By Sica Schmitz
Founder of Bead & Reel, frequent speaker, writer, and sustainable stylist.
While on the surface Bead & Reel is a fashion brand, I really view it more as a lifestyle. Sure the focus is often on clothing, but it’s also on mindful living (I’m sharing tips everyday on our Twitter), empowering messages (hey, Instagram), and I don’t forget about your body and home either (you can join me down the rabbit hole of Pinterest). Even with this weekly blog post, I try to create informative content that is teaching you things instead of selling you things. I want help make your life more meaningful, not just your closet.
Lately I’ve been getting lots of questions from friends and family and customers about how to be vegan (or vegan-ish, or even just vegan once in a while). I am not a doctor or nutritionist or even life coach (but I do have a degree in fashion design, for what that’s worth?), however veganism is something I do every day, and something I’ve spent quite a bit of time navigating in my own life, and so I wanted to share my advice for anyone who is vegan-curious.
WHERE TO START
As with anything you do, it’s important to know your why. Yours may be different than mine, and that’s okay, but changing any habit (including what you eat) can be challenging so you’ll want a reason to return to any time you get frustrated or discouraged. These are some of my favorite resources to learn about the many reasons people choose a vegan lifestyle.
Cowspiracy: if you’re interested in exploring veganism for the environment
Forks Over Knives: if you’re interested in exploring even more veganism for your health (this is one of the most popular reasons people I know go vegan, and also one of the main misconceptions that prevents them from doing so)
Earthlings: if you’re interested in exploring veganism for the animals (real talk: I am not brave enough to watch this one, and there’s a reason it’s called “the vegan maker,” but it’ll definitely give you the push you need, if that’s what you’re looking for)
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: an ethical approach
WHAT TO EAT
A lot of people are worried or scared about what they could possibly eat if they went vegan (I know, because I used to be!), but I have some good news: you’re already eating vegan food every day.
Yep, it’s true! Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes…. Oreos. You’ve probably had at least one of these today (hopefully it’s not just Oreos… but no judgment if it is).
There are two common approaches to transitioning your diet:
Honestly you basically never need to learn a new recipe again, if you don’t want to. There is a vegan substitute for just about everything!
Milk: choose from a huge variety of plant milks including almond, hemp, cashew, coconut, soy, rice, and probably more I can’t think of right now. You should be able to find at least one of these at basically any grocery store, and they vary widely in taste and consistency so you have lots of options.
Butter: so margarine has been around forever and that’s always an option, but my favorite is Miyoko’s Vegan Butter (which is available online and also at Trader Joe’s!).
Cream Cheese: there are a lot of cream cheese alternatives out there and I’m going to save you the trouble and disappointment and tell you to just go with the Kite Hill brand. There’s an extensive list of places to buy it here.
Meat: I am definitely the wrong person to ask about this because I never liked the taste and texture of meat before I was vegan so I’ve never been very interested in replacing it. BUT, I know some carnivores-turned-vegans who enjoy a wide range of “fake” meat products, which are available from dozens of brands and can be found at most major grocery stores. A few brands I do enjoy are Nutcase Vegan Meats and Herbivorous Butcher (both deliver nation-wide!).
Cheese: there are tons of non-diary cheeses, ranging from the common Daiya (an acquired taste) to artisanal options like Herbivorous Butcher and Miyokos (which again, both delivery right to your door). You can even make it yourself (even I can do it, and I am not known for my culinary skills).
Eggs: there is even now a Vegan Egg! You can use it to make just about anything a chicken egg can do. There are also lots of creative substitutes from the spice black salt (kala namak), which you can add to tofu to create a very convincing “egg” salad or scramble, or a whole list of baking substitutes for anything you would want to make (including aquafaba, which is the juice from the chickpea cans – and I am so curious to know who figured this substitute out. I mean, it totally works, but, it’s a weird thing to be the first person to try, right?).
Ice Cream: and perhaps most importantly, let me assure you that you can definitely still eat ice cream. There are so many great non-dairy brands right now, but, my favorite is Ben & Jerry’s.
Everything Else: sour cream, creamer, basically anything you can think of, there is a vegan version. I trust you can find your way around a search engine.
Two important notes on substitutes:
As with everything, some trial and error may be required. You may need to try several options before you find the ones you like. You may even hate my favorites (it’s okay, I won’t think too much less of you). Don’t give up if the first brand or first product you try isn’t awesome. There are hundreds and hundreds of others to choose from.
It may take about 30 days for your cravings to subside (you’re just addicted, no big deal), and your tastebuds will actually change over time, so just be patient if vegan substitutes aren’t appealing to you right now. I didn’t really like almond milk at first (it was a bit watery for my taste), and now I think it’s delicious and use it in everything. And on the flip side, I accidentally had a bite of a non-vegan pizza a few months ago (I was told it was vegan… it wasn’t), and it literally made me gag (which is how I figured out it wasn’t vegan!). Before I was vegan I adored non-vegan cheese more than anything in the entire universe, and now that I haven’t had it in so many years, it tastes super gross to me. A lot of times we grow accustomed to eating things, but, once we stop, we may discover that it’s actually kind of weird and we never really liked it in the first place (I mean really, have you thought about where non-vegan cheese comes from?). So, give yourself a bit of time, and trust me when I tell you that you can grow to love vegan cheese more than anything in the entire universe.
The other popular transition option is through a whole foods plant based diet. I’m not talking about the store, I’m talking about skipping pre-made and processed and packaged foods. This is a growing movement around this simpler, cleaner way of eating, and I am definitely not the person to accurately talk about it. However, there are tons of books and documentaries (see above), chefs and blogs, and actually qualified people to help guide you to the very best recipes and nutritional advice. And, I know I should be moving in this direction too, so maybe I’ll join you in this journey, too.
HOW TO EAT OUT
So this I probably am qualified to talk about. I love meeting up with friends and colleagues for great conversations over great food (which I realize is about 80% of my instagram, sorry everyone). And I don’t really cook (hey, I’m busy, and good at other things!), so restaurants are an important part of my (vegan) life.
However, we live in a country obsessed with meat, eggs, and dairy (and there’s a nefarious corporate reason for this – explore some of the resources above), so it can seem really daunting to walk into a restaurant and actually be able to find anything vegan to eat, but, I’m here to tell you: don’t worry, it’s totally possible!
I’ve managed to eat vegan meals in non-vegan restaurants across the globe including Shanghai, Okinawa, Istanbul, Nairobi, New Orleans, and even my rural hometown of 3,000 people, so I’m fairly confident when I say that finding vegan options in restaurants can be achieved. I even once had a vegan meal at an Outback Steakhouse (it was basically steamed broccoli and a totally boring salad – but, I still was able to eat something, even if I wasn’t super happy about it).
A few tips:
Ask for the vegan option: You’d be surprised how many places have an off-the-menu vegan option, probably because they got tired of people like me always asking about it.
Rice & Pastas, the vegan heroes: If a restaurant has rice or pasta or even quinoa anywhere on the menu, the kitchen can probably create a simple vegan dish for you. Add some veggies and spices or sauces and you totally have a meal!
Garlic & Hot Sauce, the other vegan heroes: I mean, there are very few things I couldn’t enjoy or at least tolerate as long as they are smothered in garlic or hot sauce (or preferably both), and most restaurants should have these on hand.
A better salad: Salad is always my last resort – I’m a vegan, not a masochist. But sometimes it really is your only option. If so, ask if you can add avocado or chickpeas or kidney beans or some form of protein, and remember that vinaigrettes are usually vegan (but do check, people add milk to the weirdest things!).
And most importantly: don’t stress. Veganism is an aspiration for a more mindful lifestyle, not a hard and fast structure for perfection (at least, not the way I do it). Sometimes I find out something I ate had butter in it. I don’t freak out, I just try to ask better questions next time. Sometimes I am in situations where it makes more sense to bend my rules; when I was in Kenya earlier this year I visited a family who so kindly invited me to dinner and made me a special local tea recipe, which included milk from the cow that lives on their property. I drank it because I want to build bridges, not walls, and then had a conversation with them about why I don’t usually drink cow’s milk – I was the first vegan they had ever met, and we had a wonderful discussion. The next time I saw them, they made me a special vegan tea.
To me, veganism is about navigating relationships and reality and my deeply held beliefs, and doing the best I can in each individual situation, and I hope some of these ideas will help you to do the same. I’d love to hear if you have any additional suggestions for recipes, books, blogs and other resources that have inspired you through your vegan(ish) journey!