So you just decided that you’re going to stick to a plant-based diet to better your health and the health of the planet. Good for you! I did the same thing a couple of years ago. I now get emails from my doctor in CAPS telling me how great my blood work numbers are. Yes, being plant-based or vegan or whatever you want to call it is definitely a good thing if you eat a well-balanced diet. But I didn’t think it through completely when I made the decision.
I forgot about the holidays. I forgot about traveling. I forgot about wine.
Learn from my mistakes. Here, then, are a couple of tips for the newly meat-fish-cheese-milk-egg-free folks to help you during this holiday season and beyond.
If you are the one cooking the holiday meal, as I did on Thanksgiving and will again Christmas day, you don’t have to give up your favorite foods. Just tweak them a little. For example, Whole Foods (who are lowering their prices!) now has 365 Organic Vegan Stuffing Mix that was delicious and easy to make. If you like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, Sweet and Sara makes vegan marshmallows. For the first time, I prepared a pumpkin cheesecake made from cashews that actually tasted like cheesecake. The Internet, and especially Pinterest, is full of recipes for vegan holiday foods. It’s a great resource. Use it and experiment. And as for the meat-eaters in my life? They brought their own, but if they wanted me to cook it, I would have. This isn’t for everyone and I respect that.
What’s the holiday without cookies? Before going plant-based, I loved sweets. Oddly enough, I find a little goes a long way for me, now. That doesn’t mean I give them up entirely. Again, release your inner Sherlock Holmes and investigate on the Internet. If you don’t want to cook, Trader Joe’s Joe-Joes cookies are vegan and they have a Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint version for the season that is terrific. Also really rich, and at 140 calories per cookie, you’re satisfied with one or two. Find all of TJ's vegan options at Trader Joe's website.
You’re not cooking this year? If you’re going to visit family or friends, as I am Christmas Eve, they will probably know that you’ve changed your diet and make something for you. If you haven’t told them, you should. If it’s a problem, ask them if you can bring something. My friends love to have tamales for Christmas Eve and they always add a couple of plain corn tamales for me, which I spice up with avocado and salsa. Easy. Going to the office party or business gathering where there won’t be much that you can eat? Eat before you leave. Not only will you stick to your diet, your home-cooked meal will almost certainly be healthier than what you’d eat at a catered affair. If all else fails, as it did for me last week, stick to the salad and eat when you get home. It’s no fun, but neither is eating something you don’t want.
On to traveling. Yes, the airlines have “vegetarian” options but I’ve yet to find anything without cheese, even the salads. And since it’s pre-made you’ll have to remove the cheese, which could be a big effort if it’s grated into tiny pieces. My solution is to bring my own food. If it’s a long flight, I’ll make pasta and veggies, which will keep a few hours and can be easily warmed with a little hot water or eaten cold. Don’t forget to bring a recyclable fork, since silverware is still a no-no. Think easy and filling; an avocado-based veggie sandwich, bagels, or pita and hummus will tide you over until you land. If you don’t have time to cook before you leave, hit a sandwich shop for a veggie sandwich.
If you’re doing a road trip and didn’t bring your own, the more rural you get, the fewer options. There is a long stretch of the 5 Freeway north of Los Angeles where Subway is my only option, and it does get old after a while. There are “veggie burgers” at some fast food joints, but they aren’t the healthiest things to eat, and some contain GMOs, if you are concerned about that. Some Mexican places have vegan beans. Just ask if the rice is made without chicken stock and toss in some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado and you’re good to go. PETA has a list of plant-based fast food.
Wine. I didn’t even think about this until two years into my plant-based life. I had no idea that winemakers use fining agents that include gelatin (made from hair, skin and bones – makes you rethink Jello, doesn’t it?), isinglass (dried fish swim bladders), chitosan (shrimp and crustacean shells treated with sodium hydroxide), casein (milk protein), and egg albumen (egg whites). In some countries, bull's blood is used, but this is forbidden in the US and Europe. These products don’t remain in the finished wine, but they are used in the manufacturing process. If you’re good with this, fine. If not, you’re going to have to do a little sleuthing to find out if a wine is animal product-free. Barnivore has a good guide to help you find what you need.