June 7, 2013

{How to} go vegan

There's good reason why vegan diets are on the rise. Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman and countless documentaries, books and studies have made it clear that eating more plants and fewer beasts is better for your body, for your environmentprobably for your soul. But let's face it: If it was easy, "eat your vegetables" wouldn't be the thing you're forced to do in order to get dessert. So I asked sisters Heather Goldberg and Jenny Engel of the West Hollywood-based vegan food company Spork Foods about taking the plunge. Here they share some words of wisdom about converting toor at least dabbling inveganism.

First things first. Vegan food tastes good, people!
A common misconception that many people have about veganism is that you'll be subject to a bland diet of lettuce leaves for the rest of your life. Heather and Jenny insist this is not the case. "Vegan food can be delicious," Jenny said. "You don't have to sacrifice flavor or texture or any of those things." For example, an upcoming Spork Foods Mexi-Cali themed vegan cooking class features a mouth-watering menu of Black Bean and Grilled Corn Tamale Pie, Avocado & Hearts of Palm Ceviche, Cheesy Tortilla Soup with an Ancho Cream Topping and Mexicali Chocolate Date Bars. Doesn't sound like much deprivation going on there!

It'll give you a better buzz than coffee
By eating natural foods and things that come directly from the earth, you'll notice a difference in your body. "When you eat this way, you feel cleaner inside," Jenny said. "You'll have more energy. You will see your skin clear up. You don't need coffee in the morning to get you going." You know that sluggish slump most people get in the afternoon after eating a big lunch? "[As vegans], we don't have that feeling," Heather said. "After we eat lunch, we have so much energy that we actually get a lot of work done, so that is actually a huge benefit to this way of life."

Maybe there's a reason for it
When you really think about what you eat, it may not make a lot of sense. "A lot of people, 75 to 85 percent of the people in the world, are lactose intolerant," Jenny said. "Which, to us, means that we really shouldn't be consuming other animals' milk," said Heather. "The milk that cows produce is for the baby calf, and it has addictive chemicals in it meant to bond the baby cow to its mom. You're ingesting those addictive chemicals. That's why people say, 'I am addicted to cheese, I could never give it up.' You really are addicted to cheese because you are ingesting those chemicals that were meant for the calf."

Other people will hate you for it...
Here's the truth. Changing your diet is challenging. "Food is so personal," Jenny said. "Food is tangled up with your heritage and how you feel about comfort and your own self-image about your body. It's not just what you eat. There is so much more to it. So when you make this decision to go vegan, other people start thinking about themselves. Just by saying that you are vegan, sometimes people are offended. You have to have some sort of resilience." 

...but stay strong!
Heather explained, "Once you get into it, once you get the tools, once you learn how to make really incredible dishes, once you get your confidence up, you start feeling better. That's when it gets to be easier. It's not hard forever. It's hard in the beginning when you are learning, when you are reading the back of every ingredient on a package. But then over time, you know what's vegan; you know what's not."

Get some help
If you are interested in the vegan diet, start small by making some easy substitutions. Swap almond milk in your cereal for cow's milk. If store-bought veggie burgers don't do it for you, experiment with making your own. The sisters encourage taking a vegan cooking class to learn a few recipes. Spork Foods provides a "personal shopper" service at the supermarket to help people pick produce and other vegan products. "Some people need a little one-on-one guidance to get them started," Jenny said. "Then they are comfortable, they can just go to town, and they are very inspired."

Thanks so much, Heather and Jenny!
Check out part one of my interview with Spork Foods, and get more details about their vegan cooking classes, cookbook and services here.

(Photos by Jiro Schneider and Patrick M. Gooking II)

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