How long have you been a vegan?
I've been vegan for about 22 years now.
What are some of your favorite meals?
That's a tough one. The one thing I eat really consistently is beans and rice, which sounds very stereotypically vegan, and might seem boring to others. However for me it's the ultimate comfort food and I really feel deprived if I don't have it at least once a week.
I don't use a mix though, I make it myself using a lot of fresh ingredients. But leftovers keep really well in the fridge and usually give me a few meals.
I've learned to cook with a lot of fresh vegetables. Growing up my mother cooked vegetables "southern style" which meant with ham, a ton of salt, and cooked until they were mushy. I've learned to really love the flavors and textures of really fresh veggies, some raw, or some cooked just enough to be tender.
Though really my problem is there's too much good vegan food. I love pasta and bread and there are a lot of mock meats now that are really delicious. I make a marinated oven-baked tofu that's wonderful. Potatoes are vegan. There are vegan burritos. My metabolism has started to slow down so I can't just put away the food and not gain weight anymore.
Oh, did I mention the vegan desserts? There are so many now ready made and tons of recipes on the web.
If you eat at restaurants, what foods or places have you found helpful?
I'm lucky enough to live in a major metropolitan area that has vegan restaurants. But largely I like going to ethnic restaurants, like Ethiopian or Thai or Mexican. You do have to ask about ingredients, but they often have wonderful vegetarian dishes.
Have you noticed any benefits since you changed your diet?
I have lupus and I didn't know that when I went vegan, though knowing now I can look back and see I had symptoms for most of my life. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't gone vegan, I'd be totally disabled by this disease. Even my rheumatologist who says he "loves meat too much to give it up" says a vegan diet is the best one for autoimmune illnesses.
I have a family history of people having heart attacks, even fatal ones, quite young. So I'm glad I've avoided that.
I feel better mentally too because I'm living in accordance with my values.
What tips do you have for anyone who wants to try a vegan diet?
Having been vegan for this long I've seen a lot of people go vegan for a while and then give up. For the vast majority of them the issue wasn't that they couldn't find food or that they weren't healthy, most quit because it made them feel socially isolated--friends and family were very critical, they stopped getting invited out because people were going somewhere without vegan options... Some said they felt it made dating hard. So my number one tip would be to go on meet up and join a vegan or vegetarian meet up, find people on facebook, find people who will be supportive. True, not everyone needs that, but a lot of people do. You don't have to let go of your non-vegan friends, but tell them you don't want negative comments and spend time around people who are kind and supportive. If you live somewhere that makes it hard to get together in person, at least find some internet support groups. So that's tip 1.
Tip 2--vegan or not, most people end up eating the same stuff over and over, so find a handful of vegan meals you can make easily (or if you don't cook, look for some microwave ones) and rotate them around. Pasta tends to be easy and a lot of jarred sauces just happen to be vegan. A weak point for a lot of people is when they're tired and hungry and they're used to getting some pizza, so try to have some food in the house and some options for when you get hangry.
Tip 3--forgive yourself if you mess up and just start fresh the next day. Too many people give up if they make a mistake, but we all make mistakes. If you're vegan for the long-haul then you're going to make mistakes too. Every day is a new chance to get it right.
Are there any books, websites or other resources you'd recommend?
That's kind of tough, as there are so many. I like facebook groups for asking questions. I have a "international vegetarian" cookbook that isn't vegan but I can veganize the recipes. I like google. I like Veganomocon by Isa Chandra Moskowicz.
Any final thoughts?
I'm vegan because I love animals and the thing about love is that the more you love the more love you're able to give. I've heard people say that they don't have enough time or energy to worry about animals, but it's added to my life rather than taken away from it.