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Vegan Month Curriculum

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Vegan Month Logo

Back in Melbourne circa 2010/11, Jodie, Jared and I used to run a monthly vegan mentoring group. I have gone back through the mailing lists and collected much of the curriculum and information from the program into this single document, so that I can distribute it more widely. The program was designed not just to get you through the first month nutritionally, but to expose you to a variety of foods and ideas that may be new to you. It emphasises that veganism is a shift sideways, not a sacrifice.

Information was only one component of the month, however. Having a peer group and mentor is critically important. If you are considering going vegan, seek out local support. It will make your journey a lot more enjoyable and vastly increase your odds of success.

The original course was run on a donation basis, and I'm providing this information on the same. If you find this information useful, please consider a contribution that will go towards further vegan outreach.

Xavier Shay, November 2011, San Francisco

Contents

  • Getting Started

    • Why Vegan?
    • Routine Meals
    • Emergency!
    • Keep a food log
    • Expectations
  • Recipes

    • Simple Dinners
    • Stir Fry Dishes
    • Lentils
    • Tofu
    • Fancier things
    • Other
    • Snacks
  • Research Assignments

    • Nutrition
    • Philosophy
  • Other Topics

    • Recommended Reading
    • Recommended Movies
    • Nutrition
    • Hidden Ingredients
    • B12
    • Around the 'net
    • Credits

Getting Started

Why Vegan?

There are many reasons to go Vegan, from compassion, to concern for the environment, to health. Many people like the idea of Veganism, but for whatever reason are stuck on their current diet. This program will guide you through the first step of adopting a Vegan lifestyle. A month is long enough to allow your body to adapt to changes in diet, and your brain to adjust to new habits, but not so long as to seem insurmountable. It's only a month! If it is not working out you can rough it out and if you feel the same way after a month, you can always revert to your previous lifestyle.

A common misconception is that Veganism is about sacrifice — cutting out things you used to eat or wear. In fact, it is a step sideways into a new way of thinking about how you interact with the world. Far from being a sacrifice, it opens up a whole new abundance of foods, clothing, and mindset. As you would expect, there is a lot of learning involved to get started, but once it becomes habit you barely have to think about it anymore. This course is designed to get you through the difficult first month.

Routine Meals

Breakfast

The first meal of vegan month is going to be breakfast, so we want to be prepared! Figure out in advance what you can try for this meal. Breakfast should be easy, something you don't have to think about. We are going to keep this meal relatively constant to start with, along with lunch, and vary the dinners. Later in the month we will look at some fancier alternatives.

Here are some suggestions I really enjoy:

  • Toast (can use Nuttelex instead of butter)
  • Muesli (with non-dairy milk such as soy or rice)
  • Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Smoothie
  • Nuts
  • Baked beans
  • Porridge (with non-dairy milk)

My normal breakfast is a banana, almond, protein powder and spinach smoothie made with water. I'll follow it up with a mid-morning snack: either toast, muesli with soy milk, or just some nuts and sultanas.

Lunch

If you normally buy your lunch, you should have a fairly easy time. Check the local eateries and you will be able to find plenty of tasty options: salad sandwiches (with avocado), Thai, Indian, potatoes, burgers, and more. Don't be afraid to ask for a modified meal (without the cheese, usually) if necessary.

If you are making you own lunch, here are some suggestions:

  • Toasted sandwich (Avocado, tomato, spinach. I add vegemite also, which I admit is a bit weird.)
  • Salad (Spinach, mushrooms, tomato, tofu or chick peas, salad onion, cucumber, etc...)
  • Dahl or curry (make a large amount Sunday and eat throughout the week)
  • Soup

Another easy option is to have left-overs from the night before.

sammich

Dinner

We are going to be experimenting the most with different dinners to begin with, so this is going to be our least routine meal. Nevertheless, it is important to have a fall-back. The hardest thing for me when I first went vegan was figuring out what to do when I had a lapse and hadn't planned a meal. It is too easy to revert back to the quick and easy meals that you already know. That's why a lot of the first week will be about quick, simple food, and stocking your pantry in a way that will allow you to rapidly throw something together that both tastes fantastic and is healthy as. I will send through a lot more information on this, but for now we are going to get some emergency food into your pantry.

Grab a can of chick peas or kidney beans, a can of tomatoes, and a pack of pasta. With those three things, you can make a meal. They are cheap, and you can put these in the back of your pantry and forget about them until required, since they will last forever. Further, you can throw pretty much any vegies you have lying around into it to make a pretty decent dinner. It's not the fanciest meal, but it'll get you through in a pinch. It's the vegan equivalent of two minute noodles. (Actually I guess many two minute noodles are vegan anyways...)

Emergency!

While we are in a good state of mind, we want to prepare for if the going gets tough. We are going to get something sweet and wrap it in a "Break In Case Of Emergency" shell. I have a tooth for chocolate, the two easiest to find vegan brands in Melbourne are Lindt Dark 70% or 85%, and Whittakers dark chocolate (less bitter than Lindt). If you are into ice cream, Sanitarium's So Good brand is vegan and widely available. Roasted and salted nuts are a good option if you don't have a sweet tooth. Otherwise just find one vegan food that you really like that will be there for you when you need it — there are dates, yoghurts, muffins, lollies and other treats to be found.

muffins

Keep a food log

A food log can be a bit of effort, but one I find worthwhile. As well as keeping a record of what you ate (which becomes a great compendium of recipes over time), try also keeping track of how you felt about it: how much effort was it? How did it taste? How did it make you feel? Are you more tired, more alert, what are you craving? You will have forgotten this by the end of the month, so it is good to start writing it down now. It will help you see how much progress you make, and the affect (hopefully positive!) a change in diet has.

Expectations

Some people initially see a surge in energy levels adopting a vegan diet, and many see the exact opposite! Frankly, things will probably be all over the shop for the first half of the month as your body and mind adapt, though it usually isn't too extreme. This happens with any substantial change in diet. By the latter part of the month things will have settled down.

Recipes

Simple Dinners

This month we will be discovering a huge variety of awesome meals, but you don't want to have to follow a recipe for every meal! It's easy to be vegan when you are excited and prepared, but when you've had a long day and forgot to go shopping things can get a bit tougher. This week we are going to focus on the fundamentals. The aim is to provide some quick and easy templates that you will be able to reuse across a number of variations, the end result being that you will be able to just throw together a vegan meal from whatever you have lying around, in the same way that you with your current pantry.

Here are three simple dinners that are some of my staples. Hopefully these dinners are somewhat familiar to you, just with "replacement" ingredients. These are template recipes, I would rarely follow one exactly. You get to know what ingredients you can leave out or add in. With practice, you'll be able to make a meal with what ever ingredients you have lying around.

A good rule of thumb is to always include a source of protein in your meals. Beans, legumes, nuts and tofu are the prime candidates here.

Red Pasta

  • Pasta of your choice (I find wholemeal tastier and more satisfying)
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Capsicum
  • Tomato Paste
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned kidney beans
  • Grated carrot
  • Splash of red wine
  • Olives
  • Spinach

Fry the onion and garlic in some oil, and the capsicum towards the end. Add the kidney beans when just about done. The beans are already cooked, they just needed to warmed up and seared a little. Add in the rest of the ingredients except for the olives and spinach. Simmer while you cook the pasta. With one minute to go, add the spinach and the olives — the spinach only has to wilt slightly. Cheese is not necessary.

PROTIP: Fresh pasta is normally not vegan (contains egg), but dry pasta is usually just wheat.

Roast Vegetables

  • Potato
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Leek
  • Pumpkin
  • Turnip
  • Carrot
  • Rosemary
  • Cous cous
  • Sultanas

Chop all the vegies, then on a tray mix them with oil, salt, pepper, and generous amounts of rosemary. Roast until done (probably at least 30 minutes, but totally dependent on your oven. Just keep tasting them!). Cous cous is easy to make: put a cup into a bowl with some sultanas, pour in a cup of boiling water from the kettle, then cover for a minute. Give it a stir and it's ready to eat. Serve with a green salad, I typically make a simple one with spinach, tomato, red onion, and lemon juice for a dressing. For bonus points, add any of the following a few minutes before taking the roast out of the oven: chick peas, shaved almonds, tomato paste.

Vegie Bake

  • Eggplant
  • Potato
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Capsicum
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Tofu
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Oil
  • Balsamic vinegar

This is another great way (as well as a roast) to use up excess vegetables. Slice everything and layer in a pot, adding tomatoes on each layer. Over the top throw some more tomatoes, a large splash of water, some oil, and some balsamic vinegar. Cover and cook in the oven for and hour, then uncover and cook for another half. Or just eat it if you are hungry!

Vegie Bake

Curry

  • Rice of your choice (I prefer brown — takes a bit longer to cook but totally worth it)
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Tofu (or chick peas)
  • Pumpkin
  • Cashews
  • Coconut milk
  • Spices, for example tumeric, cumin, garam masala, cayenne pepper

Fry up the onion and garlic (sense a theme?). Dice the pumpkin and tofu, then add them plus the other ingredients. Simmer while you cook the rice. Serve with dessicated coconut and coriander. I made a video of this recipe a while back.

Avocado Mix

  • Rice
  • Avocado
  • Cashews
  • Lemon juice OR some sort of dip, like roasted capsicum

Just mix everything together I normally have rice in the fridge, so this is a common really quick meal for me. It has a bit of all the fundamentals: fat (avocado), protein (cashews), and taste (dressing).

Sweet Tahini

  • Banana (or other fruit salad fruit)
  • Tahini
  • Sweetener (see text)

A dessert! Stir your sweetener of choice in with the tahini, then use as a sauce for fruit salad. Tahini isn't something that people often have in their cupboard, and I would highly recommend getting a bucket. You can get it from supermarkets but it isn't great — I normally get it from Nuts About Life on Lygon St. The best place is Sydney Rd — every second shop sells it. Tahini is a runny paste made from sesame seeds, and it will feature in a number of recipes this month.

You have plenty of options for sweetener: sugar is easily available, agave, or a chocolate spread goes really well.

Stir Fry Dishes

You can't really go wrong with vegies and tofu in a wok.

Stir Fry

Laksa

  • Broccoli
  • Carrot
  • Mushroom
  • Onion
  • Firm tofu
  • Rice noodles
  • Coconut milk
  • Tamarind paste (from Asian grocers)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Snow Peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Coriander

This is one of my favourite dishes. It isn't really a laksa at all — it doesn't come out as soup — but it is the closest name I have. Cut up the vegies and tofu and have them ready to go, once this thing starts cooking you don't have much time to blink. Make the sauce by mixing coconut milk, peanut butter, and tamarind paste together in a bowl. For myself I normally use about 1/3 can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of peanut butter, and one of tamarind, but it is easy to taste and adjust. Depending on which noodles you buy, you may need to boil them for a few minutes, but some brands come "precooked", ready to be added. Check the packaging.

Throw the onions into a hot wok with a bit of oil. When they are starting to brown, add the carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu. Stir frequently. When the carrots are just about done (they take the longest to cook), add the sauce and noodles. Soon after add the tomatoes, snow peas, and coriander. The snow peas don't need much. Err on the side of under cooked — all the vegies should be crunchy.

To make the sauce more like a soup, you can add liquid vegetable stock. You can also use pre-made curry paste instead of tamarind. Valcom Yellow Curry Paste is very good and is one of the few easily found ones that doesn't have shrimp paste. Pagoda Mushroom Vegetarian Oyster Sauce from the Asian grocery is also excellent.

All Things Green

  • Rice
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Spinach
  • String beans
  • Cashews
  • Soy sauce
  • Vegetarian oyster sauce
  • Garlic
  • Sesame Seeds

Chop and fry all the vegies with a bit of water to stop them sticking. Add the sauces and garlic promptly. Throw in the spinach and cashews near the end, since neither really needs much cooking, and you want the nuts to stay crunchy. Serve over rice and top with sesame seeds. I commonly also add tofu and chillies to this dish.

Lentils

Lentils are awesome: filling and nutritious! Here is a quick summary of the different colors of lentil. There are many different colors of lentil: Red go mushy and lose their color. Great to add to tomato based sauces. Yellow also go mushy, almost turn to soup. Brown keep their form, use for dahl or pies. Brown take longer to cook than red or yellow.

Dahl

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Red or brown lentils
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Spices (cinnamon, cumin, garam masala, tumeric, cayenne)
  • Chickpeas
  • Spinach

This is a really easy one pot dish that you can throw together with the bare minimum of ingredients. I used to make a massive dahl on Sundays and have it for lunch all week.

Fry up onions and garlic on very low heat, the lower the better. They can take 45 minutes to brown, caramelizes them somewhat. Add diced potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, lentils (careful, they expand a lot), spices (a lot!), and some water. Simmer for ages, stirring frequently since the lentils tend to stick. Keep and eye on it, since they also eat up a lot of water — just keep adding more if it dries up. When vegetables are cooked, add chick peas and spinach.

Dahl

Lasagne

  • Capsicum
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Paprika
  • Oregano
  • Nutmeg
  • Canned brown lentils, or vegie mince
  • Bay leaves
  • Dry onions
  • Flour
  • Soy milk

Another Jodie special (all the tastier recipes come from her...)

Chop capsicum, mince onion and garlic, and get your fry on. Add the paprika after a few minutes. Add oregano, tomato soup, lentils (or vegie mince), and bay leaves. Boil then simmer for about half an hour. Meanwhile, make heaps of white sauce (frying oil, flour, soy milk is an easy one) with some nutmeg. Into a dish alternate layers of the lentil sauce and pasta sheets, ending with sauce. Pour over white sauce.

Sprinkle over dry or baked onions and paprika. Bake with lid for 45-60 minutes.

Tofu

There are three main types of tofu.

Regular holds its shape, can be fried. Comes in different measures of firmness — extra firm is good for stir fry and dishes were you want the tofu to retain its shape. For scrambled tofu a softer variety can work better. Honestly, I am lazy and use them mostly interchangeably though. Good brands include Blue Lotus (Medium, best all around), and Pureland (extra firm).All of these happen to be organic too, which is a bonus. (PROTIP: The bulk tofu you can get from the Tofu Shop at the Victoria Market is Blue Lotus, and much cheaper than buying it in packaging.)

Silken is a much softer tofu that does not hold its form well. Used in Japanese dishes and also for desserts (cheesecakes, mousse).

Fried comes cubed and fried in a packet from Asian grocers, typically used in Chinese cooking. I am not a fan of this tofu myself, but many people like it.

From talking to people there is a slight negative health association against soy products. While over-relying on them can be a problem, it's only because you are missing out on all the other good stuff you could be eating! The best round up of the health effects of soy I have found can be found at Vegan Health. It concludes "based on the bulk of the evidence soy appears to be perfectly safe for nearly all healthy individuals when it is consumed in reasonable amounts.

Oh, and of course if you are looking to diversify your family there can be other interesting side effects!

Scrambled tofu

  • Onion
  • Mushrooms
  • Capsicum
  • Garlic
  • Medium Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Cumin
  • Tumeric
  • Chilli powder
  • Nutritional yeast (optional)
  • Soy sauce

Cut the onion, garlic, mushrooms and capsicum finely, and fry in oil until medium done. Cut the tofu into slabs and dry out with paper towel, then crumble into pan (just squish it with your hand) and add spices and soy sauce. Nutritional yeast can give it a bit of a cheese flavour, you can find it at health food stores. I dislike the smell, but it tastes fine. Stir, then cover for ~3 minutes. Throw in spinach and cover for another minute.

I normally also fry up some thick slabs of tomato — put them in with the tofu then flip when you put the spinach in.

Scrambled Tofu

Sandwich Tofu

  • Paprika
  • Pepper
  • Salt
  • Medium Tofu

Mix the spices in a flat plate. Cut the tofu into thin slices and coat with spices. Use as a base for a salad sandwich. Goes well with hummus.

Otsu

Tofu, cold noodles, interesting dressing, cucumber, sesame seeds. This is a little more involved to make but is impressive. This is one of the few meals I still make with a recipe, so I'll just link to that (photos too!): Otsu recipe at Amateur gourmet.

Chocolate Mousse

  • Silken Tofu
  • Chocolate
  • Maple syrup
  • Vanilla extract

You can find a hundred vegan chocolate mousse recipes on the internet, and they are mostly variation on this theme: Blend the tofu until creamy. Melt the chocolate, then add with the other ingredients to the tofu and blend some more. Pour into small serving cups and chill.

Chocolate Mousse

Fancier things

Mushroom Stroganof

  • Pasta
  • Tofu
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Wine (red or white, doesn't matter)
  • Basil
  • Tabasco
  • Pepper
  • Tomato Paste
  • Cashew cream

Another Jodie special. Tends to elicit an "are you sure this is Vegan?"

Put a block of cubed tofu on to bake in oven (optional). Lightly fry 1 onion, 3 garlic cloves, and stacks of 1/4rd mushrooms. Meanwhile, cook up some pasta. To the mushrooms add 3 tablespoons wine, tablespoon basil, 2 teaspoons Tabasco (or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne) and pepper. Cook until wine is reduced. Add 2 heaped tablespoons tomato paste and 6 tablespoons cashew cream

Heat and serve.

I haven't found pre-made cashew cream in Melbourne, but it is trivial to make if you plan ahead — it's just soaked and blended cashews. This site covers everything you would want to know.

Crack Pies

  • Dry lima beans (or tinned butter beans)
  • Onion or leek
  • Spinach
  • Tomato
  • Puff pastry

This is another Jodie recipe that I absolutely devour every time she makes them. I can never save any for the next day. "Crack pies" is probably an inappropriate name but they are just so good.

Soak 3 cups of lima beans overnight in large stove top pot. Boil then simmer until very easily mashable — sit the lid on crooked so it doesn't boil over. Takes probably an hour. Meanwhile melt a stack of margarine. Lightly fry 1 large onion or leek (with lid) on very low temperature until transparent (not browned at all). Add lots of baby or chopped spinach and wilt it. Wilt it good.

Turn oven on to 220C (400F).

Put 2 sheets of filo pastry out to thaw (takes 5 minutes).

Meanwhile rinse and mash the beans. Mix beans, spinach and onions together with handful of chopped fresh parsley, generous tablespoon vegie stock and pepper.

Cut each pastry sheet into 6 and line muffin tin holes. Do it roughly so the pastry comes outside the hole. Fill with bean mix then press chopped fresh or semi-dried tomato on top. Put into oven (middle or higher shelf). Set alarm for 15 mins. Might take 40 minutes depending on your oven. Check that pastry is very lightly cooked top and bottom.

Crack Pies

Creamy Broccoli Mushroom Bake

A more involved recipe from Jared. Baked and creamy being two things not often associated with veganism (unfortunately!).

Alfredo sauce

  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 2 tbsp of nutellex (or vegetable oil with a pinch of salt)
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 102 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of raw unsalted cashews
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 2-3 teaspooons of dijon mustard
  • 1-2 garlic gloves

Rest of the ingredients

  • 1 cup of risoni (small pasta)
  • 1 stalk broccoli and the florets
  • 1 cup mushrooms
  • 2-3 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200C.

To make the Alfredo sauce, mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a blender until smooth. Adjust the seasonings, then set aside.

Boil water and cook pasta. Drain when cooked.

Separate the florets from the stem of the broccoli. Roughly chop the stem into small pieces and put in a food processor. Blend, then add the add the florets and blend again till fine. Some chunks don't matter, use your judgement. Remove the broccoli from the processor and add the mushrooms and blend. Then put the mushrooms into the broccoli mixture.

Heat some olive oil in your pan. Add the onions and sauté till soft. Add the broccoli/mushroom mixture and cook till everything has softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add a splash of water is mixture looks dry. Turn off the heat.

Now add the cooked pasta to the broccoli/mushroom mixture, then pour over the Alfredo sauce and mix well. Add salt if necessary.

Scrape out the mixture into an oiled casserole dish and spread out the mixture. Top with bread crumbs, paprika, salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. If it starts to brown to quickly, just cover it with foil.

Other

Burritos

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Black beans (or kidney beans)
  • Soy Sauce
  • Tumeric
  • Sweet potato
  • Coriander
  • Tomato
  • Some kind of wrap (I like the big ones, or wholemeal. I can't find big and wholemeal.)

This is the recipe I normally pull out when needing to feed a group of people. It is quick, easy, scales well, and is exceptionally tasty.

Peel, dice, and boil the sweet potato, then drain (save the water) and mash. Meanwhile, chop and fry the onion and garlic. When they are mostly done, add the beans, soy sauce, and tumeric. Burritos come with instructions for warming in the microwave, but we can do better. Put the saved water back over the heat to create steam, and hold the burritos over the top. This not only warms them, but gives them moisture so they fold without breaking. You should probably do this step with a colander or tongs, but I normally just hold them over with my hands and almost scald myself. Create burritos from the bean mix, mashed potato, chopped coriander, and diced tomato.

Light Pasta

  • Tofu
  • Mushrooms
  • Sun-dried Tomato
  • Pinenuts
  • Basil
  • Mustard
  • Pasta

Lightly fry all ingredients then toss through pasta.

Pasta

Tabouleh

  • Parsley
  • Tomato
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Burgher (or cous cous)

A great extra addition to burritos, but I also eat in a salad with black beans.

Chop the parsley in a food processor. Place the burgher in a bowl, then add an equal part of boiling water and cover with another plate for a minute. Dice the tomato, then mix everything together.

Hummus

  • Chick peas
  • Tahini
  • Lemon juice
  • Cayenne pepper

After you have made your own, it is hard to go back to store bought! Goes well in burritos with the tabouleh

Just throw everything in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Green Smoothie

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 Apple
  • Large handful of spinach
  • Handful of almonds
  • Heaped tablespoon of protein powder
  • Cinnamon
  • 6 cubes of ice
  • Large glass of water

Pretty sure everyone has tried a smoothie by now, but here's an option that is quite tasty. I used to use soy milk instead of water, which makes a thicker creamier smoothie, though lately water has been really doing it for me.

Green Smoothie

Snacks

My most common snack is a selection of nuts.

In this mix:

  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sultanas
  • Dates

I also add walnuts, cashews, and sometimes pecans. After work sometimes I'll have quick smoothie: just one piece of fruit, maybe some nuts or protein powder, and water.

If I am having toast, I like to have something more than just a spread, such as:

  • Peanut butter and banana
  • Vegemite and avocado
  • Pesto and tofu

Jodie recommends "things dipped in other things." We have a selection of dips in the fridge, along with pesto and chutney. Carrots are the easiest, but broccoli and celery are other good options. You'll also notice some olives in that photo.

Jodie also keeps a stash of muesli bars, and her first response to my question was actually "chocolate"

And of course, plain fruit! There is a mental barrier to eating more than one piece of whole fruit at a time, which is well worth smashing through. I'm favouring apples at the moment.

Research Assignments

As part of the course, each person tackled a nutrition research question in the first week, and a philosophy themed one in the third. We shared findings at the weekly dinner. Normally people either chose or were assigned one of these each, but I have included all of them here for reference.

Nutrition

A vegan diet is nutritionally sound, but the principles behind it are often counter-intuitive to the mainstream view of nutrition. Vegans need to introduce new (or adjust existing) foods into their diet to provide adequate sources of protein, iron, vitamins, and the like. Simply cutting out non-vegan foods from a standard diet is destined for failure (as I found out the first time I tried going vegan!) Here are some simple nutrition assignments for you to research:

  • Without the calcium in dairy, how can a vegan keep strong and healthy bones?
  • What are the major vegan sources of iron?
  • Are there health issues associated with soy products?
  • Where can vegans get B12? Should they take a supplement?
  • How do vegans (and vegan athletes in particular) get sufficient protein in their diet?
  • Will I get chubby eating lots of high fat foods such as avocados and nuts?

Philosophy

When I first went vegan, I certainly did not have a well informed view of what veganism really was. I had a general intuition that it was a philosophy I agreed with, without really knowing the specifics. Choosing veganism as lifestyle and hence being in the minority you will inevitably have to defend (advocate!) your choice against both the curious and the aggressive. It helps to be prepared.

Below is a topic for each of you that I would like you to think about, research, and at our next meetup help guide the group through the issues surrounding that topic to help us not only make up our own minds, but so we can be prepared to advise others.

  • What's the go with vegans and pets?
  • What are the key differences between Animal Welfare and Animal Rights?
  • What are the issues surrounding free-range eggs? Why do Vegans avoid them?
  • What are some common arguments made in favour of vivisection (animal testing)? Do you agree with them?
  • What are the issues surrounding leather? Why do Vegans avoid it?
  • Investigate commercial bee keeping. Why or why not should vegans eat honey?
  • How do we know plants do not feel pain? What if they did?
  • For what reasons should or should not vegans eat oysters? Mussels? Lobsters?
  • Much of the available information is focused on the US or Europe. How does Australia stack up?

In addition, I want you to give some thought to the big question: "Why are you vegan?" You came into the month with a reason for wanting to try it out, have your thoughts changed since then? What are you telling your family and friends? You will have to ask this question of yourself at the end of the month to see if you find it convincing enough to stick with it! Try and come up with a short one or two sentence answer.

Other Topics

Recommended Reading

There's a wealth of writing on the internet about veganism, of varying accuracy and intent, but for my money the quality information is to be found in books. Here is a short list of books I recommend.

The top four are vegan literature, the bottom three aren't. What they do is paint an accurate picture of the food system to inform your decision about how to operate in it. I don't expect everyone to read every book listed here, but I have presented a spread of different topics so hopefully you will find at least one interesting.

"Animal Liberation", Peter Singer

This is a classic book. Written over three decades ago, it is widely hailed as the first popular book to coherently make the case for veganism, exposing the rapidly increasing industrialisation of animals. It has been revised and re-released a number of times, with contemporary updates, but a disarmingly large proportion of the material is still relevant today. Peter Singer is a professor at Melbourne University as well as Princeton, and he occasionally gives free lectures which are well worth getting along to.

"Introduction To Animal Rights", Gary Francione

Francione takes a different approach to animal rights than Singer, arguing that as long as animals are able to be kept as property, the humane treatment principle can never be respected.

"Becoming Vegan", Brenda Davis

I have this in my bookshelf yet but haven't read it yet. It is widely acclaimed to be the textbook on vegan nutrition.

"But You Eat Ants", John Waddell

Short, concise answers to 100 different questions and concerns about veganism. Weighing in at just over 100 pages, this is a quick easy read.

"Stuffed and Starved", Raj Patel

This is a book about the global food system, rather than about veganism, but is particularly relevant to the human cost of industrialized farming (animals or otherwise).

"Food Politics", Marion Nestle

Written by a professor of nutrition at New York University, this is a first hand account of the intense lobbying and politics that has shaped food policy in the US, creating among other things, the well known but flawed "Food Pyramid". This is a long, thoroughly researched and informed book, overwhelmingly so at times.

"The Omnivore's Dilemma", Michael Pollan

An incredibly popular book, covering what we should eat and why we should eat it. It covers much of the same material as "Food Politics", but in a far more approachable style - it is a short, easy read.

Recommended Movies

As with the books, not all of these movies are specifically about veganism.

Earthlings

From the website: "EARTHLINGS is a powerful and informative documentary about society’s treatment of animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix with soundtrack by Moby. This multi-award winning film by Nation Earth is a must-see for anyone who cares about animals or wishes to make the world a better place."

You can watch it online. It's difficult viewing, but deeply moving.

Food Inc.

Excellent documentary about the industrial food industry in the US.

Nutrition

To help figure out some recommendations, I tracked my eating over a typical day and contrasted some key nutrient intakes to the official recommended amount:

Spreadsheet

This is an inexact science, and these aren't all the nutrients you need, so don't get too caught up with the exact numbers, but it should give you a good ballpark idea, as well as a method for making your own calculations.

The spreadsheet suggests a few ideas for things to incorporate in to your regular meals if you haven't already:

  • A handful or two of nuts
  • Dark greens
  • Bread with seeds
  • Couple of pieces of fruit
  • Tofu, or other soy product

Creating your own spreadsheet for a day can be an informative experience, just remember not to get too focused on the numbers!

Hidden Ingredients

Some guidelines I use to be on the eye for "hidden" stuff.

Supermarket

The more processed or pre-packaged something is, the more likely it is to be not vegan, regardless of what it looks like on the outside! By law, manufacturers have to list milk and egg products for allergy reasons, so this is my quick go to.

In Australia supermarket bread is vegan, in the USA it is not. Which is OK because US bread tastes terrible. Artisan bread is typically vegan.

In the Asian section be on the look out for fish and shrimp, they tend to find their way into everything. You can get vegetarian oyster sauce, which actually comes from mushrooms.

In the sweets department it is mostly random. Look out for gelatin in marshmallows and gummy treats. Dark chocolate should be vegan, but a lot are not (like Cadbury and Green & Blacks). Oreos are vegan, so there you go.

Some apparently vegan soy products (in particular cheese) have casein in them, which is not vegan. This is not a problem I have encountered personally, probably because I don't eat soy cheese, but it is on the internet a bit.

Restaurants

I always prefix whatever I order with "vegan". If anything comes out with unlisted obviously non vegan ingredients (typically mayo or cheese) I send it back. Unfortunately many places have no idea what is in their food, they buy from elsewhere. Good luck finding a pub that knows if their wedges are vegan! I have good faith in Asian restaurants to use a non-fish based sauce when asked. Indian restaurants tend to use ghee, but most will happily use oil instead if asked.

The Bar

It's hard! There is no labelling requirement for whether a drink is vegan or not. Generally, the more boutique a beer, the more chance it is Vegan. Nothing from CUB (VB, Carton Draught, and friends) is vegan. Guinness is not vegan. Matilda Bay beers are not. James Squire, Coopers, Asahi, Mountain Goat and White Rabbit are all good. That's all I remember, outside of that I generally give them the benefit of the doubt. Barnivore.com is pretty good when you're travelling, but doesn't have many Australian brews.

It gets easier

It feels like a lot of effort now, but it isn't long before these guidelines become instinctive, and you get to know which brands are good. Also, you will probably find your diet naturally shifting away from the kinds of foods that tend to have hidden things in them. I actively favour restaurants that know what vegan is, and it is rare these days that I eat at a non-vegetarian place (including not-so-passively steering other social events to them!)

B12

(Summary notes from a research assignment)

  • B12 deficiency is rare
  • Rate of B12 deficiency is the same in normal population as in vegans
  • Pro cyclists take B12 supplements (vegan or not)
  • Your body needs a microscopic amount of B12, and retains it very well
  • Deficiencies may take 5, 10, or 20 years to reveal themselves
  • Deficiency is reversible with treatment, usually with no permanent damage
  • No health negatives to taking a supplement
  • Most deficiency cases are caused by the body not being able to absorb it due to the lack of a certain protein that can be destroyed by alcohol, smoking, aging, and some infections.

Found these (unsourced) quotes:

Despite the notoriety of this vitamin, dietary B12 deficiency in adult vegans is rare: some 15 cases have been recorded in the medical press worldwide since the 1980s. Not all cases will be published but it is significant that B12 deficiency is so uncommon that single case reports are still thought worthy of publication in medical journals."

And

A PubMed search for "B-12 deficiency vegan" brings up only 25 hits since 1967, less than one per year"

My summation is: we don't really know, so the CYA advice is to take a supplement, since there are no negative health consequences.

Around the 'net

Recipes / Food Porn

Pasta

Articles

Credits

Big thanks to my wife Jodie and brother Jared, who both helped so much in the organising and mentoring of Vegan Month, as well as contributing many of the recipes and photos in this document.

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