Dining Out–Vegan-style

It sucks.

No really, it sucks. You don’t have to think very hard about it to understand why. The majority of restaurants don’t offer vegan options, even in a city such as Pittsburgh. TGI Friday’s, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesdays, etc. What do you get at these places? Meat, seafood, burgers. You’re not going to find tofu or seitan, and while you might find a veggie burger some of the time, it’s usually pretty gross and more often that not, vegetarian instead of vegan.

Disclaimer: I don’t ask too many questions when dining out. If something could be vegan, is likely to be vegan, or is not clearly not vegan, I’m gonna assume–sometimes incorrectly–that it’s vegan. On menus that literally don’t have anything to indicate vegan options, if it’s marked vegetarian and does not obviously involve eggs or cheese, it’s good enough for me.

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Take the above for instance. This was today at BD’s Mongolian Grill (which is yummy if you happen to have one near you). Despite having an entire salad-bar stand full of different types of animal flesh, they still had tofu and, awesomely, it was on the veggie stand. Now, is the shitake mushroom sauce or the chili garlic sauce (both of which are mixed in my dish) vegan? Probably. Maybe. Perhaps there’s butter involved. Maybe even chicken broth, for all I know. But it didn’t apparently involve either of these things so I’m happily ignorant and assuming otherwise. The alternative is to grill my waitress (bad pun intended) and nobody wants that.

That said, when I took my bowl of plant matter up to the grill and Grillin’ Dude saw my tofu, he asked if I was vegetarian or vegan. I said I was and he offered to use separaters to ensure that my food didn’t touch any neighboring food that involved meat. I told him I didn’t care but that was super awesome of him and he got a bigger tip because of it.

Now, even with my supremely lax standards when eating out, frequently I find myself limited to ordering solely from the side menu. If I’m lucky, the side menu involves some kind of beans (sans bacon or ham) because protein, but I have on more than one occasion sat there munching French fries while everyone else ate their meal.

LiveKindly has been sharing videos and articles recently claiming that veganism is set to be 2018’s megatrend. I don’t know if I believe that, but at the same time, with so many efforts being taken to promote plant-based alternatives–Impossible Foods, for instance–maybe it is true, and maybe that will bring more vegan options to the larger chain restaurants.

That is, until millennials finish killing them off, just like we did with fabric softener, the diamond industry, department stores, and good old fashioned family values.

Go us, I say! Especially if we successfully make dining out as a vegan less sucky.

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Plant Based or Vegan?

Apparently these are not the same thing, and to make it a little more confusing, it’s not even like the square-rectangle thing, where all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. You don’t have to be plant based to be vegan and you also don’t have to be vegan to be plant based.

Wait, what?

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There’s a whole lot that goes into answering why, but long story short, veganism isn’t just about what you eat and that’s really the big difference. Usually plant based foods are suitable for vegans, but someone who follows a plant based diet might not specifically avoid leather products, for instance. Also, on the flip side, you can be vegan and eat nothing but Oreos, potato chips, and frozen pre-made meals, none of which would be considered plant based.

I’ve tried reading about eating a plant based diet, and someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like the main feature in plant based eating is to avoid highly processed foods. Instead, you eat things like rice, beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I’ve seen some sources say that you can include meat and dairy, but you should minimize it, and others that say that stuff is blacklisted all together.

What I’d add based on what I’ve read is that, from a health perspective, being both plant based and vegan seems like the best course of action. So that’s what I’m trying to do this time around.

This is in part because who doesn’t want to be healthier, and also in part because science experiment. In a few months, I’ll have my annual wellness exam done and I’m curious to see the effects, not just on my weight, but also on my cholesterol and all that other stuff they’ll test.

Step one here is stop drinking pop. I’ve been trying really hard lately to limit myself to one can a day, and I fail at that horribly after a week or two every single time. I’m a fat chick with an eating disorder and zero self-restraint, so the whole “everything in moderation” is literally impossible for me.

Step two is what the crap to eat? Well, for lunch today, I had a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, roasted red peppers, salsa, hot sauce, and a little bit of vegan cheddar shreds and vegan sour cream. Admittedly, those last two things are highly processed and could’ve easily been left out. However, they were expensive and I don’t want to throw them away. I may’ve jumped cold-turkey (pardon the expression) into veganism, but I don’t think I can do that with plant based.

I also threw a bunch of stuff into my crockpot to have chili later, and while I still have some brown rice in the fridge to go with it, I’ll likely grab some of the cheddar and sour cream as well.

At least it’s not Oreos and chips, right? One meal at a time…

Back Twice Over

Long time no see, right?

Despite the craziness of the holiday season and everything else going on, I’ve decided to pick up the blog again. And before we dive in here, I have a confession to make:

I stopped being vegan.

And when I say I stopped, I mean, good god did I ever stop. There was no “Well I’ll just eat dairy and eggs” phase. I went straight from hugging cows and petting chickens to literally gnawing on them. Steak, man. Steak is really good, and that is really unfortunate on so many levels.

I couldn’t give you an exact date when I fell off the wagon, broke it into a thousand tiny pieces, and then set those on fire. It was in August some time. I think I know some factors that contributed to it though. See, I had to spend a week going into the office and thus packing lunch. That’s tricky enough for me, since I don’t do mornings and trips into the office often involve getting up while it’s still dark outside. Additionally, my doctor started me on some new birth control that made me feel like I was going to throw up anytime I ate.

What that turned into was eating nothing but crackers and bread with vegan cheese on it. By the end of the week, I snapped. I think I was just so nutriet deficient that my body nagged at me to eat the most nutrient-dense food it could come up with. It wasn’t steak that broke me. Or cheeseburgers or chicken wings, although all those things followed not too long after.

It was eggs. I was constantly daydreaming about fried, sunny-side-up eggs. Like, all the time. A few days into these vivid daydreams about delicious egg yokes the crispy egg white edges and fantasizing about eating that by itself or on toast with butter that I caved. I bought a dozen eggs and ate them all inside a week.

That same week, after my first eggy breakfast, I also ate steak and a bacon cheeseburger and I don’t even know what all else. Like, I said–I fell off the wagon and just started running.

Are you still reading? I feel like saying “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” except I’m an atheist, and apart from poetic value, those words don’t mean much to me. I will tell you this though–for my entire time as an omnivore again, I still ate at least one vegan meal a day. I still 100% agreed with veganism; I was just a fat chick with no self-restraint.

Here are some observations I made during that time. One, almost nothing that I daydreamed about tasted as good as I’d built it up to be in my head. The eggs were good, but they weren’t that good. Same with bacon, and real butter, and even cheese. (I’ll be fair though. Steak is still that good. And some cheeses are too. I did say “almost” nothing.)

Secondly, every time I ate meat, I felt grossly full, even when I didn’t eat that much of it. Sometimes that feeling of discomfort would stick with me for hours. I didn’t like it, but it was just such a damn commitment to go vegan again.

It’s easy enough to choose to eat beans or tofu instead of chicken for the span of a meal, even several meals, but to swear it off forever is intimidating as hell. I totally understand why people say “I could never be vegan.” I’ve said it. I think most people who are vegan have said it.

I did it again though, and once again, it was a pretty spontaneous decision. I watched a documentary and then immediately went into my kitchen and threw away every non-vegan item in there. I filled a huge garbage bag with frozen chicken breasts, sliced cheeses, rolled butter, eggs, bacon, and all sorts of other stuff. I wanted it out of my house.

Extreme? Maybe.

The documentary was “What the Health?” For those who aren’t familiar with it, the documentary exposes just how corrupt the meat industry really is. And by that, I don’t mean how they exploit workers or abuse animals or anything like that. It was way more simple than that. It’s about the lengths the meat industry goes to in order to hide how unhealthy meat actually is. In watching this documentary, I didn’t really learn much that I didn’t already know, but the information was presented in such a way that it really struck a chord in me.

Let me try to elucidate why:

I quit smoking about five years ago now. I don’t need to tell you why I quit smoking, because you know what cigarettes are and you know the effects they have on the human body. Anytime you tell anybody that you quit smoking, literally no one says “Why?” unless they’re being a smart ass.

One of the new bits of information I gained from “What the Health?” was the knowledge that processed meats (such as bacon, lunchmeat, sausages, etc) are considered Group 1 carcinogens, according to the World Health Organization, which is the same classification as cigarette smoke and asbestos.

Now, if I quit smoking–not that there haven’t been hitches along the way for that particular vice as well–but didn’t quit eating meat, what was the point of quitting smoking in the first place? I liked smoking, and I like bacon, but I’ve always been an all-or-nothing sort of person.

So, I pieced together an entirely new wagon and hopped back on it.

This was about a month ago, a couple weeks before Thanksgiving actually, and while you could easily make the argument that my timing is awful, I’d contend that it couldn’t have been better. What better time to change my eating habits than during the time of the year when it’s typical to make frequent unhealthy choices? And you know what? Since going back to veganism, I feel so very much better. Not just mentally and all that from not killing things just for food and lessening my carbon footprint, but also physically. Eating plant-based meals doesn’t make me feel bogged down and gross the way meat does.

That said, I will totally be making vegan Christmas cookies. You can’t eat healthy foods all the time, right? I sure can’t.

I will say this though: remember how whiny I was when I first attempted veganism? I missed cheese so so so much and I whined about it constantly. I didn’t like vegan dairy replacements, and I flat-out cheated more than once. This time around, it’s shocking to me how easy it is. I think it may be because I at least know what I can and can’t eat to a reasonable degree and I know of quite a few vegan alternatives that are pretty delicious and close to the real thing. (Violife cheese and literally anything made by Gardein, for instance!)

And now for some pictures of yummy things I’ve eaten in the last month because why not?