Once the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, many resolve to kick start the new year with a change in diet. For some, that means going on a juice cleanse or cutting out refined sugars. For others, that means going vegan.
What is Veganuary?
Veganuary, an organized effort that encourages people to try going vegan for the month of January, is growing in popularity. Some participants make the pledge to go completely plant-based, while others make slow but steady swaps for plant-based foods during the month, with a goal of making lasting changes.
Pinky Cole, the self-proclaimed "Queen of Vegan," thinks Veganuary is a great way for the "vegan-curious" to "jumpstart their vegan journey." Cole owns Atlanta-based Slutty Vegan restaurants and is author of Eat Plants, B*tch: 91 Vegan Recipes That Will Blow Your Meat-Loving Mind. To get anyone to try a plant-based diet, Cole emphasizes the food they eat has "got to be good."
How veganism has changed
But those considering veganism today may not realize how good they have it. Restaurants like Slutty Vegan, cookbooks like Eat Plants, B*itch and readily-available plant-based foods make a vegan diet accessible to everyone. I stopped eating meat years ago and went vegan for a long time. The only vegan option most restaurants offered when I was vegan were bland portobello mushroom burgers, which I detested. The only vegan cookbook anyone had was the iconic Soy, Not Oi, which couldn't be bought. To get a copy, you had to know someone who had it and was willing to make a copy.
To get tofu and soy milk I had to seek out specialty markets, which were hard to find. Back then, going vegan, or even vegetarian, was a serious commitment that required dedication. Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives existed only in primitive forms. They tasted nothing like the original and most weren't very good. I found myself eating a lot of what I called "peasant food," because my favorite recipes were those developed long ago by peasants who couldn't regularly afford meat and milk and had no choice but to cook without animal products. These recipes left me with a limited — and not very exciting — diet.
Yes, you can be a vegan ... and a foodie
Cole also had a hard time when she first went vegan. Part of the reason she opened Slutty Vegan was that she was tired of eating side salads and fries. She wanted a restaurant that served vegan food she actually wanted to eat. Thanks to vegan trailblazers like Cole, and huge advances in creating plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, anyone wanting to go vegan today will have a much easier time. I like "good good food," Cole tells Yahoo Life. "I'm a foodie. A vegan foodie." Others who like to eat well can now eat great vegan food almost anywhere.
Cole says most Slutty Vegan customers aren't vegan, but come to her restaurant because they've heard the hype about how good her plant-based food is and want to try it for themselves. Once they get a taste, they come back "again and again and again," Cole says.
Getting started with a vegan diet
Part of Cole's success lies in her desire to change the narrative. Instead of proselytizing about the benefits of going vegan, she wants to "meet people where they are." For most meat-eaters, "you can't throw a salad in their face and tell them to go vegan," she says.
Part of this approach is serving food already familiar to meat-eaters. The most popular dishes at Slutty Vegan are the One Night Stand vegan burger with plant-based bacon and the Hawt Toddy chili. Cole's fiancé, who is not vegan and owns a series of Philadelphia-based cheesesteak restaurants, thinks many of the plant-based alternatives to meat are "very close" and says he often can't tell the difference between plant-based meat alternatives and the real thing.
But Cole says there are significant benefits to going vegan. "You will feel, look and think better," she says. There are other advantages Cole notes too, including saving animals and lowering your carbon footprint. "You will also drop a couple of pounds," she adds.
Taking baby steps toward a vegan diet
Cole emphasizes that going vegan doesn't need to be a "hard reset" all at once. Some are just curious, others want to make a lifestyle change and others consider veganism to be part of a more "holistic lifestyle."
For those who want to try veganism without making a sudden radical change to their diet, Cole recommends taking it slow and making one swap at a time. She suggests paying attention to the effects of each change.
According to Cole, a good place to start is giving up beef and pork. Many people find this easy because beef alternatives like Impossible and Beyond "match up to the best of them" and taste like the real thing. After that, Cole recommends making swaps for poultry, milk and so on until you are eating a completely plant-based diet. Others start by eating one plant-based meal a day and building from there.
Cole notes vegans no longer need to go to specialty stores to find groceries. "Just go to the produce aisle and see what's labeled plant-based," she says. Today, going vegan is "really easy," Cole adds. "It's all about the mindset."
As new vegans change their diet, Cole suggests they "adjust and appreciate," focusing on the vegan foods they like and making changes when they encounter something they don't rather than giving up.
Cole emphasizes it's OK to "pace yourself." She tells Yahoo Life her goal is to become a raw vegan (eating only plant-based, raw and unprocessed foods) and she has a five-year plan for getting there. Importantly, Cole notes not all vegan food is healthy. It's OK to "be decadent" sometimes, she says — if it's in moderation.
Pinky Cole's best vegan food substitutes
For those wanting to try going vegan, Cole suggests looking for plant-based alternatives to things like meat, butter and cheese, which are widely available. Many of these taste nearly identical to the originals.
And, Cole shares some of her other go-to grocery swaps with Yahoo Life.
Eggs: mustard or applesauce
Milk for cooking and baking: coconut milk
Milk for drinking: oat milk
Salmon: baked and sliced carrot
Bacon bits: soy bacon bits
Tuna salad: chickpeas prepared with vegan mayonnaise and celery
Chicken broth: vegetable bullion, to give a chicken flavor to a variety of foods
Ready to try one of Cole's vegan recipes? She shares her Avocado Egg Rolls recipe from Eat Plants, B*tch.
Avocado Egg Rolls
Courtesy of Pinky Cole
These egg rolls are a cool vegan spin on the classic appetizer. They get punched up with a dope dipping sauce that includes a kick of whiskey and the thick sweetness of brown sugar.
Dipping sauce ingredients:
1/4 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
4 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
Splash of whiskey (your favorite)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 sprigs basil, leaves stripped and chiffonade-cut
Avocado roll ingredients:
2 avocados, halved and pitted
4 baby bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1 teaspoon freshly-cracked pink peppercorns
8 vegan egg roll wrappers
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
Make the dipping sauce:
In a large skillet, heat the peanut oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low and add the whiskey. (To be safe, remove the pan from the heat and pour from a portioned container.) Add the brown sugar and stir until well incorporated. Simmer until thickened to a saucy consistency.
Make the avocado rolls:
Scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl. Add the bell peppers, onion, garlic and lemon juice and mash together. Add the cheddar, salt, and pink peppercorns and fold until incorporated.
Put a small bowl of water near your work surface. Set a wrapper on the surface with one corner facing you. Spoon 2⁄3 cup of the avocado mixture over the middle of the wrapper. Pull the near corner over the filling and begin rolling toward the opposite corner. Roll the wrapper halfway, then tuck the left and right sides in toward the middle. Dip your finger in the bowl of water and wet the top edge of the wrapper, then continue rolling until the wrapper is closed. Repeat until all the wrappers and avocado filling are used.
In a large deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 315 F. Carefully lower the egg rolls into the oil and fry until golden brown, turning so they brown evenly on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.
Stir the basil into the dipping sauce and serve with the still-hot egg rolls.
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