What do I respond to people who say “But plants have feelings too”?
That’s an argument you’ll hear surprisingly often when you go vegan. I think people use it as a defense mechanism to suggest that since basically everything has feelings, there’s no way not to eat anything. It somehow seems to make them feel better about still eating meat. I once read a comment by a girl who said: “I love all life. It kills me as much to see a chicken die than it does to see spinach die.” – Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that. Think about it, how would you feel if your neighbor took out an axe and slaughtered his dog in front of your eyes (excuse the visual)? Awful? Sick? Shocked? Now, how do you feel when you see your neighbor mowing the lawn? See my point?
I think deep down inside we all know that it’s as ridiculous to say “but what about plants?” when talking about an animal that got killed than it would be to say “but what about cucumbers?” when talking about humans who die.
If someone says that to you, you can respond by saying that plants may well be alive, but they don’t have a central nervous systems and therefore do not experience pain the way we and animals do. You could also point out that in order to feed the animals you’ll then eat, you have to “kill” a lot more plants than if you just ate the plants directly. Click here to read more on the topic.
What if a restaurant doesn’t have any vegan options on the menu?
At any restaurant, you can ask the waiters or the chef if they can prepare a veganized dish for you, even if it’s not on the menu. The day I realized that I didn’t have to just resort to what was vegan on menus, my life as a vegan who likes to eat out changed. I remember going to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant right after going vegan and feeling bummed that the only option I could now eat was steamed tofu with veggies. Then one day, I simply asked them if they could serve me what had previously been my favorite dish, grilled chicken in cashew curry lemongrass sauce, with grilled tofu instead of grilled chicken. It wasn’t a problem at all. Don’t ever feel like you’re being difficult or imposing, you’re a paying customer and you deserve to get what you want. Plus, most of the time they’ll be happy to help you. I had to eat out a lot for one of my previous jobs and there were never any vegan restaurants around, but I always got something to eat. If you know that you’ll be going to a particular restaurant in advance, you can call or email them. They usually really appreciate that and you’ll be surprised to see how creative they can get. I’ve had some of the best vegan meals at non vegan restaurants that had nothing vegan on the menu. Again, I can’t stress this enough, but don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. If enough people ask for vegan options, soon enough they’ll start offering them. Try this: go to a coffee shop that doesn’t serve plant milk and ask for soy milk. The next time you go, ask again. Then ask your friends to ask as well. I guarantee you that by the 5th or 6th time, they’ll have soy milk.
Do vegans only eat organic food?
No, not at all. “Veganism” per definition means abstaining from any foods and products that are the result of animal exploitation. Whether or not the food is organic doesn’t matter. That being said, organic is always preferable if it is available since it means the use of less or no pesticides and likely better working conditions for humans. My personal rule: Vegan is a non-negotiable, Organic is a priority, but not a must if it is not available.
What are the best and most reasonably priced grocery stores with a variety of vegan substitutes?
That really depends on where you live! The best thing to do is to explore all the stores in your neighborhood and to compare for yourself. In NYC, I’ve noticed that Trader Joe’s often has meat and dairy alternatives that are a bit cheaper than at other stores. Whole foods has the most variety and sometimes good bargains too. Fairway has quite a good selection as well. Target has some alternatives in the frozen section, as well as plant-based milks and ice creams, but they don’t really have cheeses, tofu, tempeh and co.
What if my family isn’t supportive of my veganism?
That is unfortunately not uncommon at all. I think the most important thing to do is not to get too emotional about it and to try and understand why your family is reacting that way. In some cultures, food plays an incredibly important role and stands for traditions and cultural heritage. Refusing to eat those foods may seem like you are rejecting traditions. At the same time, we do live in a world where the commonly held belief still is that we need animal products for optimum health. So, your family not supporting you many simply be a consequence of them not understanding you. What you can do is meet them where they are and explain to them patiently and if necessary, repeatedly, why this is so important to you. If they are concerned about your health, show them the documentary “Forks over Knvives” or make them read a book by Dr. Neal Barnard. In terms of trying to convince them, making them a great vegan meal is going work a lot better than telling them that they’re doing something wrong, trust me. Lastly, be patient and show them how much their support means to you. Some people just need a little more time. In the very beginning, I was quite aggressive with my family because I wanted them to understand me and agree with me and when they didn’t immediately do that, I got very frustrated and I remember many heated debates. At some point it just became too emotionally draining and exhausting for me, so I switched to calmly explaining what I was doing and to get super happy and excited whenever they ate anything vegan, even if it was just an apple. That turned out to be the best approach and last year, my 80 year old grandmother and about 6 of my mom’s siblings and cousins all agreed to do the 1 week vegan challenge, something that would have been unthinkable just 2 or 3 years prior.
Can you recommend a resource for vegan nutrition for women specifically?
Yes! The book Vegan for Her: The Womans Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Registered Dietitian Virginia Messina. Virginia, or “Ginny”, also has a blog that’s an amazing resource and a very trustworthy source of information when it comes to vegan nutrition: www.theveganrd.com.
Are household items like fabric softener vegan?
Not always! When shopping for household items and cosmetics, you’ll want to look for two things: 1. Products that do not contain any animal ingredients and 2. Products that were not tested on animals.
When a label says “cruelty free” that usually means that the product wasn’t tested on animals, but that doesn’t necessarily make it vegan as it may still contain animal ingredients. Luckily, many products are now labeled “VEGAN”, which makes it a lot easier. You can also check Peta’s website for guides on how to shop for those products.
Are there any substitutes that taste like chicken?
Yes! Plenty! From what I’ve heard and those that I’ve tried, Gardein’s products are the ones that taste the most like chicken. In vegan restaurants, the “fake” chicken products are usually called “Chick’n” or “un-chicken”. If you’re ever in California or Oregon, you should check out The Veggie Grill. The first time I went to one of their restaurants in L.A. about 3 years ago, I had to double check if it was really vegan because it tasted so much like real chicken!
Some people wonder why you would even want to have something that tastes like chicken, but we mustn’t forget that many of us grew up eating chicken and other animal products and viewing them as comfort food. I didn’t stop eating meat because I didn’t like it, on the contrary, I loved meat and ate it all the time. I stopped eating it because after reading about animal cruelty, I could no longer justify using animals for food. These vegan alternatives to chicken, beef and even fish helped me a lot when I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle.
How can I avoid too many carbs on a vegan diet?
Carbohydrates have gotten such a bad rep in the last decades because of protein rich fad diets like Atkins that have demonized them. Carbs aren’t the devil though, they’re actually very good for you and cutting them out may not be the best idea. The only carbs you may want to avoid are those found in highly refined foods like white bread. If you really wanted to avoid carbs, you could easily do so by eating more seitan, legumes, tofu and tempeh and simply eating them with salad and veggies.
Can you recommend some soy- and gluten free vegan foods that are also low carb?
In order to avoid soy and gluten, simply opt for legumes (other than soy) and vegetables, these are high in protein and filling. Click here for a vegan gluten-free and soy-free diet guide and here for low carb vegan recipes. Note: I personally would not recommend a low carb diet.
What’s your opinion on raw or mostly raw diets?
I love them! Almost three years ago, I started getting into raw foods because of my friend Kristina who’s been FullyRaw vegan for almost 11 years. Before that, I hardly ate fruits and vegetables at all. I don’t think that it is necessary to be 100% raw if you don’t want to be, however. Whenever I eat mostly raw foods, I feel better than ever, but I also really enjoy cooked foods, so I prefer being about 50% of the time. If you’re planning on going FullyRaw, you just need to be careful to eat enough in order to get sufficient calories and nutrients. For more info on raw veganism, check out Kristina’s YouTube channel. She also just published her first book The Fully Raw Diet: 21 Days to Better Health, with Meal and Exercise Plans, Tips, and 75 Recipes
Is chewing gum vegan?
Some brands are, some aren’t. Those that aren’t usually contain gelatin, making them not just non-vegan but non-vegetarian. You can either look for a “vegan” label or check the ingredient list for “gelatin”.
Is it true that combining raw and cooked foods is bad for your digestion?
Yes and no. Whether or not foods combine well is usually determined by the time it takes for our bodies to digest them. Fruit, for instance, only takes a few hours to digest, whereas cooked vegan food take a bit longer and animal products up to 72 hours. It is therefore true that combining foods that don’t take the same time to digest isn’t ideal. However, I think that we often have a tendency to focus on little details while forgetting about the bigger picture. I used to, for instance, not eat conventional cucumbers for fear of pesticides, yet I would eat highly processed chocolate bars without even giving it a second thought. In the same way, if you’re used to eating strawberries for dessert right after a steak with cheese and fries, then combining raw bananas and cooked oatmeal isn’t going to be the end of the world. Generally speaking, the “cleaner” you eat (i.e. the more unprocessed, whole foods you consume), the more sensitive you are going to be to these kinds of combinations. At the end of the day, what matters most is how you feel afterwards. If you can eat cooked foods with raw foods and feel great, wonderful!
Personally, I just try to be mindful and combine well whenever I can. If I’m having an apple and an avocado toast, I’ll have the apple first, but if I’m having oatmeal, I like the taste of my fruit with the oatmeal, so I don’t mind combining it. One thing I never do though, is have fruit for dessert. If anything, I’ll have it as an appetizer. Some people say that you should never have raw foods if you’ve already eaten something cooked the same day. For me, as long as it’s at least 3-4 hours after the cooked meal, it’s fine. There’s also food combining within raw foods, which I can tell you more about if you’re interested, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information for now.
Do you go to a specific grocery store?
I personally go to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Fairway, occasionally Target and the farmers market. In some cities you can now find 100% vegan stores, which is very exciting. Berlin, Germany, has 3 entirely vegan supermarkets, for instance.
You once mentioned vegan junk foods. Which foods qualify as “junk”?
When people refer to vegan “junk food”, they usually mean foods that have been heavily processed like fatty veggie burgers, vegan mac & cheese, doughnuts, fries, cakes, shakes, vegan hot dogs etc…
Is coconut oil fattening? Should I avoid it or use a different kind of oil?
Coconut oil is per definition fat, so technically speaking, yes, it’s “fattening”, but not more than any other oils. Fat is not the devil and even though some healthy plant-based diets (the so called high carb or high starch diets) recommend keeping it low fat, none of them say “no fat”. I prefer coconut oil for cooking because it doesn’t have a distinct taste or smell and is very heat resistant. All fats have exactly 9 calories per gram though, so switching to another oil won’t make a difference. What you can do is simply cook with water instead of oil. I quit using oil three years ago and only recently started using it again. But when I stopped using it, I was surprised to see how well you can cook without it. I simply used non stick ceramic pans or added 1-2 tbsp of water.
I love to bake, what are the best vegan substitutes to get similar results?
Click here for a great resource on vegan baking and also see Peta’s vegan baking “cheat-sheet” below.