By Chef Selwyn Richards
Vegetarians are people, who choose to not eat meat. As with any lifestyle, different individuals make different choices. Some may eat seafood, others might eat eggs and dairy too.
Vegans generally embrace an all-encompassing approach, and do not eat any animal products at all. That means they do not eat meat, eggs, fish, milk, or cheese. Some also do not eat honey, because it is made by bees.
There are many challenges to adapting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Some of them will be easier to overcome than others. For example, you may have an easy time dealing with the opinions of meat-eaters, but a tricky time finding foods that are vegan- or vegetarian-friendly. Let’s take a look at some of the more common challenges and tips to help you maneuver through them.
#1. No Vegetarian- Or Vegan-Friendly Substitutes
There are some areas, where you’ll be challenged to find a true vegetarian or vegan option. This happens, often at restaurants, where meat is the only thing on the menu. The good news is, that as vegetarian awareness increases, more and more restaurants are offering vegetarian menu items. Consider making a list of restaurants that do offer vegetarian menu items and steering friends and family toward those establishments.
When at the supermarket, the key to finding vegetarian- or vegan-friendly substitutes is to learn to read labels. For example, many soy-based foods, like yogurt and cheese, can still contain dairy. Some condiments and sauces have casein in them as well, which is a protein from cow’s milk.
#2 Adapting Your Taste Buds
While vegan foods are delicious, it can be difficult to adapt your taste buds to some of the vegan options. For example, a bean burger isn’t going to taste like a beef hamburger. You’ll be better able to adapt, if you are able to let go of preconceptions about what something is supposed to taste like. A garden burger may not taste like a hamburger, but it can still be a tasty meal.
If you find you’re struggling, consider easing into a vegetarian lifestyle. Try to go meatless for one day or for the majority of your meals. Mark Bittman, an author and food columnist for the New York Times, recommends being meatless before 5pm. Dinner would then be the only meal of the day, where you consume animal products. As your taste buds and lifestyle adapt, you may find that it’s much easier to be vegan.
#3 Social Expectations
We live in a meat-eating society. You may face criticism and judgment from your friends and family for your eating choices. There are two basic ways to approach this.
The first is to explain why you made the choice to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and to share how much you’re enjoying your vitality, wellness, and the amazing Tiramisu Pancakes you had for breakfast, today. Or you can tell them that it’s your choice and they just need to respect it. How you approach the criticism depends on your personality and who you’re dealing with.
#4 Meal Planning And Whole Nutrition
To be healthy it’s important to meal-plan and to make sure you’re getting enough vegetables and fiber. Many vegans inadvertently fall into a starchy carbohydrate habit, because bread and muffins are easy and convenient. Try to find a few good recipes and vegan cookbooks and start experimenting. You’re going to be amazed at the many delicious recipes. You won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself or missing out.
Cravings can happen when you first transition to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Many people, who consume a lot of dairy, find that they really miss the taste and the creaminess of dairy. Try non-dairy desserts in your supermarket’s freezer. Coconut milk-based products are quite creamy and have a similar texture. Avocados are also a lovely treat, because they’re high in fat, like dairy, and they have a creamy texture when they’re mashed. If you’re craving a hamburger, try a veggie burger with the works, lettuce, tomato, onion and more.
If you’re struggling to fully embrace a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, have patience with yourself. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Learn your triggers and make adjustments as you go. You may want to find a vegan friend or online forum for support and motivation. Remember your reasons for changing the way you eat. Living a vegetarian lifestyle is rewarding and a life change that you’ll be happy you made.
Selwyn Richards is an award-winning master chef. He is also the President and Executive Chef at The Art of Catering Inc. and is the author of “The Art of Cooking: Soul of The Caribbean”. Chef Selwyn can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone — (905) 619-1059.