by Angel Flinn

“What does a vegan eat?”

It’s a common concern, and a question that has become something of a joke amongst vegans, for the simple reasons that a) we’ve all heard it at one time or another, and b) the opportunities are endless for delicious, exciting food that is free from any animal-derived ingredients.

Vegan cookbooks that now number in the hundreds are readily available online, in bookstores and in health food stores. Vegan cooking sites are all over the internet, and there are even vegan cooking classes online and available on DVD.

Learning how to replace foods you are used to with foods that are new to you might seem to be a challenge initially, but once you are on the other side of the transition, you will find that preparing food is no more difficult than before.

If you’re not used to preparing food, you might find that being vegan requires you to plan ahead a bit more, and to prepare foods yourself. On the other hand, if it suits you, you could eat pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods all day long, and still remain vegan. Having said that, this author recommends a diet based on whole-foods, for both environmental and health reasons.

With a little culinary courage, you will find that it is easy to re-create your favorite foods: cakes, pies, puddings, milkshakes, pasta dishes, cream sauces, omelets, lasagna, pancakes, French Toast… Even traditional meat dishes such as roast beef can be reproduced using a meat substitute called seitan which, when prepared properly, can easily pass for sliced meat or ground beef. (Because it’s made from wheat, seitan is not appropriate for those with gluten allergies)

Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, seeds and nuts provide an important foundation for any diet (and can easily make up the entire diet of those who are particularly concerned about good health, a light ecological footprint or economic ease). However, there are also readily-available vegan versions of common items such as milk, cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise, cereal, and many other foods including (if you so desire) desserts and snacks, such as ice cream, cookies, cakes, pies, candies and puddings. These ready-made convenience foods and products make life a little easier for those who have busy lifestyles or who still crave the tastes and textures of foods that are usually animal-based.

Many of these convenience foods are appearing ever more frequently in supermarkets and grocery stores, even in small towns where there is no health food store. In our local supermarket, vegan options appear alongside ready-to-serve dinners and lunches.

In my experience, most people have no problem digesting soy products (as long as they are not too heavily-processed). Tofu (in different forms) is a fantastic, versatile ingredient that can provide fat-free protein in a meal, or create a creamy base for home-made sauces and salad dressings. Unless you are familiar with it, most people require some instruction as to how to prepare tofu properly, as it is basically flavorless, so it absorbs the flavor of the sauces and seasonings that it is prepared with. It also comes in different textures, each of which is ideal for a different use.

For those who do have a problem with soy, there is no reason that a soy-free vegan diet can not be perfectly healthful, delicious and varied. In fact, there are vegans who are allergic to soy, nuts, gluten and other common allergens, and it does not prohibit them from eating a healthy, varied diet.

To put it simply, shopping for vegan foods is very much like shopping for non-vegan foods. It just might require you to go to different aisles of the supermarket and maybe make the occasional trip to the health food store. If your town doesn’t have a health food store, and the items you are seeking are not available at the supermarket, you can also shop around online. Although there is the additional cost of shipping, sometimes sales will bring these products down to a comparable price.

For those who want further information on how to make the transition toward a vegan diet, I recommend Gentle World’s resource guide, Incredibly Delicious: Recipes for a New Paradigm. Not only does it contain over 500 recipes with over 40 color photos, it also has resources for vegan shopping, preparing whole foods such as grains and beans, replacing common ingredients in cooking and baking, sprouting and raw food preparation, composting and growing a vegan garden, nutritional resources, inspirational quotes from great minds throughout history, and lots of other useful information.

Check out the other parts to this series:
Health & Nutrition
Being Vegan in a Speciesist World