of 1 Tbsp ground flax and 3Tbsp water - leave it to soak until it goes gooey (I give it a few seconds in the microwave, which works better for me) and use in place of one egg. Tofu can also work, depending on the recipe.
  • Speaking of tofu, if you're a scrambled egg fan like I am, a tofu scramble (with some cumin and turmeric) will do ya good.

Products I personally use a ton. The brands below aren't paying me to say this, but I wish they were. This part is very UK specific, but obviously you can buy equivalent brands overseas:

  • Plamil egg free mayonnaise. I love the garlic version. Killing it. 
  • Nakd snack bars. These are just dates and nuts, basically, so you can make them yourself (and I have), but they're available EVERYWHERE in the U.K. and I love 'em. As you'll have gathered, availability and accessibility counts for a lot with me. If you love me, buy me the Bakewell tart flavour.
  • Peanut flour! This isn't specifically a vegan thing, but it IS a great source of healthy protein without the fat content of peanut butter, which makes it very easy to use for healthy breakfasts etc. You may know the branded version,PB2. Again... why pay for the branded version.
  • Coconut oil. You've already heard everyone rave about coconut oil. Eat it, drink it, rub it all over yourself. Run through the town, naked and slippery.
  • Marigold Swiss bouillon. The purple one is the vegan one. Straight up, this is my fave brand of stock for cooking anyway, so you might as well buy the vegan one since I for one can't tell the difference.
  • Coyo and Coconut Collaborative coconut yoghurts. Oh lawd I love these. These ARE expensive, but I love them and they love me.
  • There are so many vegan ice creams out there, and they're all ridiculously expensive. I love 'nice cream' (soft serve made from frozen bananas), but for an affordable vanilla, I regularly buy Swedish Glacé.

Things to watch out for:

  • WHEY. Don't be tricked, this is from milk. Companies sneak unnecessary whey power in everything, because it's a cheap way of improving the texture. Watch out for this on labels. I take the inclusion of whey in a Soreen malt loaf as a personal slight. If you're a fan of those chai lattes from Starbucks and Costa, I'm sorry to tell you there's whey in the powder for those. I had to break a baby vegan's heart with that information back when I was working in the Hummingbird Bakery. Until a couple of years ago, the UK recipe for Oreos had whey in too, which made it very frustrating when Americans were constantly crowing about how Oreos were vegan. ONLY FOR YOU GUYS.
  • Quorn. Quorn is one of the biggest veggie meat replacements out there, so it might be a surprise that it contains egg whites for the most part. There is a vegan range, which I am on a constant quest for, as it's only available in certain shops, and only when they feel like it, apparently. The vegan 'chicken style' pieces are excellent though, when you can get them.  
  • Dark chocolate. Most of this is vegan, obvs, but don't take it for granted. I've been caught out with supermarket branded chocolate before.
  • Egg glazes. This makes me crazy, because often bread products are otherwise vegan, and then someone decides it desperately needs to be shiny. We get it, it's pretty. Just glaze it with soy milk, you butthole.

Whew, this is a long post. I'm exhausted. Honestly, I could keep going, but the aim was to keep this accessible for newbies, so I don't want to necessarily swamp you with information. Once you start being aware of it, you'll walk through the supermarket and just be overwhelmed with the unfathomable quantities of dairy in LITERALLY EVERYTHING (especially at this time of year, when Easter chocolate is everywhere), and you'll start to question how that quantity of milk can possibly be generated, and the sheer number of animals that are forcibly involved and removed from their babies to facilitate it.

I've said this before, but it seems like a good time to say it again: I don't think that my personal choices are going to have a massive effect on that. It's a drop in the ocean, obviously. But the groundswell of veganism in recent years has normalised an alternative, and that's what I'm doing. Moreover... I can't pretend I don't know this stuff (well, I can. And I have, don't get me wrong). But I don't WANT to be a person who pretends, or ignores it, or deliberately looks away. I don't want to cause harm, when I know I can avoid it.

So, here's how to start avoiding it.

OTHER VEGANS: If you have any more tips for newbies, please please drop those in the comments section! The more people who can contribute the better, because I know everyone's learned through trial and error. Hmu 😘

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© papillon.Maira Gall