I’m a Vegan Junkie

candy-hearts-2014-5-songsI will refrain from using this online space to complain about all of the responsibilities that I am unsuccessfully juggling at the moment.  But, let’s just say I’m dealing with a bit of stress.  The last few days have been filled with activities and looming deadlines, and I’m merely keeping my head above water (queue the theme music!).  In times like these, I find that eating a vegan diet becomes challenging for me.  I’ve only been strictly vegan for the past six months, so that in and of itself has been a significant transition in my life.  With a busy schedule, I’ve had to be very purposeful in figuring out how to make the diet work for me and to make sure that I always have healthy options.  Unlike before, I can’t just go to any number of fast food joints near my campus office to grab a quick bite to eat.  Though, a vegan “fast food” cafe just opened up steps away from my office.  And, therein lies the problem.  Yes, the food is vegan there, but they do not offer only healthy food choices.  No, they have a “B”LT sandwich, and my god is it good!  The sandwich is made with deep fried tempeh, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, and vegan mayonnaise spread generously on a grilled bun.  And, they have the best cupcake in town, and it is vegan!  So, when I’m feeling like I’ve had a good week diet wise, I don’t mind indulging in a few vegan treats.  Problem is, right now, I’m snacking on Mi-del Swedish Style Ginger Snaps.  They’re All Natural, 0g Trans Fat, and 120 calories for 5 cookies.  That justifies me eating the entire bag, right?

Here’s my confessional: when I’m stressed, I become a vegan junkie.  Yesterday, I almost finished off an entire container (I won’t admit the size) of Valentine’s candy hearts.  At least they’re vegan *shrugs shoulders*.  It’s easy to do that when you’re sitting in front of your computer writing a proposal that is due that day.  A few weeks ago I wrote about how going inward helped me to slow down and stay focused and balanced.  I took the time to prepare healthy meals and to savor every bite.  When I lose my center, all bets are off.  Thankfully, centering is an act that is continual and ongoing.   Sometimes you get off, but you can get back on.  This happens with eating and dieting all the time.  I have the best intentions, but I am human.

I’m learning that when I have a particularly stressful week ahead, it is a good idea that I plan accordingly.  Here are some of the ways that I combat my vegan junkie tendencies:

1) I make sure that I have lots of healthy snacks on the ready.  Some of my favorite standbys are chips and salsa, unsalted cashews and almonds, Boom Chicka Pop sea salt popcorn, and hummus and pita chips.  I also make sure that I always have a banana, an apple, and an orange with me.  I’m much more likely to grab for the banana over the candy hearts if I have it with me.

2) Eating a few squares from a diary-free dark chocolate bar can usually satisfy my sweet tooth. And it’s good for you.  And it’s chocolate!

3) I just admit that I don’t really like salad, and I don’t try to force it into my diet.  I will eat grilled, steamed, and roasted veggies all day long, but I’m just not a huge fan of salads.  I think there are certain misconceptions about what it means to eat a vegan diet, i.e., most times when I’m at an event and I ask for a vegan option, they give me a salad.  There is much more to eating vegan than eating salad.  And, I’m not hating on people who love salads; it’s just not for me all the time.

4) I make sure to have canned black beans and chickpeas and frozen bags of brown rice on hand for quick dinner options, especially for the nights that I teach late or have evening events to attend.  Without those options, I’m inclined to polish off my bag of ginger snaps and call it a night.

5) I permit myself to have a night of Amy’s frozen no-cheese vegan pizza, that “B”LT from the vegan cafe, or a black bean and grilled veggies burrito from Chipotle.  Sure, it may be processed or fast food.  But, you have to live a little.

Most importantly, I try to maintain my zen and not let life stress me out.  Ultimately, I’m better able to make good decisions about my health and diet when I’m centered.  And, eating well and eating right is a radical act of self-love and self-care.  I must make it a priority.

Home Alone: The Vegan Edition

foodWhen folks learn that I eat a vegan diet, one of the first questions they ask is, “Is your whole family vegan?”  And, the short answer is, No.  I wish I could say that they are vegan by association because I cook most of our meals and I do most of the grocery shopping.   But, no, instead I usually end up cooking two meals–one for me and one for them.  I am not only alone because of my vegan diet, though.  I’ve eliminated junk food, soda, and most processed foods from my diet, but that is not the case for my husband and 12 year old son.  My husband wants to eat healthier, but on many occasions, he has his stash of Reese’s peanut butter cups, Twizzlers, and orange cream soda.  My son treats dessert like it’s its own food group in the food pyramid.  Yes, I’d like for both of them to eat healthier, and I work hard to provide nutritious options in our house.  I work hard to meet all of our needs and wants (because junk food is not a need!).  I maintain a vegan diet, but I don’t want to impose my decision on them.  So that I don’t pull my hair out in the process, here are a few ways that I’ve learned to deal with being the sole vegan in a meat-eating household.  These are also tips for encouraging more healthy eating among all members of the family.

1) Eat more fruits and vegetables.  This is something that we all need to do in my house.  So, whenever and wherever I can, I include fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet.  In theory, I try to have 2-3 servings of vegetables and fruits at every meal.  That’s in theory, but I’m working toward that.  During the summer months, we visit local farmers markets weekly to stock up on what’s in season.  Next year, I plan to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where each week we’ll get a box full of vegetables and fruits from a local farm.

2) Make smoothies.  For some reason, while my husband won’t eat fruits raw, he loves smoothies.  This is one way that we’ve been able to introduce more fruit (and sometimes veggies) into our diets.  Our favorite blend:  frozen strawberries and blueberries, a banana, and coconut milk.  For added protein and nutrients, I may add a spoonful of almond butter and a handful of spinach.  We drink smoothies daily.

3) Replace butter with other oils.  Becoming vegan, this was a hard one for me.  I love soul food.  And, I’d grown to believe that you just can’t replace butter in most soul food recipes.  It won’t taste the same.  For example, how can you make sweet potato pie without using butter?  How can you make cornbread without using butter?  I can go on and on.  I used to cook just about everything with butter.  I changed my mind after I read Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine.  I’ve since learned to enjoy cooking and eating foods made with organic coconut oil.  I also use other oils like olive and canola oil.

4) Learn how to make family favorites vegan style.  I try to cook vegan meals that anybody will love.  I turn to recipes from Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen and Moosewood Restaurant for new ideas.  My husband loves my tofu scrambles and tears up my black bean, spinach, and rice quesadillas.  And, I make a mean vegan apple pie that satisfies my son’s expectations.

Our kitchen is a work-in-progress.  I still cook meals with meat and animal products on a regular basis.  Thanksgiving was rough–I cooked the turkey.  It is difficult to cook meals that I cannot taste.  My husband has a few signature dishes that he prepares each week, like his turkey burgers and pancakes with sausage.  He’s also learning to cook more.  And, we have pizza night at least once a week–there’s is a cheese pizza with turkey pepperoni and mine is vegan crust with tomatoes, spinach, and mushrooms.  It takes time to figure things out as a family with diverse dietary needs (and wants), but we’re doing it day by day.  Right now, I have to go get the turkey ricotta lasagna out of the oven.

Vegan in Dallas

When one thinks of Dallas, Texas, I doubt to-die-for vegan meals come to mind.  I recently traveled to Dallas for a professional conference, and I had not given much thought to how I would maintain my vegan diet in a city where the question, “Can you point me to some vegan options on your menu?” is often met with, “What is a vegan?”  I mean, if I’m being completely honest, when I think Texas, I think meat, meat, and more meat.  So, as I was on my flight to Dallas, I ordered the in-flight Wi-Fi just so that I could surf the net for restaurant options that would be vegan-friendly.  I came across a website DallasVegan.com that let me know that indeed a vegan community does exist in this heart of Texas.  The site provides options for dining, lists best places to go food shopping, and posts up-to-date local events.

Brunch is my favorite meal time so I also looked for local brunch or breakfast spots with vegan options.  One that was highly recommended (and said to be frequented by celebrities like Bono of U2) was the Dream Cafe in the Uptown neighborhood.  I checked out their menu online, and I was set to try their tofu scramble.  My girlfriend and I ditched the conference one day and journeyed Uptown for brunch.  The Dream Cafe had a nice neighborhood feel and local vibe.  As soon as we were greeted by our waiter, we ordered peach bellinis and I asked him for the best vegan recommendations off the menu.  He confirmed that the tofu scramble was a hit (as are their Cloud Cakes which are made fluffy with ricotta cheese and certainly not vegan) and he convinced me to try their vegetarian sausage (which I learned later was NOT vegan).  Generally, I do not like “sausages” made from non-animal products.  I guess I feel like, if you’re going to eat sausage, eat the real thing.  He said that these “sausage” patties were vegan and made by Morningstar.  He assured me that I would like them.  And, yes, I did enjoy the entire meal, including the veggie sausage.  However, when I went to look for this Morningstar product, I read the ingredients and learned that their veggie sausage is made with egg whites and milk protein.  The entire time that I was in Dallas, I felt like I had to explain to people what veganism is, at least, what definition of it I subscribe to (no animal products).  While the Dream Cafe offered vegetarian options (which is easy to find at most if not all restaurants), vegan options were another issue.  I later wondered if the waiter fully understood what vegan means because he so confidently recommended the sausage as a vegan option.

Which brings me to my final point–as I’ve now fully embraced a vegan diet, I have to be more proactive when thinking about dining out, especially when I travel.  Now, I visit places I used to frequent with a completely new identity–as a vegan.  And, I’ve learned quickly that most menus are not made for me.  I am not the targeted clientele.  Instead, I’ve been made to feel like I’m being a pain when I have to ask wait staff to check with the chef or to check with the manager about whether or not something is prepared vegan.  I feel bad for friends who dine with me because my order is always full of drama.  And, all of the drama is generally for a dish that is a plate full of veggies sauteed in olive oil with lackluster flavor.  I can make that at home and much better!  Being vegan encourages me to prepare my own food more, yes, but that is difficult to do consistently when you travel as much as I do.  So, here are a few strategies to combat these difficulties that I’ve learned as a new vegan traveler:

1) Definitely surf the net beforehand to find out what vegan eateries are closest to your destination.  While there weren’t many in Dallas, I did come across a resource that pointed me in the direction of a few vegan spots and several vegetarian options.

2) Be prepared with a few recipe ideas to assist the restaurant chef in creating a vegan dish just for you.  I stayed at the Omni Dallas Hotel, and I have to say, the restaurant staff there was great.  On one occasion the Chef came out to personally talk with me about possible options that he could quickly whip up for me.  It was helpful that I could provide him with some ideas that insured that the recipe would give me the protein and necessary nutrients that I needed.  I also gave the hotel feedback that it would be useful to have a few more vegan options on their menus and they seemed receptive.  At least, I received an email from the restaurant staff stating that they were working on it.

3) Get to a local grocery store to buy fresh fruit, veggies, and other non-perishable vegan foods that can keep in your hotel room.  I’m traveling to Kenya in June, and I’m already thinking about putting together a vegan food staples list for items that will keep in my room.  There, I’ll have a kitchenette so that I can prepare some of my own meals.  It is more difficult to do this, though, when you’re staying in a hotel.

And 4) Make sure you eat well when you come upon a good vegan meal or restaurant.  I ate like it was my last meal anytime I was blessed to have a nutritious, tasty vegan meal.  I just couldn’t be sure that the next meal would be as fulfilling.

I’m sure as I become more and more knowledgeable about and experienced in maintaining a vegan diet, Traveling While Vegan (TWV) won’t be as challenging.  I look forward to the days when being vegan is more mainstream.  I have a feeling we’re moving in that direction.