FFWD REW

Sh*t people say to vegans

Corraling recurring food queries without animus

Being vegan is a bit like being pregnant: declare your status and people suddenly feel entitled to massage your belly and ask a lot of questions about what’s going on in there. Making a choice that aligns you with (anecdotally) less than two per cent of the world’s population is bound to raise inquiry: from worried parents — “Is my teen convert getting everything he needs?”; to potential dates — “Can I bring my vegan hottie to a dinner party?”; to the tactlessly curious — “Hey how come you’re not real skinny?” Here then follows a brief attempt (from a well-rubbed vegan with 12 years’ experience talking to omnivores) to address some of the more common points of mystification.

DO YOU EAT FISH?

No. Let’s be clear on that. If you follow a mostly vegetarian diet but sometimes dig into a chicken breast then you’re an omnivore. If you eschew all meats but fish then you might call yourself a pescatarian. A vegetarian is someone who avoids meats but may consume milk and/or eggs (lacto lacto-ovo or ovo-vegetarians). Vegans do not consume fish chicken milk products or eggs.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN?

After fielding this one for what seems like the 40-gazillionth time the beleaguered vegan may be tempted to snap “the magic protein unicorn craps it onto my rice toast” but the truth (fortunately) is more straightforward. Protein-rich plant foods are abundant: soyfoods beans and legumes nuts and seeds. The problem isn’t where to get your protein but what to do with it once you’ve got it: most high-protein plant foods also contain substances that inhibit protein digestion. Preparation techniques like fermentation and soaking are key here so choose tempeh instead of edamame and soak your lentils with a bit of seaweed to max out your muscle-building potential.

HEY! YOU EAT A LOT.

Wow. That’s a bit personal but okay. Yes. Unless you eat a lot of prepared foods which aren’t generally that healthy anyway you’ll probably need to eat much and often. Vegan diets — particularly those that prefer whole foods — aren’t very calorically dense. Getting your daily 2000 to 2500 calories from a staple diet of grains soyfoods legumes nuts seeds vegetables fruits and oils means committing to five meals a day plus the occasional snack. So chow down. And eat slow.

I TRIED BEING A VEGAN FOR A BIT BUT I GOT REALLY SICK.

Going vegan? Do your homework. First off ditch the assumption that the label “vegan” necessarily jacks up the health quotient (the same incidentally goes for “organic” and “gluten-free”). If most of your diet consists of prepared and snack foods then you’re probably not getting everything you need vegan or otherwise. So ditch the tofu burgers and fake-cheese freezer pizzas and hippy-dippy Oreo look-alikes. Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and avoid guru-of-the-day diets that preach a path to wellness through sprout mega-dosing or raw miracles. Veganism is not a fad diet. Finally — although some purists will disagree — you’re going to need to supplement. While plant foods can supply most of our vitamin and mineral needs there are a few essential nutrients that simply aren’t available or comparatively as bioavailable from vegan sources: vitamins B12 and D and the minerals iron and calcium. Find a good vegan source book like Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina’s Becoming Vegan and get reading.

YEAH I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT GOING VEGAN BUT I LIKE MY FOOD TO TASTE GOOD.

Final stage of demystification? Vegan food is yummy. Giving up meat and dairy does not mean resigning yourself to a life of asceticism and watery lentils. This is your chance to explore a whole new culture and variety of food both in and out of the kitchen. Start looking at alternatives to conventional grains: buckwheat barley and quinoa rather than rice and bread. Build a grain bowl with smoked tempeh pumpkin seeds sunflower sprouts hemp oil tamari. Get acquainted with your leafy greens: chard collards kale. Think outside the apple: peel a kiwi or a mango or a grapefruit. Craving something decadent? Pick up Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer’s How it all Vegan and whip up a batch of chocolate cupcakes. Or get out on the town and check out your local vegan options. You don’t have to find a strictly vegetarian restaurant: most Japanese Ethiopian and South Asian restaurants feature vegan-happy dishes. Or get your honey to treat you to a fab feast at The Coup on 17th Avenue S.W. — and hey maybe promise a salami sandwich in exchange.

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