Yesterday, I celebrated my third anniversary of being vegan—my veganniversary, if you will. Like many vegans, I went on this adventure without a clear idea of what I was doing, or even how to cook. While all our journeys are a little different, I’m guessing there are some common experiences, especially when it comes to “the firsts.”
10 Firsts that Every Vegan Must Endure:
1.The first cheese-less meal
The first shock of new veganism is realizing how often you put cheese on just about everything. One of the challenges in the beginning (which becomes kind of fun, actually) is finding replacements for that creamy, salty flavor.
*cough* avocado *cough*
2.The first nostalgia crisis
What I wouldn’t give for a Toaster Strudel somedays.
Could I make my own? Should I? Would it be as inexplicably good? Would it be too “real”? Maybe half the joy of Toaster Strudels is their trashy fakeness! 🙁
RIP, Toaster Strudel.
3.The first tofu attempt
“This won’t be hard,” you think. “I’ll just treat it like meat. It’s just meatless meat, so why not?”
You attempt to grill it and watch in horror as it falls apart and sticks to the grill. It’s watery AF because you didn’t know you were supposed to “press” it or “freeze” it.
You smother it in BBQ sauce like you would with any other meat, but when you eat it, it just tastes like sour soybeans covered in BBQ sauce with the texture of a melting sponge.
In summary: tofu is tofu. Tofu is not meat. Do not treat tofu like meat. Treat tofu like tofu. Tofu is excellent when it’s treated like tofu.
^^ My tofu skills are much improved now.
4.The first brunch
Ah, brunch. How fond are my memories of sitting across from friends at sidewalk cafes in the Upper West Side or Cobble Hill!
You soon realize that brunch is for vegetarians, with its reverence of eggs and Hollandaise. In your lacto-ovo days, brunch spoke your language better than any other meal of the day, with its meatless-but-not-milkless pancakes, waffles, french toast, omelettes, yogurt parfaits, and poached eggs.
As a vegan, you are slapped in the face with an artfully designed menu that informs you that the side of fruit salad is your only option. How could a menu so beautiful be so cruel?
“Fruit salad and, like, five mimosas, please.”
5.The first holiday
Thanksgiving comes to mind, but the specifics do not matter: any occasion that requires you to join up with friends and family over food will generally result in some sort of emotional crisis the first time around.
So many things that could technically be vegan have been tarnished by the cherished cultural traditions of Let’s Add Cheese to Everything and This Needs Bacon.
Asparagus spears! With parmesan. 🙁
Mashed potatoes! With milk and butter. 🙁
Brussels sprouts! With bacon. 🙁
It gets better, new vegans. Stay strong.
6.The first “weird” grocery purchase
Nothing can prepare you for the embarrassment of going through the grocery store checkout with a tub of miso paste or jar of nutritional yeast, especially if you live in rural areas where “ethnic” cuisines are limited to Italian and Tex-Mex.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have heard the thoughts of a checkout clerk at a South Dakota Hy-Vee as I checked out with Earth Balance, tofu, and vital wheat gluten.
7. The first embarrassing restaurant request
Things were going so well. You were conquering the kitchen, learning how to skim ingredients labels, and navigating tricky restaurant menus.
Then that moment of shame arrives: you have to ask the waitress whether the granola was made with butter, or if the veggie burger uses egg. Society has trained you to believe that these questions make you a d-bag (despite the fact that people with allergies are allowed to ask these questions all the time).
That’s the best case scenario. Worse is when a dish arrives at your table with the tzatziki that you requested be omitted, or the salad is covered in parmesan (which was NOT mentioned on the menu). Telling a waitress you cannot eat the dish as prepared is mortifying. Mort. If. I. Ying.
8.The first failed improvisation
You think you have this whole “vegan cooking” thing down. It’s been going pretty well, and previous recipes have reached restaurant-level satisfaction.
So you stray from the path of assigned tablespoons and measuring cups and “trust your instincts,” but it turns out your instincts kind of suck.
By the way, those people that say you can make any kind of casserole by just throwing whatever you want together in a pan and baking it? They are LIARS. There is a science to casseroles. Don’t f*** with casserole chemistry.
9.The first successful improvisation
…But then your instincts get better. You realize that recipe you loved can take on a zillion variations, and you spend months making that same dish again and again with different twists and surprises. You have no idea how many different ways I’ve prepared Happy Herbivore’s mac & cheese.
Once you learn how certain thickeners work, you can make any sauce a great consistency. Once you familiarize yourself with spices and spice blends, you can add a phenomenal flavor to anything.
Maybe not anything, but at this moment of your first successful improvisation, you suddenly see your vegan diet as way less limited.
10.The first successful veganization of a childhood favorite
The last meal I ate as an omnivore was my mom’s lasagna. Even as the IBS-riddled, lactose intolerant fool that I was, this dish was my favorite for years. I couldn’t imagine a better way to end that chapter of my life.
So when I made and tasted my first attempt at a vegan lasagna by The Vegan Twist, I knew for sure that I could be vegan for the rest of my life, no problem.
And with that, as a third-year vegan, I’ve acquired a bit of expertise to share for any newbies out there.
5 Tips for Every New Vegan:
1. Create a short, mental list of easy vegan meals that anyone could make.
When you’re at home, being vegan feels so easy. Even if you’re not the greatest cook, you likely have a few go-to dishes that nourish and satisfy you.
Yet when you’re visiting a friend, and they (or their parent) is asking what they can make you, it suddenly feels like you can’t eat anything but PB&J. WHY IS THAT?! For me personally, I know a lot of my meals require special ingredients or demand cooking skills particular to the vegan community (how many people are taught to make a cashew cream, after all?).
If you have some ideas on hand for these moments that are almost guaranteed to pop up, it will not only guarantee you a satisfying meal, but it will send a message to nonvegans that your life is not that difficult or inconvenient.
Some suggestions: pasta with marinara or olive oil and basic veggies (like mushrooms, peas), baked potato with salsa or guacamole or (vegetarian) baked beans, 3-bean chili, a wrap with veggies and hummus.
2. Be tolerant, always
Only one thing in this photo is vegan.
Don’t lecture about your nonvegan companions’ food while they are eating it. This helps nobody. Your companions will be annoyed, not persuaded. You will lose friends, not create vegans.
See your companions as more than “meat-eaters,” unless you want them to see you as just a “vegan.” As much as possible, focus on what you alone are eating and the desired effect of your eating choices (healthier body, better nature, happy animals, etc). This is your choice based on your values and priorities. Leave their food out of it.
Avoid passive-aggressive comments about leather or cheese or whatever. This makes you an unpleasant person to be around. Lead by example. Talk with enthusiasm about the faux leather jacket you found, but don’t belittle others for wearing actual leather.
Never forget: you are not better than anyone else just because you are vegan, and a nonvegan is not inferior to anyone else just because they are not vegan.
Not everyone would agree with this advice, but I live by it.
3. Say “yes” to restaurants
Your friend really wants to go to a restaurant that has almost no vegan options? Say yes.
It’s not ideal, and you might even feel a little bummed about it. However, if your friendship is valuable to you, then this temporary sacrifice should be worth it. You can eat beforehand and then order a small side at the restaurant. Focus on the company, not the food.
Consider the bigger picture: turning down events because it’s “not vegan enough” for you perpetuates the stereotype that veganism is too difficult and that vegans are fussy. This is one hour of your life–you will be grateful to have spent that time in good company!
4. Ignore the vegan hierarchy
Don’t let any other vegan decide your worth. Read more here.
5. Bring dishes to food events
If you prepare one of your favorite side dishes for your family’s Thanksgiving or the potluck at work, it not only guarantees that there will be something for you to eat, but it also exposes others to vegan food.
The purpose of exposure is not necessarily to convert everyone you know (although it could happen), but to break down stereotypes of veganism. To this day, my cousins still ask me how I made the brussels sprouts that I brought to Christmas two years ago.
And with that, it’s officially official that I talk too much. 😉
Happy three years vegan to meeeee, and I’ll be back on Monday with a new oatmeal recipe!