I’ve been a whole-food plant-based vegan for many years. My transition away from meat occurred naturally; I was a picky eater as a kid and simply didn’t like meat because I loved animals. Then, as a young vegetarian, I drank soy milk but still ate cheese and eggs. Eventually, I learned I was making myself crazy trying to source “humanely” and cut those out too. My journey to veganism was incremental, taking place over many years of my life. I never went through the phase of eating meat substitutes to “cut down my meat consumption” because I never liked meat to begin with.
As a vegan from a town in the Midwest, I did not have any sort of vegan community to learn from. No vegan restaurant to frequent. For the most part, I learned to cook on my own. Often, that meant tofu and vegetables for dinner. Sometimes tempeh, sometimes TVP or beans. Nuts and fruit for snacking. You know, a whole food plant-based vegan diet.
And since I didn’t eat much meat as a kid, I genuinely don’t know what I’m “missing” when it comes to animal foods. Often, colleagues or acquaintances will ask, “Don’t you ever just want a steak?” or something to that effect. And I can honestly say, “no.” I don’t even know what it would taste like, and I cannot fathom eating the dismembered corpse of a once-sentient being. Does it taste like fear and adrenaline? I’m being facetious, but you get it.
But last year I traveled more. I learned that there are some amazing vegan food options out there. When I was in South Beach, Miami, I had a vegan “sirloin steak” that was alarmingly pink in the middle. (Beet juice). When I was in Seattle, Washington, I had flaky and tender vegan “crab cakes” that melted in my mouth.
And these foods tasted good. So, I’m like, wow. There are so many flavors and textures to experience all within the realm of veganism. Why should I limit myself to tofu and vegetables?
Consequently, I’m exploring different vegan “meat” offerings as I explore the city I moved to in December 2021. And when I say that, I do not mean “veggie burgers.” Because I imagine I can speak for many of us here when I say that I have had enough veggie burgers for a lifetime.
Here are three reasons I’m embracing vegan “meats”:
- It’s fun.
It surprises me when folks blatantly refuse to try a new food. I mean, I understand it when there are ethical or health concerns involved. But otherwise, why not? The way I see it, trying new food is an experience. Why not broaden our horizons with something new? It’s fun! Worst case scenario, you learned that you don’t like something.
- It’s healthy.
Okay, eating ultra-processed meat alternatives in lieu of vegetables certainly isn’t a healthy choice all the time. (Although, it is worth noting all foods that are altered or baked are “processed” in some way. So that specific term is widely misunderstood.) But keeping our minds open to trying new foods is certainly healthier than limiting our diets to the foods we know we like.
- New foods teach us about the world.
When I first tried Indian food, I learned that the pungent, bold flavors of Indian cuisine are a response to the climate of the region where the foods originate. Spices keep food from spoiling in hot and humid temperatures. So not only does trying new food expand the palate, it can teach us about other cultures.
I’m having a lot of fun trying the vegan dupes for animal foods that disgusted me way back when. Granted, accessing these flavors without concerning myself with ethics still catches me off guard. I look at the meat-like texture and often ask for reassurance that the food is indeed vegan food. But it is. I am exploring spaces that are safe for vegans. Where “vegan” isn’t a novel word muttered awkwardly in the heart of Midwestern cattle country that elicits looks of confusion.
I never had a “hot chicken” sandwich before I was a vegan, and now it is one of my favorite indulgences. Same for “wings” and “crab cakes.” All of these things can be vegan, made with love and plants. Why not lean in?
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Photo: roam in color via Unsplash, Simon Berger via Unsplash