I used to think that the question "why are you vegan?" was the one I got the most frequently until I noticed that there's one that beats it by a mile (and for good reason): What do you eat? This post is meant to give you the basics of what it means to be vegan, especially when it comes to what you put on your plate. This is part of a series of posts I'll be writing from time to time called Vegan 101, written especially for people making the transition to a vegan diet or making more vegan choices and curious about this way of eating. If you are a well seasoned vegan however, these posts are great for sharing with family and friends that have questions and concerns about your new lifestyle. So on to the matter at hand... what do vegans eat?!
Long time vegans might feel the need to respond to this question by saying: "what do you mean what do I eat? I eat food! Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices, vegan cheeses and meats, bread pasta, chocolate... etc., etc..." and wonder why it's such a big mystery to people. It's so important to look back to your pre-vegan days to understand why this really is such a hard concept to grasp. I personally can completely relate to anyone who asks me this question, since before I picked up Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet by complete coincidence, I had never even heard the term vegan before. It wasn't in my radar at all! I knew there were vegetarians out there but I simply had no idea that the consumption of dairy, eggs and other animal-based products were tied to this issue. My plate also consisted of a big slab of meat, some form of potatoes (I love potatoes... have I mentioned that?), and a small side of vegetables. My meat portion was so large that if I had had to imagine what a vegan plate looked like back then, all I would have seen would have been an empty space in the center of the plate. This question is a completely legitimate and understandable question when you're coming from a place of eating the standard meat-centered diet. So yes, I get you because I was one of you.
In my opinion, when someone asks me "what do vegans eat?" I think they are asking me two very different questions:
1) What foods are or aren't vegan?
2) What can you make with what is vegan?
These are both very important questions and whether you're reading this to get answers yourself or to be able to explain this to someone who is asking you, here's the lowdown on what vegans use to fill their tummies.
Question 1: What foods are or aren't vegan?
Is it vegan...?
Mushrooms and yeast (hello making homemade bread, or buying it for that matter!)
All beans, lentils and other legumes
Nuts and nut butters
Seeds and seed butters
Grains and grain products (a.k.a. BREAD! and PASTA! Happy dance)
All spices and herbs
Vegan cheeses, butters, yogurts and non-dairy ice cream
Vegan egg replacers (for baking and now for sunny side up style eggs and scrambled eggs)
Vegan meats (I could write a whole post on what's available now)
and yes... dark chocolate or non-dairy milk chocolate
Meat from any animal source (this includes fish and other seafood, chicken, turkey, beef, game meat, etc.)
Milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, dairy based ice cream and any other dairy products or products containing dairy
Eggs and products containing eggs
Stuff with weird names on it that basically means one of the previous items like: whey, whey protein, casein, rennit, cochineal (crushed up red bugs that help make candy and other foods red... yup! that's a thing!)
What does this mean really?
I want you to read this as if you were on SNL reading the side effects of one of their funny "drugs"... are you ready?
Apples, tangerines, dates, apricots, strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, mangoes, coconuts, kiwis, pears, bananas, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pomegranates, blackberries, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, snap peas, artichokes, onions, cucumbers, a gazillion types of lettuce, kale, collard greens, green onions, sweet peppers, chilli peppers, celery, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, turnips, leeks, zucchinis, eggplants, radishes, asparagus, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, brussels sprouts, chard, string beans, avocados, tomatoes, button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, shitake, maitake, portobellos, cremini, wild, morel, bolete, chanterelle and yes, truffles!
Are you tired yet? We're not done!
Wild rice, white rice, brown rice, basmati rice, arborio rice, quinoa, millet, bulgur, buckwheat, teff, oats, spelt, white pasta, whole grain pasta, quinoa pasta, buckwheat pasta, rice noodles, whole grain bread, sprouted bread, Italian bread, pita bread, mochi, polenta. Beans!: white, black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, red kidney, white kidney, great Northern, butter, edamame, soy, lentils, split peas, black eyed peas!
Take a breather... let's go!
Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, macademia nuts, pecans, peanuts, peanut butter, cashew butter, VEGAN NUTELLA!, almond butter, parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, smoked paprika, chilli powder, curry powder, marjoram, lemongrass, pepper, cilantro, vegan meats, vegan milks, sweeteners and spreads, vegan cheeses, vegan sausages and hot dogs (even vegan chorizo!), tofu, seitan, tempeh, agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, barbecue sauce, mustard, relish, ketchup, vegan mayonnaise, vegan cream cheese, vegan ‘chicken tenders’, vegan deli meats, vegan spare ‘ribs’, vegan ‘buffalo wings’, nutty but true!
What's crazy is this list is just a portion of what is available. When we look at it like that, it doesn't seem restrictive right? Based on this list and what I now fill my plate with, I can tell you I eat more varied now than in my meat + potatoes + tiny veg side days. What I love is that even if you take out all the vegan products like cheeses and meats, it's so easy to still have your favorites, and even make your own vegan staples at home (we've got tons of video recipes for this as part of My Brownble).
Question 2: What can you make with what is vegan?
Delicious vegan burgers (with vegan cheese and even vegan bacon!)
Super healthy vegan bowls with all the nutrients you need: veggies, whole grains, beans or other plant-based proteins, guacamole, tahini or other toppings... Yum!
Tacos, burritos and fajitas made with veggies, beans and even seitan or other veggie meats
Pizza! (with or without vegan cheese)
Lasagna, gnocchi, risottos and your favorite pastas including dishes pasta bolognese made with seitan, mushrooms, ground vegan meat crumbles, and even fettuccine alfredo
Seitan steak and fries
Amazing salads and wraps
Sandwiches, panninis and focaccia
Chili and corn bread
Creamy soups and stews
Vegan sushi, tempura made without eggs, miso soup and even dim sum and gyosas
Indian curries, and all sorts of International dishes
Stir fries, sweet and sour tofu, stir fried rice with veggies, and even vegan spring rolls
All made with 100% vegan ingredients
In a future post we'll be discussing some of those vegan gray areas (foods that don't contain animal products but the process of making them might use them), and other products and activities ethical vegans abstain from. However, you know my motto... when in doubt, or if you can't do everything... start with your plate.
Last but not least...
I want you to have all the support you need on your journey. there are so many books, movies and online videos, not to mention countless health resources, dietitians and doctors you can consult. These resources helped me tremendously and still do. What does this mean? It means we made an online library which we always keep up to date, where you can find our favorite resources to help you dig a little deeper, answer your questions or concerns, and get even more support on your journey.