Cutting out meat from your diet can be a daunting undertaking and cutting out animal products altogether even harder. I know this because I recently switched from vegetarianism to veganism for January (see my original post about Veganuary), and it's been a difficult — yet eye-opening — change.
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I used to roll my eyes when people asked, "Can you eat this?" about something that clearly didn't have meat in it. After all, I'd been a vegetarian for 10 years and the distinction was second nature to me. But after a recent conversation with a friend in which I lamented how I couldn't eat peanut butter because of the "butter" aspect, I now understand that things aren't so cut-and-dried for newbie vegans.
Despite my momentary lapse of critical thinking skills (no, peanut butter doesn't have butter in it), this month so far has really helped expand my culinary horizons. Recipe books that have been untouched on my shelves for years have been dusted off and hauled into the kitchen. And LIVESTRONG.COM has a whole library of vegan recipes that can be instantly imported to your MyPlate. Here are some suggestions to get you started (if you can't tell by the list, I love me some avocado):
But my veganism has extended beyond the kitchen. I've watched (and in some cases, re-watched) food documentaries like "Forks Over Knives," "Vegucated" and "Food, Inc." and reminded of a lot disturbing things. Like the fact that large factory farms don't just treat their livestock poorly, oftentimes that lack of respect for life extends to the inhumane treatment of their workers, whether that means recruiting cheap foreign labor only to have them deported by INS, or not providing safe, hygienic conditions for their workers in their slaughterhouses.
It reminded me of why I became a vegetarian in the first place. Many times, the reaction people give when I tell them I became vegetarian after reading Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" is to tell me that that's not the way meat is produced in this country anymore. And they're partly right. But also partly wrong. Yes, what would later become the FDA was established in the wake of Sinclair's depiction of the Chicago meatpacking industry of the early 20th century, but that doesn't mean our meat is 100 percent safe or humane today.
And while for most people, those may not be enough reasons to give up all meat and animal products, it should be enough reason to educate ourselves on where our food comes from. There's a LOT of information out there, and it's easy to get lost. So here are some of my favorite sites and resources that will hopefully get you going in the right direction if you've decided to go vegan (or are still in the decision-making process).
- Veganuary: Check out the site that started my month-long vegan journey. You'll find information on why you should consider going vegan as well as guides to help you navigate tricky eating situations (like my "does peanut butter have butter in it?" moment).
- Farm Sanctuary: Who doesn't want to see cute animals running around their beautifully lush sanctuary? Fair warning, though: The "before" pictures of these rehabilitated animals are heart breaking (they were all rescued from factory farms and labs that perform animal testing). But you can also read up on one of the original vegan crusaders, Gene Baur, who also started Farm Sanctuary.
- Meatless Monday: If jumping right into veganism is a bit too overwhelming at the outset, why not just try one time a week? Every Monday, commit to cooking without meat and try some of the delicious recipes of their site. Who knows? You might find yourself forgoing meat more often.
- Get Vegucated: Watch three carnivores give up meat and cheese for six weeks in search of weight loss and better health. And while it may be cliché to say what they found was so much more than a number on a scale, it's true.
- Veg News: I used to get hand-me-down copies of this magazine from the woman who's cut my hair since I was a kid (still do sometimes), but you can find plenty of recipes and how-tos on the site. Plus, the magazine's annual Veggie Awards are a great guide for those just starting out.
- Forks Over Knives: Another documentary that changed the way I look at food. While the study at the center of it may be a bit contested, the underlying principal of "food as medicine" holds true no matter what diet you adopt.
- The Kind Life: What started as a book from actress Alicia Silverstone is now a full-blown lifestyle. And though some of the advice and recipes border into Gwyneth/GOOP territory (no, I won't spend three hours every night preparing dinner or my weekend hunting down some crazy new vegetable/flour/oil), most them can be modified.
Readers -- I’ll be collecting my thoughts about my month going vegan and sharing them here on the blog, but I’d love to hear about your vegan journey! Have you been a vegan for a long time or just starting? Are you vegetarian, flexitarian or just looking to cut down a little more on you animal-product consumption? Share your thoughts, stories and questions in the comments below!