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I recently asked Twitter, “Do you spend more or less money on food as a vegan than you did as an omnivore?” and the responses fell pretty evenly into the following categories.

Specialty Vegans – One group said they spend more because food items made for vegans are so expensive.   (See Vegan Grocery Bills -Part 1 on vegan replacements for old favorites like cheese and marshmallows.)  Restaurants that cater specifically to vegans also tend to charge slightly more per plate than low-end standard eateries.

Organic shoppers – Another group said they spend more now, but that it’s because becoming vegan lead them to critically examine the items they consume, and they now buy significantly more organic produce and other high-priced health foods.  Tahini, raw cashews, coconut oil, chai seeds, spelt flour, organic peanut butter; all those would have seemed like luxuries to, say, my mother.  This group of folks is paying more, but eating much higher quality food.

Home Cookers – People in the third category said they actually saved money as vegans by eating out less (sometimes because so few vegan options are available) and by cooking more, usually from scratch.  This is the secret to being a frugal vegan eater. By all means, use Chick’n patties and vegan cream cheese as needed, especially as you transition to eating vegan, but keep in mind that your goal should be eating more whole plant foods.

Yes, this means learning to cook.  Yes, it takes some time, but it saves you a bunch of money, and as much as you may think you hate cooking, you’ll find that a simple meal can taste scrumptious when you have put it together yourself.  Accomplishment is a spice that goes well with everything. Read the rest of this entry »


{August 27, 2010}   Vegan Grocery Bills -Part 1

Is it expensive to eat a vegan diet? There are a lot of pricey vegan specialty foods that could lead you to think so.  Countless hours of research and development have lead to vegan versions of many meat-and-dairy staples.  I’ve tried nearly all of the items below, and I’m quite fond of some of them.  But with very rare exceptions, vegan alternatives to meat, dairy, and other animal-derived products cost significantly more than the items they are replacing.

Of course, there’s a good reason for the disparity in price.  Government subsidies (yep, that’s our tax money) keep the price of animal products artificially low.  In other words, animal farmers and their suppliers are on welfare!  (They have to be, because they’re running an unsustainable industry.  People simply wouldn’t buy much meat or dairy if they had to pay the true cost for it, and factory farms would rapidly start going out of business.)  The makers of these vegan products are not subsidized, so what seems like a high price, is really just a fair price.  Now for some vegan munchies. This is just a tiny sampling of the many incredible animal-free foods now on the market!! Read the rest of this entry »

{May 23, 2010}   Vegan for Life

There are two things in life I’m absolutely certain of, sure enough to tattoo the words on my skin.  The first is my soulmate.  The second is veganism.

What makes some vegans so certain, while others have trouble speaking up, or lapse back into consuming animal products?  Well, not all vegans are alike.  The difference is that some truly have conviction, and until one reaches that point of absolute, lifelong certainty, living vegan might be a struggle.  In this way, being vegan is like being in love.

I’d heard all my life that when you were truly in love, you knew it beyond a doubt.  I didn’t believe love like that was possible, until the transformative moment when my partner and I knew we were destined to be together, come what may.  Not everyone has a flash of insight when it comes to love.  I’ve heard that arranged marriages often end up with as solid and devoted a relationship as any couple that falls in love.

In both love and veganism, you can get there in an instant, or by practicing it. True love came easily to me.  Or rather, it overtook me and changed my world suddenly, when I hadn’t even seen it coming.  Veganism, I had to work at.  There are plenty of vegans who go from zero to die-hard-vegan-who-will-never-look-back in a single, life-changing thought.  I want you to know that if you’re not one of those people, if you don’t suddenly hate the smell of donuts or bacon, if you are occasionally tempted, and even if you give in to temptation, that doesn’t mean veganism isn’t right for you.

I can’t tell you the moment I crossed over into solid vegan certainty.  I worked at it.  I cheated and lapsed.  I made myself watch slaughterhouse videos to remind myself why I wanted to walk this path.  Bit by bit, I developed a respect for all life.  I pieced together my vegan conviction with actions, thoughts, and conversations. Over here is the time I was short on money and still paid twice as much for organic sugar.  And over there, the first time I didn’t mind skipping a meal when there was nothing vegan available.  The dream I had in which I stopped on the freeway to help an injured animal, and he spoke to me; that dream makes up a piece of my conviction.  The first Christmas I wasn’t tempted into eating my mother’s non-vegan cookies (which was the second year of my veganism, by the way.)  There’s the day when I was steaming milk at work and wanted to gag, because I knew the suffering of the mother it was taken from.  Handing over my huge black angel wings (made of real feathers) to my sister, and feeling relief at being rid of them.  The day I saw a dead bird at a bus stop and sincerely mourned it, then felt overcome at the thought of how many birds were bleeding to death right then, never having known earth or fresh air in their short lives.  No, I can’t tell you what moment I reached my vegan conviction, but I can tell you that I am there now.

Last November, while I was struggling with the question of spending Thanksgiving with my family or not, my soulmate made the comparison of having a roasted turkey on the dinner table to having the cooked, headless body of one of our cats on the table.  It simply isn’t food; it’s a corpse.  He was right, and I realized I felt that way about all animal products.  They truly aren’t food (or materials) to me any more.  They’re no more edible to me than a piece of a human body.  If you stick with veganism, you will also have this epiphany.  And as with love, when you reach that point, you’ll know it.  You won’t have to look to anyone else for validation.  Your veganism will come from within.

{May 4, 2010}   Starting out vegan

I come across people every day who are interested in becoming vegan, and I’ve been asked to provide the bare basics.   Most of what I’m about to tell you has been said before.   There’s great advice for new vegans all over the web as well as in the book “Vegan in 30 Days,” which I’ll gladly lend you.   As with any life change, you’ll have to figure out what method works best for you, but here’s a list of the basic suggestions that would have been helpful to me, back when veganism seemed like an unattainable goal.

  1. Know why you’re going vegan. By this I mean that you should understand animal cruelty as it exists within our world right now, not just the philosophical assertion that we have no right to use other beings as objects.  Your empathy with non-humans will help you go vegan and stay vegan more than anything else. For one thing, you’ll be able to recognize bacon for what it is: the body of a tortured and brutally killed creature; not breakfast.  If you are motivated by health, or by environmental concern, both of which are hugely tied to veganism, please also consider The Big Reason, animal rights, enough to educate yourself about it.  After all, when people learn you’re now vegan, they’ll be asking you a lot of questions, and you’ll want to be informed.  You may think you’re not an animal person, or that you’d ever be an advocate for animal rights, but before you decide you don’t care about them, read about or watch footage of animal confinement and killing.  Yes, the truth is horrible and disturbing and it may haunt you for years, or forever. That’s precisely why so many people choose to avoid ALL animal products, not just the edible ones.  I make a point of not posting graphic images or video on my website, but I will give you a link to a film that explores human treatment and “use” of other creatures.  It’s called Earthlings, and it’s a documentary every human should watch.
  2. Start with the biggest things first.  Trying to change too much, too fast, can often lead to discouragement and failure.  If you’ve ever joined a gym and used your membership fewer than a dozen times, you know what I mean.  The pace at which you’re going to stick with it is the right pace! I first dropped meat, then eggs, milk, other dairy items, and eventually pre-made foods with eggs or dairy.  If you have the knowledge, means, and support system to become vegan overnight, I applaud you!  But if you don’t, there’s no shame in taking it step-by-step.  You may want to phase out your items and replace them with vegan foods as you use them up.  One easy thing you can replace is milk.  Experiment with various kinds of soy milk, rice milk, almond, oat, or hemp milk until you find one you really like.  When you’re comfortable with a change you’ve made, make another.
  3. Identify your potential weaknesses. There will be certain foods, certain times of day, certain situations or occasions or even the company of particular people that will challenge your resolve.  If your workplace is a wasteland of animal products, or your family celebrates get-togethers by grilling ribs, plan in advance what you’ll eat and how you’ll handle the worst-case-scenario.  Identify the vegan-friendly restaurants in your area.  Know how you’ll respond when your uncle says, “For every animal you don’t eat, I’ll eat three!”  If you’re a chocolate addict, keep vegan chocolate on hand.  Whatever your potential downfall is, prepare yourself, because you will have to face it sooner or later.
  4. Know not only what you “can’t” eat, but what you can eat!* At first, veganism sounds like a list of everything you know, now off-limits.  But once you’ve eliminated flesh, dairy, eggs, and other byproducts from your diet, there are literally thousands of edible plants out there to choose from! Imagine how many recipes can be made using thousands of ingredients.  Speaking of recipes, you don’t have to run out and buy a vegan cookbook, although there are a bunch of great ones these days.  You can find some wonderful recipes online at The Post-Punk Kitchen, Happy Herbivore, Fatfree Vegan, or The Blissful Chef, just for starters.  Think of this as an opportunity to expand your diet, not as a restriction. Which ties in to the next step…
  5. Stock up on basics & emergency/snack foods, and EAT! Veganism is not a “diet” in which you’re being forced to eat things you dislike, or even to eat less.  Eat lots of good food, and keep your fridge, freezer & cupboards full of plant foods.  Fruits, vegetables, bread, rice, pasta, oats, and beans will be the least expensive foods for your money.  (They’ll also help you lose weight, if you emphasize fruits and veggies over starches and flours.)  Add to that list slightly more costly seeds and nuts of all kinds, tofu, if you know what you’re going to do with it, and maybe some other meat alternativesEat whenever you’re hungry. Your body digests plants a little differently than animal products, so you’ll have to get used to different cycles of hunger and eating than you’re used to.  Speaking of unplanned hunger, carry snacks with you, like apples, Clif bars, or a simple mix of almonds, chocolate chips & dried cherries.  At home, keep fresh fruit on hand ready to eat.  Vegan food can be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich, or heating up a can of vegetarian baked beans.  You don’t have to go hungry!

Well, there you have what I see as the five basics of becoming vegan.  These will get you off to a good start.  As you go along, you’ll learn more about nutritional topics like protein, calcium, and B12.  You’ll become aware of unusual ingredients vegans tend to use, and why they do.  You may even learn how to bake some incredible vegan cookies or brownies that amaze all your friends.  But for now, jump right in and go vegan!!

*There is no monarch, deity, or legislature of veganism.  Thus, there is nothing you “can’t” or “aren’t allowed” to eat.  You’re a free being who is choosing not to eat anything that comes from the body of another.  I like to make this distinction when people ask what I’m “allowed” to eat.

Yesterday morning, I made blueberry muffins from a non-vegan recipe.  If you have cookbooks around the house that still call for things like milk, eggs, and honey, you don’t have to throw them out — just veganize them!  I’ve made vegan muffins with this non-vegan recipe many, many times, and they always turn out well, even when I get “creative” with mix-ins. This recipe comes from “New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant.”  Moosewood is a mostly-vegetarian restaurant back east that makes some beautifully simple recipes.  Some just need a tiny bit of tweaking to be vegan.  Here’s the recipe, with my substitutions & notes in italics:

Read the rest of this entry »

{February 25, 2010}   How to make a Tofu Scramble

If you haven’t heard, tofu scramble is probably the most essential meal for a new vegan.  I think it was my breakfast the morning after I decided to go vegan, and I still adore a good scramble.  It’s right up there with salad, and just as versatile.  Like salad, you can find recipes for it, but there are about as many versions as there are vegans, so experiment!

A tofu scramble is:

  • the easiest way to start cooking with tofu
  • a great use for old vegetables or last night’s leftovers
  • a fast meal that can feed a whole bunch of people
  • nearly impossible to mess up  (as long as you don’t burn it)
  • delicious with toast!

If you grew up with the egg, sausage, and hashbrown sort of breakfast, you’ll feel right at home with a tofu scramble.  Most versions even find some way to make the tofu yellow, so those who are a more used to scrambled egg than tofu can ease into it.  Common flavoring/coloring agents are turmeric, mustard, nutritional yeast or brewers yeast.

Many tofu scrambles will contain vegan meat substitutes, such as vegan sausage, but tofu is a complete protein, so don’t feel left out if you don’t have fake meat on hand.  Add a bunch of flavorful veggies and spices for a nutritious and tasty meal.  Pretty much anything found in an omelet, burrito, stir-fry, or pizza will be at home in your scramble.  Here are some suggestions:

onion, garlic, bell peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms, fresh tomato, sundried tomato, avocado, spinach, basil, celery, olives, water chestnut, chives, asparagus or broccoli (cooked is best), artichoke, zucchini, squash, bamboo, cashews, peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas…you get the idea.

Again, there are no rules here, but to make the beginning cook feel a little more at home, here are step-by-step pictures of a tofu scramble I recently made.

Read the rest of this entry »

{February 14, 2010}   Loving the Omnivore

Can a vegan and an omnivore live happily ever after?  Should they even bother dating or will their differences be too great to overcome?  This charming short film from this year’s Sundance Film Festival got me thinking.

Enough vegans are completely turned off by animal eaters to warrant their own term:  vegansexual, coined in 2007 by a researcher in New Zealand.   Omnivores reading this just laughed out loud, or rolled their eyes.

Are they right to sneer?  Is it elitist, judgmental, or overly demanding to insist someone give up bacon and ice cream or have no hope of getting past the first date?  Is it akin to racism, or refusing to date someone of a particular religion or political orientation? Well, no and yes.  Unlike race, your diet is something you determineVegansexuality (that term even makes me smirk a little) is a bit like dating only fellow Obama supporters, Christians, or atheists.  And yes, I think it can validly be called judgmental.  So could preferring brunettes, or people who are taller than you, or girls who shave their legs, or guys who aren’t WWF fanatics.

Unlike dating only people who enjoy The Beatles, dating only vegans means narrowing your options to 1% of the population.  If you aren’t bisexual, cut that number in half.  Then take out those far too old and far too young, and those already matched up.  There might be 2 people for you to choose between in your area!  You might as well only date Sociology majors with a minor in History.  Why would anyone choose to narrow the field so drastically?  Well, there are plenty of reasons:

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I distinctly remember the last handful of M&M’s I ever ate.  It was early summer, 2006.  A friend and I were at my mother’s house, talking about how we felt we should be vegan.  We’d recently attended an animal rights conference at the library downtown.  Some time before that, I’d invited him to a lecture by a vegan former professor from BYU.  I’d been circling veganism since the prior year, when I’d met and befriended a vegan classmate; a friendship which led me to watch disturbing YouTube videos like Meet Your Meat.  By the day I was munching M&M’s out of a bowl, I had already phased meat out of my diet and stopped buying milk, at least on its own.

So… there we were, talking about animal suffering, how wrong it was, how bad we felt about the constant genocide going on behind the cleanly packaged grocery store products, and how we ought to be doing something… or rather, he was talking about doing something.  I was avoiding eye contact and devouring the free M&M’s my mom had left on the counter.  There was a panic brewing in a tiny corner of my brain – the chocolate center!  I know, biologically-speaking, neuroscientists will argue that there’s no such part of the mind, but I could feel it shifting uncomfortably and trying to tune out my friend’s voice.  He was telling me we could do it, it was possible to be vegan, even in Utah, and that he even knew vegans who no doubt would help us make the change.  The next thing I knew, he was sticking out his hand and asking me to shake on it.  We would become vegan.  Together.  I crammed the last of the M&M’s into my mouth (What? I needed the hand free!) and shook on it.  Goodbye, precious chocolate….or so I was thinking at the time.

Cocoa, of course, comes from a bean.  It’s only during the production that non-vegan ingredients are often added, and the lower the quality, the more they skimp on ingredients and add things like cow milk.  As for M&M’s, none of them are vegan.  (Yet.  They’ll come around, once their customers all go vegan!)  Neither are Dove, Cadbury, or anything made by Mars.  But the good news is that there’s a lot of chocolate out there that a vegan can enjoy right now.  (For the record, cocoa butter is actually a  creamy plant product and has nothing to do with cow butter.  When label-reading, watch for milk, milk solids, and whey.  Also keep in mind that unless the sugar used is labeled organic or vegan, it is possible that it’s char-bleached.)  Ready for the chocolate now?

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{January 14, 2010}   Lazy Breakfasts. So, so lazy.

It’s morning and I’m drinking my already-cold coffee (with soy creamer and a touch of cinnamon.)  Normally about now, I’d head into the kitchen and make this breakfast:

Bread with Smart Balance, natural peanut butter, and my mom's homemade jam. Also a banana.

But I’m out of both bread and bananas today, so instead I’m making oatmeal.  I’m a very lazy person in the morning, so you won’t often see a tofu scramble in my kitchen, unless it’s what’s for dinner.

For those of you who think oatmeal is something that comes in packets with riddles printed on the outside and can’t be made without a microwave, I have good news!  Oatmeal is one of the least expensive, healthiest, and most versatile items in your grocery store.  I prefer original rather than quick-cooking.  Here’s my favorite way to make it.

Blueberry oatmeal close-up!

Put some water in a pot, just about 1 inch deep.  Sprinkle oats into it and shake the pot a bit so the oats are all underwater, but just barely.  (Yes, this is how I measure the water to oats ratio!)  Now sprinkle some cinnamon on top and put it on the stove on medium, uncovered.  Go back to browsing the internet.  Your oatmeal is ready when you can smell the warm cinnamon wafting in from the other room.  Add a heaping tablespoon of ground flax seeds and a huge handful of frozen blueberries.  Stir everything, adding a touch of soymilk if it’s too thick, and enjoy!  Now wasn’t that an easy way to start your day with whole grains, antioxidants and omega 3’s?

{December 29, 2009}   My Excuse List

What does every non-vegan have?  An excuse.  Or a rambling list of excuses.   (Now, before anyone starts getting defensive, let me mention that as a non-runner, I have a list of excuses for not running.  Fact is fact.) Some lists are short and to the point: “I like meat and cheese.”  Others are a nebulous cluster of myths masking an underlying fear of change.  Well, this is the time of year for self-examination and organizing one’s thoughts, so I’m offering up my own list.  This is the list I never wrote or articulated at the time, but which hid in the shadows and held me back for months.

Reasons Why I Could Never Be Vegan

  • When I was vegetarian, I didn’t feel healthy, so how could I possibly be healthy as a vegan?
  • I’m not a very health-focused person.
  • I’m not much of a cook.
  • Most recipes I know focus on meat or cheese.
  • I really like homemade cheeseburgers.
  • I’d have to give up baking, which I love.
  • I’ve never liked salad.
  • I don’t even like many vegetables.
  • Tofu looks inedible and I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
  • I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods all the time.
  • I don’t have the willpower.
  • I’ve never been able to stick with a diet for more than 3 days.
  • Vegans seem militant.
  • I don’t know any vegans.
  • My roommate and my boyfriend aren’t vegan.
  • I don’t want to put that much effort into what I eat.
  • I can’t imagine going a day without chocolate, cheese, or ice cream.
  • I’d have to explain and defend my diet, and I just don’t know enough about it.
  • I’m not even an “animal lover.”
  • I’d feel like an impostor.

Whew.  It always feels good to clean out the dark corners of the mind.  I surprised even myself at what was hiding there!  The list is certainly longer and more contradictory than I would have imagined.

Challenge: write your own list.  Make it as long as possible while still being utterly truthful.  Don’t leave off any excuse you have, or had at one point in your past.  If you want to share your list, or just a peculiar excuse that came up during your inner search, I’d love to hear from you.

et cetera