So, you want to go vegan—or at least try to—but you don’t know where to start. This is a dilemma all first-time vegans go through. But now that more resources are out there for people looking to join the “plant life,” it’s a lot easier than it used to be!
I’ve enlisted the help of Adriana Casiano, owner of Good Mood Food, a vegan “Munchies Pop-Up Service,” to share some advice on the process of going vegan. Casiano created Good Mood Food [in 2017] when she realized she desired more vegan options when dining out.
“I’m Puerto Rican, and we love good food so I just wanted to create food for people who love their culture but also care about their health,” Casiano said. “I wanted all the nostalgia of foods I recognize and love, and foods that are normally impossible to have vegan, accessible to me and all of my friends.”
The company is based in St. Pete and Tampa, where they sell their delectable plant-based goodies at local markets and pop-ups. That being said, Casiano definitely knows a thing or two about the vegan life!
She first transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle when she began to pay attention to her body and which foods it reacted negatively to.
“…Red meat never settled right, neither did dairy… that, in combination with research about the special interests behind our food industry, and the effects of the industry on the environment, really did it for me,” she shared.
Many who want to go vegan are often discouraged by a lack of finances or ideas in the kitchen. For some, it’s just the thought of going vegan in the first place — which can seem daunting! It is about changing your whole lifestyle, after all.
Meatless Doesn’t Have to Be Tasteless
Casiano has advice for those who may be scratching their head over how they will accomplish this seemingly “impossible” feat.
“Research, research, research! When in doubt, Google whatever question you may have (because I assure you someone has fought that battle and has some answers); find credible sources, and watch YouTube or cooking vlogs,” Casiano suggested.
Through research you can find out which vegan options closely resemble your meat favorites. You can also find innovative cooking recipes and other hacks that can make your transition even easier. And if that fails you, Casiano suggests reaching out to someone in the vegan community online, as “most [people] are actually pretty happy to help.”
Once you’ve completed your research, you should start with baby steps. Switching “cold turkey” (or cold tofu, since you’re vegan now), is not really recommended, as your body may need some time to adjust.
Most vegan websites suggest to start by integrating substitutions into your diet slowly, while removing meat at the same time. Casiano echoes this sentiment when I ask her how she went about becoming vegan.
“My method was to remove one thing out of my diet at a time and replace it with something new. The whole experience is pretty much trial and error,” she advised.
That being said, if you usually eat burgers on Fridays, start by switching up your routine with a black bean burger instead! Casiano notes Seitan, protein from wheat, as her favorite meat substitute, as she says it’s both dense and versatile, and able to take on the “tastes and textures of other meats like chorizo, steak, and chicken.”
Don’t Break the Bank Being Healthy
A main worry young people have when trying to go vegan is that they may not have enough money. Ideas of expensive plant-based restaurants like Planta South Beach may come to mind, making veganism seem unattainable. However, Casiano disagrees, writing off the “going vegan is expensive” idea.
“When I went vegan, I was a struggling college student who could barely afford rent… [but] sticking to real, unprocessed, whole foods like fresh vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds…kept me away from processed fake meats and cheeses, which are the [real] culprits of that high food bill,” she shared.
Like Casiano suggested, buying whole foods like legumes, vegetables, and starches will give you enough to work with in the kitchen—and they tend to be inexpensive. You can always search online for simple recipes that don’t use too many ingredients, which makes for a satisfying, cheap meal.
Casiano’s absolute favorite vegan recipe is one of these short ‘n sweet life savers: Fried Maiitake Mushrooms. After dipping them in a flour and water mix and breading them with seasoned Panko crumbs, she fries them and drenches them in buffalo sauce, making for an irresistible treat.
“These are my favorite because chicken wings were once my favorite, and the similarities in the texture of these mushrooms satisfy my wing craving every time — only these are better!” She said.
Take Your New Diet Day-By-Day
Becoming vegan is definitely not an overnight process, but in the end, it’s worth it! The path to a healthy lifestyle will require lots of research and practice in the kitchen, but like Casiano said, don’t be afraid to reach out to the community for suggestions and encouragement.
And if you want to treat yourself one day to a vegan meal outside of your kitchen, make sure to visit one of Good Mood Food’s pop-up shops.
Finally, and most importantly: don’t give up!
“Sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days but ultimately, whether it’s for your health, the environment, or spiritual reasons, the transition into a plant-based diet requires only compassion for yourself and the ability to roll with change,” Casiano said.
This story was originally posted in MIEUX Magazine, 2019.
It has been lightly edited for timeliness and relevancy.