There are delicious recipes at the end! Read this post for the recipes!
I feel hyper-aware that this post may alienate some readers, because it’s not about sex or gender, and in fact it is a post about being vegan, i.e. not eating animal products. Lot of folks are touchy about that. So, I want to do some pre-emptive damage control: I want to clarify up front that I have no interest in calling anyone an asshole. If you’re not vegan, then I want to try and change your mind … but I don’t think you’re an Incontrovertibly Bad Person, and I hope we can still be friends.
And, look, I’m not gonna pretend I’m perfect. I screw up all the time, on all kinds of social justice issues, and I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.
For me, the hardest thing about being vegan has nothing to do with the food, although I think many foods made from animal products are delicious, and occasionally I have trouble resisting them. For me, the hard part is all about social situations. If I’m at a social event where non-vegan food is served and there are no other vegans, sometimes I just eat it — especially if it will Become A Big Social Problem if I don’t eat it. I also sometimes eat non-vegan food that’s been rescued from the trash (some of us call this “freegan”). And occasionally, when I’m spending a lot of time with someone who’s non-vegan, then I’ll sometimes break veganism in front of them in order to reassure them that I’m not judging them. I have vegan friends who consider this an unacceptable level of accommodation; sorry folks.
I am aware that stigmatizing, judging, and attacking non-vegans is one tactic for convincing them to go vegan. Personally, I find it stressful and frequently counterproductive. I’d rather set an example and be welcoming. (Yet I acknowledge that it’s possible I wouldn’t be able to do this effectively if aggressive vegans did not exist. Aggressive vegans help create the space where I get to look “reasonable” and “welcoming.” The blogger Kinsey Hope once wrote a really brilliant activist typology that describes these dynamics. And of course, it’s worth noting that I’m often characterized as an appeaser by feminists, too.)
So. That said? If you think you’re going to Get Upset Or Offended by this post, please just don’t read it. Seriously. But if you’re willing to not freak out for a moment, then here are my two primary arguments for why you should go vegan:
1. It’s easy. Yes, there will be some shitty social situations: awkward moments at restaurants, pushback from your non-vegan friends, and so on. Yes, you will have to avoid some very delicious foods. And food labels will become a whole new world of confusion. But even with all these factors, veganism really isn’t as hard as people make it out to be.
There’s a lot of delicious vegan food out there. A number of my favorite foods were vegan before I went vegan, and some of yours probably are as well. (Recipes coming up!) Here is a free vegan starter guide that includes recipes. Here is a very comprehensive list of vegan cookbooks; they range from “easy” to “incredibly complicated Martha-Stewart-land.” I am a fiend for baked goods, and I like Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. And there’s an increasing number of high-quality all-vegan restaurants. My favorite ones in Chicago are Native Foods (delicious cardamom rose cupcakes!) and Urban Vegan (delicious fake orange chicken!).
I won’t get involved in appeals-to-healthitude, because I know both healthy vegans and unhealthy vegans, and the science is inconclusive … but I will point that out again: the science is inconclusive. Unless you have an unusual disorder, modern nutrition has identified no conclusive scientific reasons for not being vegan. Plus: If you aren’t vegan, but you don’t pay any attention to eating healthy food, then you’re being a hypocrite if you make a “health argument” for being non-vegan even if the science was conclusive, which it’s not. And! If you’re really into health, there’s a highly-recommended book called Thrive written by a vegan professional athlete named Brendan Brazier.
(Full disclosure: the above Amazon book links contain my referral code, so you’re kicking me a tiny commission if you buy through one of those links. If you don’t want to do that, then search for the books on your own.)
Some of my friends specifically do things like convince people to try veganism for short periods, or run Vegan Weeks at universities or whatever, just to show how (a) delicious and (b) easy vegan food can be. It works surprisingly well. A key ingredient in my own adoption of veganism was knowing vegans, and seeing how simple it was to be vegan. I used to push back really strongly … I think I resisted mostly because it was very hard to acknowledge that by eating animal products, I was participating in an incredibly fucked up system. First I had to recognize that I was doing something really bad, that I had been doing so for my entire life, and that most people I love do it too. This is a familiar problem for activists, of course; most people resist acknowledging that they participate in a racist, sexist culture, too. (As one of my vegan friends puts it: “I’ve found that people usually go through the strongest asshole anti-vegan phase right before they convert to veganism.”)
Of all the social-justice acts out there, I actually think veganism is one of the lowest-hanging fruit. It’s just so easy that the only reason non-vegan culture can possibly persist is through a really high degree of not giving a shit. In a way, that’s understandable; I don’t have much of a connection to animals myself. A lot of my vegan friends love animals and want to be around them all the time; I don’t. If a smelly dog never jumps on me again, it will be too soon. But the fact is, animals have senses and feelings. Interacting with any animal for longer than thirty seconds can conclusively show you that animals like and dislike things, and that they feel something that looks exactly like pain. Which brings me to ….
2. If you care about consent, then veganism is transparently the right thing to do. There are environmental arguments and stuff, but I mean, seriously, let’s call a spade a spade: when you eat meat, you’re eating the murdered body of an animal who died for no reason other than your transient pleasure. As for animal products: many things that happen to animals on factory farms are abominable and obscene, as two minutes of Googling or this website or this video can show you.
Even if you decide to eat animal products that come only from well-treated animals, there’s no way to be sure that those animals were actually well-treated unless you’re raising them yourself. As this vegan FAQ points out, there’s an amazing amount of animal suffering that still occurs on “humane” farms. Some of those farms are doubtless fairly pleasant for the animals, but others …. Well, let’s just say that calling some “humane” farms more merciful than factory farms is like saying that being burned alive is preferable to dying in a medieval torture device. Here’s just one article on the topic, from Salon.
Personally, when I went vegan, a lot of the reason it felt easy was because I no longer had to spend tons of mental energy suppressing my empathy. I was amazed at how relieved I felt. Again, I’m not pretending to be perfect about it — I eat non-vegan food sometimes in social situations, sometimes when it’s about to be thrown away, and sometimes just when I’m drunk. If you need to make accommodations in order to feel comfortable being vegan, then I’m the last person who will criticize you. I’ll just be glad you’re taking steps towards being vegan.
It took me a long time to decide to go vegan, and I understand that it might take you a long time, too. I’ve listed a lot of resources in this post and I hope you’ll consider looking at them. Questions are welcome in the comments, although I may not be able to answer them. I wish you luck. And if you’re already vegan, then congratulations and high-5!
Now for recipes!
I promise that these recipes are beloved by non-vegans as well as vegans. In fact, even when I wasn’t vegan, they were some of my favorites. When I feed these dishes to non-vegans, they are frequently startled that the food isn’t vegan. (Sometimes I save the Big Reveal for last. Heh, heh.)
(One of my other favorite gentle pro-vegan tactics is to walk into restaurants and ask if they have anything vegan on the menu. When the answer is no, I smile and thank them and leave.)
Organic and fair-trade ingredients are obviously encouraged. I’m not as good about organic and fair-trade as I could be, mostly because of expense, but I try to do it when I can.
Kickass Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is a modified version of a recipe that I originally found here, and some of the text comes from that recipe.
+ 1 and 1/2 cups of FLOUR
+ 1 teaspoon BAKING SODA
+ 1 teaspoon SALT
+ 3/4 cup of OIL
+ 2 tablespoons COCONUT MILK (or ALMOND MILK or SOY MILK)
+ 1 & 1/3 cups of UNREFINED SUGAR
+ HALF A BANANA
+ 1 1/2 tablespoons VANILLA EXTRACT (I’ve occasionally used RUM as a replacement; when I do that, I like to add some CINNAMON)
+ 2 1/2 cups OATMEAL
+ 12 oz. of DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPS
Heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Mix FLOUR, BAKING SODA and SALT together. Set aside.
Mix together the OIL and SUGAR. Mix until creamy. Thoroughly mash the BANANA into the mixture.
Add the COCONUT MILK.
Add the VANILLA.
Stir this mixture until it is a uniform color (this will not take long).
Slowly stir in the FLOUR mixture. Mix this well.
Stir in OATMEAL and CHOCOLATE-CHIPS.
Preheat oven to baking temperature (usually 350 F).
Place large tablespoons full of the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet (an air filled cookie sheet works best, as the air between the two layers of the sheet keeps the bottom of baked items from burning).
Bake the cookies for about 9 to 13 minutes (ovens vary in temperature). Check them by gently pressing on the top of one of the cookies. If the inside looks moist, but not too wet, they are probably done. It might take you a couple of tries to get the time down, so bake only a few at a time when starting out. Do not, I repeat, do not expect to see them turn slightly brown when done cooking. Without real eggs, they will not get that dark. They will, however, turn a golden tan.
When they are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to sit on the sheet for about a minute or two before placing them on a wire rack. Be careful with them as they tend to be quite delicate until they have cooled.
Kickass Chocolate Cake
I think I modified this recipe from an Internet source too, but I can’t find it now.
+ 1 1/2 cups FLOUR
+ 1 cup SUGAR
+ 1/2 cup UNSWEETENED COCOA
+ 1 tablespoon GROUND CLOVES
+ 1 teaspoon BAKING SODA
+ 1 teaspoon CAYENNE PEPPER
+ 1/4 teaspoon SALT
+ 1 cup ALMOND MILK (or COLD WATER)
+ 1/4 cup OIL
+ 1 tablespoon BALSAMIC VINEGAR
+ 1 tablespoon VANILLA (once I replaced this with ORANGE EXTRACT and added some CINNAMON, and the result was amazing)
Preheat oven to baking temperature.
In a bowl beat together the OIL, SUGAR, SALT, SPICES and COCOA until well-combined. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir until well-combined. Pour into a greased enamel plate or cake dish and bake 20-30 minutes. Don’t worry if the batter tastes quite spicy — it mellows out a lot, when you bake it so that the end result is more chocolate with a spicy after-taste. Cool.
Then mix the following ingredients together, and pour the icing on top:
+ 1 cup POWDERED SUGAR
+ 1/2 cup UNSWEETENED COCOA
+ 6 tablespoons COCONUT MILK (or ALMOND MILK or SOY MILK)
Tofu Tikka Masala
This is a modified recipe that originated with a friend.
+ 5 tablespoons OIL
+ 2 medium ONIONS, thinly sliced
+ 5 large GARLIC CLOVES, finely chopped
+ 2 BAY LEAVES
+ 1 inch fresh GINGER, finely chopped
+ 1/2 inch CINNAMON STICK
+ 4 CLOVES
+ 4 PEPPERCORNS
+ 1 CARDAMOM POD
+ 2 pounds TOFU
+ 1 tablespoon GROUND CORIANDER
+ 1 teaspoon GARAM MASALA
+ 1 teaspoon GROUND CUMIN
+ 1/2 teaspoon CAYENNE PEPPER
+ 1/2 teaspoon GROUND TURMERIC
+ 14 ounces CANNED TOMATOES
+ SALT to taste
+ 2/3 cup SOY YOGURT
Heat OIL in large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
Add ONIONS, GARLIC, GINGER, BAY LEAVES, and WHOLE SPICES; fry gently on medium heat until sautéed.
Add the TOFU, and fry until the pieces are lightly golden brown on all sides. (Here are some tips on frying tofu so it has a light crust.)
Stir in CORIANDER, GARAM MASALA, CUMIN, CAYENNE, TURMERIC, TOMATOES, and SALT. Cook for a while (10 minutes works).
Add SOY YOGURT and cook for another while.
As a general rule, the longer you cook a spicy dish like this, the spicier it’ll be.