Going vegan? A helpful Q & A

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Following on from this post, we have committed to the Cape Town Vegan Challenge - three weeks from the end of this month. In preparation for this, I chatted to Nikki (manager of the vegan Plant Cafe in Cape Town) and Muriel (from TedxCapeTown, who is organising the challenge) for a few tips before we begin.

A note - I'm not advocating any particular lifestyle or eating plan.  I'm not telling you what you should or shouldn't eat - I'm simply trying something different and out of my comfort zone to see how my body reacts.

We’re thinking of trying out ‘going vegan’ – what is the best way to start? Won’t I feel awful for the first few days?

I would suggest you start off with a juicing detox. That will help get rid of a lot of toxins in your system and give you the necessary nutrients you need to help you and your body through that period.

I'm personally not convinced of theories around detoxing, but that's my personal opinion—if it'll work for you, go for it! My view is that simply by eliminating unhealthy animal fats and proteins, your body will respond positively (maybe with a couple days of feeling different during the transition).

(Editor's note - if you are in Cape Town and interested in a juice detox, Juice Revolution will deliver to your door - you can ask for a vegan plan with no yoghurt added. If you'd prefer to make your own juices, here are some great ideas to get you started.)

Won’t I lack important nutrients or vitamins by eliminating animal products?

Nikki :  
The most important thing you have to remember is that it is not a punishment, even if it may feel so in the beginning. Make sure you do not deprive yourself of nutrients your body may need. If you eat a balanced diet, you won’t lack for anything. You can get almost all nutrients from plants.

(Editor's note - if you have concerns regarding B12, read this.)

No meat on my plate – what do I put there instead?

The advice I usually give to people who do not know what to eat or cook as a vegan is this: you eat what you would normally eat, but just the vegan version thereof. As an example – if you want scrambled eggs on toast, have scrambled tofu on toast. If you feel like having a piece of steak, have a vegan steak. As you know, we don’t only chew cardboard and lick some carrots!  “Anything you can do, I can do vegan!” 

For meat substitutes, there are various options: Fry’s products, McBeans products, Seitan (ridiculously easy to make!), Tofu , Tempeh and TVP (soy granules or soy mince).

When it comes to eating meat, I do believe that it is all in the mind. People don’t like meat. They like the taste of meat. Meat by itself is awful. But put some spices on a steak and a marinade and people love meat. The taste that they are after can be replicated for vegan food. Make some seitan, rub some spices on it, pop it in a marinade and then in a pan. Voila – your “meat”.

I wouldn't recommend relying too heavily on very processed foods: tofu and tempeh are minimally processed, whereas seitan is basically isolated gluten protein—in my opinion, best not to have that too often, though it's a great treat.

I agree with Nikki that substituting animal-based foods for plant-based "equivalents" is a helpful way to transition, but I tend not to view my plate in that way. In fact, I've found that my plate tends to consist of a larger variety of foods (think of several side-dishes on one plate) than before I was vegan, when meat would be the highlight, and "veg" would be an afterthought.

Think about trying to get a variety of food-types on your plate, i.e. grains and pseudo-grains, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans and lentils), nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews) and seeds (e.g. pepitas and sunflower seeds). And fruit for sweetness. That might sound boring, until you find the millions of ways in which you can prepare these foods and make wondrous things.

Ah, but it's not just meat - I won't be having cheese or milk either. What do you suggest?

For milk I can recommend either rice milk or Woolworths’ organic soy milk (unsweetened and sweetened) . Soy milk tends to be a bit bitter, especially the after taste - this brand uses apple concentrate to eliminate that bitterness. The chocolate flavoured one is addictive.

Cheese is a bit of another story all together. We do not get good quality vegan cheeses in South Africa and if by the off chance you DO find something, you have to stop short of selling your children just to be able to afford it. The internet is FULL of vegan cheese recipes which you could make at home (here and here are two to try). Try as many as you can to find something which works for YOU.


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